Sermon: Proper 21 RCL A – “By What Authority?”

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Boudreaux had been transporting his his favorite mule, Matilda, to some greener pastures when a semi ran a stop sign and plowed into him. A couple months later, he sued the trucking company for all his pain an misery, but when the fancy lawyer from the trucking company got him on the stand during the trial, the lawyer asked him, “Didn’t you say at the scene of the accident ‘I’m fine’”?

Broudreaux said, “Let me told you what happened to me, I had jus loaded my favorite mule…”

The lawyer interrupted , “No. Just answer the question. When asked, didn’t you respond by saying, ‘I’m fine’”?

Boudreaux said, “I had just got Matilda into da trailer and was driving…”

The lawyer interrupted again and said, “Judge, I am trying to establish the fact that this man told the State Policeman on the scene that he was just fine. Now he decides to sue. I believe he is a fraud. Please instruct him to answer the question.”

The judge thought for a minute, then said, “I’d like hear what he’s got to say.”

Boudreaux thanked the judge and proceeded. “I had just got Matilda loaded into da trailer and was driving her down da hiway when dis huge semi-truck ran da stop sign and smacked my truck right in da side.  Me, I was thrown into one side of the ditch and Matilda into the utter. I was hurting real bad and didn’t want to move.  But I could hear ole Matilda moaning and groaning.   Me, I knew she was in some kind o terrible shape.

“Shortly after da accident, a State Petroleum-man, he came on da scene. He heard Matilda moaning and groaning, so him, he want over to her.

He say, “How you doin’ ol’ girl?”

“Matilda, she only groaned and moaned. So the state petroleum-man pull out his gun and shoot her between da eyes. Den, wit his gun still in his hand, he come over to me and say, ‘How you doin’ ol’ feller?”

Now, what the heck would you say?”

In the life of Jesus, yesterday, was a very busy day. It was the day that he made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The people spread their coats before him, waved palms and shouted:

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

This tells us that his crucifixion is only a few days away, but his work is not yet complete. On the same day, he would go to the temple where, finding the money changers he would repeat the words of Isaiah and Jeremiah:

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
but you are making it a den of robbers.”

And would then drive them out.

He then left the city for the night, staying in Bethany, then returned the following day. On his way, he came across a fig tree – think Israel and their religious practices – that had produced no fruit, so he cursed that fig tree and it withered and died. It is now that we come to our Gospel reading today: When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

In asking this, the chief priests and elders know all of what Jesus has been doing for the past three years. They’ve had reports of his teachings, the healing and other miracles, but by coming to Jerusalem and the Temple, he’s no longer this mouthy blasphemer out in the desert. He has brought his message to their front porch, to their house, so they now want to know, who the heck he thinks he is.

Jesus answers their question regarding his authority with a question of his own, by bringing up that other mouthy blasphemer, John the Baptist: “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” They quibbled among themselves. If we say he was a prophet, one with authority to speak for God, then you’ll ask why we didn’t listen to him. If we say he was a mouthy blasphemer, we’re afraid the people will hurt us. They responded, “We don’t know.” They responded, “What the heck would you say?” Jesus responds, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

He then tells them a parable: a father – one who has authority – who has two sons. He tells the first to go and work in the vineyard. The son says, “No,” but later changed his mind and went. The father also tells the second son to go work in the vineyard. Son number two says, “Sure,” but did not go. Jesus asked, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” Which one of the two was obedient? The religious leaders get it right this time: “The first.” They got it right, but they also just condemned themselves. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

The tax collectors and prostitutes are like the first son. At first they did not believe the word of God, but when John came – speaking with the authority of God and righteousness – the tax collectors and sinners repented and are obedient to God. And you, the religious leaders, are like the second son. All along you’ve said, “Yes,” to the ways of God, but you do not practice or teach those ways.

A DEA officer stopped at a ranch in Texas, and talked with an old rancher. He told the rancher, “I need to inspect your ranch for illegally grown drugs.”

