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Posted on Sep 25, 2017

Where’s the justice in that?—sermon for 24 September 2017

Where’s the justice in that?

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Sept. 24, Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20):

Exodus 16:2-15 & Psalm 105:1-6,37-45
Philippians 1:21-30Matthew 20:1-16

Sermon preached by Alan McLellan – September 24, 2017

“That is so unjust!”  I don’t know about you, but that’s my reaction to a lot of things that happen in the world.  It’s also my reaction to the parable in today’s Gospel: A landowner hires people to work in his vineyard – and the ones hired at the beginning of the day are given a day’s wages. The ones who are hired at midday are given a day’s wages, and the ones hired close to the end of the day are given….a day’s wages!  Where’s the justice in that?  It’s pretty frustrating: you look to Jesus for a parable to confirm your sense of fairness, your sense of what’s right, and he comes up with something like that!

Well, in the men’s book group, we turned to the 19th century Russian novelist Dostoevsky and I must say we didn’t fare much better. We’ve been reading his “Crime and Punishment”. And it’s hard to believe that the criminal in that story gets the punishment he deserves either.

Some of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve had the privilege to be part of the last few years have taken place here at All Saints, as part of the Men’s book group. It’s just one of several opportunities around the Parish (including a women’s book group!) for folks to talk about faith and life, and I highly recommend you get involved in one of them.  This question about justice is at the heart of “Crime and Punishment”.  The central figure of the story is Raskolnikov, a young law student, and one of the most striking things about the book is the way we are drawn to identify with this character. Raskolnikov is full of the idealism of youth, but short on the money he needs to finish his studies.  He’s managed to get himself into debt to a pawnbroker -an old woman he considers a worthless crone. Her only desire is to get money out of her borrowers so she can die wealthy and leave everything to a monastery where the monks will pray for her soul.  And there’s the justice question again: “Where’s the justice in that?”.  So Raskolnikov decides he’s going to take matters into his own hands.  He has come to believe that certain people (such as himself) are superior. They have the right to commit crimes – even murder if necessary – for the greater good.  So he comes up with a scheme to set things right.  He’ll kill the old woman, take her money and use it to further his studies and go on to make the world a better place.  (This is where the reader starts to feel distinctly uncomfortable – because we’re identifying with this guy, and he’s about to murder a defenceless old woman!).  But according to Raskolnikov, it’s in the interests of justice!

We might say that he stands with the laborers who were hired first in today’s Gospel story.  “What’s up with this?” they say.  “These people weren’t here all day, working in the hot sun!  How could this possibly be just?”

We know that we are called to stand up to injustice. I don’t think Jesus is saying that we should just accept it.  He is not saying that we should just accept it when women are paid less for doing the same work as men, or when the poor suffer disproportionately from the effects of natural disasters, or when according to a 2014 study, almost one-third of Brookline residents are economically insecure Where’s the justice in that?  

So what’s up with this parable of the laborers in the vineyard?  What is Jesus trying to tell us about justice?  I think we get a really good hint from Dostoevsky in “Crime and Punishment.”  Because our crazy young man, Raskolnikov, actually does follow through on his plan to kill the old woman and take her money. He even kills her handicapped sister who just happens to get in the way.  But, although he takes her money, he doesn’t actually follow through on using it for good as he had planned -because deep down he really knows how dreadful – how despicable his act really was.  

And here’s where Dostoevsky comes up with a twist in the story that illustrates how God’s justice works so much differently than ours.  

At this point I have to say that there are many ways to interpret this amazing novel, but I’ve just latched on to one.  And many colorful and interesting characters…. I don’t have time to describe to you this morning, but several of them show compassion to this young man even in the face of rejection, and even once they know about his evil deed.

So here’s the twist:  There’s a young woman he gets to know. Sonya is her name – and Sonya’s father is a drunk – a colorful character, but he drank his family’s livelihood away, and left them destitute.  Sonya’s solution for the family’s problem is to “get up, put on her kerchief and pelisse (a pelisse is a beautiful fur-lined coat), and go out.  And sometime after 8 she came back with 30 silver roubles”  (And that’s a lot of money) So Sonya has become a prostitute so that her sick mother and her younger brothers and sisters can live.

And perhaps because she is shunned by the world, Raskolnikov feels he can confide in her.  Ironically, even though she’s living the life of a prostitute, theirs is a completely chaste relationship.  Raskolnikov still clings to the idea that the deed he has done was all for the good.  But he is tormented by what he has done.  He confesses his crime to Sonya, and she convinces him to go to the police detective (who has suspected him for some time by this point) and to tell him everything.  

