American Artist Andy Warhol once said: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”, It’s where we get the saying “15 minutes of fame”. Today it seems that fame is not that uncommon with Social Media enabling people to post videos and pictures of themselves to be seen around the world by anyone. You may have seen a person recently at the Australian Open Tennis who got his 15 minutes of fame by interrupting the match by screaming during one of the televised matches. It is not uncommon for a person to film themselves doing something completely idiotic and irresponsible and have it viewed thousand, tens of thousands or even over a million times on YouTube. And these days with Reality TV we make famous household names of previous nobodies by putting them in a kitchen, or on a dating show or renovating a home.
And when we have an issue in society it seems that sporting figures and TV celebrities (and I use that term very loosely) become the voices of authority whether or not they have any expertise in that area.
In recent times when we have wanted voices of authority on issues like Same Sex Marriage, Euthanasia, Australia becoming a republic, changing Australia Day and the flag, we have drawn comment not from experts but from sporting stars, musicians, actors and treated them as authoritative words. But what we also found in those times of debate is that when the church spoke it was rejected and had its authority questioned. That is so different to the experience of Jesus today who goes and teaches in the synagogue. They were astounded at Jesus teaching, for he taught them as one having authority. But, we aren’t told what he taught so we can’t use his teaching to work out that authority. So it’s not so much about WHAT he taught but HOW he taught that becomes the focus. And maybe that is a lesson that the Church can take away from this. Jesus’ authority is then carried through to the next example in that Gospel reading.
There was in the 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.” How did he know Jesus’ identity?
Jesus hasn’t spoken a word to evoke the man’s response. But it is Jesus’ presence that does so.
It is not WHAT Jesus said to this unclean spirit that brought about the outburst and acknowledgment of Jesus’ authority but his mere presence. Perhaps we can learn from this that the church’s strength and authority lies not in what it says but by her presence in the world and how she presents God’s presence in the world. If you read our foundation document in the Lutheran Church, the Augsburg Confession you will see that most of our statements of faith begin with the statement “It is taught among us” and then goes on to what we teach and believe. Too often in trying to reach out to the world we have tried to make ourselves more accepted by the world by incorporating the world’s teaching into our teaching to see how we can assimilate. But when we do that we no longer know what it is that we believe and teach. What often happens is that we lose the world because we find that we lose what we teach and believe; and we end up at odds with the world and rejected. We lose our identity and authority.
Paul, in our 2nd reading points us in a different direction when it comes to what we teach and believe. He says: Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Like our Gospel reading, Paul is pointing more to the presence of God through love than prescribing an actual teaching to proclaim. And further he says: Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him. There’s our knowledge – God’s knowledge of us.
We have the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Again Paul is pointing to our love of God being lived out in the world rather than giving us an instruction on what we are to teach. That’s not saying that we don’t have something to teach the world but our love of God and neighbour is the foundation of what we have to say. As Paul will go on to say in Chapter 13 – If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If we start with the foundation of loving God, loving our neighbour, and loving one another as Christ loves us, then our teaching will emanate into the world from that. Jesus will give that commandment before his death when he gives his disciples a New Commandment He says: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” What we believe is important as Paul says to a young Pastor Timothy: Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. But as we see time and again, it’s the presence of God that brings about change in the world. And that is what we are and what we are called to be – we are the presence of God in the world.
There are so many examples of this change in the Gospels. Consider another demon possessed man – Legion.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” It was by Jesus mere presence from a distance even that this man responds. When Jesus blesses Peter’s work while fishing he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken. It was not from what Jesus said but from what Jesus did for them out of his compassion for them. We have the example of Zacchaeus who turns his life around just by Jesus being present at his dinner table. In none of those cases had Jesus pointed out their sin.
Their own conscience in the presence of a loving Jesus brought that out – and that’s when the teaching begins.
What we believe is important as St Paul warns Timothy: The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear But how we teach – with love – is essential for the world to listen. If I speak without love I am a clanging symbol – just making noise. And when we need to speak out – and there will be times – Paul says: Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, Christ Jesus. The church certainly lacks authority in the world today but that doesn’t mean we don’t have authority. As Jesus reminded his disciples before he ascended to heaven: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Again, the emphasis is on going out into the world – making disciples and then teaching the world.
The more I look at Jesus’ examples of authority the more I see that it’s not about what I say but what I do. When he sent his apostles out into the world he said: As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” There’s our authority that no one can take away from us. There will be times when we need to speak a word to the world and that’s when the same Holy Spirit will do his work and we are to trust that word and not our own. As Jesus says: don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. And that’s a word that no one can take away from you.