About Authority
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

October 1, 2017
World Communion Sunday

Matthew 21.23-32
(no audio available)

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

Once to ev’ry man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
‘Twixt that darkness and that light.

It is in a good minor key, so Ramona loves it. But I confess I have a serious problem with this hymn. Not because it is not gender inclusive, although when we forget the faithfulness and agency of women, we miss the kingdom of heaven by a wide margin.

No my problem with this song is that it says “Once.” If we only get one chance to decide for Jesus, how terrible it would be if we get asked on a day when we are content, or distracted, or too wrapped up in ourselves.

Isn’t every moment, every intersection, every encounter, a moment when we can choose the reign of God?

That’s a part of our reading this morning.

Jesus is in the Temple, teaching. And the elders and chief priests have heard about Jesus. They know he is trouble. He teaches things about God that scare them. What he says threatens the system that they live and work in. So they come and ask for his credentials.

Who gave you permission to do this stuff?

What is your authority to say these things and do these things?

And in a moment of brilliant verbal judo, Jesus turns their question back around on them: Did John, with his crazy shirt of hair, and his wild honey and locust diet, and his baptism in the Jordan, did he have authority from God or from human beings? Answer this, and I will answer your question.

And the elders and the chief priests dialogue, they discuss, they talk amongst themselves. They set a trap for Jesus, and they fell into it themselves.

They figure out that if they say, “he was from God,” Jesus will ask, “well, why didn’t you listen to him, then?” But if they say, “he was just another human,” the crowd will turn against them because he was popular, and people saw him as a prophet.

But they are already in trouble. They do not pray. They do not ask God, “was John one of yours?” They only talk amongst themselves. So we know that however religious they may be, they are all about earthly authority and their own positions.

And so they answer, “We do not know.” And Jesus says, “If you cannot figure that one out, I’m not telling you either.”

The problem with Jesus was not that he did not know how to play the world’s game, it is that he did not play it at all.

Each moment is a moment to choose. We can choose the world. Or we can choose the reign of God.

That’s what our Be the Church banner is all about.

Be the Church. Protect the environment. Care for the poor. Embrace diversity. Reject racism. Forgive often. Love God. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Enjoy this life.

When it comes to the environment, we can treat it as a commodity to be bought and sold and used up and thrown away, or we can seek to steward it and protect it.

The poor. We can pass by on the other side, or we can care for them.

With the diversity of creation, we can circle the wagons and look out for our own, or we can embrace the great wonder and amazing variety of God’s creation.

In a racist world and a racist country, we can be about the world’s business as usual and blame the victims of racism for the racism, or we can reject racism and see one another as children of the same God, loved by the same Jesus.

Why do we forgive often? Because even when we choose the world in one moment, the next moment we are free to choose God. God’s forgiveness is ongoing, and more than we can ask or deserve.

My Old Testament professor used to tell us that hell is a place where God is interesting. But rather than just thinking about God, making God the object of our interest, we can choose God and let God be the subject of the sentence, we can discover that love is the verb, and we are the object.

You get the idea. This is why we fight for the powerless, because this is who Jesus ate with, who Jesus healed, who Jesus was willing to walk with even in the face of death. This is why we share, because all that we have comes from God, and is more than enough, and choosing Jesus means choosing generosity.

But there is a cost to choosing Jesus, to choosing the reign of God.

It can be uncomfortable. If we merely confer among ourselves, we might take risks, but chances are they will be comfortable risks.

Listening to God moment to moment, following Jesus, means we might be called out past where we are comfortable going. We might be called like Abraham, to gather up all our family and all our things and travel to a new and foreign land.

We might be called like Saul of Tarsus, to become a new person, to give up our name for a new name, to give up all our privilege and become a servant of the Gospel to strangers.

We might be called to drop our nets and follow, without knowing where we are going.

And this is why it is easier to say, “We don’t know.” Not because we don’t know that God is in charge, but because even though we love God, and we believe that God loves us, we are not prepared for the answers to our prayers to send us.

Churches like to be comfortable. People like to be comfortable. I like to be comfortable.

Are we willing to be more than comfortable? Are we willing to follow where God leads?

For God is still calling us.

Thanks be to God.
Amen.