Sunday, February 26, 2012

"What We Need Is Here" - A Sermon for Lent 1

Preached by the Very Rev. Michael D. Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, February 26, 2012

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

There’s a poem in your service leaflet this morning I want us to share by Wendell Berry who is, among other things, a great American conservationist. Berry is a person of the land, and his writing is grounded in the notion that our lives ought to be rooted in and responsive to the creation around us.

The poem is called “What we need is here.”

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,

as in love or sleep, holds

them to their way, clear

in the ancient faith: what we need

is here. And we pray, not

for new earth or heaven, but to be

quiet in heart, and in eye,

clear. What we need is here.

For all we search for things to fill the holes inside us with things that others try to sell to us. For all we search for meaning in the myriad of anesthetics the world offers, the truth is that God in creation has provided what we need and we need nothing more. What we need is here.

A friend of mine, Amy McCreath, took the title of this poem and put it to music in a simple song, and I want to teach it to you. If you’ve already had this experience with me in a chapter meeting or one of the back to basics classes, just play along.

I’m going to teach you the basic melody and we’ll get going on that a few times and then when it feels like we’ve got that down, I’m going to invite you to experiment with harmonies. Just branch out and see what happens.

OK, Listen first. Then sing. Listen first. Then sing.

The song was taught and sung … and after awhile, some members of the congregation branched out into harmonies.

How did that sound? (peaceful, beautiful, comforting) How many tried harmony? (about ¼ of the congregation raised their hands) How many made a sound that made you cringe before you found the right harmony? (a bunch of those nodded their heads). What did it take (listening and singing and willingness to take risks). You had to listen harder or maybe differently and adjust your pitch.

So what did we learn? We learned that we can make something beautiful together.. We learned that this is a safe place to take risks and to try new things. I didn’t see anyone leaning away and giving a dirty look to someone who was trying a harmony. We might have had some voices in our own heads saying that because we all have those harsh internal critics, but we weren’t doing that to each other. So we learned that this is a place we can take risks to make something beautiful together.

And we did that. We made something beautiful together. Everything we need to make beautiful music is right here. All we need to do is to just listen deeply and sing sweetly.

What we need is here. Listen first, then sing.

This is the first Sunday of Lent. Jesus is baptized. He hears that he is beloved of God and he is driven into the desert for 40 days. And the desert is harsh. There are wild beasts that want to eat you. He was tempted by Satan.

But he survived. And he realized God was there with him. And when he took the time to look and listen, he realized there were angels there to minister to him. And he realized who he was and what he had to do. And he emerged from the desert knowing the road that God has set before him. He emerged knowing the song he had to sing.

But the desert was not optional. Jesus had to go into the desert. He had to go into that place where he could strip away all the distractions, all the things other than God that he might rely on. Where he could listen. And when he listened he heard voices of demons tempting and voices of angels loving. 

And so he prayed. And I believe he prayed, as Wendell Berry sings, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. For from that clarity came knowing who he was and what he was to be about. And in listening he learned the song he had to sing. A song of the Kingdom of God. A song of deep beauty and glorious harmony.

The desert proved to Jesus that what he needed was right there. God was all he needed. The knowledge that he was God’s beloved. The presence of God to minister to him. God has provided, as God always provides, what we need.

What we need is here.

And so we enter Lent as a Cathedral community. And it is an intentional time in the desert. A time to strip away all the distractions, all the things other than God that we might depend on.  

There are outward signs of this. Our liturgy will be said and not sung, and certain more celebratory words are not said at all. All the things we took out so that we could welcome the icons exhibit – the banners, the flags, the angel font, the bulletin boards on the first floor and even the pictures in my outer office – we’re going to leave all that bare and put away this season like ground lying fallow. We will live in this place of bareness and simplicity and search for God’s presence, knowing what we need is here.

But what we learn from Jesus, is that the desert is not just a barren place to hang out for 40 days. We come together in the desert for a reason. We come together to listen and in listening to learn how to sing.

Remember … Listen first. Then sing.

