Though my playground days are long past, I remember exchanges like this at recess. Whether choosing sides for pick-up ball games, or taking turns on the swings, or batting the tether ball around the pole, some child was always challenging some other child’s authority. And if the challenger was older, or bigger, or more popular, or meaner than the one being challenged, the challenge was short-lived.
I continue to ruminate on the troubling events of Epiphany Day in Washington, DC. Under the guise of ownership, armed militia stormed the nation’s capital shouting, “Our house! Our house!” Theirs was the authority of arms and anger, and they wielded it without mercy. Does it matter to them that five people died and 140 police officers were injured as they exercised their misguided authority?
“Don’t hurt me.”
Sunday’s texts are all about “authority:”
God says, “I will put MY words in the mouth of the prophet; you will listen to the prophet because of MY words.” (DT 18.15-20)
Paul writes, “Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 COR 8.1-13)
Mark writes, “Jesus taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (MK 1.21-28)
If scripture is to be believed, true authority is conferred by God, not claimed by us.
True authority means that we moderate ourselves for the sake of another.
True authority is a clear word, unencumbered by footnotes and academic citations.
There are many ways to describe sources of authority. One system I have used describes five sources of authority:
Legal or formal (office or position)
Traditional (“father knows best” or “because I said so”)
Consent (mutual agreement)
Competence (leadership by virtue of skill)
Charisma (think “Pied Piper”)
None of these sources quite describes the authority of God in our lives, or the authority we exercise among each other, though I suppose God could be shoe-horned into each.
Instead, God exercises authority that we accept because we know it is exercised in love. Even the discipline we sometimes know from God is intended for our good, for our growth. We do not follow God, love Jesus, emulate Paul and other early church leaders out of fear, but because we trust their wisdom, their experience, their competence, their compassion.
We meet on Sunday morning for live zoom Worship to study these texts, to consider the authority of God and how that might guide our use of authority.
After worship we meet for the second session of “All Ascension Reads,” discussing parts 3 and 4 of “Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism and You” (Reynolds and Kendi, 2020). The book convicts me as I consider how blithely I have exercised authority in my life, never realizing how much of my authority is conferred simply by the color of my skin and the place of my birth. Join us. And if you haven’t read it, you’re welcome to listen in.
As I consider authority—God’s and ours—I am reminded of Jesus’ sharp rejoinder to his bickering disciples at the Last Supper: “The rulers of the gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. It is not so among you. Rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.” (LK 22.25-27)
Though all around us are vying for power, sometimes earning it and other times snatching it, it is not so among us.
“What a relief.”
“See” you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post