Saturday, September 26, 2020

What Authority - Matthew 21

What Authority

Tony E Dillon Hansen

27 Sep 2020

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Sermon based upon Matthew 21:23-32, Psalm 25, Exodus 17:1-7 and Philippians 2:1-13

Opening Prayer:

With election season upon us, this parable feels wholly appropriate because there are plenty of presumptions about power and authority or even misleading claims.

For today, I would like for us to consider the question, 

What authority is in your life?

To start, I would like to share a little bit of a conversation I had with a friend about growing up and how we viewed family and authority in our lives.

For myself, when I was young, I saw things quite differently than I do today. My parents might quip what happened to that young one, and that would be a good question. There are stories but for another time. 

For the most part in my youth, I was expected to do what my parents would say – yet when I didn’t want to eat liver and onions or BBQ chips, I would challenge. So there might be a moment or two when I didn’t.  

This also applied to church and God as well. Here, I came to cherish the vision in the Gospel of Matthew of God’s enduring love and justice for all.

As I grew, that attitude evolved as I became more independent. I would see aspects of the world of the many contrasting “proposed” social conventions that seem to govern our lives and studied them.  Now, that I have grown a few pounds, I still don’t like BBQ chips or sweet relish, but I have gained affinity for cottage cheese and sauerkraut. 

Along the way, I have observed how people would do things that felt inconsistent with what they say they believe.  I saw my own inconsistent ways. Jokes that used to be funny instead today reveal how careless someone’s attitude towards race, queerness, or women might be. I observed contrasts in places of authority where we have this Bill of Rights that enshrines justice, privacy and press, but there are laws that prevent people from gaining access to justice, making private choices or officials vilifying press as “fake news.” 

I would see folks who appear to pray solemn prayers, think they have it all figured out, done the right things, and checked all the boxes. They still walk out the door and support laws that degrade and hurt people - laws that refuse compassion towards neighbors and deny equality and justice.  Somewhere in people’s lives, the message of the Gospel seems to get clouded. 

It happens. Many claim to follow the Gospel and fall short – I can be accused of this myself. Some claim to follow the Gospel and just do not.

The contrast does not, however, have to form a dividing line or competition of scars. It is instead a teaching moment. The challenge then is to understand what obstacles do we place in front of the true authority, the Truth, these Gospel teachings. This Gospel is one that invites blessings for those hurting, the poor, the “salt” and those who light up and lift up. Think of why Jesus lists prostitutes and poor as blessed because when you have nothing left to lose, you have everything to gain. 

This is part of why I got into ministry because I want to help people feel they too can live into the promise of this Gospel. That is because the experience of the Gospel message (both graceful and difficult) and what it can do is a true gift of freedom not a privilege or weapon to wield. 

Therefore, what religion, what government, what person gives authority to demean, lie, hate and hurt when the authority of the Gospels tells us differently?

One might ask, Where are the good people? Where are those that believe and live this Gospel we read? 

Unfortunately, there are many false and deceiving “authority” around us. You see them in advertising and social media memes, so you don’t have to think. These tells us of our deserved rewards or status, entitlements to annoy people, what’s mine is mine, an eye for an eye, I need shiny things, one more beverage or hit. Some say there is no time to help neighbors in need. Some contort the Gospel into an ugly weapon.

I question these “proposed” conventions as “that’s how the world works” arguments because they feel misguided. Contrastingly, there is truth and honesty in Matthew’s Gospel that tells us of God’s unfailing love and justice that I fell in love with as a youth, and the Gospel is hard to follow. We fall short.

There are many negative things out there and bad authority that seem easy, but we can become lonely in hunts for wealth, job, social media, substances or status. Yet, we don’t have to accept these or to let them define us and our paths forward. In fact, when derecho hit, neighbors showed up everywhere to help. Truth is right here waiting, never leaving.

There are good people – those that believe the Gospel and live its teachings best they can– right here. That can be you!

The good thing is that God’s authority grounded in steadfast love and freeing justice – ready to transform and change you – if you are ready.  The question is – are you?

Know that our Creator is with you. Even when we walk in deserts and wildernesses (or pandemic) of our lives looking for food, water, hope, healing and transformation, as in Exodus, there is someone there to help us. 

If you let God work, you may feel that tickle in your heart, the warmth and the tug. You might just tear up a little. God is working if you are willing to open to the real authority and let all others fall away.

We learn and listen to God speaking. This Truth invites us and welcomes us into freely given grace – as broken, humble people we are -whether we like BBQ chips or not. 

We ought to remember the holy promise, 

the holy authority that makes space for you and me just the same.  

Why? because you are worth it.

This holy authority does not reduce your worth, does not demean and even willing to listen to your questioning. 

This authority loves a good laugh and comforts when times are tough.  

This authority does not ignore science, people or their true lived experiences.

This authority can transform you, heal you, and open your path.

This authority is not aspiration only but truly a guide into love of neighbor with humility and pure heart. This has always been here - probing us, tickling us, lifting us, and guiding us.  

This authority frees us before all, 

frees our hearts so that we can heal 

and frees us to help others heal. 

This authority is the Truth of Jesus and no earthly convention can contest it.  

Thanks be to God. 

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