Benediction Online

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Question Authority

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 

You’ve all seen the bumper sticker – “Quest ion Authority.” Apparently it was Socrates who first encouraged his students to “question authority” but it was Timothy Leary who made it popular in our time. When Jesus started teaching there were many people who questioned his authority and throughout our readings from Mark this year we’re going to be hearing ways in which Mark underlines his authority. The word authority has the same root as author so it means the power to act closely connected to the ability to create.
In our liturgy we often talk of Jesus as the author of our salvation. This doesn’t mean that he wrote about it but that our salvation stems from his life, death and resurrection. We also wait in hope for the day when Christ’s authority over all the nations will become apparent. That is the day when conflict will end and a new order will be created in which we are able to live in peace, harmony and justice and according to the prophets, even the violence of the food chain will be broken and the lamb will be able to sit down with the lion. He is the Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end – the author and completer of creation.
Yet when we think about authority we most often think of it in terms of power-over.  The authorities are the ones who have the power to make and enforce laws, who make decisions which effect how we live. The tax authorities make and enforce the rules about taxes, local authorities decide which roads will be repaired and how people can use land and property, here in Los Osos we might think especially of the Coastal Commission and the Regional Water Quality Control Board. In some places the authorities have the power to govern how you think through control of the media and repression of free speech.
That picture of authority feeds in to the image of God as completely external to creation, sitting on a throne wielding power and, yes, authority; listening to our prayers and making decisions about the lives of his subjects from an objective distance. But what happens to this idea of authority if instead we imagine God as a fluid Spirit moving in and around and among creation? What happens to this idea of authority if we think of God as co-creator, working with the circumstances of our lives, rather than pulling strings from outside?
Now the authority moves into the creatorship – the Christ, the God-impulse is that which pulls all things towards their intended completion or perfection – that for which they were intended from the very beginning. The Alpha and Omega.
So the authority of Christ is not that of a distant legislative body or a distant ruler, but the authorship of all that is happening to unfold the greatest love within even the smallest cell, even the minutest or most distant quark. The authority of Christ works in us, the cells of the body of Christ to transform us into members of the divine being. But we too have authority, we too are creators with ability to act and so the secret of the spiritual life, of the life lived with God, is to surrender our authority to Christ’s.
The question that the church in Corinth had raised about eating meat offered to idols is more a question of authority than a question of diet. If they were as Christians acknowledging and surrendering to the authority of Christ was it right to eat food which had been blessed to acknowledge the authority of another? Paul’s response is that it doesn’t matter since the idols have no authority – they are but empty shells with no ability to create. However, he cautions, if eating the meat causes a difficulty for someone else, then don’t do it. In loving community, people’s differing sensibilities need to be taken into account. When we are followers of Christ, when we surrender our personal authority to his, then we seek to use our creativity in ways that we are in line with Jesus’ teaching and Jesus’ example.
Whenever humans work together we have to give authority to some people to act as leaders because otherwise we would be unable to move forward. We question authority to make sure that t is being used in ways that are consistent with our values. The church in Corinth acknowledged Paul’s authority as a teacher and leader of the new movement.
The people in the synagogue in Capernaum were amazed by Jesus’ teaching because it was new and different. Whereas the scribes could only refer to the tradition and teach that which had been taught before, Jesus taught something new. And he taught it with authority – with power. He was not just teaching what he had been taught by his rabbis – his teaching came from his own knowledge of God. For him, the reign of God was not a concept in a book but a lived reality.
When we are living our lives with Christ then our words too will have authority because they come from an inner knowing. When you write a letter or a poem or a book, it is the creativity that you bring to the subject which communicates because you have given it your own authorship – you are not just reciting a string of facts or facile opinions but bringing something out of yourself. This was the difference in Jesus’ teaching – he brought his own deep inner knowledge of the ways of God. So he spoke with authority.
People in our time are eager to hear the ways of God taught with authority. Too often they have heard the prejudices of preachers masked as the word of God and so they are wary. But when we speak from our own deep knowledge of God’s love and God’s gentle transformation then there are always those who are hungry to hear.
In order to do that, we need to have a deep walk with Christ ourselves. We need to acknowledge Christ’s authority in the depths of our being and follow the Spirit’s lead. This is not giving up our own authorship in a submissive way, but acknowledging that for us to have authentic authority in our own lives we have to be living in the way we were created to be – in loving surrender and co-creation with the divine.  It’s a difficult relationship to describe, and I think that is why Jesus often used “Abba, Father” in an attempt to communicate the deep connection where God’s authority is honored and his will is listened to, and from that place of oneness, our own authority springs anew.
When we are willing to listen and willing to be changed, then we will be ready and open to hear Jesus’ teaching with the newness and the authority that rang clear in Capernaum all those centuries ago.


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