16th Sunday after Pentecost—Year A—Sep 28, 2014

16th Sunday after Pentecost—Year A—Sep 28, 2014

Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham

Let the words of mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

Authority is one of those tricky things in life. We can spend so much time worrying about how to get it, who to give entrust it to, how to wield it, how to keep it. It can easily become the goal instead of simply a means to a end.

These issues of authority seems to be a topic that always fills the news, especially lately:

  • Russia taking authority over parts of Ukraine
  • Scotland voting to keep giving authority over them to the United Kingdom
  • ISIS using propaganda to gain influence and followers in order to take even more land and authority by force
  • Potential 2016 Presidential candidates are already trying to convince people that they are most worthy of the authority of the highest office in the land.

As you can see from the list, there is a variety of purposes of authority:

  • Authority can keep things going/organized/safe.
    • Think about the 10 commandments.
      • What would society be like if we all felt we could go around lying and killing all the time? Let alone, how would our relationship with God be if our relationships with God’s people were unregulated?
    • Police & Laws
      • Like the 10 Commandments, the pure purpose of laws is to keep citizens safe and sets up authority tiers in society for when lose laws are broken or new laws need to be formed.
    • Parents
      • The 4th Commandment sets up a contract between authority & charge. The charge is called to honor father and mother, assuming that the parents are responsible authority figures, providing for the best interest of the child(ren).
    • Teachers, Pastors, Council
      • In Martin Luther’s explanation of the 4th Commandment, he suggests that the same expectations apply to all authority.
        • He calls teachers & administrators: school parents
        • Pastors and Congregational Leadership are church parents

However, as Martin Luther alludes to, authority is not always worthy of respect and continued power. Sometimes instead of doing good, authority figures simply work to limit progress, new ideas, and creativity. They can work to keep the status quo as is so that they can maintain power and influence.

On top of that, it is easy to blame when something goes wrong and at the same time easy to take for granted when things are going well.

I expect that Jesus had all these things in mind when he talked with the Chief Priests and the Elders about authority. They were worried about Jesus’ authority because it put their own in jeopardy.   Now, we do not know for sure the motives for this concern. Either they did not want to lose the power and prestige that came with the authority they had, or it could have been that they were concerned about the people—the charges for which they were responsible for their religious instruction and life—not wanting them to be led astray by yet another charismatic itinerant teacher.

It might have even been a combination of the two, but either way, they are concerned with where their followers are now listening for an authoritative word. And even though there might have been some jealousy behind the temple authorities’ question and political calculation that went into their answer, it is a good question to ask.

To where are looking for an authoritative word on matters of faith and life?

  • Scripture—daily reading and weekly worship
  • Clergy—education opportunities, online resources, & private meetings
  • Lay people—conversation with one another and mutual encouragement
  • Pop culture—celebrities, the latest fads, the news
  • Scientific research—studies, discoveries, and journals
  • Politics—supreme court decisions and jockeying for the next law
  • Elsewhere?

We must be careful to whom we give authority—whether it be by election, appointment, acclamation, out of respect, out of fear, or taken without our consent or protest. For it has power to influence every area of our life, even our relationship with God and God’s people. We must ask the question: are those we are listening to influenced themselves and gain their message and authority “from heaven” or “human origin”?[1] Since those things can influence our words and our actions, both of which are important, but the later a little more so.

Are you like the tax collectors and prostitutes, seemingly not following the authority of the day, but recognizing God’s authority in the last form you would expect? Or are you like the Chief Priests and Elders, who are engrained in the familiar, missing what God is up to in new forms?

I give you that to ponder this week, but at the same time, let me pass on some words of assurance from and the authority of Jesus—there is room for us all in the Kingdom of God, regardless of the answer to that question. Jesus says that the former will be ahead of the later, but all will be there for it is Christ’s authority that declares our inclusion. So let this question of authority be a constant struggle, but never a test, for God loves you no matter what. Amen.

[1] Matthew 21:25-26, NRSV.

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