St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-30-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-30-2018

By What Authority

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29, Psalm 124, James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Today is another of those, not to frequent, cases where two-or-more of the various readings feed each other with direct reference to the same issue. A few weeks ago, as I remember, there was a case where all four readings fed my sermon. We’re not so blessed this week but there is an obvious relationship with today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings.

Interestingly, the one from the book of Numbers takes us all the way back to the time of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. In that story we hear of the all too common issue of Moses losing patience with his disgruntled bunch and he again calls out to God for help.

Previously the people had complained about being hungry and God sent them manna and had complained about being thirsty and God caused water to flow from a rock. Now they’re still not happy, this time for a lack of meat, and God sends his Spirit into 72 of them.

Joshua doesn’t like this, presumably feeling that his master’s authority is being usurped, and wants those unauthorized men speaking prophesies stopped. But Moses, weary of all this, could care less about his personal authority; wants the people to see that God, not him, is the true authority; and momentarily basks in the restful fantasy of all the people being Prophets, filled with the Spirit of God.

Perhaps we can take a moment for ourselves to bask in that thought; the restful fantasy of every citizen of this earth being filled with the Spirit of God, being filled with the understanding of God that inspires prophesy; being filled with full trust in God rather than in our own devises and perceptions or those of our earthly leaders.

(Pause)

It is a wonderful thought; but, sadly, it is fantasy.

Jumping ahead thousands of years the story repeats in our Gospel reading. This time, like the one from the book of Numbers, it is spread out over more of the book than we see in a single Sunday’s reading.

Further back in Marks account of the life and teaching Jesus Christ, we hear of the issue of “authority”.  In the first chapter Jesus casts out a demon from a man and the witnesses “…were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes”. And asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching– with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (vss. 22, 27 NRSV)

A little further along, in chapter 2 we hear of the scribes challenging Jesus’ authority to forgive a man’s sins. Christ’s response;

“”But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he said to the paralytic–”I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them…” (vss. 10-12a NRSV)

Chapter 3: “And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons”. (14-15 NRSV) Now, this authority is passed on to the twelve.

Again, chapter 6; “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. (vs. 7 NRSV)

Now we are approaching today’s reading.

From a little earlier in the Chapter Jesus has just come down from the mountain where his transfiguration occurred and found the remainder of the Disciples failing at an attempt to cast out a demon from an epileptic boy. Jesus succeeded and reminded them of the power of prayer.

Then, right after that, the Disciples get into a discussion about who was the greatest among them. Jesus then has to explain that ““Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (9:35b NRSV)

In today’s reading the word “authority” doesn’t appear, but the implication is there as John informs Jesus that they tried to stop a man who was successfully casting out demons in his name.  

Just as Joshua was jealous over some unauthorized men speaking prophesies in Moses’ stead, John and some other Disciples were upset that someone else is using Jesus’ good name. The role has reversed. Where the Scribes were consistently challenging the authority of Jesus and his followers, an authorized follower is now challenging another, an outsider, for doing what they, the disciples, had just failed to do.

 

Maybe it has something to do with human nature, this thing about having authority and wanting it to be reserved for the few. But it isn’t in God’s nature; God distributes authority, not to place one person or a few above everyone else; rather, God grants authority for the benefit of all. But the Disciples, like Joshua before them, misunderstood the purpose of God granted authority and wanted it to apply only to Jesus and those he chose as his select few. They wanted to reserve God’s favor for themselves alone.

Oh, Would that all the Lord’s people had authority, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

Perhaps we can again take a moment for ourselves to bask in that thought; the restful fantasy of every citizen of this earth being filled with the Spirit of God, being filled with the understanding of God that inspires healing and casting out of evil; and being filled with full trust in God rather than in our own devises and perceptions.

(Pause)

It is a wonderful thought; it is fantasy, but it is not an impossibility. And we are all authorized to make it so!

Anyone speaking of love for God, and Christ, and neighbor is doing so under the authority of the Father. Anyone doing deeds of healing and uplifting in the name of God and Christ is doing so under the authority of the Father. Whoever is not against the love for, and the love of God and Christ is for God and Christ.

When we stop trying to reserve God’s blessings for ourselves and begin to let love flow to all people that restful fantasy will be reality; the reality of God’s Kingdom on earth!

Amen

 

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
11:4 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat!
11:5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic;
11:6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
11:10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the LORD became very angry, and Moses was displeased.
11:11 So Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?
11:12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors?
11:13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’
11:14 I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me.
11:15 If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once–if I have found favor in your sight–and do not let me see my misery.”
11:16 So the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.
11:24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent.
11:25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
11:26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.
11:27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”
11:28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!”
11:29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

 

Psalm 124
124:1 If it had not been the LORD who was on our side — let Israel now say –
124:2 if it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us,
124:3 then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;
124:4 then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;
124:5 then over us would have gone the raging waters.
124:6 Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
124:7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
124:8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

 

James 5:13-20
5:13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.
5:14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.
5:15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.
5:16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
5:17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.
5:18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
5:19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another,
5:20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Mark 9:38-50
9:38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
9:39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.
9:40 Whoever is not against us is for us.
9:41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
9:42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.
9:43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.
9:45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.
9:47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,
9:48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
9:49 “For everyone will be salted with fire.
9:50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”