"Jesus vs. the Phone Company"
“Jesus vs. the Phone Company”
May 17, 2015
“But you will receive power when the
Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
Lily Tomlin’s alter-ego, Ernestine the
telephone operator, once candidly admitted, “We don’t care. We don’t have to.
We’re the Phone Company.”
I remembered this a few weeks ago while
reading former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich’s, column exploring “Why So
Many Americans Feel So Powerless.”
Yes, it’s still the telecom industry,
although the names of the players have changed. But now it is so much more,
He tells of meeting someone in North
Carolina who had stopped voting “because elected officials don’t respond to
what average people like him think or want. ‘They don’t listen,’ he said.”
He tells of meeting a passenger who had
been at an airport for eight hours, “but the airline responsible for her trip
wouldn’t help her find another flight leaving that evening. ‘They don’t give a
hoot,’ she said.”
And then there was the security guard
who “didn’t know how much he’d be earning from week to week because his firm
kept changing his schedule and his pay.”
Echoing Ernestine, he says, “They just don’t care.”
Reich’s conclusion? “As I travel around
America, I’m struck by how utterly powerless most people feel.” Workers are
regarded as dispensable. Consumers have fewer choices. Voters feel
disenfranchised either because their districts or states are considered “safe”
by one party or the other or because big money takes away the voice of small
Here’s the thing: there are people and
organizations that would prefer this sense of powerlessness to continue, even
to increase. A feeling of powerlessness means that individuals, congregations,
communities—even entire nations—are not able to act in their own best interests
or for the well-being of their community, their nation, our world.
I’m not the only one who thinks this. Pope Francis spoke
to a group of 7,000 children last Monday. Calling the weapons business an
“industry of death,” he told the children: “Some powerful people earn their
living off making weapons. For this reason, many people do not want peace.”
It’s that simple—and many are committed to keeping it
scripture we get another vision. From scripture we get a different sense of
what is and isn’t possible.
“You will receive power,” the risen
Christ tells his followers: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has
come upon you.”
Jesus responds to overwhelmed, questioning followers with the assurance
that in the face of all that would work against them, they will find the
courage, the strength, the love—the power—to
make the healing mercy of God real in the world.
This is not the power of money—although we have some of that.
This is not the power of authority—although many here hold such power.
This is not the power of knowledge—although many here possess vast and
impressive amounts of it.
This is not the power of white privilege—although we have it in
Power is the ability to act. And each one of us has that ability. Our strength,
our power, allows us to act in the world.
The power of God is a creative ability
that lets us use our own wealth, authority, knowledge, and privilege for the
good of creation.
This power not so much descends upon us
as it wells up within us when we take what Jesus says seriously and then act
When those who cling to power won’t
listen, Jesus says: “Let those who have ears to hear, hear.” He calls us to listen
for the pain in the world. He invites us to listen for the longing for the good
When those in power don’t give a hoot, Jesus
calls forth our compassion, telling us: “Whatever you do to the least of these,
you do to me.”
Jesus even takes on the Phone Company and
the apathy of the elite, offering an alternative way, what he even called a new commandment: “Love one another as I
have loved you.”
So really, the Christian life is not
just Jesus vs. the Phone Company. We’re in on this as well—called to listen, to
show compassion, to love.
We do all of this, not through our own
positive thinking or by our strenuous efforts. The power to follow in the way
of Jesus Christ arises from God’s vindication of the suffering and death of
Jesus in the resurrection. By faith we see that even at the moment of great
suffering and death, God was at work bringing life—and by that same faith we
see that God continues to do so today.
What we call the “power of the
resurrection” is the ability to act that comes from a faith—however
tenuous—that God is bringing about a new creation and we are a part of both that
work and that creation. This is a power that sets us free to love with abandon,
to act even when fear presses in, to draw out the best in ourselves and other
people. Because we are part of God’s new creation, the work that we do
continues to matter.
