Power Inversion - Kyle Hanawalt
So, my parents are getting ready to retire this summer after being pastors for over 40 years and I have been using this occasion to hear ask them for stories about their lives. And hearing them reflect on their experiences has been super interesting
And there is one thing that has really stuck with me as I have heard more and more - that is how my father has used his power and influence
You see, my parents have had the opportunity to not just pastor their church in Evanston, but they have also been invited to speak, lead conferences, and consult with churches and ministries all over the world. They have a different times been the overseers for the Vineyard Churches in East Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East.
And in all of those settings my parents have done it as a team, both of them together.
However, perhaps unsurprisingly, everywhere they went, people would look to and interact with my father as the one who really the one in charge, doing the important stuff. They loved my mom, but she was just not treated with the same sense of respect and authority as my father.
So, my father, acknowledging this, started to do less and less speaking, and insisted my mother do more and more.
They realized that if they lead a workshop and they each spoke of half of the time. People would still treat my father as the primary authority. They realized that in order for them to be treated as equal in authority. My mom actually had to be leading and speaking significantly more than my father. That like if she did 75% and he did 25% then they might get treated with equal respect
Now, here is the thing, my father is like me, he likes to talk, he has opinions and ideas on everything.
So, for him to defer, for him to give up some opportunity to lead and speak so that people would give my mother more authority. That was a real sacrifice.
And this is the thing that is really sticking with me. My dad had power, my dad had influence. And what did he do with it? Was he defensive of losing it? Did he use that power and influence to protect his place? No, he used his power, he used his influence to elevate my mother’s voice. And then my mother used her voice not only to pastor and care for people, but my mother used her power and voice to create space for other women’s voices. I have known about this legacy of my mother for a long time, but it is only recently that I became aware of the role my father played in this. And as a white man, who carries the power and influence that my privilege affords me, it inspires me to look at that power and influence and ask, how am I using this? Am I using it for my own gain, or am I leveraging it for others?
And all of this feels very appropriate to reflect on as we enter the 5th week of Lent. The 40 days in the church calendar leading up to Good Friday and Easter. It feels appropriate to reflect on my father’s use of power as we use these 40 days to reflect on how the God of the universe choose to use his power. To lay it down. I think of the part of Jesus’ life that we actually get this 40 day tradition from. The 40 days of lent are in reflection of the 40 days Jesus spent in the Desert. Reading from Matthew 4 1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
I was recently listening to a sermon by the Catholic Thinker Richard Rohr on this passage and he points out that in this we see a temptation of power in three areas here. He says this is a a temptation of personal power. Turning the stone to bread A temptation of religious power, quoting scripture to tempt Jesus And a temptation of political and financial power. With a promise of the kingdoms of and their splendor.
Jesus, the picture of what God is like, uses and responds to power this way.
Is that our assumed picture of God? One who lays down power? Is that what immediately comes to our mind when we think of “God”? For most of us, isn’t the immediate picture all kinds of powerful imagery? (glorious and removed, up in the clouds, exerting control)
When we look at the Greek, Roman, and pagan gods that were popular in Jesus time. We see gods using their power for their own gain Think of all the Greek Mythology you likely read in high school Think of the manipulation, the abuses that occurred in order for the gods to keep their place Think of how they used their power to satisfy their own needs And then humanity’s role was either to play the pawns, or to be in service of the gods’ power grabs.
But, Jesus reveals a God who is an inversion of what we’d expect.
We see a God who sacrificed his power for the sake of others. Laid down himself so that others would be elevated.
I was recently reading an article that talked about what kinds of legislation newly elected politicians first attempt to pass when they get into office.
Theoretically when a politician wins an election, they have some good will and some political equity to try to get something done, I mean they just won, they haven’t disappointed anyone yet.
Interestingly, When you look at the kinds of legislation newly-elected politicians push it generally falls into two groupings.
The first has to do with consolidating their power.
