The Holy Gospel: Matthew 21: 23-32
Sermon, Preached at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church: http://churchthatserves.org/
Sunday, October 1, 2017
In this morning’s Gospel passage Jesus is sitting in the temple teaching, as if he has some kind of authority, as if he is some kind of authorized teacher and preacher. He’s not wearing a collar nor does he have the proper credentials to sit in the temple and teach.
The temple was the central location, the holy place, where the faith was legally upheld and practiced. Only certain people were even allowed into the temple. But there sits Jesus, acting like he doesn’t owe anybody anything, and he’s daring to teach the sanctioned teachers and leaders a lesson on what it means to have faith in God.
It’s important to note all the things that have led up to this point in this morning’s Gospel. Jesus has just paraded triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey, with an adoring crowd cheering him on chanting “Son of David!” “Our Messiah!” “Our King!”.
After the big parade Jesus busts up into a temple and starts flipping tables, getting angry and displaying a righteous wrath on the money-changers and hypocrites. Then he goes on to heal the sick and needy people of the adoring crowds that follow him. And just before this scene we heard this morning, he continues to teach his parables, aggressively and without shame.
In short, Jesus has been making a scene and he’s doing it in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the central place where all the human authority of that time was concentrated. And the people, particularly the authorities, are noticing.
So it makes sense then why we hear the religious elders and authorities ask Jesus in this morning’s Gospel, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
“The things” they are referring to being the parading, the healing, the teaching, the table-flipping that Jesus has done since he got to Jerusalem. The chief priests are wondering who exactly this guy thinks he is? How can he act like he has authority and power when he isn’t even an ordained or sanctioned leader of the faith?
Jesus is sitting in the temple, as I said, with no collar, no stole, nothing that marks any kind of authority given him by the institution to permit him to do what he is doing. But that doesn’t stop him.
This is rabble-rouser Jesus.
Now, I know I’m the one standing up here in a collar right now with all the appropriate markers of authority given by the institution, but this rabble-rouser Jesus is one of my favorite versions of Jesus.
Because rabble-rouser Jesus is demonstrating something deeply profound about who we are. What Jesus demonstrates in the temple and in all the actions leading up to this moment is a subtle truth, often overlooked. A truth about who we are as God’s creations.
I’m not talking about Jesus standing up for the marginalized, or healing the sick and making political and social commentary on the wrongs of the world; although he is doing that too, that is all part of this subtle truth I’m talking about.
What I believe rabble-rouser Jesus is demonstrating for us in this passage is simply put: that his authority and power comes from God, and God alone.
Jesus is demonstrating his power exists because he was created by God. He is showing the world around him that his Truth lies within him, that his authority comes from the basic fact that he was created by God.
Jesus is teaching that God belongs to all people, that God loves all people, even the marginalized, sinful and downcast. But rabble-rouser Jesus is also showing the world around him that God exists within each person, no matter how “established” or un-established, no matter how powerful or powerless they happen to be by the standards of society.
God exists within each person because God created each person.
I did some research and found that the word “authority” comes from the Latin root word “auctor” meaning: “master, leader, author”; “One who creates, establishes, makes and originates”. In being “author” the creator, the one who authors, validates and mandates the thing originated and created.
The word authority is also related to the Old French word “authorite” meaning “right, permission, gravity.” Jesus is showing us and the chief priests and religious authorities that his power and authority comes from the Author of Creation, our God. He is demonstrating that his permission to do what he does was woven into his existence when we was created.
This also means that Jesus is saying there is no other authority by which he must go and get permission in order to be teaching, saving, loving, healing, leading, and demonstrating faith in our God.
If we believe that God is our creator, then we believe that God is the author of our existence.
God authored us. In authoring us God mandated that who we are, specifically, matters and is important. In authoring us we are validated, given permission, as one of God’s holy creation, one of God’s beloved.
We have authority because we were created. God’s signature was written on our hearts from the time we sprang into existence and that Divine signature of unconditional love beats at the center of our lives. It is the gravity of our existence, that our Creator forged each one of us in the fires of Divine Love.
Our authority, our power, then, is not dependent on society’s definition. The institutions of our lives are not where our authority lies. Who we are and where we derive our power from is that piece of God within us all, that signature God has left on our hearts.
What Jesus is demonstrating is powerful stuff. It means we don’t need to wait to be given permission to claim our authority, power, truth.
And it also means this: In being authored by God we are all called. We are all called to follow the path of love blazed by Jesus’ walk on this earth and we are all called to lead others on this path.
It is easy to forget that we are perfectly made. Easy to forget that we have power and value. With all the institutions of today telling us who is good and who is bad. With all of society’s powers telling us who is right and who is wrong, who is beautiful who is ugly, who is stupid who is smart, who is whole and who is broken. With all these human powers and authorities telling us only certain types of people matter, only certain people’s lives have power and value. It’s easy to forget.
Easy to forget that we are originally loved, originally powerful, originally authored and called by our Creator who formed us and made us and breathed that Holy breath of life into each one of us.
When forget we are each particularly and perfectly created and called by God, if we forget that God authored us, that we walk around with God’s signature on our hearts, we need only to come to this table to be reminded.
At the Eucharist we remember what Jesus did for us in his life, death and resurrection and we also remember our part in all this.
Today in the Eucharistic Prayer we will hear these words: “Through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, you have freed us from sin, brought us into your life, reconciled us to you, and restored us to the glory you intend for us.”
In other words “God, we know that through Jesus, through all he taught, loved and suffered, you have shown your unconditional love for us and all of creation. In this great sacrifice you remind us that we were created and authored by you and that you intend for us to live like we know this. You remind us that our greatest sin is when we forget this truth: that you have already chosen us in creating us. We need only to remember this and live our lives like we know and believe this is true.”
We are already chosen by God. It is merely up to us to follow that truth and calling within us.
Following the call to love ourselves and others unconditionally and fiercely is the power that originates at the core of who we are as God’s created. It is the power that gives our lives value and authority.
This Table and its contents do not belong to anyone or any human power or institution. This Table and its contents belong to God. As God freely gave his only son so that all of creation may be saved by the unconditional love of sacrifice, God freely gives of this bread and this wine as a reminder of who we are.
May we be reminded that we are holy creations, authored by God, already chosen, already valuable, already powerful.
May we remember that our authority lies in the basic truth that we are unconditionally loved by the God who created us.
“Grant that we, burning with God’s power, may be a people of hope, justice and unconditional love” who continue to follow Jesus and remind the world that we are all holy, all perfect and all called…
our hearts beating with the power of God’s holy signature.