Keeping Church Weird


October 29, 2017

John 8:31-36

What if I were to tell you this morning that someone has created the quintessential painting that redefines perfection as we know it? Even better, we do not have to worry about painting anymore because there is nothing more to achieve. What if the same thing was said for music? Or poetry or novels? Or a television show, or a movie? Sounds absurd, doesn’t it?

We are created ourselves in the image of God, and as such, we ourselves are called to use our creative abilities in sharing with the world. Part of this, is the premise for the introduction of Rob Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis. He writes, “Times change. God doesn’t, but times do. We learn and grow, and the world around us shifts, and the Christian faith is alive only when it is listening, morphing, innovating, letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus and embracing whatever will help us be more and more the people God wants us to be.”

Rob Bell lifts up Martin Luther as one of these innovators. Luther and his contemporaries did not use the word reformed. They believed that there was a constant reforming that must take place. It is in this means that we commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation today.

This does not come without trouble. Humanity has a tendency to not act in our best interests or those of our neighbors. Throughout time we have forgotten God and what it means to be people that follow the way. This is seen and read through the Old Testament and also in the Jewish leaders that Jesus is talking to in John’s gospel this morning.

The Jewish leaders have seemed to forget their past when they tell Jesus that they are descendants of Abraham and they have not been slaves to anyone. Perhaps they are so focused on themselves that they have forgot that time in the past that they were slaves to the Egyptians. Or even the Persians and Assyrians. One could even argue that the Romans have them under their control at the time Jesus is having this conversation. They seem to be selective in what they choose to recall and the truth that they are living in at the moment.

Apparently, we have learned little from our ancestors as well. We choose to remember what we want and we disregard those things that may reflect negatively in our current lives. The freedom that we seek in our own country and especially in our lives is one that benefits only the individual. At the same time, we take the freedom that we have for granted when the majority of people in the world do not nearly have the same kind of freedom that we enjoy.

As a society, we tend to focus on personal well-being and how we will benefit the most from the decisions that we make. We witness this throughout all of society, from celebrities, all-star athletes, our own government, and if we are brave enough to admit it, in our own personal lives. The marketing and advertisements that we see, promote this very way of being. How can you help yourself get ahead. How can you keep up with your best friends and neighbors so that they do not look upon you as though you do not fit.

This freedom that we we tend to seek, and that is promoted today, is not the freedom that Jesus speaks of in his conversation with the Jewish leaders. The freedom that Jesus speaks of can only be known as you seek the truth.

That truth that Jesus speaks of can only be found in him. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. In following Jesus place to place, the disciples begin to understand that the truth is being revealed to them. As they come to know the truth, they realize it is the only truth they need to know. It is in this truth that is Jesus, that will make them free. It is this same truth that Martin Luther came to fully understand as he read and studied Romans. It was in our lesson from Romans today that Luther began to fully understand who he was in God and the role God plays in our salvation.

Paul writes, “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24). These verses are the ones that set the Reformation into motion. It is here that Martin Luther began to fully understand the grace of God that comes to us sinners with no doing of our own. While the leaders in the Roman Catholic Church were trying to figure out how they could best benefit from people giving to the church, Luther realized that the truth can only be found in Christ, and Christ alone. It is here that he found the truth that had been slowly buried over the years.

While we are now 500 years removed from the reformation, are we still reforming? Or, have we become complacent and comfortable in the familiar. Do we perceive change as a negative? Are we holding on so tight to our ideals that we are not allowing the Holy Spirit and the truth to shine through?

We must admit that we are in an unusual spot in history. Church affiliation is declining and we are left wondering why we do not have as many people in the pews as we did fifty years ago. In this understanding, church is now seen as kind of weird. Flannery O’Conner wrote that, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you odd.” We are truly in the minority today and left wondering how to work in the midst of it. Being odd may not be such a bad thing.

