Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2011

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Matthew 21:23
Theme: True Authority

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The Holy Scriptures always enrich our perspective on the nature and compassion of God. Though we become familiar with certain catch-phrases and always reiterate the main themes in an effort to emphasize, simplify or take short cuts- sometimes legitimately and sometimes not- the Word always drags us deeper and pulls us wider. It is a blessing to know that Christ exercised full divine authority. Our faith is undergirded by this assumption.

Today the authority of Jesus was questioned. But could it be any other way? While He was teaching in the temple courts the religious leaders approached Him, “By what authority are you doing these things…and who gave you this authority?”1 It was inevitable that He be asked this. There was a lot at stake. It wasn’t simply a matter of Jesus treading on their turf. The integrity of public proclamation of truth was at stake. Nothing has much changed. The question is still relevant: Who is this Jesus and what authority does He have?

Either He is the incarnate Son of God who alone absolves sinners with divine authority, or He is proved to be a fraud. If we give Him allegiance based on a perceived probability that it’s safer to cover our bases than not, then this is not faith, but hedging dressed up in religious clothing. The question is not one of risk verses benefit- better to invest some time and interest rather than risk the gates to heaven being closed- but of humble recognition of the ultimate authority.

If we are inclined to follow Christ because of His sage-ness, or cagey-ness or cleverness; or to follow because we are convinced of some benefit He may provide or value He may be to us- then the entire enterprise of faith is overthrown. We can’t believe in Christ based on how convinced we are that He is more clever or capable than all the other offers or possibilities out there.

Merely human hope is inevitably misplaced. For centuries people believed that Aristotle was right when he said that the heavier an object, the faster it would fall to earth. Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time, and surely he would not be wrong. Anyone, of course, could have taken two objects, one heavy and one light, and dropped them from a great height to see whether or not the heavier object landed first. But no one did until nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle's death. In 1589 Galileo summoned learned professors to the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Then he went to the top and pushed off a ten- pound and a one-pound weight. Both landed at the same instant. Yet the power of their misplaced belief was so strong the professors denied their eyesight. They continued to say Aristotle was right.

We rightly evaluate the philosophies and teachings of humanity, we even become adherents to certain ideals believing they promote the well-being of others or offer some benefits. But it’s different with God precisely because we believe in His unqualified authority. We are in no position to debate or assess whether God’s commands are reasonable, whether they’re beneficial, whether they’re ethical or utilitarian or humanitarian- we receive them gratefully and obey them faithfully. You cannot do away with the absoluteness of Christ and still claim to be a faithful follower of the truth. You cannot debate or negotiate its relative value. Yes, we can and must humbly confess our confusion of understanding it and our failure to follow it, but we cannot adopt the position of superiority. To question whether the sacrifice of Christ can benefit you is to undermine faith.

So we cannot preach Christianity by making His claims reasonable. It may seem logical to appeal to the human intellect in this way. It may seem sensible for those who are seeking and searching to say, “Look, Christ proposes this or that, see if that fits your philosophy. His teachings are moral or profound or compassionate or caring, etc.” That may be true enough but it is not the critical truth- only the attendant or necessary consequence.

Christ consciously and willingly, not unwittingly or helplessly endured the humiliation of death by crucifixion. He did this to restore sinners- great and small, arrogant and humble, philanthropic and selfish- to the Father in heaven. Either the Holy Spirit moves the soul to trust in the authority of the God-Man, the Saviour and Redeemer, or people are only drawn to a very temporal and human attachment to the wisdom of His ethics and so forth. Christ can never be understood to be of some temporary value only. But neither can your faith be treated as an insurance policy for the future that has no real connection or relevance to your everyday life. The first attempt errs in its belief that Christianity is primarily an aid to facilitate a smoother journey through this life. The second attempt errs in falsely believing that a token acknowledgment of God is all that is necessary to secure eternity. Yet the Lord says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, ‘Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.”2 How often does our sorrow over sin plumb such depths?

The Holy Spirit does not fail to revive the repentant sinner. How do we know? Jesus said, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…”3 Christ grants His authority to the church and the church delegates this authority to the pastor for its public ministry. The only authority the church has collectively is the authority of the Word. This is the only authority the pastor exercises, called the Office of the Keys. But it is THE authority to retain or forgive sins through the means God appoints.

Your baptism has credibility because it was administered under authority. Christ said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing…”4 Your baptism isn’t validated by your will-power or your sentimentality. It isn’t invalidated by your lack of remembrance or your disappointment that it hasn’t been a greater inspiration in your spiritual life. Christ has authority over death. The Holy Spirit has authority over unbelief. These powers overcome all demonic forces.

Holy Communion is trustworthy because it is administered under authority. It is a divine mandate of Christ. It is His last will and testament. The promise is authoritative because it is Christ’s promise. Take and eat. Take and drink. This is My body; this is My blood…for the forgiveness of sins.

Crist has authority; the full authority of the Father. He proved this during His earthly life. Of course-as in Aristotle’s day- the skeptic will never have enough evidence to be satisfied. Faith trusts in His promises on the basis of His authority over death and bestowal of the forgiveness of sins. He says, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”5 That is the ultimate authority and our ultimate comfort. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
25 September, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 21:23
2 Matthew 7:21
3 Matthew 9:5-6
4 Matthew 28:18-19
5 Revelation 1:17-18