Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Is a line from Burn’s poem “Address to a Haggis” which has been said many times over the years in this church building at Burn’s suppers. Ye Powers.
Paul the apostle wrote about “Ye powers” when he wrote,
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)
In 1948 George Orwell wrote the novel, 1984, which was a dystopian novel, which is to say that is a novel about the future where there is a kind of warning about a future which is not good.
The story of 1984 is about a man, Winston who lives in the fictional totalitarian country of Oceania, in which everything is controlled by the government. Everything… There are cameras everywhere, thus the famous phrase “Big Brother is watching you.”
Winston works for the “Ministry of Truth” where they constantly rewrite history, even declaring some real historical persons as “unpersons” and deleting them from all history. They control completely all media, books, magazines, radio, television etc. so that all anybody gets is the government’s propaganda.
It is a classic novel that in essence predicted many of the dilemmas, issues and/or abuses this world faces in this current age of communication and mass media. …issues such as personal privacy, state security, freedom of information, government rewriting of history, propaganda, torture and brainwashing.
Don’t you sometimes get the feeling that Big Brother is watching, that there are Powers out there beyond our control who are trying to control us.
A while back I wanted to get some tools. Some Milwaukee M12 tools, so I was looking on amazon.ca.
And then I noticed on Facebook, that every day I was getting adds for Milwaukee M12 power tools.
On the internet it is just like the band the Police used to sing.
Every breath you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you.
On the internet for sure, Big Brother or somebody is watching you is watching you.
Edward Snowdon a former CIA employee released US state secrets to the world and as I understand revealed just how many illegal things the United States government was doing especially when it came to spying on their own citizens, on 35 different government world leaders.
NSA was wiretapping phones, emails, internet use of millions of people without authorization.
Big Brother is watching you.
So, one of the Powers in this world is Government. Of course, Government is not one power, but since there are many governments, there are many Powers.
In fact, there are many more Powers in this world.
Let me quote from the Book: The Powers that Be written by the late Walter Wink who was a theologian, A Methodist minister, a Professor at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City for many years, and a leading biblical scholar.
All of us deal with the Powers that be.
They staff our hospitals, sit around tables in corporate board rooms, sit in City hall, collect our taxes, run our churches, head our families.
But the Powers that be are more than the people who run things.
They are the systems themselves, the institutions and structures that weave society into an intricate fabric of power and relationships.
These Powers surround us on every side. They are necessary. They are useful. We could do nothing without them. Who wants to live without well maintained roads,( or schools or hospitals…)(harry’s addition)
But the Powers are also the source of unmitigated evil.
A while back there was a Mortgage Crisis in the United States and how all kinds of risky mortgages were bundled together and sold as Triple A securities;
….and it was crooked and corrupt all the way round and all the major financial institutions were kind of in on it, even though they didn’t fully understand what the ramifications of their actions would be.
Even the credit rating companies were giving good credit ratings to basically what was really bad risk debts.
That is an example of the Powers and the evil they can work, because when the system failed, when the bad debt came home to roost, and the economy tanked…
…millions of people lost their homes and millions of people lost their jobs….
It wasn’t the Powers who suffered as much as the innocent people who basically lost homes and jobs.
In fact, the financial Powers were bailed out by the Government Powers in order to keep the whole system afloat…
because after all we still needs banks and car loans and mortgages and retirement savings….
But the rulers of the financial Powers a lot of them still got their huge salaries and ginormous bonuses.
In this case Big Brother isn’t watching you, so much as taking advantage of you.
Here is the thing. The Powers are fallen. The Powers are sinful.
It doesn’t mean that they don’t do any good or that they don’t even have the intention to do good.
The education system, the medical system, the government all want good things…
But they are not perfect and when push comes to shove, the Institutions, The Powers, the System usually look after themselves and look after the ones in power who control them.
And this all gets compounded by the fact that the big Powers in this world often collude together, because they are controlled by a small group of people, who are usually white, male and wealthy…
And they want to keep the world at peace and running smoothly if it keeps money rolling into their pockets
Walter Brueggeman, another leading biblical scholar and maybe according to me, the leading biblical scholar alive today…
Who has written many books and was for a number of years Professor at a Columbia Presbyterian Seminary in Decatur, Georgia …
Calls this group or privileged white, male rich controllers of the Powers…
Let me paraphrase from one of Brueggeman’s lectures.