Rachel Held Evans writes, “Making the church relevant and hip is not what [growing the church] is about. It’s about keeping the church weird.” It is our traditions that make us weird. Baptism and communion is what makes the church different from any other gathering of people. Being weird is about opening up the church as a place where discussion and openness can happen. Rob Bell speaks to this weirdness. Martin Luther was weird 500 years ago when he was bold enough to raise his questions and begin reforming the church as he knew it.

It is in this weirdness that we find the truth that so longs to be with us. This truth is Jesus Christ. It is this truth that brings us a light in the darkness, hope amidst despair, and a promise of eternal life.

What are we doing to thrive in being weird, or odd today? Is being justified by grace through our faith enough? Yes and no. While we find the truth here, how do we help others come to know the truth that is found in Jesus Christ? The church today must be continually reforming as we come to listen and be in relationship with one another. We must be open to God working in the most unusual ways in and among us.

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther was bold enough to print his 95 Theses and send it off to his superiors. Martin Luther was not much different from us. Today we are starting to realize that where division began, all of God’s people, which means all of humanity, must be working together as one. It is the freedom that comes to us in the truth that is Jesus Christ that allows us to open our hearts to a reforming church that will usher in the Kingdom of God.

Let us pray, Christ, you are the truth. In you, we learn what it means to be open to a grace that is of no doing of our own. We thank you for guiding our brother, Martin Luther, 500 years ago, and we give thanks to those that are bold enough to continue to make the church weird today. Guide us as we repent of our missteps and reconcile with our sisters and brothers in the future to come. Amen.

Rejoicing and Lamenting Together


October 24, 2017

1 Corinthians 12:26

A homily on the Commemoration of the Reformation; Preached alongside our sisters and brothers of St. Augustine Catholic Parish

Once again, welcome to Fr. Joe Mallia, Joe Agosta and our sisters and brothers of St. Augustine Parish. We are blessed to come together this evening to lament our separation 500 years ago, and rejoice in the fruitful dialogue our churches have had with one another in the past 50 years.

Since we are sharing the pulpit this evening, I’ll try to keep it short. I’ll preach for only twenty minutes instead of my usual forty. That of course was a joke.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I will admit right from the beginning that my perspective in our relationship with one another is not skewed by long held beliefs, or anything for that matter. I did not grow up in the church and was therefore not subject to the differentiation that was placed upon Protestants and Catholics. Honestly, the only reason I joined the Lutheran church was because of a family connection my wife had within the Lutheran church. Yet, it is the Lutheran church where my faith blossomed and I entertained a call from God to ordained ministry.

Our service of prayer began this evening with a reading from 1 Corinthians, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” I am glad that we are moving more towards the rejoicing as we renew our relationship with one another. Paul begins his first letter to the Corinthians, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”

Well, that has not gone that well in the past, has it? Our past disagreements have truly shown that as humanity, we are a broken people living in a broken world. We cannot live fully up to the path that Christ has set out for us, or can we fully live into the hopes and dreams that the Apostle Paul wrote about in his letters to the communities he ministered.

On paper it seems all nice and easy, that is of course, until we get in the way of God working in our midst. While 500 years ago, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, it stirred up many questions that had been festering for some time. The Lutheran church has grown significantly since the beginning of the Reformation. We are careful to be aware that the Reformation is not something that we celebrate. We are aware of its significance and we commemorate our doctrines that were born out of it. However, we also lament at the divisions that were made and the suffering that has taken place.

It is good to be reformed. We come to Christ in the hopes of our own transformations. The church has witnessed many transformations throughout the centuries.

We are transformed as we continue to pray and listen to where God is calling us to be in this world. Our reformation at this point is calling us back together. Calling us to rejoice in those things that we have in common and continue to walk together in our differences. Hopefully, this will lead to a point where we will one day be fully reunited.