We come together to listen because listening is how we recognize God’s provision for us. Listening is how we trust that God has provided what we need right here.

So this Lent, let’s do that together. This Lent, let us commit to a season of listening.

First, of listening to the voice of God in scripture.

This Lent, let us commit together to regular if not daily reading of scripture. Pick a book of the Bible then set aside time every day to read just a small piece of it. If you want to join me, I’m doing it with the Book of Acts. Sit with it. Listen to it. Pray with it. Ask yourself, “what is God saying we should be about as a church?” “What is God’s dream for me? For us?” If you’d like help picking a book or finding a commentary that can be a good companion for you, I’m going to send out an email this week with some ideas and assistance. Or please come and see one of the clergy. We’d be happy to help. But mostly just dive in … pick a book of the Bible and dive in. Pick a book and read slowly and listen.

And in listening we will find that what we need is here.

But let’s not stop there. This Lent, let us commit together to listening deeply to one another.

In today’s world, the voice of the tempter comes most often in our own infatuation with our own agendas and in the temptation to be reactive in pushing and defending those agendas rather than seeking deeper wisdom from those around us.

I’ve taken to the practice in Chapter meetings and other meetings with writing four questions on the piece of paper in front of me that remind me of my own temptation to be infatuated with my own ideas and my deep need to listen and trust that God has provided wisdom not just within me but especially in the people around me. The four questions are these:

*Is it something that needs to be said or do I just want to say it?

*Am I the best person to say it or would it have more effect coming from someone else and can I wait to see if that happens?

*Is it the right time to say this or do I need to listen more and see if deeper wisdom emerges?

*Is there a way I can ask a question instead of making a statement?

I find as I practice this, more often than not deeper wisdom than I could have reached on my own emerges in the conversation. So this Lent, let’s listen to one another. Ask more questions and make fewer statements. Look for the deep wisdom that resides in the people around us.

But let’s even go deeper in listening than that. This Lent, let us commit together to listening to God in prayer.

On average, we are exposed to more than 5,000 advertising messages a day. Five Thousand. We live in a world of constant bombardment with messages that are, to a one, telling us that we are not worthy or lovable being who we are but that there is something we need to buy to make us whole.

In Basic Discipleship, we hold up the goal of working toward 20 minutes a day of silent, centering prayer … of listening to the God who gives us a different message than those 5000 ads we hear each day. Working toward 20 minutes a day of listening to the God who says “you are my beloved. In you I am well pleased. And I have a dream for your life that is deeply beautiful.” 

Even if you can’t get to 20 minutes. Even if you can only get to two. Let us commit together to a season of listening to God in prayer. And pray as Wendell Berry sang, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. For from that clarity we will know who we are and what we are to be about. We will now what song we have to sing. What it means for us to be proclaimers of the Kingdom of God. And we will get glimpses of the deep beauty and glorious harmony God is and will continue to bring into being through us.

I invite you to the observance of a holy Lent. To a season of listening to God’s voice in scripture, in one another and in prayer.  To listen first, and then sing. To listen and pray, not for a new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. To listen and discover that what we need … is here. AMEN.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday Sermon - the Rev. Canon John Kilgore, M.D.

Preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore, M.D. at Christ Church Cathedral on Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2012

‘And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’

Your Father who sees in secret will reward you. This line appears three times in this gospel reading, at the end of three paragraphs. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And in Psalm 103 we heard, ‘For he himself knows whereof we are made; he remembers that we are but dust.’ And the next line in that same psalm goes on to say, ‘Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field; When the wind goes over it, it is gone, and its place shall know it no more.’ We vanish away, but our Father who sees in secret will reward us.

Monday was the fiftieth anniversary of John Glenn orbiting the earth three times! That was a really big event. I don’t know where you were in your life but I was eight years old, totally enthralled with the space shots. I had a small radio shaped like a rocket ship that was black at the bottom and red at the top that had a silver rod that pulled out to tune it. A very crude radio. But I carried it with me everywhere and listened avidly to all the space shots. That was a very exciting time…and way cool, as they say. Going beyond our terrestrial globe. A really big event. Orbiting the earth. Mind blowing actually. And fifty years ago.

On Monday NPR interviewed Senator Glenn, now ninety years old, about that day. It was a very interesting interview, and one of the questions they asked him was about his level of concern that something might go wrong. He was very sanguine in his response. He explained that NASA had indeed experienced a few failures but that he had full confidence that all had been corrected and would go well. He admitted that his only concern was that if they had to abort the takeoff he would probably come down in the outback of Australia or New Guinea and the native people would see this craft fall from the sky and a being in a silver suit emerge…and might think he was a god!

A creature fall from the sky and a very strange being walks out, and one might think it was God! That concept is not that far fetched. For a primitive people to see something like a space capsule and an astronaut in a silver suit you might think it was truly other worldly. Panic and fear. Remember when Hernando Cortes appeared on horseback to the Aztecs in Mexico they thought, not having seen horses before, that the man and horse were one and that Cortes was a god. Panic and fear. And remember the Orson Welles radio broadcast in 1938 when they broadcast the War of the Worlds as a series of news bulletins that the earth was being invaded by Martians and panic ensued. People reportedly rushed to churches, confessed their sins to anyone around, and some were embarrassed later by their admissions.

Such dramatic events get one’s attention. Really get one’s attention. In fact there happen to us occasionally in life, dramatic events that may change our lives or bring us to the reality of our finitude. A near miss car wreck, a tragic fall, a near death experience, a recovery from cancer. But the fact is that most of the time we comfortably go about our way living our lives in Western society relatively immune from the great difficulties of life and forgetting that one day we will have a reckoning with God. Someday we will meet God face to face! Not Hernando Cortes or John Glenn but God, in person, so to speak, face to face.

And thus Lent and Ash Wednesday are a part of our reminder system.. It is oh so easy for us to think about our finitude later, to not remember that we are dust and will return to dust; to in essence kick that can down the road, just like Congress is doing with the national debt. And so here we are at the beginning of Lent with a great big reminder. That is why we have Lent and Ash Wednesday.

You are dust and to dust you shall return!

With the physical imposition of ashes on our foreheads in a few moments we will be vividly reminded of the fact of our mortality and of our need for penance.

But that is only the beginning of the story. The story concludes with Easter, with the Resurrection and our salvation. But not so fast… We are humans blessed with memory, skill, and reason, and free will. Ash Wednesday is our slap in the face and Lent is our time to sit and ponder the meaning of that slap, and consider our response to it. Lent is our time to shoulder our responsibility in our covenantal relationship with God. Remember that our gospel reading today counsels us when we give alms not to sound a trumpet, when we pray not to do so with swagger like hypocrites, when we fast not to look dismal. But to do all this quietly with our God. For our Father who sees in secret will reward us.

Lent is our time to better get to know our Father in heaven who will reward us. During Lent at the 7 AM Eucharist I will be preaching a series on the psalms, their history, their place in worship, and ways to pray with them. I commend the psalms to you, perhaps, for this Lent, or join us on Wednesday mornings. The psalms have had a lasting place in worship in both Judaism and Christianity for centuries. You know that Jesus prayed with the Psalms, as do we. Echoing what some traditionalists have said about the King James Bible, regarding the psalms I say ‘If they were good enough for Jesus they are good enough for me!’ And, as the Oxford Companion to Christian Thought says, the psalms ‘give voice to the whole gamut of religious experience from praise to protest, from quiet confidence to urgent questions, from joyful celebration to the dark night of the soul.’ There is much there in the psalms.

Joan Chittister, in her book Songs of the Heart: Reflections on the Psalms writes, the psalms are “written by one people but prayed by many different peoples since. Because they are about life, about what it means to struggle and laugh, to be confused and depressed, to grapple with self-acceptance and strive for enlightenment, they are about all of us. Best of all, they are written in a universal language that never goes out of style, that is always fresh, always piercing. They are the languages of poetry and song.”

