Sacred Soil

Love & Power
March 8, 2015, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

tableAs the writer of John tells the story, the cleansing of the temple is the second major public act of Jesus’ ministry. The other storytellers have it toward the end—it serves as a bit of explanation for why the authorities were so upset with him. But in John, it is part of the beginning.

Right after Jesus changes some water into wine.

The first act is love. The second is power.

You may remember that the first story is when Jesus and his mother attend a wedding, and they’ve run out of wine. We can understand that difficulty. Jesus protests telling his mother that it’s not time yet. But, Jesus is good, and does what his mother says. And the wine is most excellent. It is a symbol of God’s overflowing, overwhelming love. And how lovely it is that Jesus’ ministry begins with love.

And then we get this story, this story where Jesus walks into the temple with a grand sense of power. He makes a whip and starts tossing things around, running the money changers out. He’s angry that this place of worship has become a place that serves the markets. And Jesus comes in and with the very power of God says, no. It is also so fitting that Jesus’ ministry begins with power.

Though, if I’m honest with you, I think I’d much rather be present at the wedding than there for the cleansing of the temple. I love a good party. A good celebration. Large displays of anger—not really my thing.

And I think that’s true for most of us—we’re pretty comfortable with the love thing. Or at least the idea of love. The love of God is our starting place as Lutherans. We begin there, recognizing that this love alone has the power to transform us. But the thing is, without power that love can turn to syrup. A thick sweet sappy thing that’s about as meaningful as a heart doily at Valentine’s Day. Cute, but that’s about it.

We also need power. The power of God. Love in action.

Toward the end of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. said: Power without love is reckless and abusive. Love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is implementing the demands of justice and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

Love and power.

I think it’s important to know that whenever God uses power, it is grounded in love and devotion to us, God’s own beloved creation. The Ten Commandments themselves begin with a statement of God’s care for us—we are the people God freed from Egypt. And Jesus didn’t make that whip just because he didn’t like folks selling stuff at the temple. He sent the money changers away because they were standing in the way of people experiencing God’s love. (explain the system)

But we have this way with power that gets all messed up. Either we forget to begin in love (authentic, genuine, mutual, compassionate love that really cares about what others experience), or we discount the fact that we have any power at all. Feeling hopeless and helpless, like there’s nothing we could do that would really matter.

I believe something else. I believe the power of God, the power of God’s love, is rising up within us. And I believe it because I have seen it.

I have seen it in:

  • The welcome we give new folks who come into this place—as if we are meeting God anew in each person. And I want you to never, ever, under-estimate the power of authentic welcome.
  • How we share in the struggles of each other’s lives, supporting each other when things get hard, celebrating with each other when things are fabulous. Together, we use our power to make this community strong.
  • And how these things come together in our ministry of PADS, Awake, and more.

These things are all because of the power that lives within us, the very love of God rising up. The very love of God that demands that power be rooted, grounded, in the love of God.

But I do not believe that God is done with us or God will let us leave it at that. God’s power is still at work in us, rooted in the very love poured over our heads in baptism. And I do believe that God is longing for us to use that power to uproot the systems that would stand in the way of people knowing that they too are beloved, honored, cherished creations of God.

  • How will we use the power of God’s love to respond to the real heartbreak in our town?
  • How will we use the power of God’s love to respond to political divisions that cut too deep?
  • How will we use the power of God’s love to respond to people’s longing for justice and equality?

I know these are huge questions—bigger than seem possible. But it’s been my experience that God’s love and God’s power are always bigger than seem possible. And it’s true, that my heart sings for the day God brings when the fires of justice burn, and every tear is wiped dry, and the world has turned—turned toward God’s love and power.

And where do we start? Right here, right here at this table, where we receive into our own hands the very love and power of God made known in a little bit of bread, and sweet wine. May it be the power of God’s love welling up in us—overflowing to the world.