We are the Image of God


October 22, 2017

Matthew 22:15-22, Genesis 1:26

In my previous call, I had the opportunity to sit among fellow pastors and leaders in the community as we came together in an effort to be ecumenical. The intention had mostly been to see how we can best serve the community in which we lived. How, as a varied group of Christians, could we reach out to the needs of the community and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Our own personal theologies would begin to show at this time and honestly, my beliefs did not always line up with their beliefs. This is where it got difficult for me. I was left struggling with this internal debate about how we could possibly do ministry together. While we all seemed to end up at the cross, we all had very different means of getting there. It was difficult to participate is some of the activities when you did support the means. At times, these meetings were more stressful than they were rewarding.

Fortunately, the congregations in Richmond work well together. We have opportunities to worship together and opportunities to serve alongside on another.

However, the stinging rebuke that Jesus gives to the leaders in the temple makes us wonder. This rebuke is one that makes us look within our own lives. “You hypocrites,” he says. A word that seems to be thrown around so easily today whenever we do not agree with the beliefs of another person, or that person is not following our beliefs. We may even hear the word ourselves from others that question our belief system.

We are seen as hypocrites when we do not follow our own beliefs to the tee. Despite the fact that we are broken people living in a broken world. We struggle with many of the things that happen within our world and are left wondering where our Christian faith is getting us. There are Christians on every side of a debate using the bible to back up their side. This leaves little room for the Holy Spirit to work in our midst and the love of God seems to vanish.

The leaders attempt to put Jesus in an uncomfortable place when they ask him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” They find themselves pretty clever because surely Jesus has been backed into the corner now. His response though is inspired as he calls them out. Whose image is on the coin? Oh, Caesar’s? Then give to the emperor what is his and to God, what is God’s.

The Pharisee’s are hypocrites, because they are carrying around a coin with the emperor’s face on it. Not only that, but it also speaks of his divinity! A divinity that we know can only be found in God and the Son, Jesus Christ. They are breaking the first commandment, you shall have no other gods.

What is it then that we should share with God? Perhaps, returning to Genesis may help. Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

As we should hand over to the emperor, what is the emperors, then we should hand over to God what is emblazoned with God’s image.

In Jesus’ words, we have been challenged. Challenged to live up to the image that we bear ourselves. The image of God, imago Dei, that is with us all of our days and within it we are called to love and serve one another.

This morning we have eight youth that are affirming this image they were born with. Not only that, they have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the sign of a cross in their baptisms. A baptism in which their parents and sponsors promised to lead and teach them in the faith that they are now affirming in their own words and making public profession of that faith.

Imagine what would happen if we were all so public in boldly professing this faith that our youth are professing this morning!

Imagine the difference that we would make in the world if we lived out the image that we bear of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Imagine if we were to truly live into the words of our baptisms and those that we hear in the affirmation of baptism and continue in the covenant God made with us: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and strive for justice and peace in all the earth?

If we were to truly live out the calling that God has placed upon our hearts and to live out those baptismal promises, the kingdom of God would be in our midst.

Let us pray, God of all, you work in and among us when we are not even aware. May we be open to the words you have placed upon us in our baptisms and strive to live a life worthy of your image in the midst of our brokenness. Amen.

Welcome to the Feast

Chef's Christmas Feast

October 15, 2017

As a preacher, this is one of those gospel texts that make you bristle. It would be easy to go to one of our other lessons this morning because they are quite a bit softer. However, our challenge is found in Matthew.

Reading it makes me at first wonder if we have entered into an alternate universe? Our gospel lesson continues in the parables of Jesus, with a turn to the extreme, if not teetering on the absurd! Not only has Jesus stepped up the parable story telling with the Wedding Banquet, the stories get more violent. Last week, it was the religious leaders that assumed violence would occur. This morning Jesus has inserted the violence directly into the parable.

Especially after hearing the rest of our lessons, the gospel makes us double back and wonder what is happening within it. The story that Matthew shares of the Wedding Banquet can be found in parallel in the Gospel of Luke with some differences. The feast in Luke is a dinner party in which the owner of the house invites some guests, and they too, are too busy to attend. The owner is upset over their disregard for the preparations and their ease of dismissing him once the meal was ready. He asks his servants to go out into the streets and invite one and all. Those that are crippled, blind, and lame. When they didn’t fill the house, the servants went out and found even more people to fit at the table.

