Toorak Uniting Church

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The Paradox of Power

Daniel 7: 1 – 8   John 18: 33 – 37
Rev. Morag Thorne
25 November 2012

Today marks the conclusion of the liturgical year, and we celebrate it as the Reign of Christ the King. This is the conclusion of our year-long reflecting on the unfolding of the gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ that we have been reading since the first week of Advent 2011.

We look to Christ as the focal point of all time and space, reigning over all Creation in goodness and truth; one who has ultimate power over all things and all powers, one we do not fear because in him we find also ultimate Love and Peace.

While acknowledging and loving Christ, we are forced to acknowledge too that we live in a world that is still as perplexed by the alternative power of love and truth of God as Pilate was when he questioned Jesus of Nazareth almost twenty-one centuries ago.

Our Melbourne poet, cartoonist and prophet Michael Leunig wrote with great insight:

There are only two feelings, Love and fear:
There are only two languages, Love and fear:
There are only two activities, Love and fear:
There are only two motives, two procedures,
two frameworks, two results, Love and fear, Love and fear.

Knowing the love of Christ, there is no need for fear. And yet our two readings, from Daniel and John, and the words of the choral anthem – My soul longs for God – pretty well summarise the continuing perplexity of the human condition.

We understand that the terrifying creatures in Daniel’s vision represented the predatory might of the nations and empires of that time. It is no wonder that he goes on to report in v 15 that he was ‘troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through (his) mind disturbed (him).’

These things still disturb us. Some national flags still depict their national character in predatory animals – lions, eagles, bears, even the mythical creatures, dragons and griffins. We know that nations are still predatory and exploitative of their weaker members and neighbours, and that fear born of ignorance motivates cruel and shameful acts.

We are being tested in our own national policies – are we going to submit to the fears and illusion of rights and privilege that would have us continue the legacy of crushing, devouring and trampling underfoot those who have already suffered under terrifying oppressors?

Will we faithfully persist in doing what we can to extend the Reign of Christ?

These issues and challenges persist and perplex because we have such limited understanding of power. We are still intimidated by the power of ‘bigger, richer, louder and pushier’. That kind of power is obvious, but not always true. That sort of power is transitory and always vulnerable to the fear that someone bigger, richer, louder or pushier is going to come along. It is limited in vision and often lasts only a few years, although those years can be deeply damaging.

The paradox of God’s power demonstrated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth is that it is motivated by that alternative, love, and not fear. Love as a motive generates its own liberating power to give attention and care to the weak, the small and the quiet.

Paradoxically, the end-products of love often outlast human lifetimes, and its impact on nations can outlast kingdoms and empires, precisely because it is the small things that constitute the integral networks and structures of human life that touch us all.

Some of the world-changing effects of power generated by love have been:

My list goes on, and I’m sure you can all call to mind evidence of love ‘at large in the world’ that makes you rejoice; it is pervasive, enduring and powerful.

Why then is humankind so often intimidated by destructive and ugly power?

Perhaps it is because we have not fully grasped or understood the truth of who Jesus was, and so have not appreciated the truth of who and what we are.

Daniel’s vision, as it continued to unfold, points us toward that truth, one that is liberating, humbling and empowering. Following the visions of destructive monsters, Daniel writes (in v 13): In my vision at night I looked and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and (people) of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

The key to what we perceive as the paradoxical nature of power is that phrase ‘one like a son of man’. That archetype, ‘Son of Man’, is how Jesus referred to himself. We are accustomed to hearing humility in the term ‘Son of Man’ and not recognising its power. Jesus identified with us, as one of us, not just as an act of grace on his part, reducing himself to our human state, but as a revelation. He demonstrated the holy power that is available to us when we choose to function in the full dignity and glory of our God-given humanity. Doing less than that, being less than we were created to be, reduces us to the ill-formed, malfunctioning monsters of Daniel’s vision.

Being pleased to be known as ‘Son of Man’, a human being, Jesus identifies with the latent power that lies within us all as crea-tures of the God and well-spring of life and love.

In honour of the Reign of Christ the King, let us pray, as the theologian Walter Brueggemann suggests:

"Give us courage to depart the pretend world of euphemism, to call things by their right name, to use things for their right use, to love our neighbour as you love us", (Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth).

In our fidelity to the powers of courage, truth and love, may Jesus Christ be praised, Amen.

© Rev. Morag Thorne, 2012

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