For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
In some ways, it really is all about power, whether we’re talking about politics, relationships, or religious life. Leaders assert “might is right,” without regard to morality or the long-term consequences of their actions. A legendary football coach proclaims, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Harassment in the workplace is as much about power as well sexism.
Life is about power, and power is about the ability to affect changes in our world, to get things done, to achieve your goals, and to exert an influence on other people. Power is necessary to get things done, and to make changes, but power is also seductive, whether in Washington DC or the playground. It takes a good deal of maturity to love others as yourself, to wish others success when they are competitors, and to move from individualism and nation-first to world loyalty.
I believe that the Lord’s Prayer presents us with a different version of power than we usually see in the business world, politics, personal relationships, or the affairs of nations. It is the power of community, humility, perseverance, courage, and love.
One of my theological mentors, Bernie Loomer, spoke of two kinds of power, unilateral and relational power, and in many ways, this binary understanding of power describes the power dynamics of our world. The most common understanding of power is unilateral power. This is one-sided power grounded in control and coercion. We all know this kind of power – it is the power of the boss who says “my way or the highway.” The leader who demands absolute obedience, or “heads will roll.” The parent who refuses to listen to his child and yells, “because I said so.” This is the power of “win-lose” relationships, of domination, of silencing opposition. We know this power: we see it in the “me, too” movement that challenged the power of men to assault and diminish women employees and companions; we see it in a government that separates children from parents, regardless of the long term trauma; we see it in leaders who threaten to destroy those who criticize them. This power, at first, seems to be a sign of strength, and leaders often perpetuate policies and don’t back down because they don’t want to be perceived as weak. But, unilateral and coercive power is ultimately weak and brittle. It acts, but doesn’t have the courage to listen to other viewpoints. It appears to win, because it’s afraid to share. It dominates because it doesn’t have the ability to cooperate or entertain alternative possibilities.
There is, Loomer asserted, another kind of power. The power of relationships – this is the power of listening, of opening to new ideas, of affirming the ability of others to be creative. This is the power of looking at the long haul and not short term gain. It is the power of win-win partnerships in which your gain is mine as well and we seek common ground despite difference. Such power is evident in Paul’s description of Christ in Philippians:
Let the same mind be in you that wasin Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Christ could have vanquished his foes, he could have lorded it over the world, he could have separated the world into winners and losers and saved and unsaved, but his power is manifest in his sacrificial love, a love that wins the day through healing and community. Paul’s listeners would have been amazed at the contrast between Christ’s power and Caesar’s – “every knee bows to Caesar” out of fear – failure to bend the knee means persecution and death; every knee bows to Jesus out of love, there is no failure for each one is cherished despite her or his sin, and the power of Jesus’ apparent weakness outlasts Caesar, Napoleon, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, and the would-be tyrants of our time.
Our vision of divine power shapes our image of human power. Have
the mind of Christ. Imagine a world in which everyone has a voice, everyone matters, in which winning involves helping everyone realize their identity as God’s beloved child exploring their gifts in a supportive community.
There is only one kingdom and that is the kingdom of love. Glory is not found in the victory of the few, but the eventual victory of all God’s children. The glory of God, so said the church father Iranaeus, is a human being, fully alive. God’s glory is manifest in the power to create a beautiful, evolving, spectacular universe, that brings forth galaxies and planets, stars and starfish, right whales and little babies. God has the whole world in loving hands and God’s created a world in which power includes, embraces, inspires, and heals.
We seem to be a long way from God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” Our planet seems to be slipping into self-interest and cheap patriotism rather than care for the vulnerable and loyalty to the planet. People use religion as a form of oppression and hard-heartedness, and as we observe the 24 hour news cycle, our hopes for the future diminish. But, in another difficult time, a time in which our nation embraced slavery, members of this church and far-sighted persons, inspired by the way of Jesus, recognized another power, moving slowly yet persistently toward justice and freedom, the power of God, incarnate in the better angels of our nature. As Theodore Parker proclaimed: “We cannot understand the moral Universe. The arc is a long one, and our eyes reach but a little way; we cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; but we can divine it by conscience, and we surely know that it bends toward justice. Justice will not fail, though wickedness appears strong, and has on its side the armies and thrones of power, the riches and the glory of the world, and though poor men crouch down in despair. Justice will not fail and perish out from the world of men, nor will what is really wrong and contrary to God’s real law of justice continually endure.”
This is the kingdom of God, the glory of salvation, and the power of love. In the end, the only power that matters in this fragile and interdependent universe, the power to heal.