Transcribed from the audio

Please pray with me. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our collective hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Looking across the landscape in our country and the global community, it seems that we are in a period of particular preoccupation with power. Now for those of us who live in Washington, that’s not exactly new to us. We tend to engage in these conversations around who’s up, who’s down, who’s in, who’s out, who’s gaining power, who’s losing power. But this moment to me seems different. Who’s got the most power? How do you get power? Who’s got the biggest button on their desk? It’s a different consideration and in all those questions about who’s up, who’s down, who’s in, who’s out, I think they’re missing the most important question of all.

For those of us who seek to follow Jesus—which is the way of love—the question is this: how do we use the power we have for the building up of the Kingdom of God? Not how do we use power to tear down or tear apart, but how do we use the power and the presence we have to build up? Looking at the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel lesson appointed for today, we have two very different views of the exercise of power.

In that passage from Second Samuel, we encounter King David at the peak of his power and, as the scripture carefully points out, it’s springtime when kings are supposed to be at battle, but we note that David is not. He’s sending other people out to do his work and David is at the palace with obviously too much time on his hands. He uses his power to take that which is not his, clearly an abuse of power. And if that’s not bad enough—the sin of adultery—he then, as so often happens in life, gets on that slippery slope of a spiraling series of sin. Bathsheba is pregnant. Now, how’s he going to cover up that transgression? So he comes up with a brilliant idea of bringing Uriah, her husband, home so he can sleep with his wife and cover up, muddy the paternity of the child. It doesn’t work. Uriah’s a faithful man. So David, who is quickly becoming the poster child for Lord Acton’s admonition that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” sends Uriah back to the battlefield with his own death sentence.

It is a sorry, sinful, sordid story of the abuse of power. But there are a few things that are important to note about this story. One, it’s, I think, helpful to note that at the time that David seeks Bathsheba, he had six wives and I don’t know how many concubines. It’s not like he didn’t have options at home—just saying. But continue on in the story because even with sin after sin, God sends Nathan the Prophet to rebuke him and David repents and David is redeemed. Sin is a part of the human condition. The good news for us is that no one is beyond God’s redemption. That each and every one of us, when we falter and we fail—and we do—and we fall off the skids, God is always prepared to call us back, time and time again: one model of how to use power.

Turning to the Gospel lesson, we encounter Jesus and the familiar story to us of the multiplication of the loaves and fish which appears in all four gospel accounts, which is significant. Jesus has been with his disciples, teaching and healing around the Galilee and drawing such huge crowds of people starving for the spiritual food and the hope and the light and the life that he is offering—a people so desperately in need of the spiritual food that endures. He goes away to the mountain with his disciples, presumably to catch his breath from all of that ministry that he’s been about, but he doesn’t have and they don’t have much time to catch their breath because people follow him. He sees some 5,000 people and he is filled with compassion. Jesus uses his power to bless and to give away, so much so that there’s food leftover—not tearing down, but building up; modeling for us that even what seems meager, when we share is more than abundant for all: loving God, loving our neighbor. A use of power that builds up; doesn’t tear down.

So often I am asked by people in discernment. “How am I to know what God’s given me to do?” Asked differently, where is God calling me to use my power, my person? Well, I believe that God will place that on your heart. You won’t have to look very far and we know that one doesn’t need to look very far to find the needs and concerns of the world today. They’re all around us. God will show you the way.

Speaking personally, God put something on my heart three weeks ago and perhaps, like some of you, when you know that God’s given you work to do it haunts you and this haunts me. Three weeks ago today, Episcopalians from around the Church were in Austin, Texas, for the triennial General Convention of our Church. And on that Sunday, some 1000 plus of us boarded 19 buses and traveled about 30 miles outside of Austin, Texas, for a public witness at a detention center where over 500 women who had been separated from their families and, in some cases, from their children, seeking asylum, were locked up in that detention center. As we drove up, you could see the detention center. It looked like a prison because it had been. It was awful. It was gray. There were a few little windows maybe this wide. There was fencing all around it.

To my surprise, we didn’t stop at the detention center. We kept driving. Finally the buses pulled over and we all poured out of these buses. I could see that there was sort of a roped off platform area and I realized it was where we were permitted a permit to gather and assemble. And there we were with our signs that the Episcopal Church cares, that we love you, that you’re not alone. And we began to chant those thing and to sing those things.

But the women were so far away, I wasn’t sure they could see us and I began to get a little discouraged. I will be honest with you, because I felt that part of the reason we were there was to be a witness to them that they weren’t alone. After a while I saw some people start to peel off and my beloved sister in Christ and friend Rose Duncan and I peeled off and went rogue. We walked back to the front of the detention center and got as close as we could and we started to chant there that “You are loved. You are not alone. You’re not forgotten.” And all of a sudden we could see in those teeny little windows women waving white pieces of paper. They saw us and we saw them. So we began to chant even louder. “No están solas!” You are not alone. We see you. We love you. You are not forgotten. The women continued to wave. We stayed there until we were asked by the organizers to leave and to get back on our buses.

It was reported to us that one of the women in the center was able to call out and she said that the women had been glued to their windows the whole time: when the first bus arrived, until the last bus left, and they were crying because they could see that they were not forgotten, that we were with them, that they were not alone.

My brothers and sisters, in the summer, it is a time to rest and reflect and renew. But I would also say to recommit ourselves to the work that God has given us to do, to use the power that we have to build up the Kingdom of God. There’s so much to be done. Gird your loins. We have work to do, and in that quote that’s often attributed to Gandhi, be the change you want to see in the world. We can do this with God’s help. Amen.

Additional Resources: