Ascension Day, 2009
“The Power of God”
We humans are obsessed with power. Who's in power in the halls of government. So-and-so's a strong woman. So-and-so's a take charge kind of guy who gets things done. He's got so many people working under him. There's the power of persuasion, the power that comes with money, and the power to get what you want from people- bending their wills through intimidation and force. I think of Donald Trump and his catch phrase, “You're fired”. Our world glorifies that kind of power.
If we only had the power to solve all our problems, heal our diseases, make people treat us with respect, get everything done that we want. But a little honesty will show us that we're not so powerful at all. And so we feel powerless, hopeless, despondent.
Power is something most people want. Power – in its many forms – makes us feel in control. Power makes us feel, well, like God. That's the original temptation Satan put before Adam and Eve, and he still puts it before us each day. “Have it your way”. You set the rules. You have the power. You can be like God. In fact who needs God and what he says, anyway, when you have the power? You don't need to bow to his power, his control, his law. Be your own man or woman. Make your own choices, set your own agenda. And the more power you have, the better you can do all that... right?
Wrong. The lie behind it all – the great deception of power, is that we have ANY power. In truth we sinners are quite powerless. We can do nothing on our own – except sin. We're not in control. Rather, we are bound and chained in the Devil's power, until Christ claims us as his own. We would be lost forever unless Jesus delivered us. We would be hopeless, helpless... powerless, without him.
Christ has all the power. St. Paul speaks eloquently in our reading today about that power – the glory, the authority, the dominion that belong to him. His name is greater than any name. His throne is higher than any throne. The church celebrates Ascension day to mark that event in our Lord's work in which he, Jesus, takes back his full and supreme power over all things – sits in his rightful throne on high, and rules over everything for our good. He has the power, all power- and he wields it for us!
That power was shown in the glory of his resurrection. “ his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places”
Raised from death's power, he lives forever triumphant. And because he lives and reigns, we will live and reign.
Jesus, our forerunner, goes through all of human life and redeems it for us. He is born, he grows, he is baptized, he even dies – all experiences of the human life – he humiliated himself to walk the walk, walk our walk, and do it perfectly.
But in the resurrection and ascension, he begins his exalted work for us – and shows us what our future looks like. He exercises his power – over death, over sin, over Satan. He descends into Hell to announce his victory, and he ascends into heaven to reclaim his rightful place. In him, we have power – and only in him do we have power – over sin, death and devil. In him we have life even after death. In him we will reign on high forever.
True power, the power that Christ gives, is not power to make people do things. It is not the base and low sinful exertion of your will over someone else's. Christians are not about bullying. But true power is found in Christ and his word. The Gospel is “the power of God for salvation”. True authority is that authority that he gives for forgive sins. True might is the strength to serve others and show love, even laying down your own life for another.
That's what Jesus did, after all. He came not to be served, but to serve. He taught his disciples to do the same. The rulers of the gentiles lord their power over people, but it shall not be so among you! In Christ we have great power, true power, but it is not a power that seeks selfish gain. Rather, it is a power like his own – a power to help and heal and love and nurture. A power to die for someone else – in little or big ways. A power to live not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. Yes, the Holy Spirit is the one who empowers us to live in Christ.
And his power is made perfect in weakness. Think of the cross – how helpless and weak he was on that dark day. But there when it seemed all was lost, when they jeered him and taunted, “save yourself if you can!”. There his power was made perfect – there he was saving not himself, but the world. The men of worldly power thought they had won the day, but the man who was also God was exercising true power, in weakness. And the glory was soon to come.
There is a sinful lust for power alive and well among us. But in reality we are powerless – powerless to save ourselves. Powerless in the face of death. Powerless even to reach out for God's help.
But Jesus Christ has power. He made his power known in the weakness of the cross, in the glory of Easter, and now exercises that power fully in his ascension. He does it all for us – so that by HIS power we are forgiven, enlivened, and empowered to live as his people now and forever.