The gospel of Matthew takes a turn towards a more violent nature. In light of our parable from last week with the evil tenants, the parable that Jesus shares of the Wedding Banquet seems like it would be more fitting for a Game of Thrones episode.

However, in the parable Jesus shares, the king has the guests that ignore his invitation to the feast murdered and their cities burned, after they kill his servants bearing the invite. Not only that, the one person that seems out of place at the feast is bound and thrown out into the darkness.

Historically, Matthew wrote his gospel after the fall of Jerusalem to Rome in the year 70. As Christians were being persecuted and martyred, it was a tenuous time and people were on edge. The murders and burning of cities that Matthew added to Luke’s version, could be attributed to this.

Unfortunately, this text has led to many horrendous acts throughout history. One of the thoughts that arose were that the Jewish people were responsible for the death of Jesus. Matthew plays into this through his version of Jesus’ parable. Those that refuse to feast with the king (or God), and the coming of Jesus, are murdered and their cities burned!

While we are in the midst of remembering the Reformation, it is also important to recognize that everything Martin Luther wrote was not wonderful. Later in life he seemed to be more adamant in his condemnation of those living in the Jewish faith. He seemed to think they had a choice and must be converted to Christianity. These teachings run counter to our calling as Christians in the world to love.

Some of these teachings have unfortunately been used over time to construct false ideologies. The rise of Nazi-Germany and the growth of antisemitism that we will still witness today are a couple of examples. We witness it in the neo-Nazis and white supremacists of our own time, in 2017!

If you look how the parables have stacked up over the last few weeks in our lessons, they are building upon the confrontation that Jesus is having with the religious leaders in the temple. In our Matthew timeline, we are only 72 hours away from the crucifixion. The gospel is telling the story of Jesus’ journey to the cross.

As he journeys, he pushes the envelope more and more. His parable seems so absurd because it is a hyperbole. He is going to the extremes to make his point known that the love of God is for all people. Male or female, free or slave, gentile or Jew. This is where the grace of God shines through in this text. Everyone is called to the righteousness found in God.

This righteousness is the “wedding robe” that is referred to in the parable. Anyone can put on the robes; thus the invitation to everyone to come and join in the feast.  And what does that look like? Paul explains it in detail for us in Philippians: Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (4:8-9)

Our calling in Jesus Christ is to continue on the path that Jesus began. We are to love our neighbors and welcome the stranger. We are to listen to and not jump to quick conclusions. We are to give thanks to God for the grace that washes over us. Are we required to do any of this? No! Through our faith and the righteousness of God we should be compelled to do it.

It is not only from God, whom we receive grace. We can be gracious to one another, and this in itself is a sign of God working in our midst.

In its 1994 “Declaration to the Jewish Community,” the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America publicly repudiated the anti-Jewish views of Martin Luther, expressed repentance for Christian complicity in hatred and violence against the Jews through the centuries, and committed itself to building a relationship with the Jewish people based on love and respect.(ELCA Statement for Lutheran-Jewish Relations)

Trinity Lutheran Seminary, my alma mater in Columbus, Ohio, has a wonderful history of working with their Jewish neighbors and continues in dialogue with them today. As we have asked for repentance, they have been gracious. We can all sin. Luther was no different than the rest of humanity. As Lutherans today, it is of great importance that we continue to move forward in loving relationships that embody the love Christ has for all of humanity. We must put on the robe, or righteousness of Christ, and through this we will begin to see wonderful changes happening in the world around us.

This seems to be a never-ending task. Yet, we are reassured by the words of Desmond Tutu, “Don’t give up! Don’t get discouraged! I’ve read the end of the book. We win!” We all have gifts to share as we come to the feast. It is a banquet in which all are needed and love reigns supreme.

Let us pray, healing God, you are present even when we hurt those that are close. You weep at the broken relationships and the sins that pervade our lives. May we continue to be guided by your Holy Spirit and the love and grace that comes down to us in the form of your Son, who gave up his life for us. Amen

A Vulnerable God


October 8, 2017

We are blessed in the state of Michigan to be surrounded by some very fertile land. There are a variety of crops that are grown, and the state is a leader, if not near the top in many of those crops. One of those crops that you can find in abundance in Northern Michigan are grapes.

I recall one of my first visits to a winery on the Old Mission Peninsula. For our honeymoon, Tina and I decided that we would travel around Northern Michigan. From Mackinac Island to Petoskey and Boyne City, to Traverse City and then down the Lake Michigan Shoreline. While in Traverse City, we traveled up the Old Mission Peninsula and discovered Chateau Grand Traverse. The peninsulas leading from Traverse City provide the perfect climate for vineyards. We took the tour and tasted some great wines, at least in my opinion.

Tending to grapes and the vineyard is a lot of hard work that requires skill and determination. The beauty of a vineyard is incredible as the vines are pruned and sculpted so that the owners get the most out of the grapes they are growing.

The image of the vineyard appears many times throughout our bible stories, from the Old Testament to the New Testament. The people of Israel were familiar with vineyards and they knew what it entailed to care for and harvest. Jesus uses vineyards in his parables to relate to the kingdom of God. As tenants care for the vineyard, how do we care for the creation that has been gifted to us?

If you have been anywhere near the news this past week, we know that we could be doing much better.

Once again we have been confronted with the evil that exists in our world today. Another sign that the kingdom of God has not come into full fruition yet. While we are living in the kingdom of God, which has been gifted to us through creation, it has not fully arrived. We will not experience this until we learn to fully love one another.

The terrorist act of mass shootings by individuals are not a sign of the kingdom to come. It points to the brokenness of our world and the fact that we would rather point fingers at each other as to why events like this happen then to sit down and discuss how we can work together for the common good. Until the kingdom of God fully comes to us, evil will still exist. Unfortunately, we have come to a point that we wonder when the next horrendous act will happen, not if. In the meantime, how can we do our best to be the face of God in the presence of this evil?

How can we be present with one another? How can we provide help for those that need it? How can we be a voice for proper reform and laws to protect one another and our loved ones? I think that we can all agree that acts like the one in Las Vegas this past week must stop. We must do a better job in providing mental health care for those that need it. Evil will still present its ugly head, but it will be a start.

We must look beyond ourselves and our own personal agenda. When we fail to do that, we reject the humanity of others. When we reject others, it can be seen as a rejection of the God that created it all. As we reject God through our words and actions, the kingdom of God just gets farther away.

Until we learn to care for and accept those that are mentally sick, we put a wedge between ourselves and God. Until we can turn repent of our own tendency towards violence, we will continue to keep ourselves at a distance from the kingdom of God. We still have a lot of work to do in learning how to live with one another in peace and because of this, I am sure that God continues to weep.

God weeps for us, just as God weeps for those servants that were killed by the evil tenants in Jesus’ parable. At this point, Jesus is still pointing to the authority that has been given to him by God. An authority that cannot be taken away, no matter what the political and religious leaders do to him.

We must look at Jesus’ parable allegorically. The vineyard is Israel and the tenants are the religious leaders whom Jesus is speaking. The early prophets could be seen as the first servants that are killed by the evil tenants. The land owner is God, and it is God that sends God’s son to be with the people of Israel. In this realization, Jesus is foretelling the death that is going to come upon him by the leaders in the temple.

They are rejecting Jesus who has come to them in the temple. By doing so, they have rejected the God that has created humanity as we know it. The chief priests and the Pharisees are well aware that this parable that Jesus shares is about them and they would like to quickly quiet him. They can’t though, because of fear for those that are following Jesus. They failed to see what the crowd could see.

The vineyard imagery can also be seen in Isaiah and the Psalm where the vineyard is created and cultivated until it is misused. In the matter of self-interest, the owner thought he had to protect it, instead of sharing of its bounty. In this rejection of others, the vineyard is destroyed.