The hegemony are the ones in control. They enforce consent, with or without armed force. The hegemony wants to keep things the way they are because it suits them, because it keeps them in power.
In the world today the predominant hegemony is white, male and rich. There are lots of people who look forward to elections to see that the government changes.
And when there is a change of government there are some changes but the real truth is this:
It might not make a lot of difference who is elected because it is not the politicians who run the country. It is the hegemony. Predominantly the very rich who are predominantly white and male.
Even if a woman,(or a black man) (harry’s addition) would be elected, the hegemony would still be there. So, the options are to oppose the hegemony or to be a part of it. And most leaders are part of it already.
(I took these notes at the APCE conference many years ago where Brueggeman was the keynote speaker)
Big Brother, The Powers, the System is not only watching us… it takes advantage of us… and sometimes even controls us.
So much is said these days about Systemic Racism. That is just one aspect of the System.
It isn’t just that there are people in the system that are racist and of course there are…
But it is more than that. The system itself is biased. And it is biased towards white heterosexual privileged rich males.
They are the ones who run the system and legitimize violence to keep the system the way it is…
Armies and police are part of the way the system is maintained.
And yes, the system is changed over the years. It is better than it was, better for women and minorities and gays, and people with disabilities and even the poor…
…but it is still a fallen system with its built-in biases.
And the system spins narratives to support it. Lower taxes. Bigger jails. Curbs on ability to protest. Law and Order. The Unions are bad. Socialism is communism. The Media produces fake news.
The system lovers to point fingers at the others who are evil like Terrorists, or North Korea, or China, and they are right that there is evil in other places in the world, but the system has a hard time in pointing fingers inward and dealing with systemic poverty, systemic discrimination, systemic racism…
Because the truth is to make changes in the system will reduce the wealth of the rich, reduce the power of the powerful, reduce the privilege of the privileged.
And most of us, myself included are part of the system and buy into the system, because it is inherent human nature to not change the system if we benefit. And since the Western World has benefitted most, most of the Western World buys into the system.
One of the interesting things about Jesus is how much of his message was against the System. It was against the Powers that Be.
He talked about setting people free. He talked about the rich being brought low and the poor being raised up.
He talked about power and challenged the powers of his day whom he called tombs. They were dead inside.
He talked about non-violence and non-judgement and justice and equality for all. And Jesus treated all with grace and love and forgiveness and compassion.
I have come to bring good news to the poor.
I have come to bring release to the captives.
I have come to bring healing to those who are hurt.
I have come to break the chains of those who are oppressed.
I have a different way of being, and I invite you into a different way of being.
This is Jesus message, and if you read through the gospels time and time again you will find Jesus saying that it is not wealth that counts…
It is not status that counts.
It is not power that counts…
It is love and equality that counts.
In fact, Jesus told them that lots of groups and people like to Lord it over others, but that they not to Lord it over others but to serve others.
And today’s scripture lesson is a jarring lesson
Jesus says he has come to bring a sword.
Jesus says that we will have strife in our families.
Jesus talks about losing our lives.
And the sword that Jesus brings, is the sword that got him killed.
It is the sword of truth, that cuts away at rich privilege and cuts away at the Powers that Be.
It is the sword that cuts the system and demands that all people will be equal and that all have right to food, to clean water, to education, to health care, to peace, to housing and to fair treatment.
It is a sword that cuts right into families, because it is the system of your family that you grew up in, that is often the source of your biggest biases.
Jesus knows that for us to seek truth and love, we have to fight against the biases and prejudices from our families, our own culture, our own churches even.
And that it will cost us… In order to bring life to the system we will have to make sacrifices.
Jesus’ basic message was that God’s kingdom can come on earth…. That God’s way of love and equality can come on earth
And that we should not only pray for it to come, but be working towards it.
And what is that kingdom? Not a place where a male ruler is ruling..
But a network of relationships governed by love.
