May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When we look at the history of media, I don’t think anyone would argue that attitudes have changed drastically since radio and films became widespread. People, dealing with this new media, really were concerned about what would happen if various things were said or done. Who remembers the pirate radios of the 1960’s playing all that brain rotting rock music that the BBC simply wouldn’t play? Even in the 1990s when I was a kid, I remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles coming out, who in this country had to be known as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles because otherwise all us 7 year olds, as I was then, would start being ultra-violent ninjas. Even early Disney picks had issues as Clarabelle the Cow was forced to wear a skirt in cartoons, because she had exposed her udders! Shocking isn’t it, and frankly silly. Silly because lets face it, if you find out something is censored, you go out of your way to find out why.
Well sometimes the people who compile the lectionary, our readings for the day, also sensor bits out of the Bible. Now sadly, it is not often because it is interesting, for example we don’t suffer hearing all the different tribes and their names in the great lists found in numbers, but other times one can’t quite help feeling that the lectionary people are being just a little prudish, which when it comes to scripture is a shame, as we should be challenged by both the easy and the difficult in the bible readings. This morning, the first reading is one of those. The lectionary says 1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12. What happened to verses 5-9? Why are they missed? Without them we hear about the death of King David and how he councils Solomon to walk in all the ways of the Lord.
Here is why they are removed, because in them David lists a couple enemies he wants to be assassinated by Solomon, one whom he promised to spare yet orders Solomon to kill and some friends whom he wants protected. In other words, he is using his earthly power as a king one last time before dying. It puts a rather different flavour on these verses doesn’t it? This is a king, doing what kings could and being a bit, well, murdery. The bible makes no mention about whether or not this is a good idea, but only that it happened, although I can’t believe murder by David would be viewed as a good thing. Afterall one of the reasons that David isn’t allowed to build the temple is the amount of blood that he has shed.
Looking at David and the life of David and in fact all the kings mentioned in the Bible, can tell us a lot about the use and abuse of power. Here, I would suggest is an abuse of power which finds its beginnings in anxiety for his son and anxiety for his legacy. This isn’t to take away from David’s legacy, he was clearly most of the time a good king, but it is a recognition that here was a deeply flawed human being who on occasion was corrupted by power. Think of him seeing Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. Power is abused all the time, one needs only to pick up a paper to see at the heart of many a story is the abuse of power, and it is sought all the time.
Look at the contrast of the servants of the real eternal king, the disciples. In our gospel reading we hear about the disciples going out to two by two to cast out demons and cure the sick. But notice the difference – they are not given power to do such things but are given authority.
Well what is the difference? Power is defined as the ability to influence others and control their actions, as the wielder desires. Authority on the other hand is to be given the right to use power. Power can be obtained by anyone, and often by inappropriate means. This could be power given by wealth, influence, or manipulation. Power finds its strength within the person wielding it. Authority on the other hand is power that is given, and finds its strength with someone else. This may sound subtle but the distinction is important. For example a gangster has power because his henchmen or community fear him and what he may do. Its strength is found in the gangster. A policewoman arresting him has authority given to her by the state. Her power is found not in herself but in the state who has given her authority. Here in this example from David and from the disciples we see that same distinction. David is using his power to do something quite evil. The disciples are going out not in their own power, but under the authority of God. I suspect that Jesus makes them go out without anything so they learn to rely on the authority of God and not in their own power.
This distinction between power and authority is vital in the Christian walk. We are to be disciples sharing the good news of God with authority and not just power. We are to be servant, not master. We are to go out not relying on our own abilities but rely on Christ. You won’t need to think very hard to find examples that often hit the newspapers of people in church abusing their power, in all kinds of positions within church. On our Christian walk we must always learn to rely on the authority of God to pray for people, to help people, to love people. We are invited to trust in His good provision and for His mission to be successful, not in our own strength and power which corrupts.
As we approach lent and look to the cross we see this distinction between power and authority is right at the centre of our faith. Jesus, in whom all authority has been given, could have used His power to escape the cross. Yet instead He chooses to die on a cross so that by His authority our sins may be forgiven. Let us walk the same way of reliance on God’s authority to do His will and to take part in His mission, forsaking power for love. When we do, both individually and corporately, we see miracles of God that we could never hope to see within our own power.