Jesus Christ our Authority!
Exodus 17: 1-7
Psalm 78: 1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2: 1-13
Matthew 21: 23-32
“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2: 12-13
Tena koutou katoa e te whanau o Te Wairua Tapu.
Have you ever known anyone with authority issues? A big question to ask first thing on a Sunday morning. But I am sure most of us do. We only need to look in the mirror and realise we all have authority issues. In today’s gospel from Matthew, authority is the main theme. The chief priests and elders take issue with Jesus’ authority and the two sons challenge their father’s authority. In our usual understanding of authority the obvious question in today’s gospel is whether we recognise and submit to the authority of Jesus and God the Father. However, that question is so obvious that it’s probably not the question at the heart of today’s gospel because we can quickly respond with a yes or no answer. Therefore, my critical mind asks, there has to be something more going on. To assume that question is the only question to be answered only reveals our misunderstanding of what true authority is.
More often than not we are confused about authority. We misunderstand it because we have been taught that it’s based on credentials, expertise, a great cv, years of education, accomplishments, status, reputation or the higher position held in relationship to someone else. We assume that authority comes from outside a person and that it’s given to them by their circumstances. In this understanding some have authority and others don’t. “Who do you think you are?” “What gives you the right to tell me what to do?” Or, “Who died and made you God!” That represents our usual way of understanding authority. We don’t like someone else teaching us, correcting us, or telling us what to do. We hear that in the challenge of the chief priests and elders to Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” We see it in the refusal of the two sons to go to the vineyard. There is, however, another authority issue at play in today’s gospel. That issue is our failure and sometimes our refusal to recognise, claim and exercise the authority within us; to go to the vineyard. That’s the authority issue the gospel is holding before us today.
Every day God authorises us to enter and sends us into the vineyard, to act in this world with God’s authority and through the gifts that God has bestowed upon each one of us. In other words, true authority always comes from within. It’s an interior God-given quality not an exterior circumstance or phenomenon. That’s what the chief priests and elders failed to understand. That’s why Jesus was always so angry and aggravated with the religious leaders. They chose to exchange their God-given authority for human power. That’s what’s happening in much of our world today. In the absence of true authority there will always be power struggles. Look at our political systems. Look at the wars and unrest throughout the world. And look at the conflicts we encounter in our own relationships. They are all about power not authority. Most of our leaders exercise power but very few exercise authority. In the exercise of power we look to our own interests but in the exercise of authority we look to the interests of others, the people.
Think about the people who hold authority for you. They are not concerned about themselves. They don’t dominate or control you. They inspire you, well, I hope I do. They are to call forth from you faith, hope, and trust. They expand your world, open new possibilities, and bring forth life and gifts in yourself that you never knew were there. They cause you to re-evaluate your life, change your mind and live differently. That sounds an awful lot like Jesus and it’s very different from those who exercise power. That’s what disciples of Jesus are supposed to do. There are people in our church who have no leadership position, title, or theological credentials and yet they have great authority. I see it in their compassion and gentleness towards others. I see it in their love for our church building, I hear it in the way they pray. I feel it in their love for me, my whanau and others. They continue too show me the way to the vineyard of life. That’s what authorities do. But it’s not about them. It doesn’t come from them. All authority originates in God, but it’s not exclusive to God. God shares that authority with us. The authority God shares with us is nothing less than God’s own divine attributes. It’s the expression and manifestation of God’s life in and through our own lives.
That shared authority exists in us and is revealed by us as the many and varied charisma’s, the gifts, God has imparted on each of our lives. That means every one of us has authority. As your priest I don’t seriously have more authority than you. I certainly don’t have better authority than you. I just have a different authority. God gives each of us gifts and authority unique to our lives. God is generous with the gifts and authority. Therefore, we all have God-given gifts and authority. There is no one without authority. The difference isn’t that some have authority and others don’t. The difference is that some recognise and exercise their authority and others don’t. Regardless, God knows and sees the authority given to us and waits for us to see it, get it and know it too. And when we do, we change our mind and go to the vineyard, out to the world.
So today, something for all of you to ponder on, what is the authority God has given to you? What gifts and divine attributes has God bestowed upon you? Are you living from that authority and sharing those gifts? Have you gone to the vineyard or are you simply mouthing the answers you think God wants to hear? Amen.
Archdeacon Kaio Karipa
God of all authority, enable us to hear your call and do what you ask of us. Forgive us for judging others, help us to embrace the outcast and the downtrodden. Transform our lives so that everything we do may proclaim your generous love. Through Jesus Christ our Liberator, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
The Venerable Kaio Karipa
Sydney Maori Anglican Fellowship Church of Te Wairua Tapu