Weekly Seeds: Power

Sunday, February 13, 2022
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany Year C

Focus Theme:

Focus Prayer:
God who stands with us, we reach out for you and your power. Let it charge us and fuel us for ministry in your name. May your kindom come and your will be done among us. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Luke 6:17–26
17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

All readings for this Sunday:
Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Luke 6:17-26

Focus Questions:
1. What is power? How do you recognize it?
2. What power do you have? Describe it’s nature and source.
3. How do you use your power?
4. In what ways do you feel powerless?
5. How can you increase the power you have, individually and/or collectively?

By Cheryl Lindsay

Have you ever played the game “telephone”? I confess I have never been good at it. It starts by one person relaying a brief story to another and the next person passes the same story, as it was told to them, to the next person. On it goes through several people until it reaches the last person. The last person shares the story they now hold with the entire group. The first person shares the original. Invariably, the story morphs significantly, and it can become an interesting and embarrassing exercise to find out where the breakdown in the story takes place. Did it happen gradually with a detail being altered here and there? Or, did someone take the story and radically change it. I tend to listen broadly to stories, especially the first time I hear them. The details don’t become important to me until I get the big picture in view. That’s why I’m not good at this game; it’s all about capturing and memorizing the details that support the story even if you don’t grasp the meaning and import of the story itself.

At times, comparing the same event as narrated by different biblical authors can resemble unpacking the alterations that take place in a game of “telephone.” Both Matthew and Luke present accounts of Jesus’ memorable sermon. In Matthew, that is the Sermon on the Mount. It is the more extensive version and it is clearly directed at the large crowd that has gathered to hear Jesus. Luke’s version also includes a crowd but also focuses substantially on the disciples who constituted the crowd and they not only want to hear from Jesus, they want to be touched by Jesus, healed by Jesus, and relieved by Jesus. In Luke’s account, there is no mountain. Jesus stands and delivers the Sermon on the Plains. The words he utters, however, convey a similar meaning, not only in the details, but in their deeper significance as casting a vision of the kindom of God.

Luke begins with Jesus coming down and taking his position on the same level as his disciples. This account does not reflect a preacher exalted in an elevated pulpit or mountain, but a wise companion speaking among those attracted to the message, ministry, and hope that Jesus provides. Luke’s intentions and audience are different from Matthew’s; that can explain the differences in presentation and emphasis. Luke’s Jesus is Redeemer as much as Messiah. Luke’s Jesus fulfills prophecy, but not as a conquering sovereign. Just as the wise persons approach Jesus with lavish and precious gifts upon his entry into the world in Matthew’s gospel, the shepherds greet Jesus after his birth. Their offering is their witness to the world that Christ is now in it. Matthew’s genealogy emphasizes the connection to the Davidic dynasty; Luke’s highlights that Jesus is the Son of (Hu)man, the new “adam” (human being), who comes not to a singular people but to all creation as Restorer and Re-Creator. Luke emphasizes the humility of Jesus, both in compassion and circumstances.

The birth narrative in Luke is profoundly affected by the belief that Jesus was born in poverty. The location of his birth in a stable, the offering of a dove in the Temple, and the presence of the shepherds all point to this. Without a doubt Luke intended to show how Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 “Behold your king comes, lowly” (poor or in Hebrew Oni], and riding upon an ass the foal of an ass. Jesus, the poor king is a feature of Luke’s christology….Jesus was perhaps an artisan, a carpenter, but his youth in Nazareth suggests that he was not a member of the wealthy artisan guilds. We are left with the impression that Jesus knew and experienced poverty at first hand and that he well understood the implications of Roman oppression. Consistently he preaches against materialism and in support of the protection of the poor and other marginalized individuals. Thus Jesus picks up the Old Testament tradition of God as the Go-el (“Protector”) of that group of people. In turn, by associating with the debris of society, Jesus assumes the mantle of the protector of the weak and powerless. As their Go-el he will also judge them for their sins, but that action, as with God in the Old Testament, does not affect his protective role. The most interesting example of this is the ancient story of Jesus and the woman accused of adultery. We note the order. First her protection from her would be executioners and then the instruction to “go and sin no more”. Jesus’ relationship with the poor remains that of the redemptive kinsman. (William Domeris)

Like in Matthew, Luke’s account of Jesus’ sermon begins with the Beatitudes. It is a radical vision of beloved community and the kindom of God. Jesus depicts both future promise and present reality as his series of “blessings” and “woes” repudiates conventional wisdom–then and now. Jesus, born into impoverished circumstances can speak from “a level place” with the people that he proclaims blessed. That proclamation does not manifest as anticipation of a future reward as a consolation for current suffering. The blessing exists and continues in the present, in the now, in the already-not yet.