And off Raskolnikov goes to Siberia, to serve his punishment – 8 years of penal servitude.  But he doesn’t go alone.  Sonya, who has loved him constantly and sacrificially throughout this ordeal, loves him still, and follows him to Siberia to be with him there.  

So here we have young man whose rational world view leads him to commit a grotesque, horrible crime.  He wants to correct a perceived injustice – this pawnbroker is a blot – a stain on society, and the idea is that by eliminating her he can make the world a better place.  But through a series of events that grows to a climax, eventually he comes to realize the enormity of his crime, confesses — and then finally, at the very end, he begins his long journey to redemption.  

So now, the more I think about this, the more I am struck by the image in the parable, of the laborers coming in from the vineyard, dusty and sweaty after working all day in the scorching heat.   They haven’t done anything wrong – they didn’t murder anybody to try to obtain justice – they just worked a full shift, and they’re only looking for fairness.  They have a right to their wages.

But in God’s kingdom, the laborers who just showed up at the end of the day also have that right.

And all the generous and loving characters in “Crime and Punishment”, who suffer immense hardship themselves, but shower kindness on this young student, Raskolnikov, have a claim on the grace of God.  And somehow, in God’s kingdom, so does Raskolnikov, the criminal—the one who comes late, and very reluctantly—nevertheless, he too receives a share of grace in God’s kingdom.

And so do we.  Because the grace of God, as the parable today points out, does not depend on the things we do to earn it.  It only depends on us coming to him, confessing everything, and being welcomed to his table.

So whatever crazy directions your life has taken – whatever it is that you have weighing on you:  welcome! Eat the manna, drink the wine, and accept the grace of God, freely given, whether you come early or late.

 

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Posted on Sep 17, 2017

Learning a dialect of grace—sermon for 17 September 2017

Learning a dialect of grace

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Photo Credit: thedailyenglishshow Flickr via Compfight cc

Sept. 17, Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19):

Exodus 14:19-31 & Psalm 114
Romans 14:1-12Matthew 18:21-35

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

Picture this.

A child on a skateboard. In the living room. As the skateboard goes out from under the kid, the child flies into a table, and the table and everything on it comes crashing to the floor. Before you can even muster an outraged look, the words come flying out of the kid’s mouth… “I didn’t mean to!”

That’s one of the images from a great kids book, David Gets In Trouble, by David Shannon…David Shannon has several books about David who continues to get into trouble, his parents always speak in some variation of “no!” The kid always offers some excuse. Until the last page when there is always reconciliation. Shannon explains in the author’s note “When his [parent] says ‘no’ it’s because [they] worry about his safety, [they] want him to grow up to be a good person. Deep down, [they’re] really saying, “I love you.” But when David says ‘no,’ it usually means, “I don’t want to get into trouble.”

“I didn’t mean to,”—even as an adult—is often code for “I don’t want to get into trouble.” Adults just have more clever ways of saying it. We’ve all heard those non-apology apologies. “If anyone was offended by my remarks, I’m apologize. I assure you it was not my intent to offend.” That’s just a grown-up way of saying, “I didn’t mean to.” “I don’t want to get in trouble”

Of course we don’t want to get into trouble, and last week we heard about what to do when we do get into trouble…when we didn’t mean to…but did anyway. This week we get the follow up…that we are to forgive.

Forgiveness is tricky to begin with. It’s hard to forgive people sometimes. It takes lots and lots of practice. And it’s even harder when we’re not clear about what we did…or when our intentions—whether we meant to or not—gets thrown into the mix.

How many times in your life have you had a conversation that includes a phrase like this “I’m sure she meant well, but…” “He’s such a nice guy, I’m sure he would never do anything to intentionally hurt someone…” Shifting the focus from what happened, to what someone intended—actually short-circuits the process of forgiveness because when we get locked into thinking about what someone meant, we often stop being truthful about the impact of behavior. And really, it’s the impact not the intent that matters.

Most of us don’t intend to say something hurtful, or do something mean. But we do.  I don’t know anyone who wants to be like this guy in today’s parable…(We get that we’re not supposed to be like the guy in today’s parable, right?). OK maybe there are some who intentionally set out to make life miserable for others…but generally we get we’re not supposed to do that… we’re not trying to harm anybody, we’re just trying to get through our day…trying to take care of ourselves, or our family, or get the job done, and sure we’re tired, and cranky, and stressed out, and we don’t mean to act like that, but we do. And we also understand that we’re not supposed to make up excuses  for ourselves or others…but we do that too, and that trips us up.