…a place or a system… or a condition….where love was supreme and that all interactions were guided by the principal of loving your neighbour as yourself.
That all interactions were about serving and loving the other
What would it look like if love ruled? If the divine held sway….
There would be the principle of egality or equality.
All people are equal. All people are children of God.
There would be maybe the principle of sharing.
Jesus said, to whom much is given, much is required.
Sharing with those in need and with the poor is part of Jesus’ message, but probably even more. How about addressing the structures, cultures and institutions that help keep people poor.
Nonviolence. Violence has been one of the prime ways that people have gained power and the way that people stay in power.
Jesus told us to turn our cheeks, to love our enemies and Jesus went to the cross and forgave those who violently killed him.
Women and Foreigners and those of different races. Jesus was so ahead of his time in his treatment of women, and minorities granting them status and equality and treating them as peers.
Acceptance. Jesus often touched the unclean, ate without the ceremonial washings, and showed that true holiness and purity was not about the rites, rituals and laws of humans, but about purity of heart, where one only had love for another.
All these teachings of Jesus were about relationships and not rules and hierarchies.
He not only taught that the Powers That Be are fallen, the System is broken, but tried to redeem them with a new social order.
And that is why he was killed.
The hegemony killed him, because in the words of the High Priest…
It is better that one man die than the hegemony be destroyed. He said whole nation, but he really meant the hegemony….The ones in power.
Somebody was talking about the other day: Why is the organized church, in general going down hill. Why is attendance waning and churches closing?
What should we do about it?
To tell you the truth. I do not think it is all bad.
The church joined the hegemony about 1700 years ago when the church gained real power with the reign of Emperor Constantine.
The Church allied itself with worldly power.
I won’t bore you with all the excesses of the church over those years, nor will I say that everything that the church did was bad over that time. Of course not.
But at times the church allied itself with power and wielded that power, and at times brutally.
Even 100 years ago most of the hegemony of Edmonton came to First Presbyterian church.
The powerful wealthy were part of this congregation.
The ones who really controlled things….
Were they bad or evil? Probably no more than any of us?
We think of maybe the good old days in the church, when the pews were full and there was supposedly lots of money in the church.
It isn’t actually true, because if you ever looked at the history of annual meetings you will note that churches always struggled with money.
But may I remind you in the good old days, there was a lot of judgement, a lot of criticizing and a lot of shame. If you were an unmarried woman with a child, if you were gay or lesbian, or black, or different, you were not welcomed and often were shamed.
People who didn’t come to church or criticized the church were shamed.
The wealthy had better seats and had more voice in the church. Women and the poor had little say.
There was less humor, less compassion. The church supported the hegemony, because the church was part of it.
And we all know in the last 100 years some of the sins in the church. And it isn’t just that there were bad priests or ministers but how the system of the church did not address issues and covered them up.
We all know of the problems of the Residential schools and the church’s involvement.
Maybe, just maybe, part of the decline of the church is that it was not building a kingdom of love and equality and had allied itself with the System.
And so maybe a declining church is not be all bad. Maybe Jesus has taken out a sword and is pruning the church, so that we are not so much a part of the system, but a sword of truth demanding that the system change.
Maybe we are being pruned back so that we can truly be a people of love who have loving relationships.
Maybe a declining church is not all that bad, so that people don’t come to church out of duty or shame but out of love…
Maybe the church is dying so that we can be resurrected or born again into a church of love….
And that we will truly work towards a reign of love, justice, and equality.
That we would truly be a safe place for all people and especially the disenfranshised.
I don’t think the Church is supposed to be Big Brother …..watching us, ….taking advantage of us …. or controlling us
The church is supposed to be one family with every person in this world.
Like we are a body. We need all the parts and if any one part is missing we are not whole.
Jesus invites us to be one human family, equal, sharing with one another, celebrating one another, enjoying one another, loving one another.
What would our lives look like if we were ruled by love, that all our interactions were governed by what is loving for the other….?
Are we Big Brother, or Big sister, watching, controlling, taking advantage…..?
Pushing our own agenda…. Getting our way?
Or are we servants of love, serving others? Amen