By what authority, dear Church?
Gospel lesson is an ongoing question about authority. The Pharisees want to
know where Jesus gets his authority—by
what right he teaches and heals and
so on… who permits him to be a
in turn asks about John’s authority,
knowing that this will turn the tables on the Pharisees,
keeping that question of authority in mind,
but meditating on the famous Christ hymn of
and what it might have to say to the Church in 21st
with all its anxiety and uncertainties
With this hymn to Christ’s
self-empting and humility in mind,
I would like to ask, “By what authority, dear
By what authority, dear church?
history there have been many wrong places that the Church has found its
the era of the persecution of the Church, the Emperor Constantine put his
authority behind the faith and made it a official religion of the Roman Empire.
Our authority became derived from the whim of the State.
was fine… until the sacking of Rome, which made many question everything,
including the authority of the Church and the promises of God.
If the Church’s authority and trustworthiness is
defined by the state and the culture of Rome, they figured, and Rome went bust—then clearly the Church had no legitimate
influence, or positive value.
during the era of the colonization of the Americas, Africa, Australia, and
Asia, the Authority of Christianity,
was often mixed-in with the authority
of the conquistadores and colonists—Christianity was sometimes presented as,
“Now that this territory is ours, this religion is yours.”
“Why is the Church pertinent to your life?”
Was often answered “because it’ll make getting along
with your occupiers easier.”
think of “The Good Old Days” (and please understand I’m not knocking it)
—When everyone went to Church, because there really wasn’t a whole lot else to do on a
Sunday—there were Blue Laws—so no stores were open, no soccer games played.
your friends were in Church—going to Church was a downright social thing to do,
the place to see and be seen at, the place to catch-up and share.
was in a Cold War with Godless Communism, so when you went to Church you
weren’t just being a good Christian, you were also being a good American.
the Church’s Authority and significance was amplified in the good old days—we
allowed it deeply into our lives, because there was no competition from other
entities, it filled an agreeable social role, as well as a national one.
as you’ll read in the Newsletter, I recently talked with ELCA high-ups and not
so high-ups, who are worried about the end
of Christendom—the time when Christians got special treatment… the end of the Good Old Days.
Now days, blue laws have been blown away…
to think about this concretely, Baltimore is a very
Catholic city, and the Church held some Authority there… so up until the
Baltimore Colts left the City, they were not allowed to start a game before
2pm, because not all the Church folk would be done with services before then
(and you couldn’t buy alcohol in the city before then either)… but by the time
Baltimore got a new team—the Ravens, there was no way an NFL team would even
dream of waiting on folk to get out of Church.
Now days, there are a myriad of ways to
socialize that don’t involve Church
—from Social Media to Social Clubs, the Senior
Center to the Buddhist Center.
Now days America is in a war against Religious
so any form of faith that isn’t clearly tame is
suspect, instead of a mark of citizenship.
we have these high-up Church folk worried about all this—about our loss of authority—that we no longer have
special treatment, and therefore ministry is going to change.
one of the potential directions to go down is to go to the Mega-Church
Corporate model. Figuring perhaps the Church’s authority can come from the Marketplace—
Figure out what people want,
And give it to them
And be justified in your
role within society.
model assumes the Church can out-compete our secular equivalents.
That congregations should be Mini-malls with a
veneer of spirituality
Starbucks-like Baristas serving coffee—or even renting space to an
actual Starbucks in the back of the congregation,
A joint gym membership with Church membership,
Bike ramps for the kids if they get bored during the sermon,
A church sponsored Fight Club
—I’m not kidding, a Christian Fight Club
—bashing one another’s brains in, in the name of
DERIVE AUTHORITY FROM THIS KIND OF THING!
we’re playing against a secular market, we’ll always be trying a little too
hard to be something we’re not.
secular competition is always going to win, because we’re playing their game.
Robins does the inspirational speaker thing, better than your Pastor.
Mall does the mall thing, better than the Church.
does Coffee, better than our Kitchen-folk.
does bike tracks, better than the Church.
Fitness does exercise, better than the Church.
South Plainfield Fight Club does fightin’, better than the Church.
so I ask again, “By what authority, dear Church?”
that of the Marketplace, or Laws-Blue or otherwise, or Nationalism, or
Conquest, or Imperial Sanction.
only authority we have, dear Church—dear Sisters and Brothers—
only authority we’ve ever had,
is that of our humility
natural selfishness, ambition, and conceit, combated in the name of Christ.
regard for others, bolstered by the Spirit.
widows and mourners gathered together in mutual support at Good Grief Group—that’s our authority.
individual confessions, and sincere struggles with our human passions—that’s our authority.
Prayers of Intercession—naming aloud in the company of the Saints, that raggedy
long, yet incomplete, list—that’s our
sincerity with which we are community together—rough edges and all—that’s our authority.
beggars pointing another beggar to where they can get some bread—that’s our authority.
pointing to the one:
“Who though he was in the
form of God,
Did not regard equality with
God as something to be exploited,
But emptied himself,
Taking the form of a slave
Being born in human
And being found in human
He humbled himself
And became obedient to the
point of death
Even death on a cross.”
That’s our authority.