Sunday, 28 September 2008

The Authority of Jesus

Sermon at Mentmore - 28 September 2008

Authority of Jesus

Matthew 21: 23 – 32


The passage is about the authority of Jesus – and how it is questioned – mainly by religious leaders because of what he has done

Three symbolic acts happen prior to the reading:

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem

This is in fulfillment of Isaiah and Zechariah:

The Coming of Zion's King

9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
       Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
       See, your king comes to you,
       righteous and having salvation,
       lowly and riding on a donkey,
       on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

In this event, there are 2 firsts:

1. Jesus is making a public claim to messianic kingship

2. This is recognised by the crowds – they know the prophecy and see it being fulfilled

This means Jesus is claiming to be

Son of David

A prophet

The coming one – Messiah – although meek and not military

The crowds respond by

Throwing down their cloaks

Shouting Hosanna to the Son of David and

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord

This poses huge challenge to religious and secular leaders – no longer just itinerant rabbi who teaches and heals

Jesus cleanses the Temple

Jesus immediately confronts religious leaders on home ground

Drove out money changers – producing wealth for officials – challenging corruption – challenging injustice to poor
My house will be a house of prayer for all nations Isaiah 56

Also says that prayer can be effective wherever prayers are said – not just in Jerusalem or the Temple or on a holy mountain

Jesus curses the fig tree

Not just a little interlude

Fig tree stands for the state of Israel – it withers when it does not produce fruit – judgement against those in charge of the Temple


This explains why Jesus is questioned when he enters the Temple once again

By what authority are you doing these things?

Who gave you that authority?

Jesus poses threat to both secular and religious government – whole city is in turmoil – everyone wants to know Who is this?

Trick questions

Strange that Jesus relies on debating skills – Jesus asks chief priests about status of John the Baptist: was he prophet with authority from heaven as the people believed; or was he just another religious fanatic?

The question cannot be answered without grave risk from the people, so the elders duck it – which enables Jesus to do the same

Usually he is clear, regardless of the consequences – this time he does not seem ready to put himself in danger – lot of teaching to come, much of it against the Jewish leaders and failure of Israel – not until chapter 27 that we hear about the plot to kill Jesus and the Last Supper

Is this where it ends?

Was it just a reprieve?

Priests and leaders asked question about authority because it mattered to them.

Challenged their own position

Threatened stability of the state – Palestinian fragility – emergence of Messiah would lead to serious consequences with Roman governor

Perhaps genuinely wanted to know if this was Messiah?

We should ask ourselves the same question because it matters to us

What authority does Jesus have?

Where does his authority come from?

Might seem obvious, but let’s delve a bit further

Authority to set standards for the way we live our lives

Matthew 5 “You have heard it said... but I say...”

Whole series of absolute moral standards

Do not come to the altar – unless you are first reconciled to your brother and sister who has something against you

Do not be angry with another person or call them a fool

Settle quickly with your adversary, or someone to whom you owe money

Do not look upon something or someone else to desire it – for to do so is to have committed a sin already

Do not resist and evil person – give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you

Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you

Highest moral standards – we would do well to remember how difficult they are to observe

Authority to forgive sins

Matthew 9 2 Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."

Authority over nature and authority to confront evil

For example, stilling of the storm and casting out those possessed

Great Commission

But for us today, most important of all are Jesus’ post-resurrection claims to authority, and what actions they require of us:

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in [a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28

All authority has been given to me

So Jesus claims ‘all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.’ There is no greater authority he could have claimed. And if we accept that as true, what we are to do about it follows on from his claim:

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

So this is what we are entrusted with – going out and telling the story – not keeping our faith to ourselves or confining it within these walls. Not necessarily proclaiming it on street corners, boring our fellow employees and friends rigid, or shouting from the housetops – but living the life as an example to others – the highest moral standards that are in Matthew 5.

Why? It tells us in Matthew 5 itself:

Salt and Light

13 "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.