Because of this story, the chief priests and Pharisees could expect wrath to fall upon them in Jesus’ parable. Yet, this is where we encounter the grace of God in the midst of evil.

Jesus does not proclaim judgement upon the evil tenants. He does not give up on them. A popular story line we follow today is one of vengeance. We are waiting for Jesus to say that the evil tenants got what was coming to them and were destroyed. Yet, this is the farthest things from Jesus’ story line.

The landowner could have easily sent an army in to disperse of the evil tenants after the first two groups of servants he sent were beat and killed. However, he sends his son. By now, this story line should be sounding familiar. Jesus is the son that comes into the vineyard to fulfill the promise that was made to the Israelite’s. Jesus is more than a prophet. He is the messiah that was promised a long time ago.

In this parable, Jesus shares the vulnerability of the landowner. A vulnerability that opens up to the hope and promise that is found in Jesus Christ. A vulnerability that allows all of humanity to see the righteousness in Jesus and be open to the grace that is abundant for all people.

Because of this promise being fulfilled, there is no proclamation of judgement upon the evil tenants. The hope that comes in Jesus’ parable is that the evil tenants will realize their own humanity and empathy that they might feel shame in the presence of vulnerability.

God allows a vulnerability to shine through that forgives those that seek repentance. It is God’s desire to fill creation with love. This love comes to the Israelites through Jesus. A love that is willing to go to the cross on their behalf.

While it may be hard to come by, that story of love can be found today. We are not a heartless people, despite the around the clock news coverage that seems to espouse the evil occurring in the world. The good things do outnumber the evil. They just do not get the high ratings in media channels like the evil does.

There is a popular Fred Rogers quote that goes around every time we witness some horrific act in our country. He is quoted as saying, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

He was a minister and had pretty good theology. We witness Christ in the midst of the evil. Christ is present to hold peoples hands and to present love through others. You may have seen on the news the story of the father and son that used their bodies to shield the young girls in front of them from the gun fire in Las Vegas. The father gave up his life to protect people he did not even know and his son was shot in the arm. This is a visible sign of Christ at work in our lives and working through humanity.

The grace of God comes to us in mysterious ways. The grace of God knows no boundaries and can even turn those that envelop evil towards a love that forgives through Jesus Christ. While this may be hard for us to understand in our time and place, the kingdom of God will eventually be revealed to all.

Let us pray. . . . Forgiving and gracious God, may you continue to walk with us in the brokenness of this world. May your church on earth be a beacon of light for those that seek hope. May we strive everyday to walk with our sisters and brothers in our differences and rejoice in the promise of your kingdom to come. Amen.


Authority, What is it Good For?


October 1, 2017

Who among us, would love to sit down with Jesus and ask him some questions? I am sure that we can all think of some questions to ask.

Would they be much different than the question that was asked by the priests and the elders, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Several years ago Dr. Phil was being interviewed on television. One question asked, was “if you could interview anyone in the world, past or present, who would it be?” Dr. Phil replied, without hesitation, “Jesus Christ. I would like to have a conversation with him about the meaning of life.” If he had read today’s gospel, I wonder if Dr. Phil would still want to interview Jesus. For one thing, Jesus would not be a good interview. Time and time again, we read of his encounters in the gospels with those questioning him, and it is always turned back to those doing the questioning. Jesus would quickly turn the tables. Perhaps even literally, as he did in the Temple.

Dr. Phil would be sorry that he even posed this question to Jesus. After being turned upside down and inside out, Jesus would be encouraging him to sell everything he owned, give the money to the poor, and to follow him.

So, who is ready to interview Jesus?

There is clearly a difference in opinion from the chief priests and elders that have shown up in the Temple and what Jesus is teaching to those that are gathered to listen. Those listening to Jesus are eager to learn what he has to say and how that can affect their lives not only in the present, but also in the time to come.

