February 03, 2009

Looking Ahead to February 8, 2009 -- 5th Sunday After Epiphany

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Deuteronomy 18:15-20
  • Psalm 111 (VU p.833)
  • 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
  • Mark 1:21-28
The hymns this week are:
  • #264 Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
  • #605 Jesus, Teacher, Brave and Bold
  • #326 O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
  • #427 To Show by Touch and Word
The Sermon title is Authority and Example

Early Thoughts: What does it mean to be a role model or example? Why do some people have authority while others only have (or crave) power?

Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and the people are amazed. They say he teaches like one with authority (in an apparent contrast to other teaching). Moses teaches about true prophets with a warning to listen to them for they have God's authority. Paul teaches about being an example to others, to be careful not to lead others astray through your actions. This too is a question of authority.

So what does it mean to have authority? Does it mean being powerful? Perhaps. Power is the ability to get things done. Authority means you have been authorized to use your power. (Idiosyncratically some people have lots of power but no formal authority and some have lots of authority and no actual power.) Jesus, we are told, has both power and authority. Moses had lots of authority. Paul had lots of authority. And the interesting thing about authority is that it has to be given (and accepted) it can't be grabbed. Power, on the other hand, can be both given and grabbed/stolen. Most often authority is given by the gathered community. In the church we formalize this giving of authority by electing leaders in our groups, by covenanting with them in agreements of mutual accountability, and by designating some to roles.

To have authority or to have power means that our actions serve as an example. This is what Paul is talking about with meat. Certainly he could be clearer (he seems to come down on both sides of the "should I eat meat" discussion). But what he is wrestling with is what the "weaker in faith" may find as a path to error. Paul knows that those who are seen to be strong in faith are used, rightly or wrongly, as exemplars by others. And so Paul is counselling us to use our authority and power wisely or carefully.

Who has authority in our world? How and why do we give them that authority? Who has power over our decisions? Who are our exemplars? These are the sorts of questions we will explore on Sunday. Come and join us won't you?

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