Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32
… by what authority?, preached by The Rev. Willard Carter
“By what authority do you preach and celebrate this morning?” some of you may ask yourselves. I could refer to my call, education, the accreditation of the Seminary of the Southwest and to diplomas and ordination vows. Jesus had none of these. He was God. The religious leaders saw only an uneducated, charismatic man who lacked credentials and did not teach and act as they did. He confronted them with a crisis. Jesus was threatening their power and influence with the people.
What authority do you have and how do you react to the authority of others? If you're speeding to Atlanta on I-20 and there is suddenly a flash of blue in your rearview mirror, do you question the right of a patrolman to pull you over? Do you ask the patrolman about his authority to stop you? Do you blindly accept the authority of the Garmin “lady” are the Tom-Tom “man” to tell you directions?
The next five Sunday Gospel lessons will deal with the question posed to Jesus today by the religious elite – chief priests and elders "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" The interplay between Jesus and these leaders will conclude with Jesus' final question regarding the Messiah? (Matthew 22:46) No one will be able to give him an answer. The events will lead to Jesus' arrest, trial and crucifixion. The stage will be set for the overt clash of kingdoms – the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world.
Perhaps those who have been in the military will remember the authority of your Drill Sergeant. A Marine platoon had been on maneuvers for two weeks in the rain and mud of Georgia. The sergeant gathers them, calls them to attention and tells them that there is some good news and some bad news which would they like to hear first? Almost with one voice they shouted, "the good news, Sarge." Well everyone is going to have a change of clothes" the sergeant snaps. "But what's the bad news Sarge? " They ask. "Pvt. James gets to change with private Sams. Pvt. Sams gets to change with private Jones." What could be the good news and the bad news of authority in our gospel lesson be for us?
Jesus had authority from who he was and gave his disciples authority. He has sent disciples out on two occasions to exercise that authority. They were also given responsibility to carry a transforming Gospel and to be a blessing on those they encountered. They likewise received a blessing from seeing lives changed. Exercising their authority would have its challenges Jesus’ realized so told them to shake the dust off their sandals if they were not accepted. The good news is that this authority comes to us as the priesthood of all believers. The bad news is that we can abdicate it.
San Juan Capistrano, California –The LA Times reported last week that the city of San Juan, Capistrano fined Charles and Stephanie Fromm $300 for holding their regular Bible study groups, according to a statement from the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute.
The couple appealed the fine and was told subsequent fines would be enhanced if they continued holding the study group without a conditional use permit -- a specialized permit allowing the activity under prescribed conditions, according to the statement.
City spokeswoman Cathy Salcedo in an email said according to the Times that the city does not prohibit home Bible studies. The Fromms' case is about when a residential area has been transformed into a place where people regularly assemble. "The Fromm case further involves regular meetings on Sunday mornings and Thursday afternoons with up to 50 persons, with impacts on the residential neighborhood on street access and parking," she wrote.
The city exercised its authority. What was the Fromm’s authority?
Last Wednesday night in Jackson, Georgia at 11:08 PM Troy Davis was executed under the state’s authority. Davis, 42, had been convicted in 1991 of the 1989 shooting death of Savannah, Ga., police officer Mark MacPhail. According to newspaper reports, the NAACP, Amnesty International USA, celebrities, elected officials and people around the world had rallied around Davis, pointing out that several witnesses from the original trial had signed affidavits recanting their testimony implicating Davis. MacPhail's family however maintained their belief that Davis committed the crime and relied on the testimony from the trial. Was the execution a result of the proper use of the authority that God has given us? Did it proclaim a Gospel of God's mercy?
Prior to today's gospel lesson in Matthew, Jesus curses the fig tree because it is covered with leaves but bore no fruit. Allegorically the cursing of the fruitless fig tree relates to the religious establishment of Jesus day. Jesus will subsequently proclaim a series of "woes...” on them (Matthew 23:13 – 36).
The religious leaders in today's gospel lesson intended to trap Jesus but they ended up trapping themselves. Have we not been given the authority and the responsibility as the disciples were to share the Gospel? Aren’t we to bring the good news of Jesus? If we say "yes" but do not bear the Gospel we become like the fruitless fig tree and the second son. We in effect trap ourselves.
Today we have the opportunity to say, "yes". We can say “yes” in the Creed. We can say “yes” in the Eucharist. We can say “yes” in the closing prayer. Finally, we can say “yes” in our lives in the world. What will be your response to Jesus? How will you exercise your authority this week?