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A sermon by Revd Ruth Burge-Thomas for Maundy Thursday, 18 April 2019

Power: what does it feel like? What does it mean to be powerful? Who or what is powerful in our world, and in our lives?

I read last week about some major research into the attitudes of voters in western democracies.  The research revealed that increasingly people want powerful leaders. Strong men.     
We are fed up with the things we feel powerless over:the job market, the economy, the rules governing freedom of movement, the parlous state of health services, housing, education.  
Feeling powerless we long for someone powerful.  When the shit hits the fan apparently what we want is someone to take control for us and tell us what to do.  

Jesus had power: the kind of power Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Theresa May dream of: the power to move the hearts and minds of the multitude, the power to give the people a vision of different life, a crowd of followers who were prepared (or so they said) to die for him.

At the beginning of Holy Week on Palm Sunday the power was there to take: the people wanted to crown him king.  They wanted him to save them:"Hosanna, Hosanna, Save us, Save us"

And, in perhaps the most outrageous display of political irony ever, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the exact same day at the exact same time that Pilate rode into Jerusalem.  
In that week where a conquered people would remember their liberation from slavery under the Pharaoh, Rome would ensure that they didn’t get any ideas about liberation from the Emperor.  
Pilate entered Jerusalem with pomp and splendour in a visible show of Rome’s power and might: phalanxes of armed soldiers rode with him.   

And, at the same moment, Jesus also rode into Jerusalem …... on a donkey. No one seemed to get the irony.They hailed him as king of kings.
They wanted to give him their power but he refused to take it.

The Saturday evening before Palm Sunday, I heard the news of the closing of the ecumenical retreat led by Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Presbyterian church attended by the leaders of South Sudan - a country at war. 
At the end of the retreat Pope Francis went spectacularly off script: he started talking directly to the warring leaders directly and from the heart: 
Brothers I beg you, he said, I beg you and he got up and, to everyone’s horror, he knelt at the feet of the leaders in turn and kissed their feet: the first politician was shocked, the second leader tried to stop him, the third wept.
Pope Francis was attempting to do what Jesus did when he knelt at the feet of his disciples.  He refused to exert any power over them, he urged them instead to use their power. 

Jesus refused to take his followers’ power.  He gave it back to them. And, although they all apparently wanted to be the most powerful, they didn’t want it. 

Having power is frightening.  Because if you have power you might just have to use it.  You might have to make decisions, take a stand, speak the truth … whatever the consequences.

The most powerful person in your life is you. We all have power. And we give it away every day of the week: to all sorts of people, institutions and ideologies. 

Jesus doesn’t want our power: he keeps trying to give it back to us and we keep giving it away again. But it’s our power, given to us and only we can use it.  We have the power to become Children of God. And we - and only we - get to choose what to do it.

For the love of God, choose wisely.