So on Ash Wednesday I suggest that we remember Easter, but live Lent. There is a wisdom story that goes like this:

Once there was a student who was with a teacher for many years. When the teacher felt he was going to die, he wanted to make even his death a lesson.
That night, the teacher took a torch, called his student, and set off with him through the forest. Soon they reached the middle of the woods there the teacher extinguished the torch without explanation.
“What is the matter?” asked the student.
“The torch has gone out,” the teacher answered and walked on.
“But,” shouted the fearful student, “will you leave me here in the dark?”
“No, I will not leave you in the dark,” returned his teacher’s voice from the surrounding blackness. “I will leave you searching for the light.”

Welcome to the darkness of Lent. Have a good search.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

"A wedding sermon for the Last Sunday After the Epiphany"

Preached by the Very Rev. Michael D. Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, February 19, 2012

Everybody, this is a celebration! And in that, this Sunday is no different than any other Sunday. Here at Christ Church Cathedral, every Sunday is a celebration. We celebrate that life is a great gift from God, but even more than that we celebrate that we are more than just our individual selves. We celebrate that in Christ we are joined together in something greater than ourselves. We celebrate that in loving each other as Christ loves us, we become something more wonderful and powerful than we could ever be by ourselves ... the Body of Christ living and giving ourselves for the life of the world.

So this Sunday is a celebration because every Sunday is a celebration. But you might have noticed that there is something just a little different about this celebration. This Sunday, we are celebrating that as a part of our life together, Chloe Hollett and Brittney Rickard are giving themselves to each other in a specific covenant of love. And we are here to witness and bless this sacred union.

Now let me press pause here just for a second and say a few words about that phrase: "sacred union."

One of the things we learn from the Gospels is that there is always a gap between who Jesus is and what his followers are able to understand and do. We are always playing catch-up with God. It's human nature. Jesus holds up a beautiful vision for humanity ... a vision of total reconciliation of all people to God and each other ... and we always seem to fall short. We learning. We're growing toward Christ's dream for us, but we're not there yet. Fortunately, Jesus is infinitely patient with us even as he is urging us to dream and love bigger and deeper.

And so, when we talk about the covenant Brittney and Chloe are entering into today, we use the term “sacred union.” We use that term because as a church that has vowed to stay together and work out our salvation with humility, fear and trembling, as a whole body we aren't at the place yet where we can call this what it really is. And of course what this covenant really is … is marriage. I know it's marriage. You know it's marriage. God knows it's marriage. But as an Anglican Communion and certainly as the state of Missouri, we aren't all there yet. And so we’re living in this place of tension. Tension between believing that this is marriage and wanting to call it marriage … and also believing that God dreams for us to be in just as deep and holy relationship with people like our sisters and brothers in Sudan and people a lot nearer by who believe just as passionately and very differently.

And so we listen to St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians that for the sake of loving everyone into God’s dream for creation, that sometimes being right is less important than staying in relationship and loving.
So for now, for now … we wink and call it a “sacred union.” And when we leave this place and go out as Christ’s body in the world, we will continue to work hard for the day when we won’t have to play these word games that frankly are pretty insulting and beneath all of us. When we leave this place and go out as Christ’s Body in the world, we will continue to work hard for the day when the church and the world are able to just see love as love and leave it at that. And we pray that Christ will smile at our desire to love our sisters and brothers who believe differently from us more than he weeps at our foolishness.

But since in this room, we all know what we're talking about, for the next few minutes, I’m going to call it as I see it and refer to what Brittney and Chloe are about to enter into the way I believe God sees it, too … which is as a marriage.

Brittney and Chloe, I have said this to you before, there is no more appropriate place to give yourselves to one another in marriage than right here, right now. And it has everything to do with the Gospel reading we have just heard.

This morning's Gospel is a great story. It’s one of those stories that just paints vivid pictures in our minds and draws our memories and imaginations to some of the most important moments in our lives … or maybe to moments we dream of but have not yet come to pass.

