Sunday, January 29, 2012

Who Has the Authority Anyway?

Today's Gospel reading was all about Jesus' authority,
"They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee." Mark 1:21-28
As Fr. Diggs pointed out in his sermon, this authority that came into the world was and is badly needed to teach and heal those who are most in need of healing, the broken, the sick, or in other words, us. These words may not have sat well with some of the pewsitters, and may not have roused the sleepy ones, but Fr. Diggs spoke strongly, as one with authority for, as he put it, "the Gospel of Jesus the Christ," and he should be commended for his attempt to get us to do likewise.

One thing the story of the casting out of the unclean spirit pointed out to me is that in the present day, while we give a lot of lip-service to being "spiritual" (which I might take to mean that we desire and work to create in ourselves a clean spirit, or try to "tune in" to the spiritual world), and we would like to think of our spirits as being pure, and only in need of a little fine tuning, we wind up discounting the whole notion of unclean or evil spirits.  If there are no unclean spirits, then our spirits are not in danger and have no need to be purified or redeemed. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that there is no need for a redeemer, no need for a teacher, no need for one with authority.

Perhaps our innermost desire is to do the work of the Holy Spirit for ourselves, to cleanse our spirits, but in so doing, we set ourselves up as our own authoritative ones.
"I am the centre of the world; where the horizon is depends on where I stand... Education may make my self-centredness less disastrous by widening my horizon of interest; so far it is like climbing a tower, which widens the horizon for physical vision, while leaving me still the centre and standard of reference." William Temple on original sin. Christianity and Social Order, 1942 pp36-37. (From "Basic Christianity" by John Stott 1958)
Living as my own center of reference leaves me with an image of living in a very cold and hollow house, one of my own creation.
From naked stones of agony I will build a house for me;
As a mason all alone I will raise it, stone by stone,
And every stone where I have bled
Will show a sign of dusky red.
I have not gone the way in vain,
For I have good of all my pain;
My spirit's quiet house will be
Built of naked stones I trod On
roads where I lost sight of God.
(Spirit's House By Sara Teasdale )[American (Missouri & New York) poet, 1884-1933.]
Especially now, in this day and age when we believe that we can build our own shelter from life's pain and suffering but not from those unclean spirits that the ancients believed in, we need an external authority, an annoited one who can take away the bloodied stones of our house, tearing down the walls that we have put up. Walls which may be unintentionally keeping our Saviour out.

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