Power and authority, by Pastor Noel

October 1, 2017    Proper 21A,     17 Pentecost


      Power and authority—where do they come from? How are they manifested?

      Spoiler alert—human authority is a top down structure manifested in having power over people. It would be pictured as a pyramid. Human authority says that the ones at the top are better than others.

      Divine authority is communal. It would be pictured as a circle. Divine authority is manifested in bringing everyone into the circle. Finding the lost, raising the low down. Healing the hurts. Divine authority says that that we are all God’s beloved children.

      Jesus has come into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Not the usual entry for a king—but he has been acclaimed king and lord and messiah!

      The authorities, the people in power, want him to tell them where he gets his authority.

      The question they ask him, and the question he throws back at them, are really tricky. They are traps.

      If Jesus acknowledges that his power is from God, he will be blaspheming—off with his head! If he says his power is earthly, human power, they can claim he’s a phony, or is in league with Satan.

      The question he asks them has the same catch.

      It’s an old twist on “have you stopped beating your wife?”

      When they can’t answer the question, he tells them the parable about two sons. Actually, the parable is about the father, isn’t it? “A certain man had two sons…”

      Or, as I always hear parables, “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain man who had two sons.”

      When Jesus asks which son did the will of his father, the answer, really, is neither one! Both of them shamed him. The first by saying no to the request, the second by saying yes and then doing no.

      I don’t see the kingdom of heaven there!

      But when the first son changes his mind and does what he was asked, then the father’s will is being done.

      There are two parts to seeing the kingdom of heaven here. First, the change of mind or heart. This comes from a Greek word, metanoia, which is translated as repentance, transformation, change of mind……  

      In Christian Scripture the word means more like moving in to a new way of life. It can be turning and walking away from whatever is keeping us from the kingdom.

      So it’s not just a change of mind. It is also changing how we live to demonstrate that new mind or heart.

      In the same way, just buying a treadmill or a rowing machine won’t give us exercise. We have to use it.

      So, the first son changes and does the will of his father.

      We hear that same theme in Ezekiel.

      The Israelites were in Babylon—taken into exile as prisoners. They blamed their ancestors for this situation. But Ezekiel tells them that’s not the case.

      God is calling them to take responsibility for what has happened. That’s the only way they can heal and move on. He says “repent” (metanoia) and live.

      Find the kingdom of heaven right here at your feet and in front of your nose. Repent—know that God’s love is ever being offered and available. 

      There’s a hymn that is no longer in our hymnal, for which I am very grateful. It was “Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide.”

      In seminary someone changed the words. I don’t remember what we sang, but it didn’t tell us that there is only one opportunity to decide.

      Ezekiel and Jesus and Paul, among others, tell us that. They say that God’s invitation to be in the kingdom is an open invitation.

      True, there is an RSVP where we say “yes!” and “thanks!” and then live as God’s beloved children.

      Then we will join the circle that God invites us to—the ever widening circle of the kingdom. Then we will look not just to our own interests, but, as we heard from Paul, “to the interests of others.”

      We will show that our authority comes from God as we live out the kingdom.

      How will we do that?

      Yesterday after the service at St. Elizabeth’s I witnessed the kingdom in action.

      A woman had been there with her father. She came back to say thank you. She grew up in a very judgmental church, and she was so grateful that the worship in the chapel there was not that way.

      She poured out her fears and worries and frustrations. The two volunteers and I stood and handed her tissues as needed, and said comforting words.  She was desperate for some support and understanding.

      The other women, both friends of mine from St. Luke’s, invited her to come and worship there and said they’d sit with her and give her company and support. They didn’t force the issue, just made the invitation with love and compassion.

      It was beautiful to stand and hear them offer her the kingdom. I hope that she accepts.

      There are lots of other ways to offer the kingdom. We just need to be ready in whatever way we can. And we have to be willing to be rejected, and smile and move on. And pray that they’ll have a change of heart and mind.

      One person who recently offered the kingdom is Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, Superintendent of USAFA.

      When several black cadets had racial slurs painted on their doors, Silveria reacted strongly, in a kingdom way.

            He condemned this action and said, “Just in case you’re unclear on where I stand on this topic, I’m going to leave you my most important thought today: If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you can’t treat someone from another gender, whether that’s a man or a woman, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race, or different color skin, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”

      I hope that he offers an invitation to metanoia, not just an invitation to leave. And I hope that he offers some classes that change hearts and minds about accepting others. That would be the truly kingdom way.

      In addition to everything that’s happening with weather and health care and taxes and the Red Sox, this is the most holy time in the Jewish year.

      Yom Kippur, ends in The Day of Atonement. For these days Jews have the opportunity to repent, change their lives to be God’s beloved children. Of course, like everyone, they have that opportunity always, but this is a special, ritual, time of prayer and worship and repentance.

      Worship yesterday was day-long! I don’t think everyone stays the whole time. The synagogue on Nantucket is doing something special to draw in more folks. They are doing the usual reading of the Book of Jonah in the whaling museum, sitting under the skeleton of a whale.

      To honor our Jewish brothers and sisters, and to remember that we enter the kingdom by our actions—by showing how God’s love works in our lives, here is a prayer for Yom Kippur.

      To those I may have wronged, I ask forgiveness.

      To those I may have helped, I wish I had done more.

      To those I neglected to help, I ask for understanding.

      To those who helped me,

              I thank you with all my heart.

       A good prayer! May it be ours for every day.


The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details