“I’m sure they didn’t mean to.”

The sad fact is, that even after centuries and centuries of teaching and preaching about forgiveness, we’re still not very good at it. In part, I believe, because we continue to get hung up on intention…on whether someone meant to do it or not. This is particularly true for those of us raised in a North American culture, and especially our church culture—which really values being “nice” over being truthful. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being nice, per se unless it short-circuits real healing and forgiveness. And being truthful isn’t the same as being a bully.

Learning how to do this—learning to apologize (or to use churchier word) to confess…and learning how to forgive is like learning a new language…and the language of confession and forgiveness is still pretty foreign to us.

So I’m going to give you a very short tutorial on how to apologize. [The Gottman Institute is great resource]

Ideally, this is done in a situation like Jesus outlined last week. “If someone sins against you go and point it out when the two of you are alone.”

You’ve done something and someone lets you know it, and the two of you go off (and Jesus is there). First off: Swallow that impulse to say “I didn’t mean to.” Instead, try saying to yourself, “I didn’t mean to do it AND I did do it.” Now what?

Next: acknowledge the reality of the hurt—but, “I’m sorry you’re upset” is not an apology…neither is “I’m sorry you feel that way,” “I’m sorry I was rude.” or “I’m sorry I offended you,” that’s a start to an apology.

Be specific about it and take ownership of your own feelings and actions.

Don’t add an excuse…”I’m sorry I was rude, but I was really irritated,” means “I’m not really sorry, I’m just irritated” or I might be sorry, but I really don’t want to get in trouble… You could try flipping it around and changing the “but” to “and”—I’m really irritated, and I took it out on you. That was wrong. I’m sorry.”

Now, here comes the really tricky part: Ask for forgiveness. “I’m sorry I was rude.” I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” Those great beginnings but they’re just statements. They invite no response. Adding, “Will you forgive me?” is a humble request that can build a relationship. Here’s the thing. And this is crucial…When you ask for forgiveness. You have to wait for a response. You can’t expect it. Nor can you expect the other to also apologize. So, “I’m sorry I broke the lamp.” “I’m sorry I was rude and interrupted. Will you forgive me?” Period. It’s up to the other person to decide how and when they will respond. Depending on the level of hurt, be prepared for them to say “I need some time. I’m not there right now.” As this parable shows in pretty graphic detail, we are never owed forgiveness. That’s why it’s grace and that’s why we should always be grateful when we do receive it.

The final step…attempt to make a repair. “I’m sorry I did X. Will you forgive me?” Wait… “Is there anything I can do to make this right?” And if there is do it.

It’s hard I know. I get this wrong every day. Learning how to really recognize our impact in the world…learning how to really acknowledge all of the things done and the things undone…both positive and negative…learning how to confess, and apologize, and ask for and receive forgiveness…it really is like learning a foreign language…and how much and often do you have to practice in order to learn a foreign language? Every day? Not just seven times, but seventy-seven times? Maybe even seventy times seven times…but imagine the healing that God could bring about if we all became fluent in this dialect of grace.

Amen.

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Posted on Sep 10, 2017

Shared by all—sermon for 10 September 2017

Shared by all

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Last Supper in Letter ‘C’, Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci, c.1395

Sept. 10, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18):

Exodus 12:1-14 & Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14Matthew 18:15-20 

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

“Wherever two or three are gathered…”

That’s it. That’s all it takes. Just two or three (and Jesus in the midst…or Christ, or God in the midst…or the Divine presence…a higher power…however you define that mysterious and Holy reality). But that’s it…just two or three of us…and the Eternal Living Sacred. And a community is formed. From such small seeds…

This section of Matthew (that we sort of drop into the middle of here—that Gospel was like walking into the middle of a pretty intense conversation, wasn’t it?) Well, that conversation is all about community…It’s all about how we as disciples are supposed to get along with one another…how we are to live in community.

How we are to live in common.

Notice anything about those words? Community…common…communion…those words are all related…and all have the same root which literally means “shared by all” Which got me thinking…what is it that is shared by all? Not just by the people in this room…but by everyone? What do I have “in common” with you? What do we share with everyone else?