This is trying to pass legislation that is focused on helping them get reelected. Making it easier for them to stay in office.
This would be things like gerrymandering, changing the boundaries of districts so that votes that might be cast against you in the next election would be less damaging.
The other type is focused on bringing about some kind of change that the politician thinks would help people.
This would be like when Obama made it his first priority to pass a healthcare reform. The challenge with these kinds of legislation is that in a country as divided as ours, any real change comes with an decent amount of disapproval. So, with these kinds of legislation, you may get to help people, but you will also likely take a political hit. So, this all points to a question most politicians have to wrestle with when the enter office,
Do I try to bring about change that I believe in, even if it’s at the cost of my own position and power? Or, do I focus on consolidating my power?
That question feels related to Jesus’ temptation in the desert to me -- to this issue of how humanity is tempted to use and respond to power.
(Pause) There is this juxtaposition of two images burned in my mind -- that has helped me think about the difference between how we as humans all so often think of power and what Jesus shows us about power.
The first is in the gospel writer John’s depiction of Jesus on the cross, he describes the last moment of Jesus death this way.
John 19 28 knowing that everything had now been accomplished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is accomplished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
It is accomplished, or some translations say, it is finished, or it is completed. That, what Jesus had set out to do, what the God of the universe has set out to do, was accomplished there on the cross.
The second image is a result of me being someone who came of age in the midst of the George W. Bush presidency. Whenever I hear the phrase accomplished, I can’t help but to picture in my mind. The image of W. standing declaring victory in Iraq on a battleship in front of the banner “mission accomplished”.
Now, for some reason, thinking of these two images in juxtaposition, just really captures for me how God thinks about power vs how we think about power.
We think about it as standing on a battleship with displaying our military might for the world to see.
God, sees it as lived out through a humiliating death.
(Pause) There are a couple things I want to leave us with
First, use whatever power you do have, and the reality is that by sitting here in America, you have power, use that power for the sake of others, not yourselves.
Maybe at work you can do this with those you have more power than
Use that power to not just advocate for yourself, but for those who work with you
I think of a meeting I was in recently where my organization was assessing our paid time off policy.
And one thing I felt compelled to fight was for us to offer some paid maternity leave.
Now, that is not something I will benefit from, but I have power and I have voice, and I think that it is ridiculous that we don’t have this in America. So, I will try leverage my power for things like this. Or maybe you are like my Dad who has opportunity to use your power to give others voice. There are countless ways that we have power in this world, I think Jesus shows us that the world we long for, the life that is fed by more than bread alone, is found when we use our power for sake of others not ourselves.
Lastly, I want to say,
We live a world where people consolidate power for their own gain and at the cost of us, all the time.
If you have experienced the crippling reality of student debt You have experienced the cost of others consolidating power at your expense If you have ever felt the stress of navigating our healthcare system You have experienced the cost of others consolidating power at your expense If you have ever worked a full time job, but still struggled to make ends meet You have experienced the cost of others consolidating power at your expense I you are a women here, like my mother You have experienced the cost of others consolidating power at your expense If you are not white, or not born in America You have experienced the cost of others consolidating power at your expense But here is the challenge, don’t let that make you cynical. Don’t let that lead you towards hoarding power for yourself When we feel taken advantage of, we can feel like we have to take care of ourselves, that we have to consolidate whatever power we have for ourselves. In those moments, we find ourselves in our own version of Jesus’ 40 days being tempted in the desert. And Instead of giving in to the empty promises of grabbing at or consolidating whatever power we have or can find, we can find the company of the God of the universe. He lives here with you. He lives with the poor, the beaten down, he lives with the marginalized, he lives with us when we feel small and powerless. He lives with us when we feel like the cards are stacked against us.
He did not accomplish his mission through a glorious force of might, he did so by walking through suffering, loneliness, betrayal, and loss. He is familiar with it, so he can walk with you through it.