Tag Archives: parable

The parable of God tearing down barns and giving grain away

Luke 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

We have been hitting a highlight reel of the gospel of Luke lately. We have heard very well known and familiar stories like the story of the Geresene Demoniac and Jesus exorcizing the demon called legion. We have heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. We stopped in for dinner at Mary and Martha’s. We learned the Lord’s Prayer along with the disciples who wanted to know how to pray. 

But today, we step off the highlight reel to touch on a much more taboo topic. No, not sex. Not even politics. 

Today, Luke has laid upon us the issue of money and how we value it. The way we understand money and wealth in the Church has a varied history. Some have said that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. Others would say wealth that is not used to help the poor is one of the greatest sins imaginable. Either way, money and its place in our lives and world elicits strong feelings for all of us. We know that money holds power over us, and we also know that putting money in its place is something we struggle with. 

Jesus is standing in a crowd teaching his disciples when two brothers come forward and ask Jesus the teacher to settle a dispute over inheritance. Inheritance was a complicated issue in the ancient world, like it is now. The eldest son of the family received a double portion of the wealth, compared to other sons. And the assets, the land, the buildings, the servants would belong more the clan or tribe than the particular  landowner.

But what passes us by quickly, is that most people wouldn’t be landowners in Jesus’ day. Most people were day labourers, or might have been lucky enough to have the skill to make something to sell. Landowners were wealthy, and often they were the economic drivers of a community. Their land produced food, jobs, provided places to live. They were responsible for their communities. 

So when these two brothers are seeking to divide their inheritance, it is possible that they will be dividing a whole community. The estate that they look after together might not be able to adequately provide for their community once divided. But the two brothers, aren’t thinking about that. They are probably thinking about controlling their wealth themselves. 

And so Jesus will have none of it. He refuses to arbitrate their dispute as a respected teacher. 

Instead, he offers a scathing parable about greed.

Often in Biblical parables, the rich are portrayed as having acquired their wealth in unethical, even illegal ways. But the farmer in today’s parable has done nothing wrong. He does not steal, or cheat, or break the law. He simply is the owner of land that produces abundantly. 

In fact, the farmer’s wealth is not at issue in the parable. It is what the farmer says that seems to be the problem. Listen to his words: “I do, I have, my crops, I will do, I will pull down, my barns, my grain, my goods, I will say, my soul, Soul you have ample”. In the short 3 sentences that this farmer speaks, he makes reference to himself 10 times. It is easy to see that this farmer is rather self-centred, and that he sees the land and grain as belonging to him. 

Yet, the land would truly belong to his family. His wealth would then belong to his community and all of his relatives that would be working the fields along with him. But our farmer only considers storing his grain — his wealth. He does not consider other options like providing for the poor, giving his workers a bonus or sharing with relatives whose land did not produce as well. 

The farmer in this parable is a caricature. He is the extreme version of our human instinct to create security for ourselves.

We know very well the thought process that is being outlined in this parable. In times where there is even a small amount of extra, saving it for when there is not enough is important. Today’s farmers could use some harvests with extra, some years when next year’s crop wasn’t already being used to pay this year’s. 

It isn’t the actions of the farmer in this parable that are brought into question. Rather, as God demands the life of this wealthy farmer today, the issue is about the proper place of money in the world. It isn’t just that those big grain barns won’t do this farmer any good once he is dead. But more importantly, that storing all this grain, all this wealth hasn’t done anyone any good. 

Who is remembered at a funeral for the size of their grain bins? Or house? Or wardrobe? Or bank account? Or car collection?

Jesus is making a point not just about the next life, but about this one. This absurd farmer and all his wealth has missed an opportunity to build something far more valuable than money and wealth. The farmer has missed what it means to build relationships with people. 

People are more valuable than any amount money. Full grain bins mean nothing when there are people starving next door. And yet our world routinely chooses wealth ahead of people. Our world is full of overflowing grain bins and starving people. 

These past two years  we have been regularly reminded of how easily it is forget to consider our neighbour. As people have railed against pandemic restrictions, economic insecurity, as nations have gone to war to satisfy the grandiose visions of man dictators… we have seen money and power being put before people. 

When Jesus scolds these two brothers for wanting to divide their inheritance, it is because when he looks arounds his world is full of people just like our new refugee family. People whom have been left behind by the world in our struggle to have more money and wealth. People who are forgotten by those with riches. People who could benefit from some of that extra and abundant grain. 

