Saturday, November 19, 2016

What is Power? (Sermon for Christ the King Sunday)

What is Power?
Luke 23:33-43
St. John's Episcopal Church, New Haven
Christ the King Sunday

I’m gonna come right out of the gate and ask you to put up with a little bit of foolishness with me. I’m going to share with you a lyric from the rapper, producer, fashion designer, and now 2020 presidential candidate, Kanye West. Now I know that many of you may be tempted to roll your eyes or glare, but the takeaway of this sermon (or if you’re a note taker what you’re going to want to write down) is stolen from the very end of his 2010 hit single POWER (all caps). And it goes like this, “Have you got the power to let power go?” Have you got the power to let power go?

Mmmm… Kanye not so ridiculous after all... This same idea is found in Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust masterpiece, “Schindler’s List.” If you’ve seen the movie you’ll remember there’s that powerful scene where Oskar Schindler is having a conversation with an SS officer. It’s Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes talking about the nature of power. The very drunk officer turns to Oskar and tells him that he’s on to him. That he knows why he never gets drunk. “That’s your control,” he says. “Control is power. That’s your power.” To this Oskar goes a step further. “True power, Amon, is when we have every justification to kill and we don’t. A man steals something, he’s brought in before the emperor, he throws himself down on the ground, he begs for his life, he knows that he is going to die, and the emperor pardons him. This worthless man, the emperor lets him go… That’s power, Amon. That is power.”...

In today’s gospel lesson this kind of power is taken even further. In it we read about the crucifixion of Jesus. Yes, on Christ the King Sunday we read about the utter humiliation of our Lord. You might be tempted to think that this is further evidence that the assemblers of our lectionary were totally crazy, but you’d be wrong. For once you know the literary strategy of the synoptic gospels this ironic pairing should come as no surprise. For while all four gospels are trying to get you to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?”, Matthew, Mark, and Luke do so in a very unlikely way.