The Liberating Power of Christ

One of the many privileges that I have had was serving as pastor of a children’s home in South Africa. Many of the children who came to us were there because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. They had lost parents and caregivers and just needed someone to care for them. Some of the children were born with AIDS, having contracted it at birth. The medications to treat it can be difficult to tolerate. AIDS is a ravaging disease that is tragic enough in adults, but even more painful to watch in a young child.

There was one little boy in particular whose situation just broke my heart. This little boy was at the preschool one day. He was only three years old. The children were all together in the small little building. It was cold that day. They had on sweaters, and many of them had runny noses. Some of them had on hats to help keep them warm. They were on the carpet singing their morning songs, dancing to the music. The laughter, the dancing, the squealing brought me such joy. But then I saw him, that one little boy. He was just watching his friends on the carpet. He would try every now and then to move his arms or sing the songs, but the pain that he was experiencing was just too much. I could see it on his face. He grimaced each time he moved his arm. Instead of jumping, and clapping, and singing and dancing, he just watched. He just couldn’t tolerate the pain. After a short while, he withdrew and sat all alone in a little blue plastic chair, just watching his friends sing and dance. My heart broke for this little boy. It’s astonishing the power that this virus that we can’t even see can have over the lives of people – over the life of this sweet little boy. At that moment, AIDS had power over that little boy.

What has power over you? Not all power is equal. Power can be negative. It can motivate poorly. It can come from places that are self-serving. We all know of people and things that have power over us, that aren’t beneficial. The power of physical illness, as in the case of this little boy. The power of an unkind word. The power of fear. The power of insecurity. We all know these powers. Power can be adverse.

In our gospel text, we read about power that is adverse. There is a power that has overcome this man. Jesus has gone into the synagogue and is teaching the people. We think of those people who might have been sitting there that day, each one in their regular pew. You know there were probably some who had to rush to get there that morning. Maybe you get it – the kids had a hard time getting out of bed, and those poor parents kept urging them to get ready. And there was probably one who had drifted off at this point in the service, having trouble staying awake as the synagogue leader was speaking. And no doubt there was the one who came early to help make sure everything was set up and ready for the congregation. Here they all were, gathered in the synagogue, when Jesus began to speak. Parents hushing the kids. Someone elbowing the sleeping man; he’d begun to snore. People leaning in, not wanting to miss a word.

I’m sure they were glad they made it that day. They heard his teaching, and it was incredible, unlike anything they had heard. And then, at that moment, there in the synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” This man was overcome by a power. A power that had a hold over him – power that was not good, not beneficial, not life-giving. I can just see the man there, everyone else singing and dancing, jumping up and down, waving their arms – but not this man. He’s sitting out all alone in a little blue plastic chair.

It's interesting to note that this man is found in the synagogue. He’s there among those worshipping that day. And no one seemed to be bothered by this. Perhaps he was there each week. Perhaps his presence was not all that unusual. Sometimes we just accept the power that overcomes us or the power that overcomes another. This power had overcome this man. This man is overcome by power that is not good, not life-giving. It has a hold on him. It keeps him from dancing.

Yes, power can be bad; and power can be good. Power can be life-giving. Power can be beneficial. The power of an act of kindness. The power of love. The power of prayer. Power can be good. My children have a certain power over me. They can get me to do things and try things that I wouldn’t otherwise. I can be bone tired, but if my daughter asks me to go for a walk with her, I do it. She has that power. I don’t really enjoy playing video games, but if my son asks me to play, I do. He has that power. They have power over me. We encounter different kinds of power.

In our text we see a power that is bad, a power that overcomes this man. But we also see that good, amazing power here. Jesus’s teaching has amazed the people already. And then Jesus rebukes the power that has overcome the man and calls it out of him. And it did – it came out. Jesus liberates from the powers that have overcome you. The people were already amazed by his teaching, and now they are amazed at his power. They were amazed and asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority? He even commands the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Jesus has authority, the authority to liberate you from the powers that have overcome you. What has power over you? What power has overcome you? Is there something that holds power over you? Power that holds you back? Power that keeps you in a little blue plastic chair? Because it doesn’t have to. There is one who can liberate you from that power. One with authority, one who is amazing.

Not all power is created equal. Some power supports us, encourages us, helps us to persevere. And some power overcomes us. AIDS has power, and it is a power that overcame that little boy that day. It was more than he could bear. What power overcomes you? What is the power that you encounter that is just more than you can bear? I mentioned some of these. There’s the power of illness. Perhaps you’re living with an illness that has power over you. Maybe the pain keeps you from dancing. Maybe the treatment keeps you from the synagogue completely. Maybe it interferes with your friendships and your relationships. Perhaps you’re overcome by power of authority. Maybe it’s at work. Maybe it’s at home. Does it leave you feeling helpless? Perhaps you’re overcome by fear, anxiety, insecurity. Maybe you find it difficult just to be around other people. Maybe you have difficulty sleeping. Maybe you can’t hear the music that leads others to dance. These powers can overcome us. But there are other powers that might overcome you as well; powers that are amazing.

Perhaps you are overcome by the power of joy. Maybe you do hear the music, and you dance! Maybe you have the power to help others join in the dance. Maybe you sing in the shower. Perhaps you are overcome by the power of peace. Maybe you have a deep sense of peace within that keeps you going. Maybe the peace within you helps to bring calm and reconciliation to those that you work with and those in your home. Maybe you help others to experience the peace of Christ. Perhaps you are overcome by the power of love. Maybe it’s the squeal of a child that has power over you. Maybe it’s the warmth of a hug. Maybe it’s the joy that you find in an act of kindness, extending kindness or receiving kindness. These powers too can overcome us, if we let them. What has power over you? Is it power that holds you back; power that keeps you in a little blue plastic chair? Or is it power that causes you to dance

Sometimes when you’re overcome by the power that holds you back, by the power that keeps you in the little blue plastic chair, it seems impossible to dance. It seems as though you might never dance again. The man stood up, he called Jesus out. He recognized the power of Jesus, and it was different from the power that had a hold on him. And Jesus responded. Jesus claimed authority over that power. The power of Christ is greater than any other. And it’s a liberating power. Jesus liberates from the powers that have overcome you. It doesn’t matter what powers they are. Jesus liberates from the powers that have overcome you. You might find yourself in a little blue plastic chair, but Jesus liberates from the powers that have overcome you. And it’s amazing. Jesus liberated the man from the power that had overcome him, and the people were all amazed. They kept asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Jesus liberates from the powers that have overcome you. What powers have overcome you?

That sweet little boy at the preschool sat in the little blue plastic chair all by himself. He watched his friends sing and dance, unable to join them. He couldn’t join them because of the power that this virus held over him. But then something happened in that small cold room that morning. A song came on. This little boy loved that song. I can still hear that song now, “We’re goin’ to the zoo, zoo, zoo. How about you, you, you?” Oh, his face lit up. He was visibly excited. He saw his friends singing and dancing. They encouraged him. He got up out of that little blue plastic chair. He had a great big smile on his face, and he began to tenderly and carefully dance.

There might be powers that have overcome you, but there is one who can help you dance. There is one who can help you to tenderly and carefully begin to dance. No matter what it is that has power over you, Jesus liberates from the powers that have overcome you. Leave that little blue plastic chair. Stand up and dance with the one who has the power to amaze.

Let’s pray together.

O God of all power and all authority, help us to be amazed by you. May we recognize your power, and may we receive your power. Help us to stand up and dance. It is in the name of Jesus that we pray, Amen.