“How Does Jesus Use Power?”

This was the title of the sermon preached on September 30 by Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Senior Pastor Tim Hart-Andersen.

The Prayer of Confession

As part of the first part of the worship service—Preparing for the Word—Associate Pastor Alanna Simone Tyler led the congregation in the following unison Prayer of Confession:

  • “Merciful God, by your grace we confess our sin and the sin of this world. Although Christ is among us as our peace, we are a people divided against ourselves as we cling to the values of a broken world. The fears and jealousies that we harbor set neighbor against neighbor and nation against nation. Lord, have mercy on us; heal and forgive us. Set us free to serve you in the world as agents of your reconciling love in Jesus Christ.”

The Scriptures

Psalm 82 (NRSV):

“God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
‘How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?Selah
Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’

They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk around in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I say, ‘You are gods,
children of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
and fall like any prince.’

Rise up, O God, judge the earth;
for all the nations belong to you!”

John 2: 1-12 (NRSV):

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

“After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days.”

The Sermon

At “the wedding party in Cana, 2,000 years ago, only the servants know what happens in the kitchen. Not even Jesus’ mother knows, although when the good wine starts flowing late into the feast she must suspect her son is behind it.”

“Jesus’ first miracle isn’t his idea. In fact, that’s true of all the miracles of Jesus. Someone presents him with a problem to solve: stop the bleeding, feed the 5,000, bring back sight, heal disease, cure paralysis, exorcise demons. Jesus is a reluctant miracle worker.At the wedding feast in Cana the wine steward is impressed with the vintage, but Mary’s son keeps quiet about it.”

“’At the wedding feast in Cana,’ I said 20 months ago, ‘Jesus launches a movement, a movement of joyful resistance against the baser impulses that run through each of us and through the principalities and powers of every time and place.’”

“That was then, and this is now, and we’re back at the wedding party where the wine runs out, seeing more signs of the resistance movement that is the gospel. . . . And now this same text shifts from a lesson in hospitality to a primer on the use of power.”

“At the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus tries not to exercise power. When his mother learns of the wine crisis, she turns to her son to solve it. He’s a grown man, and in that patriarchal system – as in ours – he’s in a position of power simply by virtue of his gender. His mother knows he’s capable of taking over and managing things, as men do. But he doesn’t rush in. He has no need to be in control.”

“That’s the first lesson from this story about how Jesus uses power: start with humility. Don’t be too eager to solve everything with your power. Be more modest. Jesus is reluctant to step in, take over, and make everything right. He’s not interested in the use of power to make himself or anyone else look good. People using power are always tempted to make it so they come out a winner, on top. Jesus doesn’t use power that way.”

“When he does finally take action, Jesus exercises power anonymously. He doesn’t need everyone to know what he can do, or what he has done. . . . Jesus doesn’t need to take credit.”

Second lesson from this story about how Jesus uses power: do it for the sake of building up the community, for the good of others, especially those who are most vulnerable. Don’t use it to burnish a reputation, or puff up an ego. The gifts Jesus has are considerable, but he knows they aren’t for his own aggrandizement. This is not about him. People using power are always tempted to make it about them. Jesus doesn’t use power that way.”

“When Jesus decides to help with the wine he asks the servants to fill the large stone jars with water. Those jars were reserved for one purpose only: for religious rituals, purification rites – not for holding wedding party wine. His choice of religious vessels to hold the wine shows his willingness to rethink tradition if necessary. We’ve always done it that way doesn’t carry much weight with Jesus. Remember when he allowed his followers to glean in the fields and eat on the Sabbath – even though it was prohibited by tradition – because they were hungry? That was the priority for Jesus, not the rules.”

Third lesson from this story about how Jesus uses power: use it to change the status quo, if it makes the world a better place. So often power is used to defend the way things are, rather than to imagine the way things might be and then make something new happen. That’s precisely what Jesus does with those stone jars; some look at them and see religious rituals and rules and a prescribed use. Jesus looks at them and sees jars of good wine for the party. 4 Structures and systems inevitably work to preserve the power that built them in the first place. People using power are always tempted to maintain tradition for its own sake, to keep things the way they are. Jesus doesn’t use power that way.”

“There’s a lot to unpack in this little gospel story about a party in Cana long ago. At the wedding feast Jesus shows how to use power humbly, to use it on behalf of the community, and to use it in a way that challenges the status quo.”