This morning’s Gospel is the story of a mountaintop experience. And I hope every one of us has had at least one of those. Peter, James and John follow Jesus up to a high mountain apart, and there they have an amazing vision ... something they will remember for the rest of their lives. They have an experience of God, an experience of love and wonder unlike any they have ever had. It is wonderful. It is beautiful. It is made for Hollywood.

And it's also one more thing ... it is completely unreal.

It’s not unreal like “Oh, that didn’t really happen.” It’s unreal in that it is completely unrelated to the reality of life. And Peter, James and John know this. They know this because they have just gotten a taste of what reality is and what reality has in store for them.

Ever since Jesus called them, they have been on a whirlwind tour, following Jesus, healing people, casting out demons, tangling with the Pharisees and hearing Jesus talk about this amazing wonderful thing called the Kingdom of God.

But just before they started hiking up this mountain, everything changed. That’s because Jesus asked Peter a question, "Who do you say that I am?" And when Peter gave the right answer, "You are the Christ, the Son of God'" Jesus didn't just give him a gold star and move on to the next healing. Jesus said, "OK … that’s good. But now I’m going to tell you what that means … and you'd better buckle your seat belts because it isn’t pretty. Me being the Christ means I’m going to undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and only after all that will I rise again. And if you're going to follow me, you'd better get used to it. It's going to be real and it's going to be hard.”

This conversation happened right before Jesus, Peter, James and John went up the mountain in the story we here this morning. And so it's no wonder that Peter wanted to stay on that mountain. It’s no wonder that he says “let’s build three tents and just live here.” Not only was it wonderful and amazing and joy-filled, but it was completely unlike the life he knew was waiting for him down the other side of that mountain. But what we hear in this Gospel story is what we all know. That we can't stay on the mountaintop, no matter how much we want to or how wonderful it is. Our life is led down the other side of the mountain. And it is real. And it is hard. But it is no less wonderful … because Jesus walks with us and we walk with each other.

Most weddings in our society look a lot like the scene on that mountain. They're straight out of central casting. Couples spend tens of thousands of dollars creating something that is absolutely beautiful, absolutely wonderful and absolutely unreal. There is no way the marriage can ever resemble the wedding because no life, no marriage is like that. It is completely unreal. Completely unrelated to the reality of life.

But not this one. Chloe and Brittney, when you give yourselves to each other in marriage in a few minutes, you do it not in some staged unreal event that has nothing to do with the reality of life. You are doing it right in the middle of our life together. You are doing it right here, right now, in the middle of our weekly come-as-you-are gathering of God’s people. This Sunday is like every Sunday. Together we bring our joys and struggles, triumphs and tragedies, all the wholeness and brokenness of our lives and lay it on this table with Christ. And it is not picture perfect. It is messy because we are messy and because life is messy.

You see, the essence of what we all do here each Sunday and what the two of you are vowing for each other is the same thing. We’re all baptized into Christ’s body, and so we all are bound to each other in -- and I mean it when I use this phrase -- we are all bound to each other in a sacred union. Brittney and Chloe, you bind yourselves together in marriage today not as perfect people but in all your beauty and messiness because you believe that in offering your lives to God through loving each other that your lives will have new meaning. Well that’s what we do, every Sunday. We all come together in our beauty and our messiness because we believe that it is in offering our lives to God together that those lives have their meaning.

Brittney and Chloe, you bind yourselves together in marriage today because you believe that in this sacred union you become a whole that is so much greater than you are individually. Well that’s what we do, every Sunday. We all come together around this table believing that in loving each other as Christ loves us, we become something more wonderful and powerful than we could ever be by ourselves ... the Body of Christ living and giving ourselves for the life of the world.

Now you have chosen to live this out in a specific, intimate way … but even that is not just for your own mutual joy but for the building up of this whole community. Marriage is never just about the couple. Marriage is always about the whole community. Brittney and Chloe, as we have talked about before, there is nothing you are about to stand up and vow to one another that you haven’t pledged a hundred times before in a hundred different ways. The difference is that you’re doing it here in the midst of your community. Your marriage will be a part of our baptized life together. And that’s why you aren’t the only ones who are taking vows today.