But it isn’t just that Jesus reminds these brothers and us that those with more than enough can afford to share with those with not enough. But Jesus reminds us that ultimately, on the night when our life is demanded of us, that we too are refugees with nothing. All the wealth and money and power and security in the world means nothing in the face of death. 

And how lucky are we, when we forget the proper place of money and the value of people, that God does not. That God places people above money, wealth, power and security. That God is willing to give up all those things for our sake. How lucky are we that God is into loving the neighbour and sponsoring refugees in a big way? That God welcomes and provides for us, for us with nothing to offer, with nothing of true value to our names. God gives us the most valuable name of all – beloved child. 

And if we were to retell the parable that Jesus tells today, but with God as the main character instead of an absurdly rich landowner, it would sound very different:

Then [Jesus] told them a parable: “The land of God produced abundantly. And God thought to Godself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then God said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and instead of building larger ones, I will give my grain and my goods to those who are hungry, to those who are in need. And [then] I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods to feed all who are hungry and all who are thirsty; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But then sinful humanity said to God, `You fool! This very night you will be betrayed’ And God said, “Then take my life, take my body broken for you. Take my blood shed for you.” 

And then Jesus explaining this new parable said, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God, for God does not store up treasures for Godself, but has been poured out for you, and is rich towards all.

Parable of the Prodigal Son or Prodigal Father?

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
So Jesus told them this parable:
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.

The definition of the word prodigal is: a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way. Or someone who is wastefully extravagant.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I could use some wasteful extravagance in my life. For two long years we have been living small, keeping to ourselves, pairing down. Nothing these days happens with reckless abandon. Everything is cautious and circumscribed. If that prodigal son was feeling even a bit like we do, it is no wonder he was looking for signs of life elsewhere. 

This story of the prodigal son is a familiar story that most of us could probably retell the if we were we put on the spot. In fact, the term “prodigal son” can be applied to a person or situation, and most people will know the meaning. Even if most Christian images and symbols are being forgotten in culture, the prodigal son and his story endures. There must be something about this story that bears familiarity to our own experience and lives. 

But the problem with familiarity is that meaning can be reduced and simplified. The power of the parable can be lost. And the prodigal son, like all good parables that Jesus tells, is not meant to be a simplistic, straight across comparison where the Father equals God, and the son equals humanity. Instead, good parables demand that we put ourselves in the shoes of all the characters, that we put God in the shoes of all the characters, and even consider that we or God might not be any of the characters. 

A few years ago, a good friend who is also a pastor, shared about his experience teaching his confirmation class the parable of the prodigal son. To help the class embody the parable, he had the students act out the story. They found it easy to play the prodigal party boy son and the dutiful older brother. But when it came time to be the father who ran out to welcome home his lost son, the students would stand and wait with hands on hips, a frown on their face. Or they would scold the returning son for making his father worry. Some even grounded the son when he returned. They just couldn’t imagine a parent who welcomed a delinquent child home without some kind of reprimand.

This well-known parable maybe has something much deeper and radical to say to us that we usually remember. It is easy to assume that the parable of the Prodigal Son is a moralism about doing the right thing. Older son good, younger son bad. Don’t be a younger son, we think is the moral of this tale. But that judgement is not one the text actually makes and to really hear what the parable is saying, we have to step away from the morals and lessons that we assume from the get go.

As with all the parables of Jesus, we need to consider the audience. There are two very different groups that Jesus is speaking to. The first is tax collectors and sinners. Those who owed debts and those who collected, but both of whom were believed to be excluded from God’s forgiveness and mercy. Contrast them with the second group, the Pharisees and scribes, the virtuous religious authorities and leaders who controlled access to God forgiveness and mercy. An audience who represented two very different experiences of God’s love. 

With these two groups in mind, Jesus tells three parables about lost things, the third being about a man with two sons. The younger son asks for his share of his inheritance to strike out on his own in the world. But before we can set to the task of judging this son for his dissolute living, it is important to understand Jewish inheritance practice. In Jesus’ day, it was the norm that the elder son would inherit a double portion of his father’s wealth. The older son in this story would get two thirds of the inheritance, while his younger brother just one third. But not all things were divided this way. As land belonged to families or tribes, the older son would become the one in charge of all the land of his father. He would control not only two thirds of his father’s wealth, but all of his father’s land, his father’s tenants, workers and slaves. And this would include his younger brother. So while we assume that the younger brother is some party animal or that he can’t wait for his father to die to get his hands on his money, it might actually be the case that the younger brother just doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life working under his self-righteous jerk of an older brother. 

