Sermon from Rev. Zickler for October 1, 2017

20171001 Proper 21 Sermon 2017
October 1, 2017
Matthew 21:23-27

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate upon the Gospel Lesson previously read, especially these words, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?

Authority. There’s a lot we could say about authority. Especially right now, it seems like we can’t turn on the TV without hearing something about the NFL and whether players are standing or kneeling for the flag. And I’m not going to get into that here, as I think that’s more of a political thing that a lot of others, but there is a theological piece to it, and that’s authority. The question of authority is definitely theological, and that’s just what the Chief Priests come asking Jesus about in the lesson, isn’t it?. Matthew tell us, “When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Now before we begin talking about authority, it’s important to note where this happened. Did you catch that? It was in the temple. You see the temple was first and foremost about the sacrifices on the altar. But just outside of that, there was a courtyard where in the day of Jesus, rabbis taught. And that’s what Jesus was doing. But, as they did this, it appears that the chief priests and the elders—people who would have been on the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the temple of the Jews—they would go around verify what was being taught. And in a sense this would be fitting. I imagine it would be like if someone came and taught here. If I didn’t know the person I would want to make sure that they taught nothing false. I would want to make sure that they didn’t come in here and break the Second Commandment and mislead you all as the sheep of the flock under my care as your pastor. In fact, Paul even says that’s a part of what I’m supposed to do as a pastor, as an overseer. I am to “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that [I] may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

And so there the Chief Priests and the Elders come, and they’re going to examine Jesus and his teaching. And being that they have been placed into this these roles, it would seem fitting for them to do so. It would seem that they have this authority. Although, the interesting thing is that this authority was broken. The High Priest and the priestly family certainly had had clear authority historically, but with everything that had gone on in Israel, between the Greeks conquering it as part of the empire, and the Maccabean rebellion to take it back, and the reconquering of the area by the Romans, this priesthood was a mess. Its appointees had been determined not strictly by priestly lineage but by the political rulers. And so the authority of these men was questionable.

So, there’s certainly and irony when these priests come to Jesus and want to validate his preaching card, isn’t there? When they come to Jesus and say, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” the jokes one them, isn’t it? After all, who gave Jesus this authority? Our heavenly Father, right? As Matthew said in Chapter Seven at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” Or as Jesus said to the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus certainly had the right to be teaching these things as the Son of God. But that was part of the problem. And I think these priests knew it, they just didn’t like what Jesus had to say.

So why do I say all of this? Because I want us to think about authority a bit. Think about how we treat authority in our day. We usually look upon it with disdain to a large extent, don’t we? We’ve been taught to be utterly untrusting of authority. If you look at the news we see how we are taught to always assume that when a policeman shoots someone in the line of duty, they were on a power trip. When a manager fires someone it’s either because of some kind of prejudice or because they just didn’t like the person—not because the person wasn’t doing their job. And we can come up with a thousand other ways that we view this.

But what does God say about authority? Paul in His letter to the Romans, says “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” God says that He gives authority and He alone. So in a sense those priests were right, they did have authority over teaching. Yes it was corrupted, but they were right to try to examine teaching. In the same way the policeman has authority, the manager at work has authority. But what’s the point? We mess it up all over the place. The priests messed it up trying to exert authority over Jesus. We mess it up by always assuming an abuse of authority. Likewise those in authority mess it up because—let’s be clear—as sinners we so often abuse that authority for our own purposes, which is part of why we have such a hard time with it.

And this is how it has been since the fall. I was reading a book this week that made the point about how when God created, He created an order of authority: the order of God, then man, then woman, then creatures. And what happened in the fall? The serpent came and stole the authority from man and woman by deceiving them. The woman stole authority from man by manipulating man into sin. And man stole authority from God by determining that it is better to be like God knowing good and evil than to listen to God. Everything was all reversed. And now we still vie for authority today. Or more accurately we vie for power. We think that authority gives power and that’s what makes it great, and we want that power for ourselves. Animals still buck against the dominion of man and woman. Woman still has the desire against her husband. Husband still has the desire to have power over his wife. And we all want to be God.

And there we see where we are just like those priests. We still come to Jesus in our own assumption of authority, thinking we’re right and he’s wrong. This is Jesus who showed his authority given to Him by His Father. He showed it in His miracles. He showed it in His teaching. He showed in His death, most of all in His resurrection, and He showed it in His ascension. And yet we are like those priests, where we still want to consider our ideas better than the words He speaks, than the teachings He gives.

Think about how this goes, how we want that authority over Him. Think about how we have all sorts of ideals about what we think God would or wouldn’t do, but how often are we Bereans about these assumptions? Do you know what I mean by that? Who the Bereans were? They were the people that Paul went to, and as he taught, they examined everything he said according to the Scriptures. How often do we actually sit down, not with a parable or two, not with a passage or two, but with the whole of Jesus’ teaching, the whole of Paul’s exposition of Jesus’ teaching, with the whole of the New Testament and Old Testament, how often do we sit down with this word and comprehend an idea we have about Jesus in light of all of this? Or how often we fall in line with what the world around us says must be true about God? God is loving so He wouldn’t send anyone to hell, except of course for Hitler and Stalin. He’s so kind He of course wouldn’t turn anyone away from the communion rail, nor would he punish those who do things explicitly in opposition to His word? That wouldn’t be fair, it wouldn’t be just. And yet what does He say? You say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? It’s you, it’s we who are unjust people.

Why are we unjust? Because we still don’t want to submit to His authority. You see we impose our human view of authority on it. We think that all in authority are in it for power, in part because we know that’s what we do. And we think God does the same. We think that God’s demand for authority is merely a power grab on His part. He’s just trying to wrestle it away from us. And we don’t want to give it. Perhaps we don’t want to give it because we like the accolades of the world, so we cling to worldly ideas about who God is and what He does. Or perhaps we don’t want to give it because we don’t like what that word says about us, about how it convicts of sins, about not being the people we’d like to pat ourselves on the back for being. Or perhaps we don’t like it because we think that God wants to hold something good back from us.

But is that what we see in Jesus? Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. He emptied himself, He made Himself nothing, taking on the form of a man, knowing that equality with God was not something to be grasped, something to be robbed from God, something to cling to like a primate clings to a vine while he swings. And instead what did He do? He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, the death on the cross. He took the authority of heaven and earth and He used it to take on your sinful flesh so that He could carry it to the cross and die for you.

Is that a power grab? Is that a self-centered, power hungry narcissist? No! This is what love does. This how love serves in authority. It lays itself down, not to be served, but to serve and give its life as a ransom for the many. Jesus served you, served us in that authority, serving you in His death on the cross that you would live in His resurrection. And He serves you even now in that forgiveness. Having used the authority to speak your sins washed away in baptism, He buried you in His death and raised you in His resurrection in those waters. He serves you in using that authority of His word to proclaim the promise that even now He comes to you that you may feast on Him and His body and blood as the perfect sacrifice for your sins, knowing that He is serving you and cleansing your conscience of your rebellion against all authority, most of all your rebellion against God.

So when you come to Jesus like one of those priests, and say, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?,” you know by what authority. By that given Him by our Father in heaven. And thankfully so, because Jesus has all of that authority and what does He do with it? He uses it to give up His life for us. That’s what true authority does, it loves. Amen.