A few minutes ago, I asked you all a question, “Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in this covenant?” And you answered in a wonderful loud voice -- and let's just say it again right here:

“We will!”

If there is a key moment in this entire liturgy, it is that one. Because there we affirm that this is not just about Brittney and Chloe but about all of us. We are all invested in each other’s lives. We are our sisters and brothers’ keepers. It is up to all of us to support, encourage and hold up a standard of loving health for all our relationships. And so when Brittney and Chloe’s marriage is going great, we are going to be there to celebrate with them. And when they hit some rocky patches and are tempted to drift apart, we are going to be there to remind them of the vows they have made and the love they have for each other and we’re going to push them back together. And they are going to do the same for each and all of us.

And in the everyday messiness of all of our lives, we’re going to do what those disciples did … walk down the mountain into it and through it. And just like those disciples, we don't do this alone but together and with Jesus in our midst. And we know that together we are stronger then we ever could be apart. We know that as we give our lives away, life has infinitely more meaning than it has kept to ourselves. We know that in loving as Christ loves us, we become something more wonderful and powerful than we could ever be by ourselves ... We become the Body of Christ living and giving ourselves for the life of the world. AMEN.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A sermon for 4 Epiphany

Preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore, M.D. at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 29, 2012

They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority.

‘For he taught as one having authority’…. and ‘At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.’  And spread it did…here we are today!

Who was this Jesus and why did his fame spread?  And what about his authority?  It is important to remember that this gospel reading occurs in the first chapter of Mark – Jesus is just beginning his ministry.  So people don’t really know who he is.  If we put it in context, there is this outsider who comes in, unknown, and claims ‘authority.’  What is authority?

Webter’s New International Dictionary defines authority as ‘legal or rightful power; a right to command or to act; power exercised by a person in virtue of his office or trust.’  It also says authority is dominion, jurisdiction, or authorization.  It comes from the Latin word auctoritas.

Let’s consider authority for a minute.  What are examples of authority in our lives?  Parents come quickly to mind. Parents’ authority is absolute, at least for younger kids. After all, the parents brought them into the world, fed them, provided shelter, comfort, and all forms of sustenance.  It is only a little later that kids begin to question the authority of their parents.

Authority can be formalized.  In England citizens curtsy or bow when they meet the Queen or another member of the royal family.  It is done out of respect for the office and for the individual.  Authority and respect go hand in hand.  Some of our presidents, reportedly, have exercised the custom of never entering the oval office without having on a coat and tie – a sign of their respect for the office, the oval office, and the presidency.

Consider another form of authority.  I had an interaction with a policeman this week who exercised his authority.  I did nothing wrong, mind you.  But my vehicle broke down and I pulled it as far over as I could, almost but not fully out of the traffic lane.  It wasn’t good enough for him and he berated me for ten minutes about how I could have done it better.  Because I knew he had the power over me and my situation, I didn’t argue with him. He had the authority even thought he didn’t treat me well.  And in the realm of authority figures not treating people well there is the authority of national leaders, think the Arab Spring and the authorities treating people badly because they are in charge, because they can.

Worldly authority is not always well respected.  This week President Barak Obama had Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona in his face wagging her finger at him over immigration policies.  The news media had a heyday with it.  The office of the President of the United States and the individual Barak Obama were not being respected.  An affront to his authority.

On the other end of that spectrum, when I was in college and medical school, I respected my professors because of their knowledge, what they could impart to me.  They were authority figures because of their learnedness.  We grant authority because of the office or due to the characteristics of the individual.

There is the story of a former governor of Massachusetts, Christian Herter who was running hard for a second term of office.  One day, after a busy morning of chasing votes and no lunch he arrived at a church barbecue.  It was late afternoon and he was famished.  As he moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman serving chicken.  She put a piece on his plate and turned to the next person in line. 

