Pentecost 16, year A

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B January 18, 2015 Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B I Corinthians 6:12-10
The First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B January 11, 2015 First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B The Book of Common Prayer –Holy Baptism
Second Sunday after Christmas, Year B January 4, 2015 Second Sunday of Christmas, Year B Luke 2:41-52
Two Christmas Eve Meditations December 24, 2014 Christmas Eve, Year B Luke 2:1-20, John 1:1-5, 14, 16
Advent 3, Year B December 14, 2014 Third Sunday of Advent, Year B Psalm 126, I Thessalonians 5:16-24
Advent 2, Year B December 7, 2014 Second Sunday of Advent, Year B Mark 1:1-8
Advent 1, Year B November 30, 2014 First Sunday in Advent, Year B Mark 13:24-37
Christ the King, Year A November 23, 2014 Christ the King, Year A Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 95:1-7a, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25: 31-46
Pentecost 23, year A November 16, 2014 Proper 28, Year A Matthew 25:14-20
Pentecost 22, year A November 9, 2014 Proper 27, Year A Matthew 25:1-13
All Saints, 2014 November 2, 2014 All Saints’ Day, Year A Psalm 34: 1-10,22, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12
Pentecost 20, year A October 26, 2014 Proper 25, Year A Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1, Matthew 22:34-36
Pentecost 19, year A October 19, 2014 Proper 24, Year A Isaiah 45:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22
Pentecost 17, year A October 5, 2014 Proper 22, Year A Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46
Pentecost 16, year A September 28, 2014 Proper 21, Year A Sermon, Proper 21, Year A Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Psalm 25: 1-8, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32

 

Pentecost 16, year A

Sermon Date:September 28, 2014

Scripture: Sermon, Proper 21, Year A Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Psalm 25: 1-8, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32

Liturgy Calendar: Proper 21, Year A


In today’s gospel, after Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph and overturns the tables of the money changers, and shortly before his capture, crucifixion, death and resurrection, the chief priests and the elders ask Jesus this question.    

“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

This past week, on Thursday, two pictures  that raise this same question appeared in Thursday’s Washington Post on the top half of the front page.

The top picture shows President Obama addressing the United Nations and encouraging nations to collective action regarding the various crises haunting the earth right now. 

The two pictures directly underneath show pictures of hostages held by militant groups-the picture on the left shows armed and masked men about to behead the defenseless French hostage, Herve Gourdel, who kneels in front of them. 

And we find ourselves asking that same question the authorities asked Jesus that day in the temple.

“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

President Obama addresses the United Nations with the authority that  the people of this country gave him when he was elected as the President of the United States of America.  Whether we agree with him or not, or like him or dislike him, as a democratic nation we acknowledge his authority as our President.  He goes to the United Nations with this authority understood.

The militants answer the question of authority right before they behead  Herve Gourdel.  One of the men gives a speech and acknowledges the authority of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is, as the Post puts it, “the self-styled caliph of the Islamic State.”

Now obviously we don’t have the authority of President Obama, and certainly we aren’t militants who are killing people, but everything we do depends on who or what we believe  gives us the authority on how to live –how we act toward ourselves, our families, our friends, our co-workers, depends on where we’ve placed the authority in our lives.

I’m here today to tell you that this question, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” is an essential and on-going question of discernment that we must ask ourselves if we have any hope at all of living as Christians in our daily lives, because we all have power of some sort or another, and we all get our authority for what we do from somewhere.     

In our culture, our authority tends to come from within.  What makes me happy, what makes me feel good, what fulfills me—what do I desire?  We live in a “me” culture, and whether we want to admit it or not, many, if not most of the decisions we make are based on our own selfish desires and our own authority.

But Jesus reminds us that as Christians, no matter who we are, or what authority we’ve been given, our ultimate authority is God.  Jesus did nothing from his own authority.  Everything he did pointed to the authority of God.

Who is God for you and what authority do you give God in your life?

That answer will differ for each one of us, but today’s scriptures are incredibly valuable reminders about what scripture has to say about who God is and how God works in our lives when we live into the fact that God is our ultimate authority. 

So let’s start with Ezekiel, who points out that the people of Israel no longer act as if they believe that God is the authority in their lives.   Along with them, we have, as the Rite I confession puts it so perfectly, “erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, we have offended against thy holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done…”

And God, who gives us free will, will let us suffer the consequences of our actions.  Our human nature wants to blame God—“The ways of God are unfair,  because God lets us make our own choices, and then lets us take the consequences of our sins which will inevitably lead to death in one way or another.

For instance, being at odds with our neighbors can lead to the death of friendships, and even worse, to the death of peace in a community.  Instead of focusing on the common good with God as the authority, it’s easy to get caught up in bickering and arguments about who is right or wrong, losing sight of our common goal as Christians, which  is to help bring God’s reign on earth into reality. 

Certainly, as Christians, we can disagree, but when God is the authority in our lives, the ways in which we disagree can help promote life giving discussions instead of turning into death dealing divisions that lead to bitterness and hatred among neighbors. 

God’s advice, in the words of Ezekiel, is to cast away our sins, and to get ourselves a new heart and a new spirit. 

And here’s the most important thing—God has no pleasure in the death of anyone.  God will let us live by our own authority if that is what we choose to do, but we break God’s heart when we make decisions that lead to death rather than to life.  God will let us go down the road of death, but that path isn’t God’s will or hope for us. 

That’s why God begs us to “turn then, and live.”

I’ve mentioned before that St Ignatius developed a way of prayer called the “Examen.”  Basically, the idea is that at night, you look back over the day and thank God for the blessings of the day and ask forgiveness for the inevitable sins that you’ve committed.  If you’ve started down the road of death during the day, this examination gives you the opportunity to see your mistake, and to turn back to life before you get so far down the road that you can’t even see that it’s the wrong road any more. 

Now let’s look at this familiar passage from Philippians—we hear this passage every year on Palm Sunday because this hymn of the early church also gives us a definition of who God is—God, willing to empty himself, to become one of us and to, as a human being, to be obedient to God, even to the point of death, even death on a cross. Our God is a humble God. 

Again, in our culture, humility is not something that is sought or celebrated by most people.  And yet, true humility is knowing and living into the understanding, in both our heads and our hearts,  that God is our ultimate authority and so we try  to live out of that knowledge, even when being obedient to God leads to suffering on our parts.

Actually, this kind of suffering is good, because it leads to the pruning and burning away of our own death dealing desires and actions that invariably happen when we forget to be humble and as a result make ourselves the ultimate authority instead of God. 

King David, sinner that he was (think Bathsheba), left us directions in the beautiful Psalm 25 about how to make sure that God is the ultimate authority in our lives.

In this psalm, David reminds us to constantly lift up our souls to God, to admit that we need God to show us the way to the path of life, to admit that we need God’s truth and teaching, and to trust that God really is compassionate and loving. David knows from his own bitter arrogant experiences that we must have humble hearts in order to even begin to be open to God’s way.

So–“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

The faithful and prayerful asking and answering of this question can lead us into the path of life, the path that God would have us to go.  

Please open your prayer books, and in closing, let’s pray together A Collect for the Renewal of Life on page 99.

“O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into morning:  Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that having done your will with cheerfulness during the day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord." Amen

Resource:

The Washington Post. Thursday, September 25, 2014, Photographs on Page A1 and article “Video shows Frence national executed by Islamists in Algeria:” by Ishaan Tharoor, page A9. 

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