And while it might be easy to assume, like his older brother did, that the younger son went and lost his inheritance by immoral living, we don’t really know. It could have been a combination of circumstances, such as poor choices, famine, or being alone in a foreign land. 

Yet, to put the weight of the parable’s meaning on the younger son’s repentance and return home is to miss a key feature of good Hebrew story telling. The last part of the story is often the point. 

And the last part of the story is all about the older son. 

The older son’s refusal to celebrate his brother’s return is more than a mere attitude problem. This older son has fundamentally missed the point. As his father invites him to the banquet, the older son stands in judgement of both his brother and his father. He is indignant. He believes that he is the righteous one. He believes that he has earned his rightful place in his father’s house. He thinks his hard work and obedience entitles him to his father’s wealth and lands, to his father’s position and power. He complains that his father hasn’t recognized his virtue, not even with a modest young goat to enjoy with his friends. Yet, his father has killed the fatted calf for his delinquent brother. The injustice! Never mind that every goat and calf, every robe and ring, every slave and servant (including the younger brother) will one day belong to him. 

It is easy to see the parable of the Prodigal Son about one good son and one bad, yet when we set our assumptions aside and unpack the depths of the story, we can see that it is both sons who are equally lost. And we can see it is isn’t about trying to be more like one son over the other. Instead, we see that there are times in our lives where we have felt self-righteous and indignant, like we have earned our place in the world and more. And there might be other times where we have felt unworthy and unloveable, like we couldn’t possibly be shown mercy and compassion. 

Still, even with a perspective shift in how we see the sons, we are just as unable as those confirmation students to see the radical love of a parent, who loves without reprimand or condition. Yet, the newly understood lostness of both sons helps to sharpen for us just how loving this father is. 

The name western Christians have given this son says much about how we understand this parable: The Prodigal or Wasteful with Money Son. But the Eastern Orthodox church calls this parable the Loving Father. 

Whether it is the son who thinks he is unworthy and undeserving of his Father’s love or it is the son who is indignant and believes that he has earned more than he has received, the father seeks out his sons. Both sons. The well-to-do land-owner father runs down the road in a very undignified fashion welcome his lost younger son home. The generous and compassionate father still goes out to plead with his ungrateful and resentful older son, despite his son’s rejection. This father does not judge, this father does not reprimand, this father does not set condition on his generosity. 

Even when younger takes advantage of his father and loses all that he has been given. Even when older cannot see that he has not actually earned anything, but that his father has freely given all that he has to his son. Both sons are given love and mercy and grace by their father. If anyone is prodigal, if anyone is wastefully extravagant it is the father who is lavish with his love. 

What a radical image of God’s love and forgiveness for Jesus’ audience? A reminder to the Pharisees, Scribes and those of us who think we have earned it, that God’s love cannot be earned because it is already given freely. A reminder to the tax collectors, sinners and those of us who feel unworthy or undeserving, that God’s love is given freely and does not need to be earned. 

This Lenten season we have been confronted again and again with the relationship of love and power. Today, we are shown an image of God’s love that is more generous than we can imagine. 

Today, our Prodigally loving God shows us just how far God will go to find us.  

The Days are Surely Coming, say the Lord – a Sermon for Advent 1

Luke 21:25-36
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

The days are surely coming, says the Lord. 

The first words of the season of Advent begin with Jeremiah, speaking words from the mouth of God to the people of Israel facing destruction by Babylon. An oracle that begins us immediately with the promise of God to a people who feels as though they are surrounded by oppression, suffering and darkness. 

We have flipped the calendar today, and are about to begin a new season of the church year. Advent might be the only time the church is ahead of the rest of the world… and even then, we don’t really do this time of year the way most do. We begin by talking about the end, we begin by pausing and stopping and waiting for what comes next. In Advent, as in the Church, beginnings and endings often go hand-in-hand. 

Advent is a peculiar season. The church decorates with blue or purples, we generally hold off on singing Christmas Carols (although it is sometimes hard to resist), we patiently and almost quietly count down the days until Advent ends on Dec 24th… all while wondering about what all these stories of John the Baptist and a pregnant virgin actually mean for us. 

But on the first Sunday of Advent, we don’t quite get into those stories just yet. We begin instead with the end. On this first Sunday of the church year we begin with visions and promises of the end, the great reconciling of all creation that God promises to God’s people. 

For the people of Jeremiahs’ day, their world was surrounded by war and destruction, the Babylonians were threatening to conquer much of the Middle East. And Jeremiah prophesied the coming destruction, the people of Israel awaiting what was to come next for them as warring nations around them sought control of the region. 

And for the people of Thessaloniki, St. Paul writes to them hoping they are well in the midst of trials and tribulations because the Romans around this small fledgling Christian community are blaming them for upsetting the social order. 

Two communities who are wondering what comes next for them, what will happen to them in the midst of tension, chaos and uncertainty in the world.

And then we hear from Jesus as he preaches to his disciples about the end. Visions and signs of the coming Son of Man. Words from Jesus spoken to his disciples in the middle of Jerusalem during a time of great tension and uncertainty – during the days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. 

The tension and the uncertainty sounds oh so familiar to us doesn’t it?

Whether it is this ongoing and lingering pandemic, and it is restrictions and surprises, its struggles and effects of isolating us from each other. Or fears about the economy and inflation, the cost of groceries, gas and rent or housing. 

Whether it is the regular reminders that our society has yet to reconcile with our colonial and racist history, that we still struggle to care for the least among us, the poor, those struggling with addition and homelessness, those living on the margins. 

Whether it is this present reality that church is dealing with decline, with a future that we are not sure of, and now has to figure out where we stand in the midst of and following a global pandemic that sent us all home for longer than we every imagined we wouldn’t be gathering in-person together. 

We know what it means to live under a cloud of uncertainty and to wonder what comes next for us… even if we would rather not think about it. Even as we foolishly and misguidedly try to get back to normal with Black Friday shopping lists, baking and decorating and all the other things that come with the holiday season… here we are as the church, starting a new church year and forcing ourselves to pause and sit with this hard question of what comes next for us. 

And here is the thing about Advent, here is the thing about Jesus and all his talk of signs and visions of the end… there is no answer for what comes for us. That is not the answer we get to today, nor really any day in Advent. 

Instead, Advent arrives with an answer to a different question. And it answers it with the very first words of the season. 

The days are surely coming, says the Lord. 

Advent’s answer for us is not to tell us what comes next, but who. 

Messiah. 

Messiah is coming. 

The righteous branch of Jesse to save all of Judah. 

The one sent by our God and Father, the Lord Jesus

The Son of Man coming in a could. 

The Messiah. 

And no, the promise of the Messiah’s coming did not stop the Babylonians coming to destroy the Jerusalem and exiling its most important citizens. 

And no, the promise of Messiah’s coming did not stop the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. 

And no, the promise of Messiah did not prevent the ugly ending of Holy Week with a public execution on a cross…

But God’s promise of the Messiah was that none of these thing would not be end. Not the end of people of Israel and nor the people of Thessaloniki. 

And the cross… well the cross was no ending at all, but rather the beginning. The beginning of God’s new reality for creation, the beginning of God’s new promise of Resurrection and New Life come to fruition for us all. 

And then after the cross, that Son of Man coming in the clouds also walked out of the tomb. But that story is not for Advent to tell. 

Instead, Advent points us again to the promise of Messiah coming also for us. This Messiah whose coming means that all the things of our world which bring tension and uncertainty, conflict and suffering, sin and death… they will not be the end of us. Rather the Messiah’s coming means that we are not alone, not forgotten, not abandoned to the present nor to the future. Messiah’s promised coming means that our world is already transformed now, because a world with the Messiah on the way is a world designed for salvation, rather than a world destined for destruction. And that changes everything. 

And as the Messiah is coming, the Messiah also walks along side us. No matter the outcomes of all those things that cause us tension and uncertainty, no matter the outcomes of things that feel too big to control and too much to bare. No matter the uncertainty of pandemic and inflation, no matter the struggles of families, neighbours and community… Advent points us to the Messiah who shows us that God’s new world is right around the corner, coming into view, breaking through into our world right before our eyes. 

Breaking through to us in the things that have always been before us, that have always been the signs of God’s love and mercy for us here in this place. 

And so even as the world continues to be a place full of tension and uncertainty, Messiah is coming to us bringing God’s new world. 

Coming to us in word, water, bread and wine. 