“Excuse me,” Governor Herter said, “do you mind if I have another piece of chicken?”
“Sorry,” the woman told him.  “I’m supposed to give one piece of chicken to each person.”
“But I’m starved,” the governor said.
“Sorry,” the woman replied again.  “Only one to a customer.”
Governor Herter was a modest and unassuming man, but he decided that this time he would throw a little weight around.
“Do you know who I am?” he said.  “I am the governor of this state.”
“Do you know who I am?” the woman said.  “I’m the lady in charge of the chicken.  Move along, mister.”  Authority comes in lots of sizes and shapes!  And earthly authority is relative.

When we grant authority to someone it is because we value them either because of their position or as an individual.  The Bishop, the Dean, the Vicar, the Mayor, the Governor, a professor.  We respect them because of their position, and hopefully also because of their substance, their character, their mettle.  You may not always agree with their decisions but as persons of position and personal integrity we respect them.  This consideration of authority is not given lightly; it is earned and must be lived into.  The authority of a political leader, the authority of a religious leader, or the authority of a local official – they are all granted authority by our social interchange.

But the authority of Jesus is different.  Way different.  And people knew that.  People knew that Jesus was the real deal.  In our gospel story today the unclean spirit residing in the man in the synagogue knew who Jesus was ‘I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’  The Holy One of God.  Pretty good authority.  Authority and respect and trust.  Pretty absolute in Jesus.

Jesus’ authority was different.  It was threefold.  First and foremost He was the Son of God.  And that was recognized by the unclean spirit mentioned in our gospel story today.  There are many other similar stories in the gospels of Jesus being recognized thus.  When he called the disciples Simon and Andrew, as we heard in last week’s gospel, they knew there was something different about this guy and ‘immediately left their nets and followed him.’  He was baptized by John in the River Jordan, the dove came down and the voice thundered, ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”  Pretty clear lines of authority there.

Second He was a learned rabbi, teacher.  He had studied the Torah, knew the Jewish scriptures and ‘taught as one with authority.’  What it must have been like to sit at his feet and listen to him expound on the Hebrew Scriptures.  Talking about the psalms.  Applying the lessons to real life.

And third, He was an outstanding human being who practiced charity and demonstrated love like no one before or since.  The woman caught in the act of adultery – let the one with out sin cast the first stone.  Turn the other cheek.  Forgive not seven times but seven times seventy.  And he served by serving.  Washing the disciples’ feet.  ‘I came not to be served but to serve’ he tells us.  Servant leadership.  He led by example, praying to the Father.

One way to look at it is that Jesus’ authority is best validated by his legacy.  Look at this track record.  One person who only lived thirty-three years, gathered a group of twelve followers, was put to death, rose again, wasn’t a CEO of a major corporation, founded a faith that persists two thousand years later and has had countless adherents.  Currently it is estimated there are 2 billion Christians in the world.  God only knows how many over the millennia. This church has weathered persecutions, schisms, theological disputes, political disputes, and time.  Based on one guy two thousand years ago!

Historians and sociologists can’t explain well why the rise and endurance of Christianity, despite the odds, occurred.  It is not logical.  It doesn’t make sense, and it certainly isn’t rational.

I can’t explain why you come to church most Sundays for a tiny sip of wine and sliver of bread that doesn’t quench your thirst or relieve your hunger pangs.  I can’t explain why many of you come to the Eucharist on Wednesdays or attend Noonday Prayer here daily.  I can’t explain why people pray to Jesus and are rescued from the clutches of depression or addiction.  I can’t explain why sitting and meditating for twenty minutes in quiet does something to our psyche beyond description.  I can’t explain why miracles occur.  I can’t explain why I came back from the Holy Land a different person and became a priest.  I can’t explain why the phrase ‘the peace that passes all understanding’ is such a powerfully true phrase that sustains.  I can’t explain, it doesn’t make sense…

Unless…  Unless…

Unless this Jesus of Nazareth is truly who they said He was.  The Son of God.  The triple authority figure.   A person of servant leadership, learned rabbi/teacher, and truly God Incarnate.  His fame spread from then and there to here and how.
Who is Jesus?  What is his authority?  Why do we talk about Him?  Here we all are…  I can’t explain it rationally, it doesn’t make logical sense, unless…  Son of God means just that!