Sunday, September 28, 2008

Reflection: 20 Pentecost 2008


Sermon: 20 Pentecost 2008

(Exodus 17:1-7/Psalm78:1-16/Philippians 2:1-13/Matthew 21:23-32)

By What Authority?


(The following reflection is based upon the sermon given at Trinity Church on 28 September 2008 -- a sermon developed through the community's engagement with the texts given to it.)


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority” (Mt 21:23, NRSV)?

What things? A day earlier Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem at the head of a coronation procession, acclaimed by the masses – including tax collectors, prostitutes, and other notorious sinners – acclaimed by the masses as the Son of David, as he who comes in the name of the Lord: in short, as the rightful King of Israel and as the Messiah of God. He strode into the temple accompanied by these less than reputable disciples, disrupted commerce and worship, and staked his claim as one greater than the temple. In these two defiant acts, Jesus confronts the powers of state and religion with the gospel proclamation that he is Lord of all the kingdoms of the world – Herod and Caesar notwithstanding – and that he is Messiah of Israel, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

“By what authority are you doing these things?” the chief priests and elders ask. “And who gave you this authority?” they want to know. Jesus’ answer – given in the form of a question – directs them to his baptism in the Jordan: by the authority conferred in baptism by John the Baptizer and prophet, by the authority conferred by God the Father who said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17), by the authority of Holy Spirit who descended like a dove and remained on Jesus. And so Jesus asks, “John’s baptism – where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?”

In symbolic action and word, Jesus confronted the powers with the gospel proclamation. As his disciples – as those who have within us the same mind that was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5) – can we do less? In symbolic action and word we are to confront all the powers that resist the gospel proclamation: Jesus is Lord. We are to act in such radically counter-cultural ways that the high priests and elders of the powers challenge us: By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority? And, as Jesus, we must direct them to our baptism, to that time that when we heard the call, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand;” to that time we heard the voice of God say, “You are my child, my beloved with whom I am well pleased;” to that time when the Holy Spirit descended upon us to remain forever. Our baptism – and its attendant grace – is our authority, for in it we are identified completely with our Lord, who confronted the power on our behalf and commissioned us to confront the powers on the world’s behalf.

What powers? Two come readily to mind: fear and greed. Our nation is presently in the grips of both. We fear terrorism and the war to combat terrorism. We fear the nuclear intentions of North Korea and Iran and the resurgent saber-rattling of Russia. We fear gas shortages and high gas prices. We fear natural disasters, pandemics, and global warming. We fear George Bush and John McCain and Barak Obama. We fear our crumbling economy and our personal and national debt. We are as possessed by fear as if it were a personal and national demon. And the high priests and elders of fear – those who would profit from it and use our fear to their advantage – must be confronted with the gospel proclamation that Jesus is Lord of the kingdoms of the world, that he is the Messiah of Israel, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. In symbolic action and word we must live as those who have heard Jesus say, Do not be afraid. We must live as those who have heard Jesus say, I am with you always, to the end of the age; I will never abandon or forsake you. We must live as those who have seen Jesus enter into death and come out again on the other side of resurrection. If the same God who raised Jesus from the dead is for us, who can be against us? Who can make us afraid? We must confront the power of fear with the gospel proclamation until the high priests and elders of fear query, “By what authority do you do these things, and who gives you this authority?” And then we must proclaim, “Jesus is Lord and we have been baptized!”

Fear, yes, but greed also exerts its power among us. Jesus had another name for it, a demonic name – Mammon. And now as then, we cannot serve both God and Mammon. We must confront the power of Mammon through the simplicity and generosity of our lives – through the same counter-cultural practices that led the very Roman authorities who persecuted the early Christians to admit with wonder that the Christians cared not only for their own, but for the poor and sick among the Roman populace. We must put our trust not in some political economic bailout, but in our God and Father who feeds the sparrows and clothes the grass and the flowers and who knows our needs even before we ask him. We must put our trust in Jesus who told us not to store up treasures for ourselves on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in to steal, but rather to lay up treasures in heaven where they are safe in the Father’s keeping. We must confront the power of greed with the gospel proclamation until the high priests and elders of greed query, “By what authority do you do these things, and who gives you this authority?” And then we must proclaim, “Jesus is Lord and we have been baptized!”

There are, of course, other powers; you know them all too well. But they shall fall and Jesus shall reign. As the darkness of the powers deepens, the light of the gospel shines even brighter in the lives of those who follow the Lord. In these dark days, “Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like start in the world” (Phil 2:14-15).

Amen.

1 comment:

Father Robert Lyons said...

Thank you for this most timely reflection. I have grown to look forward to your weekly posts since discoverying Euangelion. Thanks for bringing these encouraging and challenging words!

BTW - Did you get my last message?

Rob+