Sunday sermon: I am the author of my it.

October 1, 2017

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32




I am the author of my it.

Say it with me: I am the author of my it!


Own it.


Take it.


You are given authority.


I tell students at Yale Divinity School, you have a singular platform from which to plot the next years of your life. 


Once you have Yale next to your name, there is a weightiness to your being.


On my sabbatical last summer, I was walking the streets of Stockholm with Bethany, when a guy standing in the doorway of a pub noticed my blue Yale t-shirt and said, “Wow, Yale!  You must be smart!”  And the best I could come up for a retort was, “or lucky!”


Now in my eighth year as pastor of Bethesda, my 32nd year of being a pastor, and my fourth year directing Lutheran students at Yale Divinity School, I am owning it.  I am claiming to be the author of my it.


I’m feeling established.  I am noticing that people are listening to me as someone who to me seems so much older than I often think that I am.  I look in the mirror at my crinkly eyes and I see a reflection of my mother’s father farmer grandpa Henry, and I wonder where did the time go?


This is scary.  It is frightening to think that as a seasoned white male Lutheran pastor that it is I to whom Jesus is sparring with in the gospel.  It is to those who have all the goods, the privileges and status and economic advantage that are threatened by the rabbi from Galilee who is the child of a carpenter, and who is constantly challenging the elite while claiming a new kind of authority for himself and others who may not fit the mold of the Ivy League.


We have heard Jesus teach that forgiveness is to be given out generously, maybe even seventy-seven times.


We have heard the upside economics in God’s realm, doling out mercy and favor both for those who have been around since day one and the ones slipping in late through the back door.


Serving others is lauded over ruling others.


And since we last heard Jesus’ teachings, in the geography of the gospel, he has landed in the hallowed halls of Jerusalem, to great acclaim, but on a beast of burden, a donkey.


And like he has all the authority in the world, Jesus makes a big scene by kicking out the moneychangers and merchants in the temple.


And then he curses a poor little old fig tree that didn’t have fruit on it.  Poor little tree!


So the scene is set up between Jesus and the chief priests and the elders.  Who belongs in the temple?  Who will win the match?


There is the upending of expectations littered all over the readings today that shake the foundations.


Somehow we must get out of the way of what is normative and what is expected to make room for the unexpected and surprising.  No longer will we be cursed for our systemic inheritance of power as we hand it over, as we let it go, as we grab onto a new way that gives honor and attribution to others we have ignored at least or rejected at most.


Nadia Bolz-Weber, the tattooed-dirty-mouthed recovering substance abuser ELCA pastor noted for her singular ministry to those that look like her and have similar backgrounds as she was confounded earlier in life when her future husband invited her to church.  She rejected her fundamentalist upbringing and found herself in a congregation not too different from Bethesda where God’s welcome of all was proclaimed, and where she came to understand the both ands of Lutheran identity—that we are at the same time saints and sinners, are convicted in faith by the law and the gospel, that we gain that freedom to live in God’s way through Word and Sacrament.  She found that Lutheran theology was like this best-kept secret, and that those from her tribe were largely absent from churches.


When I was at a conference with Nadia as presenter, someone asked her how the church might be transformed, how we might employ what had captured her in her coming to faith and in her call to ministry. She said it would be when the true power in the church was handed over to young adults and those we claim to welcome but maybe really don’t welcome and do not ask to lead us.


The apostle Paul in a flash of brilliance cajoled the congregation at Philippi to act as Christ acted, in order to form true community.  This is how he put it: 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)


That means giving up your own self-interest, particularly when you have the most to lose and someone else has the most to gain.  In today’s gospel Jesus tells the story of the two sons, where the one said “no” to the father but ended up doing as he was asked, and the other said “yes” to the father and did not do as he was asked.  Now I don’t like either scenario.  Wouldn’t we rather hear “yes” followed by the right response?  But the first recalcitrant child did the will of his father, and I would rather rejoice with those who are here and ready to give and receive God’s love no matter what they look like or where they come from, rather than those who produce something like a Lutheran Club Card while building barriers to giving and receiving God’s love.


There is always a chance for someone who steps into the light of God’s love in Christ.  As Ezekiel says get yourselves s new heart and a new spirit.  That’s what Jesus does, giving out God’s heart to all who have broken ones. 


Jesus does this by emptying himself, taking on the form of a servant, all the way to the that new life might be shared.


This is what authority looks like.  God is the author of our it!  And it looks a lot like Jesus.

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.