There is a saying I’ve seen more than once: no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. And I always thought “yeah yeah…” and kind of moved on. I never really gave it much thought, honestly. As I read, thought, and prayed about the scripture for this week, I kept coming back to the word “authority” over and over again. And I think we often equate authority with power and rightfully so. As strange as this may sound to all of you who see me on a weekly basis, power and authority is something I struggle with a lot. My female clergy friends and I share stories that range from laughable to horrible when it comes to dealing with people who don’t know how to treat a woman clergy person. We have all shared the struggle when people don’t know what to call us “so….do I call you sister, or Father, or um….what?” Just last week as I was in Hy-Vee picking up a few things for dinner, I was wearing my collar and one of the nice young men that worked there said “are you a um…. um….” and he just pointed at my collar. “A pastor?” I answered. “Yeah…a pastor. Well, I didn’t know whether or not to call you Pastor or Reverend or what.”
But we’ve also shared horror stories of being slapped on the behind, being called “sweetheart” or “honey,” or going for an interview to serve a church and the interview being cancelled because they don’t want a woman pastor. I haven’t had to deal with this kind of thing a lot, but it’s enough. There are people in this world, even people who call themselves “Lutheran” that probably think I shouldn’t be a pastor just because I’m a woman. The problem is theirs, not mine. But really, when it comes to authority, the only way that someone has it is if we give it to them. Think about that. Yes, on occasion, the president of the company may say to an employee, “I am now making you vice president” therefore giving them authority. But, the majority of the time the reason that someone has authority is that we have given it to them.
Remember the quote I shared with you a few moments ago “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Your consent is your authority that you give away. As a female, I deal with this a lot. Now, that’s not to say that men don’t. But since I’m not a man, I don’t know what you have to deal with. I know Chris (on occasion) has been discriminated against in his field because of his age. Our authority is ours to control and give away. Giving away your authority or allowing someone to have authority over you can change your past, present, and future.
The question that Jesus gets asked is not really the question he is being asked, if that makes sense. The chief priests and the elders want to know about Jesus’ authority not because they wondered if Jesus was smart or something. But remember, people were always trying to set up Jesus, trying to frame him, and ultimately, crucify Jesus. After all, if Jesus were to answer “by what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” with the answer “well, I am doing these things because I am the son of God and God the father gave me this authority” the crucifixion would have happened a lot earlier in our story than it does.
Many times when there is an argument, especially an argument in a church, the thing which is being argued about usually isn’t the real problem. Let me give you an example. Let’s say that we decided to pull the carpet out and refinish all the wood floors because the wood floors that were just refinished look so good (which they do). There might be discussions that talk about how we might sound while singing if we take out the carpet. Or what if we spill wine during communion? Or even better….but we’ve always had carpet in the church! Usually what an argument boils down to (again, especially in a church) is usually grief or power. If your family gave the money to purchase the carpet from your great great great grandfather’s memorial money, taking up the carpet may mean that we are disrespecting him and the grief of his loss may come back all over.
I also heard a story (a true story) from a church far far away from here where during a funeral luncheon one woman yelled at another for buttering the rolls incorrectly. That argument wasn’t about buttering the rolls though. In reality, it was most likely about power and authority. It’s also kind of hilarious when you think about it.
We are no strangers to arguments and conflict here. But to be clear, we’re in a pretty good place right now. I don’t want any of you to think that I am preaching about power and authority because there is something going on that you may not know about. I am happy to say that we haven’t had too many major issues since I started. I think the biggest problem thus far has been “how do we catch the ground squirrels?”
Who gives you authority and to whom have you given authority? Jesus was given his authority by God. When he was marched: bloody, bruised, and beaten to the cross, he didn’t fight it. Even on the cross he exercised his authority to forgive. It was in that beautiful moment of what may appear to be a weakness that Jesus was actually the most powerful and strong. But, I know it’s not always easy to be strong. It’s not always easy to keep our authority and power. Sometimes we have those people in our lives that can take our authority or take our power with one simple word, one simple glance, or one simple action. For our younger members, these might be the bullies at school. For those of us who are a little older, these might be distanced parents, lost children, or even a boss or co-worker. I pray you don’t know these people or this situation, but I fear too many of us do. Maybe you don’t have these people in your life but you have given authority to your past sins and shortcomings and cannot move on.
God calls us into a new reality. The tax collectors and the prostitutes in our gospel today don’t have a great reputation and probably not a lot of authority. And for Jesus, that doesn’t matter. Their past and how they have been defined by others doesn’t matter. The rest of your days are full of opportunity and promise. Your past does not have to define you. Your sins will not and cannot define you. The power and authority you may have given away is yours to reclaim. And I get it, this isn’t easy stuff. But the hurt and disappointment you have experienced in your past will not and cannot determine our future.
Our new reality has been our reality all along: we are loved. God does not keep a tab or a tally on our mistakes. God will never define us by what we do or don’t do, by how we fall short or how we excel, by look or don’t look; God will only define us as this: beloved children of God that are constantly being invited into a new, life giving relationship with the one who created you. God has given you the power and authority to love and that love needs to start with yourself. You were created in God’s image, therefore, love God’s image! In our baptism, God promises to love us, no matter what. All of us have mistakes, regrets, and secrets that stay hidden in our past that steal our authority and power. I want to invite you to put a stop to that today. I don’t usually end with a prayer, but I thought this one was pretty good.
“Dear God, we often allow things from our past to dominate our present and close off our future. But you have promised that you love us no matter what, and so we offer our hurts, regrets, and resentments to you, trusting that you already know them and love us anyway. Help us to believe about ourselves what you believe about us: that we are worthy of love and respect. And help us to treat others as you have treated us: as those who deserve love and respect. All this we ask in the name of Jesus, the one who died on the cross to show us the depth of your love. Amen.”