Monday, 22 September 2008

A view from the Vicarage

Sticky thoughts in the October newsletter:

I returned from holiday towards the end of September to find one of those annoying cards from Royal Mail that announce you have missed a delivery and can pick up your parcel at some remote location between certain hours when you are usually unavailable. Normally I join a queue of people searching for lost mail only to be given unsolicited junk at the counter or a big envelope containing business documents for Vicky. This time it was different: I opened one of those clever cardboard envelopes from Amazon to find a paperback book I had forgotten ordering a long time ago.

This book took my fancy when I learned about it from a blog called Presentation Zen. It’s called Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. In it the Heath brothers are interested in what makes some ideas effective and memorable and others not so. Some ideas stick and others fade away. The sticky ideas are not necessarily correct but they are memorable. For example, we were taught the Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure visible from the Moon. Not true. Or sitting too close to the TV will ruin your eyes. Not true either.

Advertisers and politicians make use of sticky ideas, and it seemed to me that I could too. Sticky ideas are story based; they are simple; they are surprising; and they tug at our emotions. I thought perhaps this little book might make my sticky sermon ideas even more memorable, but reading it I am struck by how much it seems to apply to the teaching methods used by Jesus.

Jesus was a master of the sticky story. I am sure you can repeat many of his parables by heart. There was never any need to write them down in a largely illiterate society because they were memorable. Imagine the disciples’ surprise when told of a servant lent 20 years wages by his master. Or the man who sold everything including the clothes he stood up in to buy the Pearl of Great Price. Or the Labourers in the Vineyard who were paid as much for one hour’s evening work as those who had toiled for 12 hours in the heat of the day. You get the picture.

The point is that people are hooked not by complex arguments but by simple messages. John F Kennedy did not use detailed aspirations in his manifesto, but announced his aim was to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and return him safely to earth. Bill Clinton was persuaded to drop his thorough analysis in favour of one slogan: It’s the economy – stupid.

The Christian faith is as simple as you want to make it. Jesus summed up the law in only 7 words: love God and your neighbour as yourself. Vast tracts he reduced to one golden rule: do to others as you would have them do to you. He turned everything upside down. The first will be last and the last first. If you want to be great you must become the slave of all.

So as the equinox is past and the days get ever shorter, why not join me this Autumn in thinking more deeply about what we really believe – but instead of widening the trench and taking in more and more ground, just digging straight down to the simple heart of our faith, excavating what is at its core, and that, I suggest, will be simple for us both to understand as well as explain to others from our own experience.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Back from Holiday

Vicky and I returned from a week in Le Marche last Saturday. Italy was hot, dry and quiet. Lovely food, walks and views. We stayed in a converted farm house apartment overlooking the hill town of Sarnarno.

After flying back from Ancona into Stanstead, the stayed overnight in London and then drove to the CIPD Conference in Harrogate.

I returned on Wednesday afternoon by train from Harrogate to York, where I visited the National Railway Museum for the first time, before boarding a National Express train to London King's Cross.Copyright Robert Wright

The Rectory lawns had 3 weeks growth, and mowing the grass took a long time. The grass box had to be emptied after every strip, not only because of the length of the grass but also as it was damp. It looks more tamed now, but Autumn is with us.

Monday, 1 September 2008


We seem to be fortunate in our direction of travel between Cheddington and London. Up to Cheddington on Wednesday night, and the traffic along the M40, M25 and A41 has been kind so far, but with the occasional jam in the opposite direction. The same is the case for the journey on Sunday night. Last night, for example, going north on the M25 (clockwise) the traffic was moving at a snail's pace from the junction of the M40 right up and beyond the turn off to Aylesbury. Where had all the traffic come from, and why was it all going in a northerly direction?

The same on the M40 and Western Avenue. Solid in places, yet where there is always slow traffic from Paddington up to the roadworks past St Kats, nothing. It would have been a long journey indeed and very slow and frustrating if we travelled in the reverse direction - but we don't.

Maybe it was the end of the holidays; schools return later this week; and even the Met Office has declared today meteorologically the first day of Autumn. But the sun is out and shining through the office doors here on the first floor, and the chairs on the patio outside are pearly white - battered by all the rain - no need for any cleaning this summer.