A new teaching with authority! Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Anytime authority is mentioned, it can bring to mind grandiose visions of power or fearful thoughts of submission. And yet, our lives, our societies and our world work because there is authority in it.
So what does it mean to have authority? Authority is defined as the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control command, or determine; a power or right delegated or given; an accepted source of information, advice, etc.
In other words, a person can have authority over someone like a parent over a child, a supervisor over an employee or a police officer over a civilian.
Or a person can have authority over something – a person who is very knowledgeable in a subject matter is called an authority.
Authority can be a funny thing. Some people who think they have it, don’t. Like our friend here. www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQcNEGrjn1M Some people who think they don’t have it, do. There’s usually someone who is more authoritative above you who knows more than you do. Just when you think you are an authority, you may find that you aren’t.
That’s what happened in today’s Scripture. The people who were in the synagogue when Jesus began to teach were used to being taught by teachers who had pretty good knowledge of their subject matter. Then Jesus showed up. It’s kind of hard to call yourself an authority on the law when the author of the law arrives to teach the class. And, as it turns out, the scribes weren’t quite the authorities they thought they were. But I digress.
Now, as if teaching with authority wasn’t enough, Jesus seals his authority in the eyes of the people by casting out an unclean spirit – a demon – from a man. That was not something folks were used to seeing from their religious leaders. And the ironic part of this exorcism is that the demon recognized Jesus as the Holy One – the Son of God – while none of the Hebrews in the synagogue did – not even Jesus’ disciples.
Now you may be asking, “What does this have to do with me? I’m certainly not a Biblical authority. And there’s no way I can perform an exorcism.”
Perhaps not, but Jesus calls us to love and care for others. He calls us to make disciples of all nations. And he gives us – all of us – authority to do it by one simple method. He lives within us.
If you are a baptized follower of Jesus Christ, if you have accepted Jesus or found Jesus, if you’ve been saved – whatever language you’re accustomed to – your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit and because of that, a part of our triune God lives within you!!
That is powerful! That is authoritative! You must only embrace that authority that already lies within your heart. But in order to do this, you need to have an understanding of what authority is – and what it isn’t; what authority looks like – and what it doesn’t.
Once there were two men who were asked to recite the 23rd Psalm. One was a trained stage actor; the other was an old, feeble minister. The actor went first. He began to recite the familiar words, using his training to give a powerful performance. His deep baritone voice held the audience in rapture as he spoke with inflection and emotion. When he finished, the audience rose to their feet in thunderous applause.
When he had sat down, the minister slowly rose to his feet to render his version of the Psalm. His voice was not as large as the actor’s; his delivery not as profound. He stumbled over a few of the words. Yet when he was finished, there was not a dry eye in the audience.
The actor was able to explain the dramatic difference between the two recitations. He said, “I know the Psalm. He knows the Shepherd.” Knowing the shepherd is what made him an authority. You must know the shepherd.
Authority means stepping up to the plate at all times. It doesn’t matter if it’s convenient or not. It doesn’t matter if it’s acceptable to who is hearing it. It doesn’t matter if it causes a ruckus and gets people angry. It doesn’t matter if it’s in your comfort zone or not. Taking authority means doing what needs to be done no matter the cost.
Jesus’ message is challenging: It was for him and it is for us. The message calls for a drastic change in how we do things, in how we relate to others and how we live our lives.
Finally, authority commands us to image a new world. We’ve all heard what we are supposed to do: Love your neighbor, care for the least, the last and the lost, show mercy to all. People aren’t tired of the message – the message is eternal. People are tired of the old ways of thinking about the message. We all know the words but something is lacking between hearing the words and doing the deeds.
We need authority to begin thinking about a new world – to use our imaginations in a new way. It takes imagination to create communities of healing. It takes imagination to offer everybody the opportunity to live as a child of God. Some people don’t respond to the old ways of doing church – our ways of sharing Christ with the world. We have to be creative and do something different.
But before we all jump on board and get excited about taking authority, we need to remember one thing – the most important thing about authority. It comes with accountability. Those with authority must have accountability – otherwise it’s dictatorial. We read in the gospels about the leaders who “lord their authority over others.” Having authority doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want with no questions asked of you like the biblical rulers did. That makes you a Pharisee. Luke 12 tells us that “everyone to whom much is given, much will be required and to him whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” That more is accountability.
What is accountability? Let’s first look at what it is not. It doesn’t mean you have to justify every decision you do or don’t make. It doesn’t mean that you must consult with everyone before a choice is made. It doesn’t mean that everyone is going to be supportive of your leadership at all times.
Accountability means that, because of your authority, you will be held to a higher standard. It means that your fellow leaders expect you to give your best for the cause and if you don’t, they will want an explanation as to why you haven’t. It means when you behave badly, they will call you on it. It means that when you do things that are not in the best interest of the church or you start doing things for your own glory and reasons, you will have to answer for actions.
This is a picture of me this past June at my commissioning ceremony. After the 14 of us who were commissioned as elders or deacons were asked several questions, Bishop Elaine laid her hands on each of our shoulders and said, in my case, “Amy, take authority as a deacon to proclaim the Word of God, and to lead God’s people to serve the world in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
This is not something that can only be done by clergy. You don’t have to wear a robe to share God’s love. Today, I say to you all, take authority as a child of God to proclaim the Word of God by sharing his love wherever you can, whenever you can, in all the places you can.
We follow the One whose authority cannot be silenced. Use that authority to make a difference for and in God’s kingdom. Amen.