“But that’s only the start. He does it again and again. His entire ministry overturns the typical use of power in his time – and, therefore, in our time, if we follow him. When he’s in a superior position relative to others Jesus doesn’t see that as a chance to exercise leverage, but, rather, to listen and learn and bring healing.”

“Think of the Samaritan woman at the well, a foreigner, alone with Jesus, a male stranger from another group, who no doubt represents a threat. What happens? They talk about the water they both need – his, that which is to be found in the well, and hers, the living water of hope. They each ask the other for help. It’s mutual. It’s balanced.”

“Think of the Syrophoenician woman, another outsider. She asks Jesus to heal her daughter and he refuses, saying his own people deserve to be fed first. Then he adds, cruelly, that food shouldn’t be wasted by throwing it to the dogs.”

“The woman is furious at this, but her fury empowers her. She finds her voice, much as women today who have kept silent about sexual assault and are now speaking up. It shouldn’t have to wait until the victim gets angry, but the system is stacked against her.. . . “

“The Syrophoenician woman, a foreigner, an immigrant with no authority in that system, persists nevertheless. She challenges Jesus, a man in power presiding over a gathering of other men. . . . You can almost hear the Syrophoenician woman telling Jesus to look her in the eye.”

“She takes him to task and speaks directly and boldly and courageously to him, not letting him get away with a mean-spirited use of power. Jesus listens, and believes her – and he changes his mind and heals her daughter.”

“Think of the men who follow Jesus getting into a debate about who will be first in the coming kingdom – the guys competing with one another. Jesus rebukes them – and then invites little children to come to him, saying only people who become like children will enter the kingdom of heaven. Give up your privilege, he says, let go of your desire for power, and then you will see the light of God.”

“As people of faith we’re called to exercise power in the way of Jesus, in a way that points to the goodness of God, in a way that spreads the light of God, in a way that leads to the justice of God.”

At its best our democracy has the potential to offer light in a grim and gloomy world, and spread the most good for the most people. But we’re not there in so many ways. . . .”

“The noise echoing across our nation in recent years, and in the halls of Congress this week may show, as former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said recently, ‘the decline of democracy.’ (https://www.newsweek.com/former-justice-anthony-kennedy-warnsdemocracy-danger-1145017) “

“Or it may be the sound of democracy awakening.”

“It may be the cry of those demanding equity and fairness for people outside the places of wealth and advantage. It may be the demand for an end to mistreatment because of gender or race.”

“ It may be the rustling of the Holy Spirit finally getting our attention. Scripture resounds with the cries of the oppressed.”

“‘How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked’ God asks through the voice of the poet in Psalm 82”

How long?

“‘Give justice to the weak and the orphan,’ God says.”

“How long will you judge unjustly?”

“’Maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute,’ God says.”

How long will you show partiality to the wicked?

“’Rescue the weak and the needy,’ God insists “

How long?”

“‘Deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’ (Psalm 82:2-4)”

“The Hebrew poet expresses the heart of our faith and its urgent plea for justice. Jesus, son of Mary, winemaker in Cana, will embody that same call centuries later. Serving humbly. Listening carefully. Building up the community. Challenging the status quo. Sharing power.”

“Today you and I, as people of faith living in this land, are challenged to take up that good work, God’s work in our time. Those whose voices have not been heard and who have been victims of violence and injustice are now insisting that we listen, that those of us who hold privilege and power stop talking and hear their stories, and be changed by them.”

“As a new day dawns, the rising fear we’re witnessing across the country is the response of those – mostly straight white men in power – whose place in America is shifting, is being challenged by courageous women and others demanding to be heard.”

“The true test of the just use of power is who benefits from it. As Jesus makes clear in Cana and throughout his life, those who hold power should not be the ones who gain from its use. There’s no gospel in that, no good news at all.”

“In fact, as Jesus sees it, it’s just the opposite. Those with power are called either to relinquish it or use it to lift up others – especially those who have been excluded and despised, left out and pushed down, battered and abused – and invite them into the very places where they were not previously welcome.”

“Then, and only then, will the world shine with the justice of God. Then, and only then, will the light of goodness fill our lives. Then, and only then, will all God’s people, all God’s people, rejoice.”

“Thanks be to God.”

Reflections

This sermon uncovered at least six unexpected lessons about the use of power from the familiar story about the wedding at Cana. First, start with humility. Second, do it for the sake of building up the community. Third, use power to change the status quo if it makes the world a better place. Fourth, listen and learn from others, especially those who are being oppressed. Fifth, ask others for help. Sixth, be willing to change your mind.

These are lessons or challenges for all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published by

dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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