The specifics of this conversation Jesus is having with the disciples today give us a clue…

I recently finished reading Waking Up White, by Debby Irving (I commend it),  and in it she tells a story of a school meeting where parents were asked to write down on a piece of paper “something that weighed on them daily but that they would not be comfortable sharing publicly within the school community.” The pieces of paper were then collected, passed back out at random, and read out (so the comments were completely anonymous). What do you imagine was written on those cards? What would you write, if you were asked: what is something that weighs on you daily, but you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing in public?”

Maybe some of you remember the video for the REM song “Everybody Hurts” where the camera pans over a group of people and their inner thoughts are shown on the screen. That’s what was on the cards. That’s what this exercise revealed.

“I’m worried about money.” “I feel too old to change careers and am unhappy with the one I’m in.” “I struggle with an eating disorder.” “My friend drinks too much. I’m afraid, and I don’t know what to do.” “I think I’m about to lose my job.” “I feel like I’m a terrible (friend, parent, child, fill in the blank).” “How am I going to manage this?”

No matter what our social status is. No matter what our stage in life. The one thing we all share is that we are broken…we hurt. We have good days and bad days…we all have worries…and we can all feel pretty powerless about any number of things that are happening in the world and in our lives. And we’re all trapped in certain ways of thinking and behaving…certain ways of interacting with those around us…And the reason Jesus gives us these very simple, and very good, steps for addressing hurts and wrongs…is that he knows that we’re going to need them.

He knows this about us. We’re hurt…and we are going to react out of that hurt place…we’re going to do things wrong. We are going to hurt one another…sometimes maliciously…but much maybe much more often inadvertently…without meaning to…maybe without even knowing that we’re doing it. We’re all going to be hurt, by things others have done, by things we have done, and by things left undone.

What we have in common…the one thing that is truly shared by all…is that everybody hurts.

And All Saints is a place where we can show that hurt—that common and shared weakness—to God. Where we can risk…giving it over to God….and where we can start to find some healing…and some hope.

Here we can risk being open (and it only takes a tiny opening) for God to get in and begin to work. That’s why we say that we all participate in the service…because even if you think you’re not doing anything…you think you’re just sitting and listening to me or to a hymn or an anthem…just settling into the quiet spaces we try to build in…you are actually participating if you allow yourself to be open (just a bit or quite a lot) to the transformative and healing power of God.

One of the thin spaces where I never fail to feel that divine presence slip into the cracks in my soul is in the simple act of receiving Communion. Opening and reaching out my hands…indicating that I am in need…that I can’t do this all by myself…that I lack something…a gift…that someone else has…and that’s all it takes…just that one, small gesture…for God to swoop in and fill that void…to feed that emptiness…to give me with the only thing that will fill that God-shaped hole in my heart. That can happen during Communion, or during an anthem, or a hymn, or at any time, really…any time you allow that crack in your soul to appear…”that’s how the light gets in.”

It doesn’t take much. Just a crack. Just two or three…and God.

It’s great to see many familiar faces…It’s wonderful to see a number of new faces. As we’re all welcomed into this new academic year…I think it’s worth reminding all of us that this is a place where you don’t have to be perfect. We will try our best to be open and inclusive, and welcoming of all, but we’ll get it wrong sometimes. We’ll try our best to value you more for who you are than for what you do…we’ll try to be clear that you are treasured for the gifts you bring to share more than anything you have or have not been able to accomplish in this life. We won’t always get it right. And when that happens, we have this really great process that Jesus outlines for restoring right relationship.

And as we continue this journey together, I’d encourage you to think about where else in your life is there a place like this? A place that takes seriously the problems and the reality of the world, and also offers sustenance and hope to carry on? A place where if you risk being just a little bit vulnerable with two or three others you’ll begin to discover that not only that’s is where your greatest strength lies, but also that just being a little bit open, and humble, there’s no limit to the transformations (in you and the world) that God can bring about.

Amen.

 

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Posted on Sep 6, 2017

Parish Quiet Day on 16 September

The Daughters of the King will be hosting a Quiet Day of Prayer and Reflection on Saturday, 16 September 2017, from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Come encounter many different ways to pray, whether you stay for 20 minutes or four hours. The sanctuary will be open with multiple self-service prayer stations, including rosaries, journaling, and icons. Group prayer activities will take place in the Guild Room


9:00 am — Morning Prayer
10:00 am — Lectio Divina
11:00 am — Praying with the Body
12:00 pm — Centering Prayer
1:00 pm — Noonday Prayer

The labyrinth will be available in the dining room from 11am to 1pm. Also, there will be an opportunity to practice prayer in daily activity, as well as provide a community service, in helping chop chicken in the kitchen at 10am in preparation for the Manna meal service. DOK members will be available throughout the Quiet Day to assist with prayer stations and to pray with you individually if you wish. If you have any questions, please contact Monica Burden.

