I have a clergy friend who recently agreed to serve in a difficult situation. When the opportunity came up for him to serve, I told him that if he went I would go with him – in the sense that I’ll be there to talk and support him. Little did either of us understand how problematic his work would become. We talk on a nearly daily basis.
My friend is dealing with what theologians refer to as the powers of the world. To summarize the theologians, there are two powers, one from heaven one from the world. As articulated in the Gospel and pastoral letters of John (for whom our church is named), these two powers are at odds with each other. The power from the world arises from, as you might guess, things of the world. These things include fear, hate, anger, and anxiety that manifest themselves in social class, greed, beauty, gender bias, racism and other forms of domination and suppression. In olden days, an emperor was supreme at manipulating the powers of the world (fear, hate, anxiety) to keep his power. This suppressive and aggressive power is seen in many Gospel lessons but most heart renderingly in the crucifixion of our Lord.
The powers of the kingdom of heaven are love, unity, self-sacrifice, peace and joy. In the first century, the power of love and peace seemingly couldn’t hold a candle to the incredible and overarching powers of the world. For instance, the powers of the world held the citizens of Rome in an invisible prison of fear and anxiety that started just beyond their fingertips. Their choice was to either participate in the system or drop out and be chewed up by it. There is evidence that the people of Jerusalem were also held in a similar invisible cage that tied them to the Temple authorities, local officials and under the oppressive thumb of the emperor. Into this political and economic climate, Jesus came to preach peace, forgiveness and to reconcile all people to God.
Within the first generation of believers, many had been kicked out of their houses of worship. Some had left their occupations in order to follow Christ. They formed congregations that met in homes and other safe havens. In that time, the author for whom our church is named, wrote, “You are from God and you have conquered them [the powers of the world] because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 Jn 4:4) History shows us the believers went out and changed the world. Those Christians believed, obviously, that the One inside of them was in fact greater than the power of the world. But what about us, in our time, with the immense powers of fear, hate, anger and anxiety of the world stacking against believers of the Kingdom?
This is what I believe – the fire from the Holy Spirit in my clergy friend is greater than the fire that he stepped into. The fire/Holy Spirit will sustain him and will burn longer than any difficult pastoral situation that he is currently involved in. Likewise, with you, no matter what situation you are dealing with, no matter what powers of the world are pressing in on you, the One who is in you is greater than the power that is in the world. The powers of love, unity, self-sacrifice, peace and joy will conquer all.