Authority Issues: A Sermon by Deacon Terry
October 1, 2023
When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
Have you ever known anyone with authority issues? Those that seem to resist people who have been given authority. Maybe you have an issue with authority. Your boss, your teacher, husband, wife, the police, your priest, the government.
I often rationalize my thoughts on authority by saying, “I don’t have trouble with authority, but I do have trouble with people using that authority wrongly.
I’m not sure if I am being totally honest with you or myself, but the truth may be for me is that I have more issues with authority than I care to realize.
We all know that we should respect the position that one may hold, even if we struggle to respect the person in that position.
I looked up the meaning of authority and it is “the power or right to give orders, make decisions and enforce obedience”.
Authority seems to be the major theme running throughout today’s gospel.
The chief priests and elders take issue with Jesus’ authority. They asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you that authority”.
The two sons challenge their father’s authority. In fact one of them told the father that he would not go into the vineyard.
They may not be the only ones with authority issues.
I’m talking about us.
I believe in the case of our Christian journey with God and Jesus, we may come to miss-understand the true meaning of authority.
In our understanding of authority, as mentioned in today’s gospel is whether we recognize and submit to the authority of Jesus and to God the Father.
Again, I wonder if we are misunderstanding what authority really is?
Many of us are often confused about authority. We understand it to be based on credentials and expertise, a thick resume, years of education, successes and accomplishments, status and reputation, or the position held in relationship to another.
We assume that authority comes from outside a person and that it is given to them by their circumstances.
A few examples:
A police officer is given authority by the town officials.
A judge is given authority by the judicial system.
An elected official is given authority by the people.
A Bishop or a priest is given authority by the church.
If we understand authority in this way, we may come to believe that some have authority, and some do not.
I remember as a kid hearing “You’re not the boss of me!”
That represents our usual way of understanding authority.
We don’t seem to like someone 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. “I will not”.
There is, however, another authority issue at play in today’s gospel.
That issue is our failure to recognize, and exercise the authority within ourselves, to go to the vineyard.
That’s the authority conversation I believe this gospel is holding before us today.
So let’s push a little bit more on this authority issue.
If we think God is the boss of us, we maybe misunderstanding authority.
I’d like to suggest we let go of that idea. God is not the boss of us.
God is the author of us.
Here’s where I’m going with this.
Every day God gives us the authority to enter and he sends us into his vineyard, to act in this world with his authority and on his behalf using the gifts he has given each of us.
One simple way of showing our God given authority is to let everyone we meet during our day, to see in us, the face of Jesus.
True authority always comes from within. It is a God-given gift.
That’s what the chief priests and elders in today’s gospel failed to understand. That maybe why Jesus was always so aggravated with the religious leaders.
They chose to exchange their God-given authority for human power. Sometimes we do too. That seems to be what’s happening in much of our world today.
People often confuse authority with power.
Power often involves our egos. Power often looks out for self-interests.
In the absence of true authority – God’s authority there will always be power struggles. Look at the gridlock in our political system.
Look at the wars throughout the world. Look at our local political views. Look at the conflicts in some of our own relationships.
Those are about power, not authority. Many of our leaders exercise power but very few exercise authority.
Again - In the exercise of power people look to their own interests
But in the exercise of authority we look to the interests of others.
Think about some of the people in your life who hold authority for you.
Most of them are not concerned about themselves, they are concerned about you. They do not dominate or control you, they do not exercise power, and they exercise authority. There is a huge difference.
These seem to be people in your inner circle. Friends, family members, husbands, wives, sister, brother, parents.
These people inspire you. They 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 reevaluate 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.
I think there is a word that may sum up those people.
I’ll give us all an example of what I’m trying to articulate.
I will use someone we all know and care about deeply as an example of someone using their God given authority and not exercising power.
Today, I give thanks for the authority of Fr. Harvey.
His silence, his listening, and to use his own famous words about himself, his presence, and his wisdom are not just his personality traits they are divine attributes in his life, gifts God has bestowed upon him, that creates space and place for all of us, that invites us to discover our own authority, that shows us the way to the vineyard of our lives.
His authority radiates God’s LOVE. And that is authority, not power. That seems to be what this gospel is about today.
There are people in this parish who have no leadership position, title, or theological credentials and yet they have such great authority. I see it in your compassion and gentleness. I hear it in the way you pray. I feel it in your love for me and others. You too show me the way to the vineyard of my life.
That’s what authority does.
Again, that word comes up.
All authority originates in God and God is Love, but it is not exclusive to God. God shares his authority with us.
That means every one of us has authority.
As your Deacon I do not have more authority than you. (Just ask Fr. Harvey), I do not have more or better authority than you. I just have a different authority.
As your priest, Fr. Harvey does not have more authority than us; he just has different authority than us.
And each person here, does not have more authority over any of us, we simply have a different authority.
God gives each of us gifts and authority unique to our lives. God is generous and extravagant, with the gifts he gives.
We all have God-given gifts and authority.
So let me push you a little bit more on your authority issues.
What is the authority God has given you? What gifts, what divine attributes, has God bestowed upon you?
Are you living from that authority and sharing those gifts? Have you gone to the vineyard?
When someone asks you,
“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?
You can say with confidence, I have been given my authority of Love by God, through Jesus.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan