THE SURPRISE OF POWER

 

FRANCIS ASBURY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

BATON ROUGE, LA

on

Christ the King Sunday, November 26, 2017

Message by Reverend David Melville

We began what I call our season of surprises – Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas – last week discussing the surprise of miracles.  God is still in the miracle business.  And miracles can occur in all areas of our being, including what we give back to God of what He has first given us to use responsibly.  We will see how many miracles are left for Francis Asbury – along with a unique volunteer center rising from the messy flood waters of 2016 – next Sunday, December 3,  when we come to the table for the sacrament of Holy Communion,  and we leave our financial commitments for 2018. Please pray for and look for a miracle next Sunday in your personal life, and in the life of Francis Asbury. As I said last week, when we give generously and sacrificially when we don’t have to, I’d say that is a miracle!

Today, Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate a triumphant, victorious, powerful, kingly  Jesus.  He surprised a lot of Jews and gentiles with his power over death, and with his staying power for two millennia.  It’s  O.K. every once-in-a-while to be reminded and even surprised by the power of Jesus … by the power of that name.  If we wake up and notice that power, we won’t limp to the finish line of 2017; we will leap to the finish line! Will you leap with me?

Many of us this morning may feel powerless at times … we yearn for power to overcome a bad  situation or bad habit or addiction; we yearn for power to stand up to  a bully; we feel powerless in the face of extremists and terrorists,  regardless of how much money we spend and how many people we employ to protect us.  Always remember, though, in the words of the great Baptist hymn, “There’s power in the blood.”

So often Christians are branded as soft, weak and meek.  After all,  Jesus once told a crowd:  “The meek shall inherit the earth.” How can we show meekness and power at the same time?  Because our power resides not in lording over someone; our power lies in serving someone, and in the power of love.  Love is the greatest power known to humankind. Listening to someone is just as powerful as yelling at someone.

One time as a part of continuing education requirements for the Conference I attended a study of the complicated, confusing book of Revelation. The study was led by a Perkins School of Theology scholar.  Dr.  John Holbert began with a summary of what he thought the book of Revelation is saying:  Christ won!  That was the message, in a nutshell:  Christ won!  That’s easy enough to understand, but sometimes hard for us to appreciate when Christians – Christ followers – have always been, and are still a minority of the world’s population.  Christ’s triumph is hard for us to fully appreciate when heaven on earth is still yet to be realized.  Millions upon millions are praying for heaven to be realized on earth when we pray the Lord’s Prayer this morning, because evidence shows it is yet to come. So who won?

I

What kind of power by Jesus still amazes and surprises us?  First and foremost is power over death.  Because Christ died and lived again, so can we.  The Roman authorities, the religious authorities, and probably not a few of Jesus’ own disciples weren’t expecting that.  They were thinking, “out of sight, out of mind,” but wouldn’t you know it, He never went away.  I serve a risen savior, He’s in the world today; I know that He is living, whatever foes may say.

Melanie and I have been surprised – pleasantly surprised – how alive our combined four parents, though deceased, continue to be in our lives,  and in the lives of our children.  We now know what we always wanted to believe, but couldn’t know for certain until the time came:  life goes on, because Jesus paved the way. Christ the king defeated death in ways far superior to any victories won on an earthly battlefield.  Ruth Stuart thinks she knows her Lord’s power as she prepares to let George go. But even with her preparation and even with her faith she is going to be overcome with a special power of serenity and strength when George crosses the bar … perhaps this week.

II

Secondly, Christ the King’s power remains in His words. Jesus’ words can still bowl you over … still get your attention … still mean something, inspire and influence.  Our landscape is inundated with words … signs, neon lights, and big, big billboards. Side by side on Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge are the words “A Great Pair” paid for by and advertising Hooters Restaurant, and “The meek shall inherit the earth” and “Blessed are the merciful,” and other words from Jesus on billboards paid for by attorney Gordon McKernan.  Thank God for a free country.  “A great pair” and “Blessed are the meek and merciful,” side by side.   Based upon your life experiences, which words do you believe are destined to last?   Which words are most likely to help someone feeling powerless? Notice that nowhere in scripture does it say, “Blessed are the powerful.”  So we must be talking about different kinds of power. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” [Matthew 24:35]

You have to admit that many advertising words and jingles are quite clever, they strike a chord, and they become a part of us: McDonalds’ “You deserve a break today;” or Burger King’s “Have it your way;” or Coke’s  “It’s the real thing.”  That is the objective of these companies’ advertising gurus:  for particular words and images to be embedded into our D.N.A.  Gordon McKernan’s and other attorneys’ secular, legal advertising is sure successful.  Our granddaughter, Caroline,  often sings out from memory the telephone number for McKernan [888-8888], and she especially likes the jingle and phone number of Spencer Callahan [387-2323].  (I need to say at this point Caroline is not completely geeky … one reason she is so familiar with those particular attorneys’ phone numbers is because their daughters are classmates of Caroline, so I guess she pays more attention to their dads’ advertising.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!)