The chief priests and elders are the ones that are accustomed to having the authority. People come to them to answer the questions and to solve the problems that come up in 1st century Jerusalem. The people, for the most part, have been complacent. Yes, you do have the occasional radical teacher that gets up and attempts to stir up trouble.

Jesus is different. The chief priests and the elders sense this, yet do not want to admit it. They know the answers to the questions that they are asking. They just do not want to hear them. They are being called out in front of everyone and this is not what they were expecting. They thought that they could quickly shut Jesus down. However, Jesus is different. His authority does not come from any human entity, and this is what they fear, and to some extent, already know deep in their hearts. They sense the authority that Jesus speaks with and are wondering where that leaves them.

Jesus is turning everything upside down and inside out.

Two thousand years later, we are not much different. We place ourselves in the same situations as the chief priests and elders. We question those areas in our lives that we do not like and when the answer is too hard for us to bear we either ignore it or try to make up excuses for our actions.

We struggle with authority today. Of course there are those that are in positions that naturally have authority assigned to them. Our elected officials are one example of this. In the business world, people are hired or placed into positions of authority as well. While it makes me uncomfortable, I know that pastors even hold a position of authority. In all of these positions, there is a difference between the actual authority that someone has and the authority that is perceived. This perceived authority can flow both ways.

Authority works alongside respect. If the person in authority does little to gain the respect of those that they are called to lead, then there is going to be resistance. We have seen this happen throughout the history of the world as we know it. Sometimes those that resist prevail and at other times those in authority attempt to quickly squash it.

While we are in the midst of remembering the Reformation, it is a good example of resistance. Martin Luther resisted the authority of the sixteenth century and listened to God. The more he studied, the more he began to question the direction of the church. In his words and actions, a reformation had been carried out that we are called to still carry forward today.

Acts of resistance happen to this day as humanity struggles to live into the world that God has given to us. This will continue to be so until we can sit down and talk to one another. To let Jesus guide us and take the words of the gospel seriously, compelling us to live as equals with our sisters and brothers.

Jesus brings an even greater resistance to the Roman Empire in the 1st century. This resistance made people uncomfortable and question everyone that was serving in a position of authority. While the chief priests and elders wished Jesus to have no authority at all, it was not theirs to take away.

In Jesus we find an authority that cannot be taken away by any earthly manner. It is not an authority from humans. It is an authority from God alone. As the questions surface, it is revealed that true authority lies in Jesus, and Jesus alone. It is in this that we encounter a grace which is greater than anything of our own making or doing.

Jesus does not say that the chief priests and elders are going to be left out of the kingdom of God. What he is saying is that they are going to have to wait their turn. In his response, Jesus’ intentions in both his question to the religious leaders of John’s baptism and in his question about which of the two sons did the will of the father, is that the God of Israel who gives him authority is the same God of Israel who welcomes sinners and prostitutes. (FOTW, Year A, Charlotte Dudley Cleghorn)

This is the grace of God that washes over all of us in our baptisms. Our role and position in life is not going to get us anywhere. It does not matter how much authority we have. The love of Christ welcomes all and at times may even surprise us. Our desire should be to walk arm and arm with each other, regardless of race, sex, ability, or sexuality. As we begin to do so in our earthly realm, we bring the kingdom of God just a little closer.

While we would all love to ask Jesus some questions, does it really matter. Where we can truly grow is through listening. Listening to our sisters and brothers that have different experiences to share. Listening to the words of Jesus as we read them in the bible. Listening to the Spirit speaking to us in our lives.

Perhaps, the questions that we should be asking should be directed to ourselves. What is it like to answer a question which you know the correct answer but do not want to hear? What is it like to be asked a question that may call you to change your mind, your way of being and doing? As we allow the Spirit to work with us in answering these questions, we begin to grow. Here we encounter the God that walks alongside us.

Let us pray, embracing God, you enter our lives in the most unexpected ways. We find you in the most difficult questions. May the Spirit continue to push and pull us into the kingdom that you have promised us. May our hearts and minds be open to all that is you. Amen.