A Different Kind of Authority
The Rev. Robert P. Travis
8:00 and 10:30am Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN
RCL Year B 1/29/2012
Scripture Text: Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28
I hesitate to start speaking with you all this morning.
I hesitated until yesterday to prepare this sermon,
Which is not my usual pattern,
Or my preferred way of doing things.
But it gives me pause to presume to speak a word to you
In the name of God,
When we heard what Moses spoke to God’s people,
“Any prophet. . . who presumes to speak in my name
A word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak –
That prophet shall die.”
So someone better get the Defribrillator ready in back,
Just in case…
I’m not a prophet or anything,
But what each of us does when we get up here on Sunday,
Is presume to speak in God’s name
a word we have been commanded to speak.
That is where our authority comes from,
And were it not for that authority, there would be little point
In speaking to you all anyway.
In this day and age there are enough messages out there,
Much glitzier, better funded messages,
Which compete for your attention,
And in the face of that competition,
We don’t stand a chance,
But God’s authority is different from the authority of the world, and I believe you know it when you hear it.
That’s what today’s readings are all about.
What is authority?
And how did Jesus have it in a different way,
Than other religious leaders of his time?
When he spoke in the synagogue,
The people “were astounded at his teaching,
For he taught them as one having authority,
And not as the scribes.”
The passage from Mark doesn’t tell us what he said
or even how he said it,
just that he taught with authority.
And as if that teaching were not enough,
He is confronted by a very sick man,
In the same synagogue,
And Jesus demonstrates his authority,
by healing him on the spot.
This is the first act of power that Mark records
About Jesus, and it speaks to that important question,
Which Mark asks of all his readers,
Who do you say that Jesus is?
Is he one with authority?
Will you let him have authority over you?
One of the things we hear about these days,
When we consider the differences between the 6 generations of people who are alive today,
Is the very different ways each generation
deals with authority,
Generally we hear that the older generation has more respect for authority, while the younger generations do not,
Although when you look back on where each generation has been, in the history of the last century or so,
You will find that the same critique was leveled
Against each generation when they were younger.
What is it that younger generations find problematic
About following the authority of the institutions
And individuals laid out for them by the older generations?
I think we could all agree that it is the kind of authority
Given and leveled against them,
And perhaps even more the abuses of that authority,
Which makes people question and rebel against
The Authority of their elders.
From the time we are all very young,
We all need appropriate authority to live right.
We have boundaries set for us as children,
to keep us from getting hurt too much,
to basically help us to survive.
And through much struggle,
Sometimes to the amazement of our parents,
we learn to live within the boundaries of authority,
After we get hurt too much
when we ignore that parental authority.
But that is authority based on fear,
Sometimes it is necessary, and it is usually effective,
But it is so easily used and abused,
That we get confused and think that all authority
Is based on fear of punishment.
And indeed so much of the authority in our lives
Is based on fear of punishment.
But that proves inadequate, in all but the most basic
Aspects of our lives.
So we rebel against it when it is over used,
It is like something in our spirits
Knows that there is a better way,
And so we have the courage to strive for a deeper authority.
That is what we have seen on a global level,
in this amazing last year,
As people have risen up from the Arab Spring onwards,
To question and rebel against authorities in their countries,
Which had abused their own people to the point of becoming truly illegitimate.
It is what is still going on in Syria,
Where the tragedy of a regime trying to hold onto authority
Which has long become illegitimate,
Is destroying its country, its people,
its very life for the sake of
Those kinds of authority have always been present,
But they are so different from the kind of authority
Jesus presents us in himself.
Where this worldly authority is based on
fear of physical punishment,
Jesus’ teachings are based in love
Jesus’ authority is a deeper authority,
That our spirits can recognize and follow.
Another kind of authority,
We all confront is the authority of illness and death.
Tolstoy once asked,
“what meaning has my life, that the inevitability of death does not destroy?”
And that was a good question to ask.
Now the scripture says this man had an unclean spirit,
And given that it was written thousands of years ago,
And our understanding of health and illness
Are very different now,
We might give the man a different diagnosis.
I think it is safe to say that he was very sick,
So sick, that his speech was really not his own.
Now sickness has a kind of authority
That seems to still get to us, no matter what
amazing advances we have made as human beings.
In fact, it was sickness that really made me
unable to prepare this sermon Thursday or Friday as I normally would have done.
It was nowhere near what we see in the gospel today,
and thankfully I’m 100% better as of yesterday,
but it did strike me as a little ironic that I was thinking about
kinds of authority,
and was then struck with the authority that illness has
over all of us.
When you get sick, you don’t get to decide what you do,
or really how anything will go in your life,
Until you are healed.
You can make the best of it, surely,
and that is admirable, but the sickness still dictates
that you are even having
to make the choice to make the best of it.
That is a kind of authority,
and one we all succumb to at some point or another.
And here Jesus shows that his authority,
Based in love and truth, even has dominion
Over those illnesses which threaten to destroy us.
He is not willing to let the man suffer that unclean spirit,
And he drives the illness out of him.
We continue to see the power that the person of Jesus
Has over illness, physical and mental,
When people come for prayers for healing
And report that they are healed in the name of Jesus.
There are charlatans who abuse that power,
Much like there are people who abuse all kinds of authority,
But the abuse does not negate the fact that the true authority
Has real power, power to heal,
Power to release from bondage of all kinds,
Power to restore to life what was hidden in the fear of death.
In the face of this kind of authority,
We are all required to respond.
The amazing thing is that this kind of authority which Jesus has,
Gives us the freedom to respond.
Maybe it is not such a bad thing after all,
That the last century has brought up 6 generations of people
Who learn by questioning authority.
Maybe we are changing the nature
of how authority works in our world.
Hopefully we are changing our view of authority
away from that based on fear of punishment,
and towards authority based in love and truth.
But if that is going to happen,
each of us here needs to consider
Whether we accept the authority Jesus
would have over our lives,
Is he truly the Lord to us, the one who speaks for God,
Will we let him have authority over every aspect of our lives?
The more authority you let him have in your life,
The more wonderful things he can do with you.
Trust his authority, and see what Jesus will do!