The following is my message on Speaking with Authority that I used on January 28 2018.
2018 01 28 Speaking with Authority 1 Cor. 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
People will ignore what we are saying and doing unless they recognize we have a form of authority.
People recognized Jesus as teaching with authority. The evidence for his authority included the responses of the unclean spirits and the healings he achieved. But the first evidence of his authority was teaching with directness and relevance. His teaching reflected the real world, not the wish world of many religious leaders. While they claimed God rewarded the good and punished the bad, he spoke of the cruel and arbitrary way in which many wealthy and powerful men acted. Others justified the status quo while he offered a new way of understanding God and God’s intentions for us. He dared to challenge comfortable religious conventions by identifying how these conventions were inconsistent with God’s laws.
Our reading from 1 Corinthians spoke of the importance of using authority carefully. Established members of the community knew the ceremonies used in the various temples to bless meat meant nothing, but new members struggling with giving up their previous religious beliefs were not yet convinced. For their sake, it was important that established members did not weaken their conversion by eating meat.
In today’s terms, for example, it is important that people who have no problems with alcohol do not recklessly tempt alcoholics to relapse.
There are three ways I know to gain recognition as an authority. The first is to speak with passion, truth and knowledge, ideally also with hope, and, for people born after about 1970, be seen on a screen. The second way is to be passionate about a delusion. One example is the leadership offered by people like James Dobson who are passionate about their delusion that evolution is fake and that their beliefs are consistent with a faith in Jesus. The third way is to be a skilled deceiver. I want us to speak with passion, truth and knowledge, offering hope to those who need God’s grace in their lives.
To speak with truth and knowledge, we need to set aside those lenses that distort our view of ourselves, others and the world, and to take time to learn about what has been and is happening in the world, and to seek strategies that can help bend the path the world is travelling towards fulfilling the vision of a world built on peace and love.
Harari in Home Deus provides an in-depth examination of the large scale events and trends happening in the world, and points to possible outcomes based on those trends. He does this with the hope that people who want different outcomes will make the effort to work for different outcomes. Here are potential dangers that he identified.
Humans may become irrelevant. People privileged by wealth or other sources of power may become super humans and the rest of us may become second class people subject to the whims and desires of those super humans. People may become dominated by algorithms and computer programs. Biologists may trivialize life.
A possibility I see is that the mass of people, fearing being harmed by a wealthy or super human class, may initiate a real class war with much violence and destruction with uncertain consequences.
All this at a time when we have the capacity to feed and house every person on earth, to work for healing of our relationship with the rest of life on earth, and to put an end to war. We are at a junction where one set of roads leads to some form of hell for humanity and the rest of life on earth, another road leads to a much better earth, almost heaven, and other roads lead to uncertain destinations.
We are at a time when a well-organized group of people with clear goals has the opportunity to have great influence on what happens next. So let’s take Jesus and our God-given powers seriously, and work towards gaining that influence.
We at Deer Park and St. Andrew’s already acct in ways that gain authority for us in helping those in need and accepting all of God’s children. We need to enhance that authority by deepening our collective knowledge, refining our goals to fit that knowledge, and developing relationships with others with the same goals.
We need to be prepared to trust each other enough to have honest conversations, recognize where we are ignorant, and trust God enough to take risks in working for a better world.
One way is working for healing and building relationships. When I examine the life and teachings of Jesus, relationships seem to be the core of all he did: relationship with God, relationships with others, and relationship with ourselves.
The death of Bernard Payne last week reminded me of the importance of acting now. One out of about 500 people who get pneumonia get the strain of virus that killed him in less than 4 days. His death reminded me that every day is a gift, and to not take this gift lightly. We never know when we will no longer have options to choose.
So, I invite you now to consider your choices today and tomorrow and after that. I believe our calling as followers of Jesus is to do our part in building the kingdom of heaven on earth. I will be leading a discussion group starting in March on Homo Deus for those who want to get a clearer picture about how the world works now and what changes are happening now, and then to consider how to respond faithfully to what we learn.
Deer Park and St. Andrew’s offer many different opportunities for people to develop connections with other people. Consider all the people you know, ask yourself how what we offer can be a help to each of them, and invite them to take part in an activity you believe could be good for them. And do that now. Tomorrow might be too late to help that person build the relationships they need for a better life.
Finally, help us be seen and heard as communities with the authority to speak on the issues confronting society and to act in ways that make a difference. Learn and share what you learn; be clear about your hopes and share those as well. Show confidence, not fear, in your invitations to others to join in what we are doing. Trust in God. Love without fear. Amen.