Love of Power
Video of sermon (here)
Call to worship (here)
Music Video John Lennon (here)
Power to the people, right on.
Sometimes, I think we give power a bad name. Love of power is so often considered a negative, we say someone is power hungry and that is a real insult. Who wants to be called a power mad control freak, an autocrat?
Sometimes too, I think we are afraid of our own power. It can be scary to realize that your actions, and sometimes even your thoughts, can actually change things. What if we make things worse by exercising the power we have?
When I was in the sixth grade, I had a teacher who told me to always use my powers for good.
Her comment, which may in fact have been a random off hand one, has stuck with me over the years. She said I had power. What a concept! I did not feel very powerful then. She told me to use my powers. Wow! And she told me to use them for good, not telling me exactly what good was.
In my life, I have tried to follow her advice: to acknowledge what power I have, and to use that power for good. I have defined good to mean not just something positive for myself, but something that makes the world a better place
It can be uncomfortable to realize that we have power. All of us have power, I think, but often we deny it and pretend it doesn’t exist. I think we need to learn to love power, not for itself, but for the good that it can do.
Most of us have heard the message that we are powerless, particularly when it comes to politics. The recent court decisions that allow the very wealthy to unduly influence the electoral process certainly reinforce that impression. If money is speech, then speech isn’t free.
But admitting you are powerless in some situations is different than being afraid of the power you have.
Many of you are familiar with 12 step programs. Step 1 is always admitting that you are powerless. In Alcoholics Anonymous, it is being powerless over alcohol.
An alcoholic does not have the power to stop after one or two drinks, but they do have the power to follow the 12 steps, or other paths to recovery.
The serenity prayer calls us to accept the things we cannot change, another acknowledgement of a lack of power. But the same prayer asks for the courage to change the things we can. Using our power often takes courage.
It is so much easier to simply say, “I can’t do anything about that.” It may be easier, but it makes us smaller when we deny our power and pretend that a situation is out of our control when it is one we really could do something about.
Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
This happens all the time, even here at church. An idea comes up, and then someone says, “We can’t do that because we don’t have enough money, time, volunteers whatever it is that we think we need and don’t have.” But while it may be true that an individual may not have any of those things, if it is something the community really wants to do then the time, money and committed volunteers will be found. It is also true that not every good idea is suggested at the right time, and not every idea is something that will get enough people sufficiently excited about it that they will use their collective power to make it happen.
Victor Hugo said, “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
Two of the quotes from our reading come to mind here:
Dorothy Day: “People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”
And of course, Margaret Mead who said,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The key is commitment first, and that commitment, that sense of real purpose then generates the power that is within you, calls it to action. It is just like the energy of action we mention in our chalice lighting each week. Commitment and then action that goes step by steady step, brick by brick, bake sale by bake sale, letter by letter, facebook post by facebook post, tweet by tweet, bringing one more person along, increasing the power, multiplying it as others get involved.
The people are so powerful, but we don’t always realize it when we should. Too often, we give up without even trying.
Some more quotes:
Eleanor Roosevelt: Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes.
Phillip Brooks: Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.
Swami Vivekananda: The Vedanta recognizes no sin it only recognizes error. And the greatest error, says the Vedanta is to say that you are weak, that you are a sinner, a miserable creature, and that you have no power and you cannot do this and that.
There is a spiritual aspect to power.
I ran across this poem the other day, and somehow it seems to relate to this topic. It is by Hafez, the Persian poet who lived and wrote in the 1300’s.
Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.
If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights,
He would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy.
Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth
That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,
Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days.
God wants to manhandle us,
Lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself
And practice His dropkick.
The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:
Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.
But when we hear
He is in such a “playful drunken mood”
Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.
I like that image of God holding us upside down and shaking all the nonsense out.
We are so full of nonsense sometimes. We are so full of no’s and negatives. We need to shake them out and off and let our power flow as it is meant to do.
In our responsive reading this morning, we read the words of Olympia Brown, Universalist Minister, and the first woman ordained in the United States by any national denomination. Stand by this faith, she tells us. Work for it and sacrifice for it. Use the power we have within us and among us to spread the message of love, of justice, and of compassion.
That power comes partly from our imaginations. John Muir said that the power of imagination makes us infinite.
If we can imagine a better world, a better anything, then we can help create it.
Shortly after I came here to Ogden to serve as your minister, I asked you all a question. Does anyone remember what it was?
Do you know how awesome you are?
This church has done so much. You bought this building and paid for it. There is no mortgage. You started the OUTreach program, you have created an incredibly beautiful sanctuary, you have spirited and meaningful worship services every single Sunday of the year, you have engaging religious exploration classes for all ages, you started a Navigator’s program, you were instrumental in passing Ogden City’s non-discrimination ordinances. What else? You have a food shelf that serves both our members and the wider community.
You were selected as a breakthrough congregation because of your innovations in all worship for all ages.
Just this morning, the UU church of Ogden was mentioned in the Metro NY district meeting as a congregation that is doing things right.
And very exciting news this week, the committee that is looking for an interim minister received the names of 6 professional interim ministers who expressed interest in working with you next year.
This is, well, just awesome. These ministers are specially trained and have both experience and expertise in interim ministry. Their services are in high demand and they can pretty much pick and choose where they want to go.
It is because of your awesome reputation within the UUA that they are even considering coming here. It also bodes very well for getting a fabulous settled minister after the interim year. Ministers want to serve congregations that really understand the energy of action, that try to live their values and act of their principles.
So, do you know how awesome you are? You should by now, but I have another question for you?
Do you also know how powerful you are? Do you know how much power is here right now in this sanctuary?
You have already had a huge impact on Ogden and even the entire state as the congregation that is known for standing on the side of love.
What more will you do? How will you use your power? I won’t be here to do it with you, but I will be very excited and proud to follow your story, to see what else you will accomplish.
You can do anything you want to do. The power is within each of you, and in all of you together. You need a new minister and you will find one. If you need more money, you will find it, too.
You are awesome. You are powerful. Don’t be afraid of your power; don’t be afraid to use it. Love your power, people, because it is the power of love.
End by chant from
1 Corinthians 16 – #713
– repeat after me
Keep alert, stand firm in your faith.
Be courageous be strong
Let all that you do be done in love.