Sermon 27 sept 2020
Our two readings today talk about the authority of Jesus. When Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders were disturbed by him, because he had a new message, and wasn’t following the status quo. They were suspicious, but also hopeful. For many long years they had been waiting for the Messiah, a saviour who would come and make their life better, and fulfil God’s plan for the Jews. For the last four hundred years, they were particularly looking for someone who could lead them out of the captivity the Romans had imposed on them. So they were wondering, could this Jesus guy be the one?
But they were not about to get their hopes up too quickly. There had been many who had proclaimed themselves to be the Messiah, and Jesus was the last in a long line that had led to disappointment. Furthermore, they knew that if the Jewish people rocked the boat, even a little bit, the Romans would come down harshly upon them. So they needed to know who Jesus was, and what he represented.
When they came out and asked Jesus straight by whose authority he was preaching and healing, Jesus, in his typical frustrating fashion, didn’t give them a straight answer, but rather addressed the questions going through their heads.
He pointed them at John the Baptist, his own cousin, asking them about John’s baptism. He had them caught between a rock and a hard place, because they didn’t want to admit that John’s baptism came from heaven, and they didn’t want to say that it was human. They were scared of being stoned by the people who did believe John’s message.
They took the wisest course of action which was to keep quiet and say that they didn’t know.
This is a good lesson for us at times too – if we don’ know the answer to something, there is no shame in admitting that. Better to be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and confirm it, the saying goes.
Jesus took advantage of the occasion to teach them by way of a parable.
This one resonates with all those who have lived with teenagers. The grumpy son who won’t take out the recycling bin on a Sunday night, but then decides to do it anyway, because their conscience is pricking them, or the keen to please kid who says yes of course, but doesn’t follow through. This parable tells us that it’s no good just applying lip service to God’s will for our lives. We don’t want to be like the son who says, Yes, sir, I go, but then gets distracted by the cares of life, and forgets to follow God.
We are urged that by eventually following the will of the Father, we will go into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus points put the example of the tax collectors and prostitutes, showing the religious leaders that these people may not be outwardly living righteous lives, but because they turn away and follow God, they will indeed enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus’s harshest criticisms are for the religious establishment, those who are only too quick to follow the outward observances of faith, but don’t follow the heart of it. He never tells them directly where his authority comes from, but I’m sure they know.
Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians to see what he says about Jesus’ authority.
He explains that it is by humbly imitating Christ that we honour him, so that ‘at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.’
We are worshipping one who came lowly to earth, taking upon himself the form of a servant. He did not come on a white war horse to lead the Jewish people to victory over the Romans. He came with a subversive love for everyone that turned the world upside down, and is still turning it upside down.
Paul has good advice for how to live as a follower of Christ:
‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.’
This advice to in humility regard others as better than ourselves goes against much of the popular culture of our world. There is such a striving to be seen to be succeeding, to be winning, that it’s easy to be really judgmental and rank ourselves with everyone we encounter. As we get older we stop worrying about such things, and that it one of the benefits of aged wisdom. It is not the Jesus way to blow our own trumpet, to hold ourselves up as better than someone else. There is a lovely Maori proverb about this – The kumara does not speak of its own sweetness.
No, in the kingdom of heaven there is love for others first.
Paul explains that it is because Jesus put aside his glory and humbled himself that God exalted him, so that at his name every knee should bow.
Some churches take this literally, genuflecting or bowing whenever the name Jesus occurs, such as in the Gloria or the Creed. That’s all very well during a Sunday service but how can we bow at Jesus’ name during the rest of the week?
We can follow his example in everything we do, even when our past life has not been too great. Remember the example of the tax collectors and prostitutes? No matter what we have done, or how many times we have failed to be the people God intends us to be, as we say during the confession, no matter how many times we find ourselves wincing at something we said or at an opportunity we shied away from to tell someone about Jesus, if we keep turning towards God’s will for our lives we will be like the first son, who refused to go and work in the vineyard, but heard the nudging of his conscience to do what was needed. To do this we are practising hearing from God, practising feeling those nudges from the Holy Spirit, so then even if the flesh is weak, the spirit is willing. It is this that brings the kingdom of heaven to earth.
Going back to the religious leaders who were asking Jesus by whose authority he healed and preached, I really feel a bit sorry for them. They were so vested in their forms of worship and religion that they were not willing to step out on a limb and try something new, that would bring freedom. I believe that the church in NZ is ready for something new. What that will be is not clear, but I feel hopeful. Here at St Ambrose we are soon to worship and serve in different ways, as we have the renovations done. How can we seize the opportunities this will give us in our neighbourhood?
Let this be our prayer this week.