The rancher said, “Okay, but don’t go in that field over there,” as he pointed out the location.

The DEA officer verbally exploded saying, “Mister, I have the authority of the Federal Government with me!” Reaching into his rear pants pocket, the officer removed his badge and proudly displayed it to the rancher. “See this badge?! This badge means I am allowed to go wherever I wish on any land!! No questions asked or answers given!! Have I made myself clear? Do you understand?!!”

The rancher nodded politely, apologized, and went about his chores. A short time later, the old rancher heard loud screams, looked up, and saw the DEA officer running for his life, being chased by the rancher’s massive bull. When it didn’t look like the agent was going to make it to safety, the rancher threw down his tools, ran to the fence and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Your badge! Show him your badge!!”

That was the religious leaders. They liked to wear their phylacteries long, pray loudly on the street corners so that everyone could hear, make a big show of their giving, and have everyone bow and scrape before them. They liked to flip out their badge and have everyone jump, but in the eyes of Jesus, in the eyes of God, it was a dime store badge won in a fifty cent arcade. They claimed the authority of God, but they did not adhere to the teachings of God, and through their neglect of their authority, the people became lost. The people became overburdened under the tedium. The people became disillusioned in their life with God, and so they walked in darkness. And it was into this darkness that the light of Christ shines so brightly. That the authority of Christ, of God radiates in transfiguring splendor.

So to answer the religious leaders question to Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” The answer is, by his own authority, given to him by the Father, for as Jesus says early on in Matthew’s Gospel, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father,” and following the resurrection he declares, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The one who has authority over us – the only one who has authority over us – is Jesus. And all the children turn and gleefully smile up at their parents and say, “Father John says you have no authority over me!” To that, I say, “Not so fast.” For we, as St. Paul taught us today, have the mind of Christ. Or as he teaches us in Galatians, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” By putting on Christ, we have been given the authority of Christ – that we might do those things which he has been doing. So that we might continue to shine his light into the darkness. Not as the religious leaders did, by burdening the people with tedium and making spectacles of ourselves, but instead by submitting ourselves in humble service and sacrifice for one another. By pouring ourselves out in obedience to the will and purposes of God.

Theologian John Stott writes in Issues Facing Christians Today, “The emphasis of Jesus was not on the authority of a ruler-leader but on the humility of a servant-leader. The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” Therefore, let us clothe ourselves in christ, put on his authority, and be in the world as those who serve.

Let us pray: O Dearly beloved Word of God, teach us to be generous, to serve You as You deserve, to give without counting the cost, to fight without fretting at our wounds, to labor without seeking rest, to spend ourselves without looking for any reward other than that of knowing that we do Your holy will. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.

One Reply to “Sermon: Proper 21 RCL A – “By What Authority?””

  1. This was a really great sermon! I can see the lesson in the scripture about authority and obedience and I know it is important for us to be obedient to God’s authority in our lives. I also got another message/lesson from the scripture as well and it is about faith. The chief priests and elders were questioning Jesus’ authority and Jesus knew that their pride was standing in the way of them having faith and believing in Him. Jesus wanted to teach us to have faith and believe in Him and in our own divinity as well. That is why the prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the kingdom of God before the “religious leaders”. They had faith and believed. Jesus uses the word “believe” four different times in this short parable. I think this was a topic that was very important to Him because He teaches about it a lot. Sometimes it is hard for us to have faith and believe. I think our humanness and our ego gets in the way. But if we can set that aside and have faith we will begin to see things change in our lives. To have faith we must surrender our own wants, wishes, needs, and thoughts over to God and allow Him to have His way and be in control of the outcomes. This is not popular to the human ego. It must be right, it must be in control, it must dominate because it is based in fear – fear of annihilation. When we override the human ego, surrender, and let God have control, we are having faith. This gives God the opportunity to do amazing things through us. Jesus said to have faith and believe Him. I will be working this week (and beyond) to have more faith, surrender more, and see what God does in and through me. Thank you for this great sermon!

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