Managing Powerlessness

Managing Helplessness

Study by Joshua Hearne
Commentary by Judson Edwards

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Brief Description

On April 16, 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an open letter while incarcerated in the city jail of Birmingham, Alabama, for nonviolently disobeying an injunction against “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing, and picketing.” This letter, an essay on the power of nonviolence and the necessity of resistance to injustice, has become known as the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” It is a testament, not only to the loving resilience of the Civil Rights movement, but also to the paradoxical power of the kingdom of God and the seeming powerlessness of the way of Jesus.

In the letter, King writes,

There was a time when the church was very powerful. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven.”

This “very powerful” church seemed powerless by any contemporary standard. Systematically persecuted and oppressed, the church that first received and studied the words of 1 Peter knew the taste of incarceration, slander, trial, injustice, and martyrdom well. To call this church, meeting in secret for fear of retribution, “very powerful” demands that we reconsider what we mean by power and powerlessness. And to do this, we must reconsider who gets to define power.

In 1 Peter, we are invited to consider Jesus’ way as a powerful way that trusts in God amid suffering, submits to human institutions and authority, loves and blesses our enemies, and takes up the loving way of Jesus. In our study, we will find that we are not called to take up powerlessness as a way to relieve the negative effects of power. Rather, this is how we follow the cross-shaped way of Jesus.

Materials Included

• 4 Sessions of Learner’s Materials
• 4 Sessions of Teaching Materials
• 4 Handouts
Sessions Included
1. An Eternal Perspective
2. Suffering and Submission
3. Return Blessing for Evil
4. Honor God
Age Group

1. 1 Peter 1:13-25
2. 1 Peter 2:11-24
3. 1 Peter 3:8-17
4. 1 Peter 4:1-11

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