Monday, June 20, 2011

Proper Authority

Psalm 8 Matthew 28:16-20

There are some "reality" shows I just cannot get enough of not because I enjoy watching people making fools of themselves (even though I do!) but because I am often curious to know, "What were they thinking??" I've seen tons of silly but dangerous - and not very well-thought-out -stunts performed by these "wanna-be's" who think Hollywood, riches, and fame are just around the corner. More often than not, the first thing they usually hear after their ill-conceived "stunt", besides that ringing in their ears, is, "Dude. You ok?"

Besides these colorful daredevils, though, are those even more daring people who are just deluded enough to believe they will somehow be able to intimidate an armed police officer who has stopped them for some traffic violation. Me, I've been stopped enough times to know that humility, submission, and sometimes a little begging are much more than biblical disciplines for disciples; they are also excellent and effective tools that can help to avoid an otherwise well-deserved ticket. Not always, of course, but the last thing I will ever think of doing is to try and challenge the authority of the officer on his or her turf! That's just asking for it. If you're going to go that route, you might as well go for the gold and "moon" the officer while you're at it and then put your hands behind your head for the handcuffs that will surely be coming your way.

It really does not matter whether or not the officer was justified in making the stop, not on the street anyway. They are charged with making snap decisions based on what they see. They are charged - by their communities - with maintaining order, and sometimes their charge requires force - especially when they are challenged aggressively. It's not a "contest" on any level in which they are expected to fight "fair". We arm them because they are expected to come out on top ... every time. If they are wrong, then let it be settled in court or through their chain of command; but never confront the officer in a threatening manner. You will lose ... because you and I endowed that officer with sufficient authority to do the job.

Authority, and the power that goes with it, is a heady responsibility and one of the most potent "drugs" out there. It has as much potential to destroy as it does to build up. Witness the many political scandals that continue to rock our government and always will. We endow our representatives - on all levels of government - with such authority as is necessary to speak and to act in our behalf. Many have handled such enormous power and authority with grace and dignity and discretion, but many others have been professionally and personally destroyed by that same power; often taking their families and other innocent bystanders down with them. I do feel sorry for these poor folks because it should be easy to see that they become so overwhelmed with their endowed authority that they failed to remember that the authority had to come from someone else; it was never theirs to claim for their own use.

Jesus embraces His authority, but He also acknowledges that the authority He does have was "given" to Him, entrusted to Him for a much greater purpose. He does not claim it as His own. When Pontius Pilate tried to intimidate and exercise authority over Jesus, Jesus told him he had "no authority" unless it has been endowed. More specifically, the power required for Pilate to have authority over Jesus' very life would have to come "from above" (John 19:11). Pilate, like every other human being in any position of authority, has no power except what is granted or endowed. None. We think we have authority and power, but then we are as deluded as those poor saps who think they can do as they please and suffer no consequences.

The psalmist also acknowledges the divine authority imparted to humanity when he states, "You have given them dominion over the works of Your hand" but then ends by offering this "dominion" authority back to the Lord, "our Sovereign". The psalmist accepts the enormous responsibility that comes with such awesome endowment, but he keeps himself - and all the faithful! - grounded in the reality that "sovereignty" does not come with authority or dominion. The proper and appropriate exercise of any level of authority must always be within the restrictions of knowing that authority is bestowed, given, entrusted for a much greater purpose than for oneself. It is to serve the higher purpose of the "sovereign" power which bestows that authority - without exception.

Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me", yet He refused to use His endowed power even to save His own life. It could easily have been argued that He could have stayed longer, reached more people, healed more infirmities, and blessed even more souls. Being divine, He could have chosen to stay and restore the Kingdom even to this very day! Lots of good would have come from Jesus using His authority to save His life and do even more right here on this earth. Hitler would never have come into power if Jesus had just stayed. We would not, even today, continue to read stories of children around the world who die of heart failure due to malnutrition and starvation - if Jesus had just spared His own life first.

Consider this, however. The very Kingdom of Heaven is bigger even than Jesus the Christ! Though He is the fulfillment and the perfection of all that is, there was still something much bigger that had to be dealt with. There was an even greater ill than injustice, starvation, and persecution. You see, Rome was not the true enemy of the people of YHWH. Rome did not stand in the way of righteousness. Rome did not prevent the people of YHWH from seeking the Lord's face, though Rome was probably used as an excuse to justify hatred.

Rome was not the problem, though Rome was perhaps a good analogy of the principalities and worldly forces we are confronted with to this day; forces that only appear to have power and authority and dominion over us, forces we "blame" for all kinds of ills. Arguably they do have such power - BUT - they do not have absolute "sovereignty". That is, they are not a "power" unto themselves, and their "authority" does not dismiss them from their duties and accountability to the Sovereign. Nor does our "dominion" over the created order dismiss us from accountability to one another, to the Church, and to the Sovereign Lord who is alone the Absolute Power.

In the so-called "Great Commission" Jesus does not seem to relegate the authority that has been given to Him, but He does endow the Church with adequate power to continue His mission. The ultimate authority, however, seems to be retained by Him. The Church is entrusted with the power to "make disciples", to "baptize", and to "teach" by and through the authority of the Christ. We even have the power to forgive sins and only by this authority, to be forgiven ourselves.

There is a lot of power involved in taking risks, and we are called to take great risks for the sake of the Gospel which is the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven for all of humanity. The Lord did well with the authority given to Him. I wonder if we can say the same. AMEN.

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