Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Authority for you. . .

Sermon for Epiphany 4B, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, January 31, 2021.

    We have a love/hate relationship with authority: we love it when we have it and hate it when we don’t.  We see authority as a tool to use for ourselves, to make things the way we want it.  We want to be in charge for our own benefit.  I can remember when I was a teenager working at Dairy Queen there were times when I wished I was the manager so I could run the store how I wanted to (and unfortunately, that wish came true.  Be careful what you wish for...right?).  All of us have had this desire at some point.  All of us have wanted some sort of authority so that we can make some part of our lives the way that we want it.  But that’s a sinful view of authority.  True authority isn’t about getting your way.  True authority isn’t about selfish power.  True authority is about sacrificial service. 
    The first authorities we encounter in our lives are our parents.  Newly born into this world, helpless, our parents have complete authority over us.  They made all the decisions for us, what we’d wear, what we’d eat, when we’d go to bed.  As we grew older, they gave us rules that we had to follow.  And at times we hated it.  We wanted to be in charge, thinking we knew what was best, and we told ourselves that when we became parents we were going to do things differently. 
But parents weren’t and aren’t the only authorities in our lives.  There are teachers and police officers and governmental officials, mayors and governors and the president.  When we think of authority, we think of these people, and just like when we were kids fighting against the authority of our parents, we’re often annoyed, envious, and downright angry with the authority of these people.  We question it.  We ask “What gives them the right?”  “Who gave them the authority?”  We could point to the constitution of our land as to how these people got their authority; but, the truth is, their authority comes from God.  All authority comes from God and from God alone.  
Writing to the Christians in Rome, Paul 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. … For he is God’s servant for your good” (Rom 13:1, 4).  God gives earthly authority for your benefit, for service to you.  
Looking back at the authority of our parents, we see that the decisions they made for us, the rules they set in place, the chores they gave us, it was all for our benefit.  Our parents served us, feeding us, clothing us, bathing and diapering us.  That’s what their authority gave them the right to do.  And that’s the same for the other authorities in our lives.  
We call those in government civil servants because they authority is to serve the whole community.  Does that mean we always agree with them?  No.  Does that mean they’ll always perfectly serve and never use authority for their own benefit?  No.  Just like you and me, those with authority are sinners, and at times they’ll fail to live up to God’s call of service, just as we do.  But their sin doesn’t negate God’s authority.  In fact, it’s because they’re sinners, because you and I are sinners, we need God’s authority.  We need Jesus’ authority.
    Jesus’ authority is like no other.   The people of Capernaum in the synagogue on that Sabbath day when Jesus taught recognized this.  Listening to Jesus, they were astonished because He taught with authority; not like the scribes (Mk 1:22).  When the scribes taught they pointed to the authority of those who came before them. 
    Scribes were the copyists of Scripture.  They made sure that the written Word of God was preserved.  And in doing so they became students of the Word, scholars of the Law of Moses.  When they taught, they rightly appealed back to Moses and the words God spoke to him.  But when Jesus taught, it was different, and rightly so, because He is the very Word of God Incarnate (Jn 1:1).  Jesus is the fulfillment of that prophecy from Deuteronomy 18.  Christ is the Prophet like Moses, the Prophet that talks with God face to face, because He’s the Son of God.  He’s the Prophet that speaks all the Words God has given Him, Words that lead to your everlasting life.
    It’s a sad fact that because we’re sinners, we abuse the authority God gives.  Instead of serving others, we use it for our own benefit and glory.  And Jesus could’ve done the same.  The people of Capernaum, they recognized his authority.  They heard it in His teaching and saw it in His healing.  They saw Christ command a demon to come out of a man, and it did.  Jesus could’ve used this to His advantage.  He could've profited off His authority.  News of this healing spread.  His name became famous.  And if He wanted to, Jesus could’ve charged people and arm and a leg to heal their sick, and every single one would’ve paid it, just like we would.  But that’s not the purpose of Jesus’ authority.  Jesus’ authority isn’t for Him, but for you.  Jesus’s authority is about service to you.
    All authority in heaven and on earth was given to Christ by God the Father, and the purpose of all this authority is to save you from your sin and death.  This authority was to take the punishment of your sin upon Himself, dying on the cross to pay for it.  Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This charge I have received from my Father” (Jn 10:17-18).  It wasn’t the authority of the Jewish leaders that put Christ on the cross.  It wasn’t the authority of the soldiers or Pilate.  No, it was all Christ.  He willingly laid down His life for you, in service to you, so that you’d be forgiven, so that you’d have everlasting life.  That’s the purpose of Christ’s authority.  It’s authority for you.
    We sinfully think authority is about ruling over people and getting what we want.  But that’s not God’s authority.  Jesus has all authority not for Himself, but for you.  His authority is service to you, laying down His life for you and for the forgiveness of your sins, taking His life back up, rising from the dead for you, for your resurrection, and for your eternal salvation.  Thanks be to God for this authority.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

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