Coming to us in the gathering of this community, a sign of the Body of Christ. 

Coming to us with the promises of God, made and fulfilled. 

Messiah is coming and Messiah is here. This is the story of Advent, the story that begins today, even the in the midst of all of uncertainty and endings about what comes next. 

The days are surely coming, says the Lord. 

God’s October (Third Day) Surprise

GOSPEL: Matthew 21:33-46
37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

What a week. 

Unless you live under a rock, the breaking news, local and world events of this week hit us like a torrent of hail. Here in Winnipeg we began by entering into the ‘Orange’ zone because of increasing COVID transmission. Gathering sizes have been limited to 10 indoors and outdoors. Our own cautious plan to potentially begin in-person indoor gatherings for worship has been put on hold for the time being. 

And then on Tuesday the worst United States presidential debate took place, like a dumpster fire inside a car crash inside a train wreck as one commentator put it. Two angry old men took the stage, with one being particularly belligerent and bullying, refusing to denounce white supremacy and seemingly endorsing neo-Nazi groups. 

On Wednesday, the CERB came to an end, with a potentially messy transition of millions of out of work Canadians to Canada Response Employment Insurance programs. 

By Thursday, Ontario and Quebec were introducing greater lock down measures with cases spiking there. And here in Manitoba, the Exposure App came online (make sure you download it!). 

And then by Friday morning, the news came that President Trump and the First Lady, along with some staffers and other legislators tested positive for the coronavirus, shaking a good chunk of the world with a big October surprise… on the 2nd day of October. 

Events that have captured our attention in gripping and anxiety inducing ways. 

In case we have forgotten, this is actually a sermon and not a news report! 

So let’s talk about Jesus then. 

In the midst of all that other stuff going on in the world, Jesus hits us with this curious parable. The 3rd parable in a row about a landowner. First it was the labourers in the vineyard getting hired throughout the day, yet being paid the same daily wage. And then it was the sons who said one thing and then did the opposite. 

And now we get this parable, which is rather nakedly an allegory for Jesus’ own death and resurrection. 

A landowner rented his land to some tenants. When it came time to collect the rent or harvest, he sent his servants to collect it. Yet, the tenants took a wicked a turn and killed those servants. 

So the landowner sends more slaves to retrieve the harvest and again the tenants kill the messengers. 

Finally the landowner deciding he needs to get serious, sends his son. 

It is a curious parable with a curious ending. Certainly, those listening to Jesus would have wondered the same thing that we might wonder. Why would the landowner keep sending messengers. Why not an army? Why not soldiers?

It is a parable where we can see the ending coming a mile away. The son will not fare well. Certainly, Jesus’s first hearers knew that the landowners rationale for sending his son was incorrect. Like when one of the characters in a horror movie decides to investigate the dark basement or abandoned mental hospital… things are not going to end well. 

And sure enough there is no surprise or twist. The wicked tenants kill the son.

But then Jesus asks a question. A question on which the whole parable hands.

“What will the landowner do?” 

I think we know what we would do. The crowds listening say it out loud. 

They think the landowner will answer violence with violence. This is the way of our world. When someone does you wrong, do more to them to make sure they understand their mistake. The punishment must fit the crime. 

There is something about this kind of narrative that grips us. There is something about the power to kill and the power of death that catches our attention. When those first slaves are met with violence and hostility we are hooked. 

And with each wave of messengers, with each response of violence and death on the part of the wicked tenants, we are drawn deeper into the dark narrative. Death has a hold over us, its power both frightens and allures us. But the time the son is sent, based on the flawed thinking of his father, we are caught up in the story even though we know the ending. 

Such is the power of the original sinner within us, the part of each human being that fears and craves the power of death. The thing within us that makes us unable to turn away from an accident scene, from breaking news, from a dark story, with dark twists and turns. The original sinner within both fears death and wishes for its power. We imagine the control we could exercise in the world were we to wield the power of death. 

And so this parable takes us along for the ride, hitting the right parts of our flawed humanity and biological self preservation instincts to keep us rapt.

The parable is almost like different version of our barrage of news this week. Enough violence, drama, suffering and death to keep us glued to screens. 

And yet, the parable isn’t meant to be a litany of things gone dark and wrong. 

For you see, the parable also is supposed to make us think of the other story of a son who is send to wicked people and is killed. 

A story that goes much the same way all the way to Good Friday. 

