Sermon :: October 1, 2017

Matthew 21:23-32

23When [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?” 24Jesus 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. 25Did 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?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So 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.
28“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which 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. 32For 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.”

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“Who gave you this authority?” It’s a question we read here in our gospel as the chief priests interrogate Jesus. They’re pretty upset at him at the moment and they want to know what gives Jesus the right, the audacity, to do the things he’s been doing in Jerusalem. It’s a question maybe we’re asking of Jesus, too. Questions like this always make more sense when they’re put in their context. This interaction and parable happen after Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, which we recognize these days as Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday, you may recall, is the Sunday before Easter, and this quickly gives us come clues about what is happening right now – Jesus has entered Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, an ancient and supremely important festival in his religion, in which God delivers Israel from Egypt through final plague, as the Spirit of God literally passes over the Hebrew people. This would be like the Israelite Independence Day and Jerusalem would be like their Washington DC. Before entering Jerusalem, he’s already begun the process of upsetting the status quo, upsetting the religious elite and their laws, and they’ve been looking for a reason, any reason, to get rid of Jesus.

It would make sense for Jesus to keep his head down, then. Maybe keep a low profile. Instead, he enters the Temple and begins flipping tables over, and driving out the money changers, the people making a profit at the expense of the masses coming to Jerusalem. Then this conversation happens.

“Who gave you this authority?” This, maybe more than ever, is the point in which Jesus is put on trial by the religious leaders. But their question betrays their motives – they seem to understand that he has authority – and questioning his authority is maybe the only way they have of distracting him. He catches them in their game, though, through a clever question and parable. Much like the parables we’ve heard the last few weeks, his short story turns the tables on those who hear it. The son who does his father’s will is the one who repents and, while he allows that they are still going into the Kingdom of God, the people who repent, the prostitutes and tax collectors, will be going in ahead of them.

In the end, Jesus never really does give them an answer to their question. Who gives him this authority? Ultimately, the mention of John the Baptist is maybe the key to unlocking where his authority comes from. More specifically, what John offers is the key. Baptism. Baptism is the source of his authority. In fact, it is our belief, as Lutherans, that baptism is the primary ordination of all people into the priesthood of all believers. Baptism – water combined with the command and Word of God – gave Jesus his authority. And your baptism, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, is what ordains you and gives you authority.

Personally, this is a huge reason why I can get up here every week. I constantly question my authority. The questions I ask myself are maybe the questions you ask yourself, too. “Why me? What do I have to offer? Why would God possibly trust me with this task?” I don’t say that to offer a false sense of humility. I say it because it’s true. And the one thing I can point to, the one thing that I can rely on to give me the authority to teach and preach and learn with you all is baptism. Baptism; the primary ordination into the priesthood of believers.

This same baptism, which gave Jesus authority, gives the authority to you and to me to do amazing things in the world in the name of God. It gives you the power to stand up to injustice. It gives you the words to comfort the grieving, sick, and dying. It gives you the call to feed the hungry, care for the poor, and provide water for the thirsty. It gives you the authority to look out for more than yourself. The authority of Jesus is the authority that you carry and it’s all by the grace of God.

Baptism, in and of itself, gives witness to the love of God. We do nothing to earn it. We cannot deserve it and everyone, from the smallest infant to the most seasoned elder, is eligible to receive it. It is both a point in time and a process in which we take part. Baptism unites believers through time and space and gathers us together in the love of God. And this, this, is where the authority of God comes from.

I’ve been using the term “ordination” and I use that word seriously. I am working to be ordained, to become a pastor in the ELCA, but I want you to know that the stole I’ll receive gives me no more authority to live into the new reality of the Kingdom of God any more than you. You and I are part of something much, much bigger. We are part of what we sometimes call the priesthood of all believers. And I wonder what it would do if we took this understanding of baptism seriously. Because this authority, this tangible love, this ordination has the power to change your life and change the world. God action through the priesthood of all believers is the primary way in which God addresses injustice and comforts people. You have all you need to go be God’s hands and feet in the world. You don’t need to go to seminary to show people God’s love. You don’t need to know all the right words or have a bulletproof theology to tell people about the God. You don’t need the blueprint to find where you fit into God’s Kingdom. You already have the authority.

Through God’s grace, you have been given a place at the table, to receive the body and blood of Christ. Through God’s grace, you have been given gifts and skills to serve, love, and preach to your neighbors, to become the hands and feet of God. Through God’s grace, you have been set free from the power of sin and given new life. And through the gift of baptism, you have the authority to live into to the reality of God’s kingdom. Fed, forgiven, baptized, let us go forth and practice this life. Amen.

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