On Whose Authority? - Sermon for Epiphany + 4

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Sermon delivered at United Lutheran Church - Oakland
February 1 - Fourth Sunday after Advent

"On Whose Authority" - Text from Mark 1:21-28



Greetings to you this day my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, children of God. 

Some days I look at all the things around me and I am just blown away at the time that we live in.  The Internet is something that most of us could not have even imagined only 30 years ago or even the impact it has on our lives today, just 20 years ago. But here we all are, in this day and age, with information available at our fingertips, access to friends and families available constantly at our computers, tablets, smartphones.  In fact, I just recently saw a smart watch available at a Verizon store.  It made me think about Dick Tracy's wrist band 2-way video feed, brought to life, but more than that, it contains constant access to everything you can access on any tablet or smartphone. 

Just about two weeks ago, I attended my 91 year old grandmother's funeral in South Carolina, and while my family is still in the process of continuing to mourn her death and celebrate her life, I realize along with the process, that she is my last immediate relative with no online access. Indeed, my sister, the Wednesday my grandmother died, petitioned Facebook and Google plus in order to gather photographs from my siblings, aunts, and cousins alike, and they were ready in just two days in a musical slideshow, uploaded to Youtube on Friday afternoon for her viewing.

But with all that access across the board, we also have devolved into a society where opinions can come from anyone, anywhere. I myself have some over 2,000 people with whom I'm connected between Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, most of them people I've encountered somewhere in my life and many others who I have developed reasonably intimate relationships with online.  And these people come from a wide variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, indeed, many nationalities, as one other benefit of the internet age has brought us into close proximity with people on the other side of the world. 

And so I get to see a lot of commentary and opinions--in fact, because of my vocation I am loathe to drop friends because I share an opposing political or social viewpoint... but that means I have some friends, people from my past and present, who persist in sharing news stories, or images or opinions that I often find short-sighted, or not well thought out, often stepping into the realm of offensiveness.

Confirmation bias is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true. For instance, if you already have a particularly negative opinion of a president, whether it be due to their policies, or their religion, or their race, believing the most ridiculous things about them becomes much easier. And here in the information age, when we are ready to believe certain things about people we already dislike, it becomes easier to share those things, over and over again. Especially when the people we normally associate with also share those opinion.

I think that any of us can fall victim to that, as well, because we have the tools in front of us to do so. I have, myself, on occasion, seen a headline and--on impluse, wanted to share it because it sounded good, only to find out after, either reading it myself or reading other people's comments beneath it that the story was somehow parody, or otherwise outright untrue, or that it was so very biased by cherry picking facts or leaving out information that would dramatically change the nature of the article.  But what I try to think through, I find that there are many others who simply continue to be guided by impulse and opinions that do nothing but self-strengthen by their own social group.

To take a single topic, being someone who does ministry and volunteer work in San Quentin prison, I find that people often post things about those convicted in America that are entirely off-base, failing to account for the fact that we imprison in the United States, more people than any Western Nation, and more per capita than China, the only country who imprisons more than us.  And that minorities are inordinately represented in prison, as are the poor and people with mental illnesses, something that prison life tends to aggravate. And when a close family member once shared a propaganda written directly from Maricopa County, Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio's self-promiting website, I pointed out that it failed to account for the fact that prisoners are, in fact, human being, that reform institutions are nominally designed to reform, not torture human beings, and that family member immediately took down that post. But while I feel comfortable with close family members, I often find myself not willing to argue every single awful piece of misinformation I find online, choosing to escape to my own little corner of the internet. 

Who do we give the authority in our lives to? Cable news stations that broadcast 24 hours a day, picking and choosing which news stories to feature, which facts to present, which face to put on the event, and which items barely merit mentioning at all?  Do we give authority to blog posts and memes and websites that share as much opinion as they do fact. Do we give it to those people we associate with, those people we share information with? 

Who did the people of Capernaum give their authority to when Jesus shows up in the synagogue to talk?  What were the analog of Fox News or MSNBC in their time? And here comes this man arriving, who was not a stranger to them, because Capernaum is in Galilee, and Jesus grew up in that area.  And here he is showing up at the temple and teaching.  But what's more, is that Jesus is teaching, as Mark tells us, with authority.  So what does it mean to say that Jesus is teaching with authority?  (And not like the scribes).   

Even the unclean spirits knew that Jesus was Lord and Master, and that he had the power of the Spirit to cast them out.  These things happened in order that people might witness that Jesus was the messiah fortold in the Hebrew scriptures, he was teacher, counselor, and prophet that we learn about in our passage from Deuteronomy.  

And it is later in our gospel that we find out that this wondrous man who speaks with such authority is not only a revolutionary thing, but it is also a dangerous thing, because his authority is what made the Jewish authorities themselves fear him. Jesus taught, and people believed.  But it is the authority that gives each of us, God's children, the power to be the children of God in the world. 

So what authority do we find taking over us in our lives?  What are the unclean spirits that find their ways into our world? The gossip, the bias, the objectification of others?  What is the authority that Jesus gives us, to look at the stranger in our lives, the poor, and to not only pour out our love but also our resources into taking care of these.  

And in that love of other, Jesus gives us the authority to not hide blindly when we see injustice occur, but to speak to those in power to work on behalf of those who the system would trample upon.  Those in poverty, those in prison, those populations who are persistently and perpetually marginalized. 

Jesus calls on us to reject the authority of the prevailing culture that we find ourselves because he has by his loving and gracious sacrifice ransomed for us the keys to the kingdom that God has laid out before us. By his defeat of death, the devil and the power of the grave Jesus Christ has assured our redemption as human beings. It is incumbant upon us to live into the risen cross that he has provided us, and under his authority live into his heavenly kingdom here on earth, loving each other unconditionally in the way that he loves us and that we are to love our God. Under the reign of one God, Christ Our Lord. 

It is an amazing world we already live in. The wonders that we see in today's world are things few of us could have imagined way back in the 20th century. Disciples of Christ that we are can find use in the tools of technology and the opportunities they give us to share information with each other.

Jesus teaches us to love one another unconditionally, and to proclaim his good news in the world. And it is by his authority that we may proclaim that good news in any means possible. As long as we provide that authority in Christ's name, with the word of God as support and his Holy Spirit as guide, we can rest assured we are doing the good work that results from the grace that he grants us in his unconditional love for us. 

And this, my sisters and brothers, is the good news of God the Father who gives us grace to do his will, God the Christ who bids us love one another with the same love we give him, and God the Spirit who with authority, gives us the strength to fulfill God's mission and live into the promised salvation of the world to come.  

Amen.

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on February 2, 2015 10:46 AM.

Reconciled and called - Sermon for 3rd Sunday after Epiphany was the previous entry in this blog.

Stepping out of the Boat - Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Epiphany is the next entry in this blog.

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