You Have Been Given Power – Br. Curtis Almquist
Our reading from the Second Book of Kings would make would make for a great scene in an adventure movie or mythology novel: the Prophet Elijah’s ascending into heaven in a whirlwind with horses of fire and in a chariot fire. And there’s also the scenes when Elijah’s cloak – his “miracle mantle” – is used two different times to strike the Jordan River, which then miraculously divides in two, one side to the other, to open a dry passageway for a walkthrough. It’s such spectacular power!
A fascinating and inspiring way to read the Scriptures is through the lens of power. In virtually every page of the Bible, there is a supernatural manifestation of power, the intervention or infusion of God’s power in everyday life:
- Power in the form of words being given to someone who is otherwise inarticulate.
- Power in the form of knowledge about something which is otherwise unknowable.
- Power in interpreting signs, experiences, dreams, languages, or what could seem as “coincidence.”
- Power to be wise amidst what is otherwise so confusing and undecipherable in life.
- Power in the form of physical strength, or moral integrity, or courage when confronted with strong opposition.
- Power in the form of an inner peacefulness in the face of strife, violence, or threat.
- Power in the face of disaster, imprisonment, censure, or banishment.
- Power in the form of provision: food, money, shelter, access to people of influence.
- Power in the form of healing mediated through words, through touch, through oil, through spittle.
- Power to forgive the otherwise-unforgivable.
One question trailed Jesus throughout his earthly life: “Where did he get all this power?” because Jesus teemed with power.[i] And Jesus’ parting promise to us was about our being able to do “even greater works of power” than he did because of God’s abiding presence with us, because of God’s Spirit.[ii] Christianity without power is like a country club for nice manners and good taste. Christianity is about engaging the powers and the powerful needs of this world with the force and provision of God.
Annie Dillard writes, “Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour…? Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? …It is madness to wear ladies’ velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.” [iii] We have been created by the power of God to know and mediate the power of God.
There are lots of things in life for which we could be fearful. And so Jesus speaks endlessly about our not needing to be afraid, about our not needing to be anxious because he is with us, always.[iv] You may be in touch right now with fear or anxiety where you feel your vulnerability and need. But there’s more. You may be equally afraid – maybe even more afraid – of how you are powerful. If you are afraid of your power – and you do have power – you need not fear your power. Don’t be afraid. Remember the Blessed Virgin Mary who was visited by an angel announcing Mary’s life mission, a very powerful calling.[v] Mary was afraid, afraid of being giving such power, and then she found the grace to say “yes” to God. She finally prayed, “Okay. Be it unto me according to your word.” And so for you. You probably already pray about poverty and need, yours and others’. Also pray for God’s power. Pray your “yes” to God’s power to be at work within you and through you.
[i] Matthew 13:54, 26:64; Mark 6:2, 14:62; Luke 6:19; John 1:12.
[ii] John 12:12-14.
[iii] From Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, pp. 40-41. Annie Dillard won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 1975 and in 2014 received the National Humanities Medal.
[iv] Matthew 28:20.
[v] Luke 1:26-38.
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As the priest of a church which very often makes me think that we need crash helmets, I’ve quoted Annie Dillard to the folks before. Power comes in so many different ways, and is indeed sometimes terrifying. But it is also often accompanied by the sheer joy of having yielded to the Spirit and been able to watch the miracles unfold before one’s eyes. Thank you, Br. Curtis, for this wonderful reflection.
Wow! Amen. I wish you might preach this from every pulpit. Forget the milk-toast, politically-correct sermons we are spoonfed. Rather, let us put on that armor of Christ w/crash helmet, hear these words and ways of Power, and let us all say “Yes, let’s roll!”
Here am I on retreat in a cabin at Lake Champlain in Vermont. With our present circumstances in world and nation, I’ve been restless, impatient, feeling vulnerable and somewhat powerless. At the same time, I know that I am fearful of that very Annie Dillard style power in me. Yet I would like to have that trembling transformed into awe.
When we go around with “faces shining like the sun” we attract much interest and people tend to expect something from us or give us more to do.
Perhaps I could one day “attend” a follow up sermon from you, Br. Curtis, on how to be both willing and wise, daring and discerning, and especially powerful and humble.
Because I still remember the day ~ years ago now ~ when I spoke with you after service, and you took my hand and held onto it while we talked, I trust that you have some words of wisdom about this to impart, if so called. ✨
Thank you, Curtis. I liked reading your words. I missed hearing your voice.
Relevant today asi lie in a rehab with a stroke. A subtle connection for each on a whole new level.
Thank you brother for this empowering reflection. I love the image of wearing crash helmets in church!