The Heart of Authority

The sermon from Sunday, January 28, 2018 on Mark 1:21-28

This early moment in Mark’s recounting of Jesus’ ministry centers on the question of authority, I would argue.

There is healing in it – and  we will have more opportunities to talk about Jesus’ ministry of healing in the weeks ahead. It’s a steady theme in this Gospel.

Right here in the beginning, though, we are asked to look closely at the question of authority.

he taught them as one having authority

Who do we think about as having authority?

I was pondering that question one day this week when I found myself crumpling up several twenty dollar bills I’d gotten from the ATM to pay someone for some repairs.

Anybody ever do that with new money?

My first boss taught me to do that.

I was 15 years old. working as a pharmacy assistant in my home town during summers and winter break when I was home visiting my grandparents.

When fresh bills would come in- and we always had a quite a bit of cash around because we accepted telephone payments for people who’d had their phones cut off – and they had to pay cash – we were supposed to crumple these crisp new bills up and straighten them back out.

It was so they wouldn’t stick together – and you wouldn’t accidentally hand someone $40 in change when you meant to give them $20.

So as I crumpled those bills the other day, I thought about Willie Thomas.  Willie taught me a lot about authority. At first it was because I feared him.

If you didn’t know what you were doing – and our tasks were so varied, it was hard when you were new to master them all – he would look over at you over his half glasses and fix you with an appraising stare, before then exiling you to the front register – which was the dullest Siberia of daily life at the drug store.

But in the time I worked there – and I put in a lot of hours, including 12-hour stretches many Saturdays, my sense of Willie’s authority gradually transformed.  It went from fear and intimidation to mutual respect and appreciation – and even friendship.

Willie was a complicated man until the day he died. But I learned a lot about authority from him.  Watching him, I studied how authority could involve intimidation – but it could also come from love and respect. I came to understand that some people assume authority and some positions assume it. It’s a top-down endeavor.

From above – as your boss, parent, mayor, pastor, I might claim some form of authority because it’s easy to equate the authority  with power. Obviously there are people in our world who have power.

Top-down power.

But is that the only way it works?

I would argue to you that if I have authority among you it is because you grant me authority as the pastor of this church.

And I hope you grant me that authority not because of a title, but because I do my best to live up to the role.

I do my best to practice what I preach. I do my best to at once use my God-given individual gifts and yet empty myself of my culture-bound individual ego, so that God can find room to work through me.

I commit myself to that path –  imperfectly – but I give it my whole heart. That is my witness, here among us all in community.  So that if I have authority, I have it not OVER you but AMONG you.

I think that’s what’s Jesus is up to back in his day, as his example for us.

For it’s not just that I have authority among you, but that each of us has authority within this community, that each of us has authority with one another as earnest students of the Gospel and as committed, inquiring  followers of the path of God’s love and justice and mercy.

Who has authority in your life?

And why and how do they have it?

Hear what is said about Jesus – ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

We know Jesus has been granted authority through God. He performs his work not as a popularity contest, but as the enactment of his calling to live out God’s authority in the world.

But Jesus has authority in the lives of those around him because they grant it to him.

Who deserves to have authority in your life?  

That might be a person or an idea – and if you are here, I hope it’s a commitment to an inclusive vision offered by God.

Who deserves to have authority in your life?  And who has it in reality?

The answer to those questions might be the same thing.

If so, I congratulate you. You’ve been doing your work with due diligence. Keep at it.

If not, you know you’ve got work to do. Keep at it.

How do you exercise authority?

You know God loves you. God works through our hands and our feet to be tangibly present in this world. Jesus is the ultimate, perfect example of divine authority here on this earth – but the call upon our lives as Christians is to understand that we are set free into God’s authority.

That’s not a burden – though it is not always easy – but a great joy. Think about it.  God’s authority frees us to create a better world, not merely consume a bitter one.

Our days are filled with the need for healing – and we are granted the authority of deep compassion, of true kindness, of bold witness, and enduring friendship.

It can be a challenge in our lives not to grant authority to the chaos of violence and the cold shroud of fear, the empty hedonism of consumerism, and the enticing shell of ambition.

There is healing in the authority of God, witnessed in Jesus.

There is healing for those people back then and the folks hearing Mark’s Gospel in the first century and for us today, two millennia later.

May we thrive together we dwell in God’s presence and God’s purpose. That is the revealing of God’s authority in our world today.

Amen.

Image of pedestal from Wicktionary

 

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