This is our worship service for the upcoming 17th Sunday after Pentecost on September 27, 2020!
The worship bulletin can be found here.
As with past services, if you want to experience worship today more fully, please have a bowl of water, something small to eat and drink, and a lit candle in your space. This is optional, but hopefully beneficial for your time here.
God be with you for this service and always!
Lord, by the power of your Holy Spirit give us the words of life, that we may understand your way and follow your truth, the truth that is Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“By whose authority do you do these things?” The question thrown at Jesus here wasn’t a gentle one by any means. It is accusative, argumentative, and condemning. See, this episode happens right after Jesus cleanses the temple courtyard of the money changers and merchants, people just trying to earn an honest buck. Or, as honest as can be by ripping off the poor and the devout. So in light of this big commotion in the temple, the religious leaders, the powers that be, “the man” of those days, came up to Jesus probably in anger and frustration and hurled this pointed accusation, “by whose authority?”
See, this was their way of trapping Jesus. This Jesus who has been a thorn in their sides for too long. This wayward soul who thinks he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without any regard to tradition, custom, and the rules that come with them. So they have to do something after he desecrates the temple. They have to show him who’s really boss and who’s really in power. They have to get rid of this guy or everything that they’ve worked for, everything that they’ve earned for themselves, all the good that they have done in God’s name would be lost.
So by asking Jesus “by whose authority”, they effectively back him into a corner and were ready to sink their teeth in. By their calculation, there was no answer that Jesus could give that would let him off the hook. If he says “by man’s authority” then they can have him arrested for they were the ones who would give that authority, which they most certainly didn’t and now definitely wouldn’t. But if he were to say, “by God’s authority,” then they can have him arrested for blasphemy because honestly why would God give this quack any kind of authority at all. He just cost the temple something like the equivalent to a few hundred thousand dollars, for crying out loud. So as far as the religious leaders are concerned, Jesus is done-zo.
But you can kind of understand their anger, can’t you? Sure, in hindsight we can always label those darned religious leaders as the bad guys, but we can see where they’re coming from, can’t we? I mean, imagine that you were taught to believe something your whole life, that you understood everything under one lens and that just made sense to you and you were comfortable, that things were as good as they can be (at least for us), but then someone comes and challenges everything you know, rejects everything you do, and reinterprets everything that you believe… wouldn’t you want to defend your position with everything you have? Wouldn’t you want to get rid of that person as well? Wouldn’t you step up to that person and see where they get the nerve, where they get the gall, where they get the authority to do such things?
I mean, don’t we do that to Jesus like all the time? I know I do.
I know I often question God’s wisdom because it doesn’t match my wisdom. I often wonder what God is doing because it isn’t what I’d do. I often deny God’s love because it is extended to people that I would just rather hate instead.
Earlier this week I read an article entitled “Why It’s Hard to Call Myself a Christian Anymore” written by an ordained minister name Joe Forrest. And in this article Forrest highlights his reasons for it being difficult to identify as a Christian, and they have nothing to do with lack of faith or belief, nor is he ashamed of the gospel of Christ, but rather there are some out there that are just giving Christ a bad name. There are some out there that use their own interpretation of scripture to back up every atrocity ever conceived, claiming that they are only acting out of “God’s will”, and existing behind this front of religious devotion while justifying exploitation of the poor, discrimination against the marginalized, and protecting the privileges of only a select few.
I know, it sounds harsh. But it makes sense. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Scripture has been used to justify wars, slavery, segregation between sexes, races, and classes for generations. I mean, where do you think the religious leaders in this gospel lesson got their authority from? So yeah, it’s harsh, but it’s true. And we aren’t free from it either. Not a single one of us.
In that article, Joe Forrest also mentioned a test that was put together by a Christian pastor and writer by the name of Skye Jethani that brings to light just how true this is. The test is for us to name one strongly held opinion of ours that we know differs from God. Go ahead, think of one.
Weird huh? I couldn’t think of one either. But do we really believe that we can be so in line with God, so in tune with the character of God, so alike God that we don’t disagree on anything? We might as well be God. Or maybe it’s the other way around.
Joe Forrest also paraphrases 18th Century philosopher Voltaire: “God created us in God’s own image, and we have more than returned the favour.”
We don’t want to be God. No, that’s too much responsibility. We just want God to be us. And when it’s clear that God isn’t us, then we deny it being God. We say it is something else, from someone else, and impossible to be from God because we just cannot understand it. And we think if we can’t understand it then it must not be true or real or from God.
So what about the parable that Jesus gives? The one son that says he will but doesn’t, and the other son that says he won’t but does? This is the flip flopping dichotomy of the Christian life. We want so much to follow God, or else why would you even be watching this sermon? We want so much to be pleasing to God, or why else did you not navigate somewhere else to watch cat videos or something? We want so much to be in tune with God, but it often seems like too much. So we quit. We give up. It’s just easier to make God to be just like us instead.
And I’m not saying that we can’t ever be like God or that our opinions don’t ever line up. I’m just saying that if you can’t think of a single place where you and God disagree, then maybe we need to look at ourselves a bit closer. Or maybe look at God a bit closer. I mean we talk about the peace that surpasses understanding all the time. We speak of God’s scandalous grace in the world. We discuss God’s expansive and freeing love that is given to all people, whether we would do the same or not. And so maybe that is the check for us to discern whether something is good and right. Is it loving? Does it bring about community? Can peace be had in the midst of it?
I mean, that’s God. That is what God is all about. Throughout scripture we see God being available to all people, regardless of class, gender, or ethnicity. We see God providing for all people, regardless of their upbringing, their past transgressions, and even their current philosophies of life. We see God forgiving and welcoming all people, regardless of whether or not they deserve it, have earned it, or even asked for it.
We see God as compassionate and loving, slow to anger and steadfast in goodness, and always willing to forgive.
You see we aren’t in the world to correct the world, that’s God’s job. We aren’t in the world to save the world, that’s Jesus’ job. We aren’t in the world to show the world how to love and live in community, that’s the Spirit’s job. Rather, we are in the world to just reflect God onto the world. Reflect God’s love unto people. Reflect God’s compassion. Reflect God’s grace. Because while we can never be perfect and be God, we can at least be as loving as we can, and live in the hope that God is doing a new thing in the world in bringing peace and community to all people.
No, we aren’t God and we never can be. God is not us no matter how much we try to shoehorn God into that mold. But God is all grace. God is all compassion. God is all love. That is how we can see God. That is how we can work to be more like God. And that is how we can look at ourselves and recognise the parts in us that are acting without grace, compassion, and love, and understand that is where we differ from God and by God’s mercy, we can change for the better, or at very least we can see just how great God’s forgiveness is that even people like us can be welcomed into God’s kingdom with open arms, brought into wholeness, and revealed as God’s beloved and redeemed children.
In this season after Pentecost, let us continue to strive to understand how we don’t always understand God’s ways of truth, grace, and peace, and work toward accepting this truth, grace, and peace in all areas of our lives. Thanks be to God. Amen.