We have faith in the direction of
creation—that it is moving toward a good end—what we sometimes call the “realm
of God”—and that we can be a part of that movement. Materialists would say that
there is no end, no purpose to all of this. Through the resurrection we have
come to see that, as it has been said, the arc of the universe is long but that
it moves toward justice, even though this world can at times seem so obviously
filled with such evil and injustice. We act “in faith,” that is, trusting that
the ultimate direction of creation is toward God’s good purposes for all of
Martin Luther King, Jr. put it his way:
“Let us remember that there is a great benign Power in the universe whose name
is God, and God is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark
yesterdays into bright tomorrows. This is our hope for becoming better men and
women. This is our mandate for seeking to make a better world.”[i]
The great compassionate power in the
universe wants to do more. Feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless.
Making wars to cease. This power wants justice to roll down like fountains and
righteousness like streams.
That power wants to work through you.
That power wants to work through this congregation.
Like all power, it is somewhat
frightening. Because this is “holy power” it borders on the terrifying. But it
also speaks to us of great possibilities.
The ability to act for the benefit of
self and others is nothing less than the strength of God acting through us.
Just think of what might be accomplished through you and through this
congregation by that power.
Together we are invited to see how we
can act, to discover what we can do. And through our efforts God is able to
accomplish far more than we can imagine.
In the midst of all that overwhelms us
We are given the
power to change what needs changing.
are given the power to be agents of God’s love in the world—to take risks for
The risen Christ promises those who follow him the power, the ability to act for the good in the
situations that life presents to us.
And with that promise, we heard again
this morning from the Book of Acts, Christ was “lifted up” into heaven.
The ascension of Christ is usually
misunderstood or ignored. In our time a bland literalism meets with a dull
skepticism. We are asked to choose between a Jesus involved in some sort of
vertical lift-off—going “up” into heaven—and the impossibility of the same
The ascension is, as NT Wright says, “a
difficult and unpopular doctrine” because it asks us to think in new ways about
the cosmos—about heaven and earth.
The point of the
ascension is not that Jesus is going a long way away but that he is being
elevated to be the true Lord of the world. Ascension doesn’t mean absence; it
means sovereignty, exercised through the Spirit.
For the early
Christians—and for us—this sovereignty is about power. It is about the power of
God at work in raising Jesus from death. It is about the power of God making
the crucified and risen Christ the ruler of this world. It is about the power
of God working in us by the Spirit. This is what we have come to know: Christ
no longer with us is Christ
powerfully present for us at all
Yes, the knowledge of this power
includes a sharing in Christ’s suffering. The hope of knowing the power of the
resurrection takes us into the suffering of the world. Certainly we would not
enter such places on our own. On our own we would seek our comfort and
disregard the hurting world. Left to ourselves we do seek simply our own comfort in the midst of a broken world. On our own, like the Phone Company, we just
don’t care. Knowing Christ as the Risen One gives us not just the courage but
the ability to enter the places of suffering to offer the healing, the peace,
the wholeness that God seeks for all creation.
This world is incomplete. We are
incomplete. We move toward resurrection but we have not attained it. We press
toward the goal, but it is not ours yet. We learn in our lives and through our
actions that crucifixion and resurrection are connected.
But resurrection changes everything. Christ is alive and that changes how
we look at death. The final enemy is defeated, the destroyer has been
destroyed. And because resurrection changes how we look at death, it changes
how we look at life. Living in the power of the resurrection, we set aside old
hopes and old expectations so that something different can rise up. We stop
fighting old battles, nursing old wounds, dreaming old dreams.
The resurrection keeps bringing us back
to here and now. Our eyes are not on the heavens but on earth.
If we take our theology to heart, it
informs our actions. The power of the Spirit of God, the energy for life, is
the ability to confront the principalities and powers of this world, to speak
God’s “Yes” which sounds like a judging “No” to greed, to torture, to hoarding,
to fear, but which is also a resounding affirmation of the goodness of life,
the strength of love, and the possibility of justice and reconciliation.
This “Yes” is the message of Easter.
Christ is risen.
The risen Christ who reigns in power
gives us the ability to act in the world as agents of God’s new creation.
God’s “Yes” will be our strength and our
Christ is risen indeed.
Martin Luther King, Jr., The Strength to
Love, in A Testament of Hope, pg.