Faith United Methodist Church
January 28, 2018
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: Mark 1:21-28, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Prayer of Illumination:
God of all people, through the power of your Holy Spirit help us grow deeper, wider, and fuller in our knowledge and understanding of your ways. In your wisdom help us to bring others closer to you and to your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Sermon: Permission Granted
Authority. We live with it and chafe under it and sometimes even question it. There are certain people in our lives who are natural authority figures ~ teachers, parents, bosses, police officers. There are others who are authorities in certain areas ~ doctors, airplane pilots, accountants. When I was ordained the bishop laid his hands on me and said, “Take thou authority…..” I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that means.
The truth is, though, that we all hold within us a certain authority. We carry the authority of our experiences and what we value as important. And we are the premiere authorities on our own lives. We know best our fears and joys and our journey with God. As Christians, we carry with us the authority of our baptism. We are brothers and sisters of Christ and what we say, what we do, and how we live matters.
This is what Paul was getting at in his letter to the Corinthians. All his talk about eating meat or not eating meat really came down to a question of authority. You see, at that time in Corinth much of the meat (the affordable meat) had been sacrificed to idols before it was sold at market. Some Christians argued that since they did not believe in idols they should be able to eat the meat without worry. They were looking for a cheap meal! Paul agreed with them, that whether they ate the meat or not didn’t really make a difference.
But it wasn’t quite as simple as that. (It never is, is it?) Paul argued that they needed to think of the message they would send to others who might see them eating the meat. As Christians they carried the authority of the faith with them. If one of the younger or less mature Christians saw them eat meat sacrificed to idols and began to question their own faith it would do great harm to the fellowship. Yet Paul wasn’t going to tell them what to do. They had to decide for themselves. As our “Seasons of the Spirit” explains it, “Paul suggests there is authority within us that allows us to act with freedom of choice.”
Our Gospel lesson is also about authority ~ Jesus’ authority. In our lesson Jesus enters the synagogue in Capernaum to teach. This was Jesus’ first official teaching and the Scripture tells us that the people were, “…astounded at his teaching for he taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
Sure, the scribes could speak with the authority of scholarship, study and tradition, but Jesus was different. Jesus spoke with a different kind of authority. His authority didn’t come from books or scrolls. In fact, we see his authority primarily in his actions. While he was teaching he was interrupted by a man described as having an ‘unclean spirit.’ Jesus didn’t skip a beat. He spoke to the man and called out the spirit and the people were even more amazed. They wondered, “What is this? A new teaching ~ with authority!” His was an authority that even the unclean spirits obeyed.
It’s interesting to me that the Greek word for authority ~ exousia ~ is related to the verb meaning “it is free” or “it is permitted.” Authority flowed freely from Jesus. It didn’t have to be forced. It came from within him and was grounded in the source of life. There are others who have reflected this kind of authority. One example that comes to my mind is Martin Luther King, Jr. He spoke and acted with boldness and authority, without fear in the face of opposition and injustice. “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty we are free at last.” He spoke into the future he envisioned.
You might think of other examples, both present day and historical. Perhaps a certain person in your life has been a true authority, a mentor, a guide. As one commentator put it, “There is something powerful about people who speak with authority – whose message is as much in their heart as it is in their mind.”
Jesus didn’t just know the word of God, Jesus was the Word of God. Perhaps Jesus’ authority amazed people because they didn’t know where it came from. They couldn’t point to degrees or well-to-do parents or an impressive social standing. People were probably asking, as Kate Huey put it, “Who is this man, where did he go to school, and who gave him the right to speak this way?” Jesus’ authority turned heads. That’s why the last verse of our passage reads, “At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” Jesus’ new message was actually God’s ancient promise of a new beginning, which sounds like pretty good news.
What authorities hold sway in your life? Do you see yourself as having authority? What authority do you carry within you? As Paul urged the Corinthians, do you recognize your authority to influence the life and faith of others? We all have authority, whether we accept it or not. “Take thou authority…..” We may not feel much like authorities. (I know I often don’t!) Yet God grants us permission to act with authority, an authority that builds up rather than tears down, and authority founded in love. As our “Seasons of the Spirit” explains it, “As we open ourselves to the authority of God’s word we are empowered to reach out in word and deed – to teach and heal in ways that restore and build up individuals and communities.” Let us pray:
Lord, you call us to discipleship, you bless us with the waters of baptism and you commission us to share your word. The authority which you demonstrated at Capernaum and throughout your ministry came not from learning or scholarship, but from within your heart. Help us to claim our authority as your brothers and sisters, to share our stories, to support each other and to make disciples in your name. We pray with faith and hope. Amen.