Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. – Acts 8:9-13 (NIV)
There is a great scene in the Avengers movie where Captain America is standing on top of a taxi giving orders to some police officers. When he is done, one of the officers asks, “Why should we listen to you?” This pertinent question is followed by Captain America’s clear display of power against otherworldly warriors, after which the officer begins to relay the Captain’s orders. Power can change people’s mind and earn respect, whether it is out of admiration, fear or gratitude.
Simon had followers because he had displayed power, but it was rooted in a limited source. Simon could only do so much to impress his fans. When Philip comes to town, the people are confronted with a different kind of power and are changed by it. Instead of having to go to Simon whenever they want to see power, they are empowered by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Instead of being fans of Simon, they became followers of Christ. This was such a startling show of power that even Simon believed.
That power is still at work in the world today through God’s people if they choose. It is not a power that we use to rule over others or hold them in sway. We are empowered to empower others. We extend to others that same power that inspired the Psalmist to write, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” We get to take our place in the long line that leads others from brokenness to wholeness, from sorrow to joy and from apathy to gratitude.
Motivated by love, empowered by God, we are sent forth to change the world. The problem for me and the rest of fallen humanity is that we have a long history of abusing power or being abused by it. We have words of warning about how power corrupts, but the reality is that corrupt power corrupts. God’s power heals, saves, resurrects and sustains. It does not corrupt. He does not corrupt.
I want to be that vessel of clay. I want to hold the power of God so that it can be poured out into the world and the lives of others. But I must watch out for the Simon in me; the one who wants power for himself and for his own fame and fortune. I must watch out for the fawning member of the crowd that can lurk in my heart, waiting for the next magic trick to come along and fascinate me. I want to be like Philip; a man empowered, but not worried about power.
Lord, empower me to extend Your love, grace, healing and hope. Guard my heart from worldly powers that might draw me away from You. Amen.