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Posted on Sep 3, 2017

The shared world—sermon for 03 September 2017

The shared world

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“Wonders are still able to be done in the city by our hands of compassion, mercy, humility, and justice.” — photography by Len Matthews. Unidentified. Wonders by Their Hands, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55766 [retrieved August 31, 2017]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/67953162@N00/7999088559.

September 3, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17):

Exodus 3:1-15 & Psalm 105:1-6,23-26,45c
Romans 12:9-21Matthew 16:21-28

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

I want to do something I don’t normally do. I want to tell you a story. It’s a story we sometimes use in our Geography of Grace series that starts next Saturday (and there’s still time to sign up).

It’s a piece by Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, called Gate 4-A. So, sit back and listen.

[Read]

Gate 4-A, by Naomi Shihab Nye

This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. This is the world Paul describes in his letter today. The kind of communities he strove to build across the Mediterranean. Communities that rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Who live in harmony, rejoicing in hope, patient in suffering, persevering in prayer.

This is the world I think a lot of us want to live in…the shared world. It’s the world we experience and point to each time we gather around the altar for the Sacrament…

It’s the world that we see often when disasters hit…people rallying to help…sending donations…sacrificing for the good of others…and as one wise woman here at All Saints said on social media this week, “I keep wishing that we’d remember that we’re all people the rest of the time too, and not just during disasters.”

That’s what Paul, and Jesus are encouraging us to remember, too. That we’re all people the rest of the time too…and if people are hungry they should be fed, if they’re thirsty they should be given something to drink…doesn’t matter if we consider them friends or not.

Of course, they also remind us that living this way is not easy. Following Jesus will demand things of us…Living this way requires that we respond to the call…whether it’s a call from a burning bush, or a call over an airport PA system. It requires that we “hold fast to what is good,” while always naming evil for what it is, while still responding to it with a greater good. It’s not easy. But then, Jesus never promises that it will be easy…just that he will be with us…and lead the way.

But that’s the world that I want to live in…the world that I want to live and work for…the shared world. And I do believe that it can still happen anywhere…and not everything is lost. How about you?

 

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Posted on Aug 27, 2017

Authority—sermon for 27 August 2017

Authority

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Thorvaldsen, Bertel, 1770-1844. Christ gives the keys of the kingdom to Peter, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55928

August 27, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16):

Exodus 1:8—2:10 & Psalm 124 or 
Romans 12:1-8Matthew 16:13-20

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

I don’t know how many of you ever watched the TV show South Park. You might remember seeing images of one of the characters—Eric Cartman—riding around on his big wheel screaming, “Respect my authority!”

Cartman was always trying to get people to respect his authority. It was comical because as perpetual 10 year old he had no real authority. He was a bully and a blowhard who constantly led the other kids into all kinds of trouble. He seemed to be utterly incapable of learning anything. But he demanded authority and occasionally got acquiescence in place of it.

Questions about authority—where it comes from, who has it, and why or why not—are all through today’s readings.

A new king has arisen in Egypt…that’s an announcement of authority…it’s traditional, hereditary authority, mixed with religious authority since the Pharaohs mediated between the gods and humans, and oversaw all state religious activity.

This new king wants people to respect his authority, but clearly that authority only goes so far…because things don’t go as planned…“the more the Israelites were oppressed,” we’re told, “the more they multiplied and spread.” “The more he tightens his grip, the more they slip through his fingers.” And Pharaoh’s increasing oppression leads some Egyptians to some not-so-subtle acts of resistances.  The midwives say: “Oh, you know how those ‘foreign women’ are…they give birth so vigorously we just can’t get there in time.” It’s a classic form of resistance…publicly going along with it, but in private not really doing the work, or only doing the bare minimum, or dragging your feet—those of you who have raised teenagers are undoubtedly familiar with these kinds of resistance… (those of you who have ever been a teenager, might remember those techniques as well).

Pharaoh exerts power to claim authority, but authority isn’t the same thing as power. They’re related but they’re not the same. Authority might sometimes be claimed, but more often it is something granted—authority is relational—it’s “a legitimate or socially approved use of power.” The reason I get to stand up here in these lovely and odd clothes is because you all, in calling me, and the church at large, in ordaining me, has granted me a certain authority: the authority to preside at the weekly celebration of the Eucharist, the authority to pronounce the church’s blessing, the authority to absolve sins…but I can’t do any of that on my own or by my self. Any real authority emerges from a relationship and must be enacted within a community.

