The Truth About Power
Psalm 27 - Luke 13:31-35; 3/17/19
So the Psalm 27 tells us, we should not be afraid, but wait on the Lord. It is all going to work out.
Luke’s gospel says that Jesus rejected the implication that he should live in fear and run from trouble. He confidently said he was going to keep on about his business. But he also said, a prophet cannot be killed except in Jerusalem. I take this to mean that, “true prophets,” who speak their truth to corrupt power, cannot stand in the city where the religious authorities and the civil authorities are in collusion.
Jesus does not say that the authorities cannot touch him. He does not say, “I am going to destroy those who misuse their authority.” He simply says, “I will not live my life in fear of what might happen when I encounter small minded people.”
There is an implied message that we do not actually talk about too often. Jesus, the actual incarnation of God’s love, was not successful in changing the world. He was actually crucified; tortured and executed; by the forces of law and order, with the faith community forcing the hand of the civic authorities.
You and I believe in the God of the Psalms, whose power exceeds all of the power of this world. And yet, we live with our eyes open, knowing the cruelty that humanity is capable of. We strive to let the love of God within us, empower us to live with faithfulness, and avoid living in the fear and anxiety that threatens to overwhelm our sense of the almighty.
In my reading for today’s message, I found a sermon preached in 2007 by Peter L. Steinke - ELCA Lutheran Pastor and Church Consultant. He noted the theologian Paul Tillich had identified 3 (three) dimensions of anxiety. “Human beings, Tillich noted, must confront the anxiety of nonbeing (death), the anxiety of meaninglessness, and the anxiety of fate (unpredictability, uncertainty). I know that technically fear and anxiety are distinct from each other and are even believed to travel along different neurological circuits in the brain. Fear has an object; anxiety is free-floating, a kind of generic dread. But they are close relatives, both warning us of threats to life.
“Fear is a wake-up call. It arouses awareness of danger; it puts us on high alert. Yet it can also do just the opposite, overwhelming us and diminish our alertness. Neuroscience links fear to the a-myg-dala in the lower, primitive brain. This small structure scouts for trouble and in detecting it, sounds an alarm and jerks multiple neural cords. As it reacts quickly to the threat, it ignores fine distinctions and uses generalizations. Its strength is rapid processing, and its weakness is lack of precision. With extreme fear, nor-adrenaline flushes through the body, initially producing intense vigilance, but then flooding the brain and riveting attention on the object of fear. Now the fearful person can hardly shift attention elsewhere. Tunnel vision occurs. Fear takes over, overwhelming the imaginative capacities and advanced reasoning. The fearful one becomes locked into the present and loses the ability to envision something other than what is now threatening. Reality is pruned to the senses, to the synapses mediating fear, to the paralyzing moment.
“Rabbi Abraham Heschel claimed that the role of the prophet is “to cast out fear.” The psalmist does this using poetry in the service of prophecy, showing a way to parlay fear into energy, to transmute danger into possibility and to switch power from the scary present to the things that might be. “I believe,” the psalmist exclaims, “that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Even though present conditions appear to deny God’s goodness, he trusts that which is not seen and which escapes sense experience. God will be faithful—“the Lord will take me up.” This assurance is the heart of the gospel. God will not let his promises return empty. In Christ all things will become new.”
Now I hate it, when we rush to say that the power of God is relegated to the here after, the existence we have after death in this life. (This is distinctly different from the Great Hereafter in my daily life, when I walk to the other end of the house and say to myself, “Well, I am here, now what was I after?’)
The challenge for me as the preacher this morning, and for you as the people of God all week long, is how do we keep our focus on the presence of God, creating the possibility of love in the anxious world we live in? That focus is the core challenge in today’s message. In spite of the limitations of the reality we face, we believe that God is with us, and all things remain possible.
Jesus responded to the folks whispering to him to get out of Dodge before the bad guy in the black hat rode into town. Jesus told them this was not the time and place for the final showdown, and he had work to do.
Fear and anxiety will tie our hands together, and put our imaginations in chains, if we would allow it. So we need to remind ourselves to focus on the presence of God, in spite of the risks involved.
So where do we find the presence of God when times are hard? Each of us is wired with our own resonant priorities. We respond best to the stimuli that we are most in tune with. We come to church because we find the presence of God and our inspiration here among the faithful. Some of us get a lift as we greet the other faithful souls each week. Some of us may actually get greater relief amidst the teasing and singing at choir practice -than we do listening to the sermon. (I have been in the choir a lot longer than I have been a preacher, so I get it.)
Some of us know God is present when we sit across from a person we love, but have very different political understandings, and discover new ideas when we talk about things that matter to both of us, but our natural responses are so very different. Those new potential solutions are the real presence of God.
The presence of God means that we believe that there are real possible ways to escape doomsday scenarios. We acknowledge that the religious and political leaders, who are often exclusively focused on the immediate practical concerns of the day (and on the next election cycle), may find it hard to identify opportunities to do the greatest good, for the greatest number of people, without denying the rights of any. So we work and pray that our activities may be faithful and have useful consequences.
We expect that God may change hearts at any time. We recognize that each one of us is filled with enough of God’s love, to change the course of history. We are not guilty if we fail to change the world, we are only guilty if we quit on God, and give in to the forces of fear and anxiety.
The truth about power is hidden in plain sight, we have the presence of God, and have it as a generous serving when we are together. We are only weak when we fail to live as we believe. I will close with my most recent song that is titled, “As We Believe.”