Power from God—Power for Others
I’m an older brother. I have one sister who’s three years younger than me. When we were young and my parents went out in the evenings, we’d have a babysitter—but there came a point in time when we were old enough to be left on our own for a few hours. My parents left us with rules, of course, but in a very real sense we were in charge of ourselves. Which meant, as far as I was concerned, that I, the big brother, was in charge of my little sister. And so we’d get out the big, tall Tupperware cups and mix up huge servings of chocolate milk, which we hardly ever were allowed to drink, and when we did it certainly wasn’t as chocolatey as we wanted. We’d put in so much chocolate sauce that there’d be a thick layer of chocolate on the bottom of the cup when we were finished drinking. And we’d get out our favorite records—that’s right, actual vinyl on a record player—that our parents owned. Sometimes it was the soundtrack from American Graffiti, but more often it was Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits. And we’d turn up the stereo higher than we knew mom and dad would let us had they been there, singing and dancing to Copacabana and I Write the Songs and Mandy.
We were such rebels, my sister and I.
While mom and dad were gone, we had power. We were in charge. And it was all about us. It was all about what we wanted.
And as the older brother, really, it was all about me.
If my sister did something I didn’t want her to, I was bigger. I had ways of making her stop. I had ways of convincing her that what I wanted to do, what I wanted to eat, the way I wanted things to go, was also what she wanted. I was usually nice about it, but also sneaky, persuasive, and selfish.
Jesus said in our Gospel reading, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”
Power from God is power for others.
Lord Acton is often quoted as saying that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It’s also been said that those who have power seek to find any way to keep the power they have, and those without seek to find any way to obtain it. When Jesus was speaking, the example he was using of what not to do, how not to live, was the Roman Empire. They had power, and they made sure they kept their power through means of persuasion much more violent than I used with my sister. They had chariots, and weapons, and for those who dared to challenge their authority, they had crosses. Theyre was peace in the Roman Empire, the Pax Romana, but it wasn’t the peace which passes all understanding, it wasn’t the wholeness of the Hebrew word shalom, it was merely the lack of violence kept by the fear of violence. And for those who would have been listening to Jesus, the many crosses which often lined the roads filled with those who had dared to challenge the power of Rome and disturb that peace were symbols and stark reminders of that power.
Yes, there was power in the cross. The power of death. The power to get people to do what Rome wanted.
But what Jesus told the disciples, and what Jesus tells us today, is that power from God is power for others.
As Christians, we too know that there is power in the cross. But it’s a different kind of power that what Rome understood. Not the power of death, but the promise of life. Not the power to get people to do our bidding, but the promise of freedom. Not power to be grasped and held on to at any cost, but power to be given away. Not power to serve our own interests, but power to serve our neighbor.
Jesus tells us today that we, all of us, are called to be servant leaders.
We who follow Jesus are called to see power in a different way than the world does. We are called to use power in a different way than the world does. It’s not about us. It’s not getting what we want and holding on to what we deserve. It’s about helping our neighbor get what they need and showing others the same sort of love and grace that we ourselves have been shown, love and grace that we never could have earned. These gifts that we have been given, whether they’re authority or power or possessions or money or love or forgiveness or anything else, aren’t intended to stop with us. They are absolutely for us—the kids who did First Communion instruction with me this past spring will remember how important those two words are—“for you.” The bread and wine, the body and blood, the water and word of baptism, the cross and the empty tomb—these are all absolutely and without a doubt for you. But you’re not where they stop. God’s gifts for you don’t end with you. You are blessed to be a blessing.
Power from God is power for others.
When we follow in the way of the cross, it may not mean our physical death, but it does mean we die to ourselves. We die to our need to be the center of it all, our curved-in nature that is the very definition of sin. We die to our bondage to ourselves. We are saved from our slavery to self, and saved for service to our neighbor. And when that’s how we live, when that’s how we’re oriented, when our view of our neighbor and of power and of all we’ve been given has been shaped by the cross, then we’re already living in the kingdom. We’re already experiencing a foretaste of the feast to come. We’ve already taken that place of honor at Christ’s table—the honor that comes not from grasping, but from giving. The power and the peace that brings wholeness and life. Abundant life now, and eternal life always.
For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Which is infinitely better than Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits.