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Lombard CRC

Power

Waiting for the King with power

 

Isaiah 40

10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,

    and he rules with a mighty arm.

See, his reward is with him,

    and his recompense accompanies him.

 

Luke 1

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—

    holy is his name.

 

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Say the word power

and certain images come to mind:

the capitol building and political power

the pentagon and military might

wall street and economic strength

superheroes and their superpowers

 

We live in a land of power.

But we are suspicious of power

because more often than not power is abused

or it really can’t deliver:

We read about powerful men abusing their position

resulting in sexual misconduct.

We have been at war too long

with little peace or security to show for it.

And even those with superpowers, well,

every Superman has his kryptonite.

 

As a Christian I never thought of myself as powerful.

Don’t we talk too much today like we’re victims?

That we’ve lost our rights

and our freedoms are under attack?

The media is against us.

Hollywood is against us.

The courts are against us.

We don’t often think that living by faith

means living powerfully.

 

Are we the ones Paul has in mind

when he says to Timothy:

‘they have a form of godliness but deny its power?’

Could that be you and me?

I don’t often put faith and power together in my life.

But that’s the language of the Bible.

That’s what the coming of Jesus brought.

Isaiah 40 says,

10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,

    and he rules with a mighty arm.

See, his reward is with him,

    and his recompense accompanies him.

In Luke 1, Mary testifies,

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name.

 

The Sovereign Lord comes with power . . .

the Mighty One has done great things for me.

When the Bible talks about Jesus coming

as God-with-us,

God one of us,

the Bible isn’t afraid to talk about power.

Look at the baby born in the manger,

look at the Son of God ,

the Savior who is born,

and see power.

As we prepare to celebrate his coming,

and as we live anticipating his coming again,

God’s people bring God’s power

to the broken, needful situations

and circumstances of life.

Let the song of Mary encourage us.

Luke adds the words of a young woman to his gospel.

‘Mary said,’ he writes,

these are her words,

her witness to what really happened.

Mary is visiting cousin Elizabeth,

one young woman, Mary,

one old woman, Elizabeth,

two of the most powerless people at the time:

Elizabeth has been childless

until the miracle of God

and she will be the mother of John the Baptizer.

Mary is unwed, young, her whole life at risk

since she said yes to being God’s servant

and the mother of the Christ-child.

Two overlooked women in a man’s world.

Two Jewish women in a Roman world.

One from Nazareth

and one from the hill country in Judea

in a land where anybody who is anybody

is from Jerusalem.

Powerless.

 

But Mary is not a victim.

Mary sings about power.

Her words don’t echo

the strong and mighty of her day,

but another woman, Hannah,

from the Old Testament.

And her words have overtones from Isaiah,

a prophet, not a king or ruler:

Isaiah 40

10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,

    and he rules with a mighty arm.

See, his reward is with him,

    and his recompense accompanies him.

Mary sings to God for us:

the Mighty One has done great things for me.

William Willimon writes about that moment,

“Mary breaks into song.

But it is not a lullaby she sings. . . .

The little pregnant girl looks out

across the Judean hills

in the shadow of Herod’s great castle.

She thinks she hears kingdoms fall

and the earth rock beneath her feet.”

And she will live in the power of the LORD.

 

But wait a minute!

When we talk about living powerfully

as God’s people,

remember, we follow Jesus the crucified One

by denying ourselves and taking up our cross.

We have to be careful what we think we want

when it comes to power.

In the Broadway play, Hamilton,

Aaron Burr sings:

‘I wanna be in the room where it happens.’

 

That seems to sum up

our American craving for power:

we want to make the decisions,

we want to control the outcomes,

we want our voice to be heard and respected,

we want what WE want.

 

God’s power is not like the power of human beings.

The promise of a Messiah,

the coming of Jesus,

the servant response of Mary,

the cross . . .

this is the power of God –

1 Cor 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified . . .

Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

 

Ed Markquardt listens to Mary’s song and observes,

God’s power . . . totally changes the order of things.

We human beings think we find power

with beauty, bucks, brawn and brains.

But God totally changes all of that;

God turns it upside down. 

The poor are put on the top;

the rich are put on the bottom.

And when God’s Spirit gets inside of Christians,

we too have a renewed compassion

and action for the poor. 

Our hearts are turned upside down.

 

That kind of power sounds good to me.

It sounds like justice and hope;

it sounds like love for neighbors,

it sounds like human flourishing matters more

than who can get the most.

It sounds like good

even when things are at their worst.

It sounds good to us,

but will we trust it?

Beauty, bucks, brawn and brains

still seem to control our world.

5 years ago on Thursday

the shootings at Sandy Hook in Newton, Connecticut forever changed a town

and the lives of so many people.

More, the list of shootings since then

is too long to remember.

We see power abused

and feel powerless to change our country

for the better.

One resident who suffered said

that it is in the telling of those hurtful stories

along with the bigger story of Christmas

and Christ come to be God with us

that the power to go on comes.

The story of Christ coming and coming again

is what needs to be said in Newton, Connecticut.

And if I hear that rightly

I’m hearing that power is not so much about preventing bad things from happening,

because this world is not only broken

but rebellious against God,

but power is given in order to answer the question ‘now that this has happened, what shall we do?’

 

In the Christmas story,

the ones you think are powerful are the bad guys: Herod, Caesar.

The powerless ones get the attention

and change the world:

shepherds, foreign magi, Mary.

The ones who look powerful

end up feeling powerless, troubled, disturbed,

Herod and all Jerusalem with him.

The powerless ones like Mary and Zechariah

sing for joy.

What does this say to us?

The Christmas story features Mary,

not Herod.

Not Caesar.

The power of God now that this has happened,

and now that even the worst has happened,

the coming of Jesus

is the Lord’s powerful response:

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

    and all people will see it together  . . .

You who bring good news to Zion,

    go up on a high mountain.

You who bring good news to Jerusalem,

    lift up your voice with a shout,

lift it up, do not be afraid;

    say to the towns of Judah,

    “Here is your God!”

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,

    and he rules with a mighty arm.

 

Mary doesn’t focus on herself,

instead of wondering what being the mother of God does to her

or how this endangers or enhances her life,

she points to God

and what this says about the Lord

leading her to trust in the promises

and power of God:

51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones

    but has lifted up the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things

    but has sent the rich away empty.

 

The meaning of your life is found in God’s favor, grace and might.

His mercy extends to those who fear him:

those who choose this kind of power.

God’s power to side with the powerless,

to stand with the poor, the ones needing deliverance,

the ones treated unfairly, sinners needing salvation.

 

Are we starting to get an idea about living powerfully

with faith in the power of God?

Real power belongs to the Maker, not the taker.

 

So what power has the Lord given you?

POWER IN THE GOSPEL – Rom 1 - 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

 

When I trust the saving grace of God,

and live knowing my past is forgiven,

my present is blessed,

and my future is secured,

then I am free to love without looking for reward,

to give without focusing on results,

to care even when others don’t,

and to love even when I don’t like.

When we ‘re hurt and ask why,

listen again to the gospel.

When ‘Why?’ is the only thing you can say

in response to someone else’s trouble,

there is one more story to share: the gospel.

That’s God’s power at work.

 

POWER IN WEAKNESS – 2 Cor 12 - 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

The Bible doesn’t say,

now I’m weak, but someday I’ll be strong.

This doesn’t mean now I’m powerless,

but tomorrow I may be powerful.

It is saying that in our weakness I am strong

because Christ’s power is let loose into the situation.

That’s grace:

that’s getting more than we deserve,

that’s bringing favor to the unfavorable.

 

Grace is a power.

When you decide not to respond an eye for an eye,

a bitter word for a bitter word,

when you get shouted at

you stop yourself from just shouting louder,

or when you feel threatened

you resist threatening back,

when you repay evil with good.

That’s grace.

And that’s the power of God.

 

Then there is THE POWER OF HOPE – Rom 15:13 - 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Hope is a passion for pressing on,

because with God all things are possible.

It keeps us loving,

and it keeps us praying,

and it keeps us serving,

and it keeps us witnessing.

 

When you have prayed that prayer for a long time

yet you don’t see an answer,

hope says keep praying.

When you are weary because of your serving

yet the burden is not removed from you

hope keeps you serving.

When you love even tho you don’t like

what’s going on right now,

hope keeps you loving.

 

Lew Smedes preached famously:

Somewhere a father is telling himself,

“I wish my daughter would pack up, leave home,

and never come back;

God knows she has driven us crazy.”

But he remembers a promise he made

when she was baptized,

and he sticks with her in hurting love.

Somewhere a woman is telling herself,

“I want to get out of this marriage

and start over with someone who really loves me; God knows the clod I married

has given me reason for cashing him in.”

But she remembers a promise she made

when she married him

and she sticks with him in hopeful love.

Some people still have ships they will not abandon, even when the ship seems to be sinking.

Some people still have causes they will not desert, even though the cause seems lost.

Some people have loved ones they will not forsake, even though they are a pain in the neck.

Some people still make promises

and keep those they make.

When they do,

they help make life around them more stably human. Promise keeping is a powerful means of grace

in a time when people hardly depend on each other to remember and live by their word.

Hope helps us keep our promises.

 

AND THE POWER OF PRAYER:

James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

This is about trusting in the long, patient

work of God in my life and yours,

rather than trusting my authority,

my control or construal of the situation,

my will in getting my way.

It is trusting God is good

even when the day is not good.

It is praying for the presence of Christ

because in his presence there is joy

and peace and love,

and what matters most is not my will,

but yours be done.

 

Last, THE POWER OF RESURRECTION:

‘. . . the body that is sown in weakness is raised in power.’

To act towards others in a way

that recognizes the image of God in each person

and that each person is made for eternity,

so what matters most is my witness to the gospel

by suffering with my Lord,

by loving when I do not like,

by including the excluded in my life,

and making room to serve

instead of living to be served ,

living to love by laying down my life

because Christ has secured it forever

in laying down his life for mine.

And I love my neighbor enough

to want to see her in heaven too!

 

All of this is holy, godly power

to see in our neighbors and even our enemies

what others cannot see

because we perceive with the mind of Christ;

to imagine that forgiveness and mercy

and compassion

can make a dent on political systems

and against self-interest and cynical power grabs.

It takes the power of God in us

to consider an issue, or situation,

or opportunity, or circumstance, a problem,

first from the viewpoint of the most marginalized,

the least able to cope, the ones bereft of resources.

Doing this first before I make up my mind about

what I think is right and just.

And then I can more likely respond

in a Christ-like way,

not so much my way and

for my benefit or self-justification.

 

Tonite the power of a gun

may take a life on our city streets.

And tomorrow more revelations of

sexual misconduct and harassment may surface.

And before the year is out

a corporation may downsize and move jobs

out of the country for greater profits

resulting in the loss of many jobs.

The power of God

doesn’t ask why,

but now that this has happened in the world,

what shall we do?

 

Mark Galli – XTNY TODAY editor reminds us:

We can’t reduce power to politics or economics.

We gather to renew our vision for the power of God.

We have to take a page out of Abraham Kuyper

that says redeeming life

is wider and greater than politics:

strengthening marriages,

being there for children of the community, welcoming the stranger,

being stewards of the environment

by careful lifestyle choices,

caring for the poor and elderly,

being generous

and teaching our children to be generous,

gathering in neighborhoods for shared events,

and the servant work of social goods like CareNet, Bridges, PADS, prison ministries,

mental health counseling services and relief efforts,

these display the power of the gospel,

and in the end are not just our work, but God’s work.

 

What shall we do now that this has happened?

There is much that happens that will frustrate you,

or make you angry,

or bitter,

that victimizes you,

even causing you to suffer abuse or injustice.

And the curses of those hurtful things

can lead to so many bad responses

that will break what is bent inside us

or snuff out what is smoldering in our souls.

But because God’s power is given us in Jesus,

the one who was falsely accused,

bullied and mocked,

the one who suffered injustice

and died for the sin of the world,

then rose again as Lord and King,

that power can guide you to blessed choices instead:

to hope or to forgive,

to pray instead of seeking revenge,

to bless instead of curse,

to be patient leaving room for God’s wrath,

all because of the power of God.

That’s how we await the coming of the king,

living in the power of the crucified one.

 

 

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