So words (and I guess numbers)  sway us and inspire us. But which words do you want to turn to in the most hopeless and powerless situations:  “Have it your way,” or “Come to me all who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest”? Which words will most help Ruth Stuart in what she faces in the days ahead: modern advertising language or some words from Jesus orally transmitted two thousand years ago?  Two thousand years ago speakers didn’t have the luxury of recording and PowerPoint and The Cloud.  But somehow, some way, Jesus’ uniquely powerful words miraculously survived for fifteen hundred years until the invention of the printing press and mass production. And the rest is history.   They must have been powerful words indeed!

III

            One unusual attribute about Jesus’ power is that He wants us to have it too.  He doesn’t mind sharing His power.  I like that kind of king.

Luke 9:1 reports that “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Even when earthly kings have shared and delegated powers with princes or other local officials, the mandate was more likely to be repressive actions rather than servanthood.

I think Christians have  done a pretty good job driving out demons, curing diseases and healing the sick.  The Christian church led the way creating hospitals and nursing orders, and then the public sector followed suit.  But I believe we can still do better and do more in the area of access to affordable and quality health care.  But that would lead to you know what, and I better not go there this morning!

The gospel of John has Jesus explaining what will happen to His disciples  when he leaves them:  “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” [ John 14:12]

Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus told his still startled and bewildered disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” [Acts 1:8]  Jesus delivered as He said He would:  the Holy Spirit came to us  at Pentecost, just as promised.  But have we done our part … have we been Jesus’  witnesses, telling others about Him?  Methodists have been rather shy about that.  Are we leaving some kingly power – the power of witness — on the table?

One of the most endearing stories of the New Testament for me is the encounter between Jesus and the woman in the crowd who had endured bleeding and hemorrhaging problems for a long time.  It was so crowded that Jesus knew someone in his midst needed special care and attention, but He didn’t know who it was.  As I said, it was crowded, and there was a lot of jostling and pushing and shoving.  He finally put two and two together when He felt that His power had gone out from Him to her.  I don’t know if you have ever experienced what Jesus felt, but He has given us permission and authority and ability to do so.  We do as He often did:  we literally empty ourselves serving, nurturing and giving to others.  We do so in Jesus’ name, and with the power He has granted us. We are literally drained as Jesus’ power flows through us to another.  It’s a good feeling.  Don’t leave a physician’s power on the table; don’t leave a carpenter’s power on the table; don’t leave a teacher’s power on the table.  May Bernie and I, and all of my colleagues never leave a pastor’s power on the table.

IV

Let me close this morning by reminding us of one final attribute of Jesus’ power: the power to judge as did kings of old.  Don’t be surprised by that power come Judgment Day.  Jesus talked too often about separating the wheat from the chaff, and the sheep from the goats. Don’t say He didn’t warn us. And for most of us, He gives us plenty of time to get it right.  Those of us in this room have had 60, 70, 80, 90 years to prepare.

One of the most powerful vocations in America is that of a judge … especially those appointed for life.  Wow!  To whom are they accountable?  Jesus will have even more power and discretion.  Earthly judges rule over earthly issues and disputes, but Jesus has the final say over our final resting place.   I don’t want to act ignorant or surprised when I approach the bench.  I want to be prepared.

Some denominations soft peddle the judgment part.  They emphasize grace more than sin, and faith over works.  Indeed, one could characterize United Methodists in those two ways.  But we as United Methodists do believe Jesus will judge the living and the dead.  We also believe in some of the most powerful hymn lyrics ever composed:  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; he is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; he hath loosed the fateful lightening of his terrible swift sword; his truth is marching on.  Sing with me:  Glory, glory, hallelujah!  Glory, glory, hallelujah!  Glory, glory, hallelujah!  His truth is marching on!

            People in Jesus’ day were always looking for signs; so are we.  Jesus told them the most important sign to look for:  “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” [Matthew 24:30]   Jesus has come a long way from being forced to carry his own cross and being slaughtered like a meek, helpless lamb. There’s power in the blood!

            Through Christ we have so much power at our disposal; so much power and potential at our fingertips.  Are you going to use that power and that potential in all kinds of ways come 2018?  Will one of those ways be giving generously and giving sacrificially to your church?  Please pray about that, and please let us know your decision next Sunday. Your finance committee, I,  and the Lord Himself will appreciate and honor whatever decision you make.

Let us close by singing what we sang at the beginning of the service, but hopefully with even more meaning and understanding  than before, because  we have discussed for a few minutes the majestic power of Christ the King.

Majesty, Worship His Majesty   #176