Our Power Is in Our Weakness
68: 1-10: 33-36
Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
I have been drenched in scripture since even before
I could read and write. My parents were devout Baptists, and I taught
a Sunday School class for poor children in a mill village in my hometown
in Alabama when I was only seven.
Given that steady exposure, I am amazed to recall how excluded I felt
from Christianity after I discovered that I was gay. It seemed to me that
all the biblical promises belonged only to those who were straight, who
were captains of sports teams, who were most popular on campus. . . God
"gives power and strength to his people," the Psalmist proclaims (68:3).
"You will receive power" Jesus says at his Ascension (Acts 1:8).
Did not these my "enemies" have the power? As a fearful, deeply closeted
gay man, I certainly did not.
What happened, I now see clearly from almost six decades away, was my
own unquestioning obedience to the dictates of the heterosexist culture
that had educated us. That culture arrogated to itself the right to say
who was in and who was out; its expectations had little to do with the
biblical witness of inclusion.
Jesus transfigured as mighty in power was a vision his disciples had
only after Jesus was mocked and crucified. His "power" was not the point,
but the counterpoint. "King of the Jews" was a name of derision, not exaltation.
The earliest Christians were shaped by their experience of the harsh
Roman occupation. They had been taught to expect the Messiah as a liberator
who would, as Mary proclaimed, cast the mighty from their thrones and
exalt the humble and the meek. Yet the Romans killed Jesus and persecuted
the Christians. Their exaltation, like any we might expect, was put on
hold. Humility was the order of the day, and still is.
. . .I thought the promises had nothing to do with me and were offered
only to those who obviously enjoyed the most approval in our town, especially
the macho bullies who mocked folks like me, and even more so if lesbians
and gays dared even think that God loves us. I could not have been more
wrong; the promises were addressed specifically to me and to all who suffer.
"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he
may exalt you in due time," Peter exhorted the persecuted (1 Peter 5:6).
Humility was a derogatory word in the culture of the Roman Empire, as
it is in much of the American Empire. Humility derives from humus, or
"dirt." It is as if Peter is saying, "Be aware of your dirtness." The
Ash Wednesday liturgy could not be more blunt, "Remember that you are
but dust, and to dust you will return."
These are not images of power but of powerlessness. "If you would follow
me, go sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and then follow
me," Jesus told a rich young ruler.
Heterosexism was so dominant in my education in Alabama 60 years ago,
that I thought the promises had nothing to do with me and were offered
only to those who obviously enjoyed the most approval in our town -- especially
the macho bullies who mocked folks like me. This was even more pronounced
when lesbians and gays dared to even think that God loves us. I could
not have been more wrong; the promises were addressed specifically to
me and to all who suffer.
Peter counseled, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that
is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were
happening to you. . . If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are
blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting
on you" (1 Peter 4:12, 14).
He adds: "Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your
adversary the heterosexist bully prowls around, looking for someone to
devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers
and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering"
(5:8, in my personal translation).
Read without the gloss of the dominant culture, scripture so much reveals
the last as the first and the outsiders as the insiders, that it is difficult
to imagine how those powerful in this world can see themselves in scripture,
or like what they see. In the story of the Prodigal Son, they are at best
the elder brother. In the story of the Good Samaritan, they are the Jew
in the ditch rescued and cared for by someone they despise.
According to scripture, our power is in our weakness. Any rank or position
we have, we give up, use up, or risk, to serve others. At the "Great Gittin'
Up Mornin'," we will be judged not by how right we are, or smart we are,
or grand and powerful we are, but by how much we serve those who are the
least among us, even those who are our enemies.
Power rightly belongs to God alone, and we must exercise any power entrusted
to us on behalf of the powerless. "And after you have suffered for a little
while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in
Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.
To him be the power forever and ever. Amen" (5:10-11).
Crew is a writer and a well-known collector and disseminator
of statistics and little-known facts about the Anglican Communion, which
may be found on his
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