I imagine that those of you who grew up in a Roman Catholic tradition know this passage as the primary support for the authority of the papacy. For a very long time, Roman Catholic teaching was that Jesus, in saying “on this rock I will build my church,” and giving Peter the keys to the kingdom, was establishing the papacy, with Peter as the first Pope and all the authority that came with it was transferred down to each succeeding Pope.

Those of you who grew up in more Protestant traditions, might have heard this mentioned, but were then told that the Catholics got it wrong, and Jesus wasn’t talking about Peter himself, but about Peter’s faith (or his testimony that Jesus was the Christ) and THAT was the rock upon which the church would be built. And still others are probably wondering why any of this matters…isn’t this the kind of arcane theological stuff that makes people want to run away from church? The point is, we ascribe authority differently depending on our relationships and our communal commitments.

But there’s something else really interesting about the way Jesus’ authority as the messiah, the Son of the Living God,”—and Peter’s authority as the designated spokesperson—gets articulated here. It’s important to note that this conversation with the disciples takes place in the district of Caesarea Philippi, in other words, this is the regional headquarters of the Empire…the place where the power and the authority of the emperor…is strongest. And it’s in the heart of this imperial authority that Jesus starts probing about this Son of Man figure…the Messiah…who do people expect this figure to be? And there’s naturally some disagreement, Elijah, John the baptist, Jeremiah or another prophet…then he asks “But who do you—the disciples—say that I am?” And Peter, speaking on behalf of all of them sort of blurts out, …”You are the Messiah. The Christ.” What’s interesting…is what Jesus says next: “Blessed are you Simon son of  Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father in heaven.” See, everyone, especially the religious authorities, have been trying to figure out for months where Jesus’ authority comes from, but it’s not something you can figure out…Peter hasn’t deduced this…it’s a response that emerges from a revelation…it bubbles up from the deep trust born from a long standing relationship within a community. Jesus’ authority is not conferred, or ascribed, or passed down, it is revealed. It is revealed to each of us in time.

Suzanne Guthrie, an Episcopal priest who writes the wonderful blog called “at the edge of enclosure” wrote of her own experience of this revelation in her reflection this week.

She says, “I raged. I paced. I muttered under my breath and aloud. I sat in the back pew of church with a dark cloud over my head. I left. I came back. I muttered some more.

What kind of a Christian can’t fit Christ into the landscape? I had no problem with Jesus the rabbi, walking “the dusty roads of Galilee.” But after the crucifixion? Resurrection appearances? Ascension? The Christ of the Church? The Cosmic Christ? No. I don’t think so.

And yet. And yet. Something drew me to Christianity. To church. To community. To prayer, now getting quite intense. To study […]

I met the Divine Presence in solitude and silence. In dark, loving, holy nothingness. Without words, images, agenda.

I stole those moments. I used to pray after dropping the children off at day care and the church nursery school. I had, say, twenty minutes to meditate in silence in the sanctuary before taking off […] to go to class.

But once, a set of words floated up from deep inside.

“Who do you say that I am?”

I knew the answer.

You are the Christ.

“One day,” she concludes, “in the most mundane way, the question comes from beyond bone and marrow from the depth of the soul: Who do you say that I am? [And] When this moment of consciousness comes, this utterly surprising breakthrough, you are given the keys to the kingdom.”

It just happens. Sometimes when you least expect it. Probably Peter didn’t expect it…I imagine Peter might have been the most surprised one of all. After all, what authority did he have to make such pronouncements? None. Except this deep, ongoing, never-quite-what-you-think-it-is relationship with Jesus.

What authority do we have to speak the Gospel…to spread Good News in this world with so many Pharaohs and Caesars demanding our attention and our allegiance? What authority do we have to act as Christ’s hands, and heart, and feet in the world? None. Except what has been revealed to us in the breaking of the bread, in the hearing of the Word, in the gathering prayer of the community.

The powers of this world…the princes and the potentates…they often confuse power with authority. They have power to be sure, but their authority is always limited, time and term bound, and often easily resisted or rejected. God on the other hand has authority that is absolute, eternal, and utterly irresistible. As Christians we don’t need to insist that anyone respect our authority, we must simply be open to the irresistible authority of God as revealed to us, and ready to respond when that question bubbles up from the depth…Who do you say that I am?

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