But that doesn’t end there. 

A story that completely surprises with a twist we would never imagine by Sunday morning. 

The Easter story keeps going. Resurrection changes the game. Life continues on. 

And this parable that we hear today only makes sense with the easter story as the backdrop. 

For you see, as the tenants keep killing and killing. As the hearers of the story keep expected more and more death. God is focused and intent on something else. 

God keeps expecting, hoping for, anticipating life. It seems almost naive. 

The landowner sends more and more messengers and finally sends his son. 

Just as God sent prophet after prophet, messenger after messenger to the people of Israel. God sends messengers and teachers to proclaim life, again and again. To keep calling a death focused humanity to something different, to something new. 

Finally, God sends the son, the revelation of God incarnate. The Messiah who has come to meet God’s lost people, to walk their paths and challenge their death focused ways. 

And when the son encounters the power of death head on… something new happens. The God who keeps expecting life, who keeps expecting something new, shows us a power greater than death, a continuation of the story when there should have been only end. 

And so it is with us during our heavy news week. At a time when we are bombarded over and over with death, with COVID restrictions, with ugly political debates, with shocking breaking news…. God is there in the background, expecting different outcomes. Expecting life, over and over and over again. 

And then when we least expect it, when death seems to have won, once and for all, there is new life. There is a new ending, there is resurrection, there are empty tombs, and there is the realization that death does not have the power we thought it had. That death is not our ending. 

Instead, God doggedly pursues new life. What God has been doing since the begging, chasing after Adam and Eve as they leave the garden, going with Abraham and Sarah into the wilderness, showing the Israelites the way out of Egypt, rescuing the Israelites from foreign occupation, calling for the repentance of God’s people, sending prophets to proclaim a return to God. 

And finally God sends us the son. 

The son that we will surely listen to, but don’t. 

The Messiah who calls out to us, 

who heals the sick, 

receives the poor and down trodden, 

who eats with sinners, 

and frustrates the powerful. 

The son who is nailed, unsurprisingly to a cross. 

And the son who walks out of the grave, extended the story. 

Extending life.

Loosing our grip on death. 

Showing us a new way. 

What a week, we declare today. 

And God responds by saying, 

“Just wait until you see my October, my third day surprise.”

Who Gave You the Authority, Jesus?

GOSPEL: 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?”

“Who gave you the authority?”

A question that is floating around our world a lot these days. 

Our relationship to authority has changed dramatically over the past months. Back in the “before time” it was rare that we had to listen to some kind of authority tell us how to go about some of the most mundane aspects of our lives, from work, to school, to groceries to, to eating out with friends. Now there are now a myriad of authorities that we need to consult  to go about our daily lives, from political leaders, to public health officials, to business owners, to those in charge of organizations and institutions, to the person telling us to hand sanitize when we walk into the electronics store. 

Authority and living our lives by stricter rules then we are used to is everywhere now. How we relate to authority is a constant calculation.

And so here we are, well on our way towards the end of the church year, with Thanksgiving, Reformation Sunday, All Saints and Christ the King Sunday on our horizon. When we would normally be settling into new routines, beginning up with all the groups and activities that we took a hiatus from over summer, and we are instead still stuck in a kind of limbo. Not truly opened up and back to normal and nor truly close down and closed off. Somewhere in between trying to figure what we can do in this new world and what we can’t, and how to stay stay safe and keep our neighbour safe. 

In the midst of this new world, we encounter Jesus being confronted by the elders and chief priests about his authority. About an issue that we know very well these days. 

This confrontation comes in Matthew’s Gospel, it comes from a moment just after Jesus has entered Jerusalem riding a donkey, the prophesied symbolic entry of the promised Messiah of Israel. 

From the cheering crowds, Jesus goes to the temple. The elders and chief priests know what Jesus has just done, they know the crowds have been cheering on this would be Messiah. And they also know that as the official gatekeepers of God for the people of Israel, that Jesus has not been sanctioned by the religious authorities to take up the mantel of the Messiah.

But when the temple authorities question Jesus’ authority, Jesus pushes back. He points them to John the Baptist, who was incidentally the son of a temple priest – one of their own. And Jesus declares that John had baptized or anointed him, much like Samuel had anointed King David. Jesus traps his accusers with a question they cannot answer, because it will either get them in trouble with the crowds or undermine their own authority. 