Biblical wisdom long resisted becoming merely a theodicy for the social status quo. In Luke 6, Jesus’ teaching of wisdom is presented in terms which are highly familiar in Jewish wisdom but radically challenging to the conventional wisdom of every age. His teaching is neither a more lofty wisdom which simply elevates moralism to a new level of demand nor an anti-wisdom which undermines all conventional prudence. Yet here the Messiah discloses unexpected signs of the favor and benefits of God’s dominion for the faithful, and he turns the argument from prosperity against those who have thereby felt assured of the blessing of heaven. Yet more specifically, Jesus the Messiah assures his disciples that their suffering and apparent lack of benefits which others regard as signs of God’s rejection are rather indications of their participation in God’s reign which is at odds with the ways of the world in the present time. (David L.Tiede)

It’s important to note that while significant differences exist between the accounts of Matthew and Luke, we need both. They aren’t in conflict; they show us a more complete story. Grace, in the person of Jesus Christ, emerges incarnationally. A common expression from the Black Church affirms that God “sits high, but looks low.” In placing these two narratives together, we see a portrait of a Redeemer who stands above (on the mountain) and stands among (on the plains). Yet, the message and the meaning are essentially the same. The kindom of God is not what they expect and will enact a profound departure from the empire in which the people have lived. The words challenge their experience and their assumptions as they encourage a reorientation toward God’s abundance, purposes, and sovereign rule:

Jesus’ sermon has fueled discussions about the relationship of the indicative (performative declarations of God’s blessing) and the imperative (commands). But the proclamation is nothing other than life under God’s commonwealth in which relationships with God are integral to relationships with others—two dimensions that are hardly separate. (Robert L. Brawley)

In Jesus, the new prototype of humanness, the divine and the human intersect. So does declaration and command. Jesus proclaims the reality of God’s favor and instructs how to be as a participant in God’s favor. Jesus blesses the disciples with a new vision at the same time he calls them to be visionaries. The people come with real needs in the here and now; Jesus meets them and addresses them. But, they also live in a world corrupted and removed from God’s will and purpose for creation, and Jesus calls them into a life of redemption. The crowd can’t get close enough; they are attracted to him as if they are magnetized. Of course, in a sense they are…magnetized by power.

This power differs from the rule of the Roman Empire or even the hierarchy in their faith communities. This power comes and stands level with them. This power transmits the power of heaven on earth. This power adopts a position of poverty to transform notions of sovereignty from privilege to compassion. This power cautions those flush with contemporary cultural ideals of wealth and privilege that the kindom of God operates from a different system. This power does not lord over but lives with, among, and for those invited to be subject to a different order of power, community, and relationships. This power blesses those perceived to be powerless by acknowledging their belovedness, value, and agency. This power is doing the leveling necessary so that it may be “on earth as it is in heaven.”

The implications of this for the Christian today are clear. Without the protection of the Go-el, the poor would be constantly at the mercy of the rich and unscrupulous. Christians are to work for structures in society which will perform the same protective task. At times they may even find themselves in the position of a protector or defender of the poor, nevertheless that function remains primarily the responsibility of God. Moreover that function exists quite independently of his role in bringing eschatological salvation. In the same way Christians may pray for God’s care or protection in particular danger, without connecting that with their hope of eschatological salvation. The action of God in defense of the poor is a recurrent feature of present and ancient history. The hope of the poor will not be disappointed. (William Domeris)

To participate in the kindom today is essentially the same as then–to reach out toward the power flowing from Jesus Christ. To connect to the source, plug in, and charge up ourselves so that we can be fully equipped and empowered disciples–protectors, defenders, and agents of hope and healing in the world.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.

“No Progress Without Struggle”
Frederick Douglass, Excerpt from an address on West India Emancipation, delivered August 4, 1857.

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reforms. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. . .

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the roar of its mighty waters.

The struggle may be a moral one or it may be a physical one, or it may both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted in the North, and held and flogged at in the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical.

Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppression and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.

For further reflection:
“They joined hands.
So the world ended.
And the next one began.”
― Sarah J. Maas
“Knowledge is power. Power to do evil…or power to do good. Power itself is not evil. So knowledge itself is not evil.” ― Veronica Roth
“Character is power.” –Booker T. Washington

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.