Jesus exposes the problem of the priest sand elders – their twisted relationship to power. Their motivation to hold onto power and stay in control, their use of the authority of the temple to control the flow of God’s mercy. 

The temple was first built to be God’s dwelling place. To be the place where God’s people would come to receive God’s grace and mercy, to receive forgiveness of sins. And the point of the temple was not to control God’s mercy, but to provide it. To hand it out. To make sure that God’s people could go and receive in concrete and tangible ways, That they always had access to God’s mercy.  

Yet, as it often seems to be with humanity, we like to turn points of access into checkpoints and bottlenecks, into points of control and power.

And now Jesus has become a threat to the temple cult, to this carefully crafted system that had been devised and shaped for centuries. 

Instead, Jesus was giving access to God out in the world, without the proper authority, without the proper control mechanisms. 

Jesus was undermining the whole system, upending the power and control of the temple leaders had over the people of Israel. 

Today, we certainly don’t hold that kind of control over people as the Church, at least not in 2020. There have been times over the past 2000 years when the Church has constructed systems of power and control around access to God – as Lutherans we were born out of such a moment in time in the Reformation. 

But these days, our place of authority in this world is quite different. We are increasingly being relegated to margins of most of public life. 

Yet, our understanding of authority and desire for it is not that much different than that of the temple cult of Jerusalem from 2000 years ago. 

Somewhere along the line we too have begun to confuse access to God’s mercy, with power and control over the world around us by gatekeeping God. 

We may not exert the same influence, yet still we long to. As churches well into the 21st century, often struggling with our place in the world, it is easy for us to believe that if we only need our authority back, our power and influence over the lives of people around us. If only Sundays could be kept free of sports, shopping and dance lessons, people would have to come to us. If only we had more money flowing to our offering plates, more staff carrying out our programs, more people to serve on committees, we could be an institution of importance again. 

As human beings, we often believe that more authority, more power and control, will bring more security, more comfort, and make our lives easier. 

And yet, as we watch the pharisees tie themselves in knots working to maintain their power and authority, we know that it is the same for us. That seeking out authority and influence, power and control only makes life more difficult. 

As Jesus responds to the elders and chief priests, he puts them on the spot by forcing them to choose between angering the crowds or undermining their own influence. So they choose neither. 

And you can see the math going on their heads. If they give up power and authority, than Jesus will gain it. They fear an inversion of the status quo, where all the folks at the bottom will wind up at the top, and the folks on top will fall to the bottom. 

Yet, Jesus isn’t seeking a power inversion, he isn’t looking to take the authority of the temple away from the elder and chief priests, at least not directly.

As Jesus continues to speak, he tells a parable about two sons who say one thing and do the other. But it is Jesus declaration that follows about who will gain access to the Kingdom of God that reveals what Jesus is up to. 

Jesus subtly names who is the source of that authority and what that authority is doing in the world. 

Jesus hasn’t ridden into Jerusalem to turn the existing power structures upside down, but to do away with them entirely. 

Jesus is reminding the temple authorities, that their job is not to withhold God’s mercy but to make sure God’s people receive it. Jesus is reminding us that his is out job too.

Because God isn’t putting authority and power into the world, God’s Kingdom isn’t about creating structures for human beings to exploit. 

God is the source of is mercy, love, compassion, and grace. 

God is putting hope and promise into the world. 

Hope found in the Messiah who meets humanity in flesh. 

Promise that the powers and authorities of this world are not the ultimate ones. 

Compassion given through disciples delivering good news in word and action. 

Love granted by the nearness of Christ to God’s beloved children. 

Mercy for the suffering and down trodden given by the Messiah who has found a wayward creation. 

And Grace, Grace on its way, on its way to Good Friday, on its way to that morning of the Third day. 

God is in our world filling it and us with the power of life and new life found only in God. 

And so as we crave influence and control of the world around us, as we wish for just enough power to be comfortable and to not have to worry… 

Jesus still brings us the good news of forgiveness for sinners, mercy for the suffering, and life for the dying anyways. 

The church may never be as powerful and influential as it once away, we may never be an important authority in this world again in our lifetimes… but God the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of God’s love for all of creation and for us….

That is as authoritative as it has ever been, that is the root and source of the power of the Church, of the Body of Christ out in the world. 

“Who gave you the authority?”

This is perhaps the question of our time. 

And the answer is found in the grace and mercy of God, given to us in Christ.