Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Questions of authority

One of the fundamental questions raised by Aristotle, as he attempted to identify and define various political systems, were the questions Who rules? and For what purpose? For Aristotle, the answer allowed one to determine the identity of a government and its commitment to virtues such as justice.

It is a question which continues to haunt us even to this day. As Americans, particularly as American Iowans, we are seemingly caught in an eternal campaign hell of which Dante could not have conceived. We are always having to choose which ideology will “rule” us for the next two, four, or six year cycle, depending upon the election that is on our horizon.  And, because we are "middle America," people tend to listen to what we have to say about who we think, what ideology, should rule our country.

But the question also arises in our daily life, work and relationships. We often struggle mightily with questions of authority and submission. Many of the ladies whom we help at Winnie’s have fallen victim to a misplaced belief that men should “rule” them. Some of our own marriages suffer from this contest of wills. One of the criticisms we took up about The Shack this past week was the question of who rules in the Trinity. It came up during the debate on Friday night and some of the subsequent threads. And, it is a very hot subject in places of employment right now as people are seeking job security and to misdirect blame so that employment can be maintained. If only God had something to say about the subject . . . Wait, the readings from this week speak to that question of authority and submission in our lives.

Who has authority in the Trinity? And who submits? For those not at the book study Wednesday, the Bible Study on Thursday, or church on Sunday, the questions can be very difficult. Who rules? Who submits?

One of the teachings from our lessons this week is about this question of authority and submission. We have spent several weeks looking at the miracles of Jesus. How many times does He emulate a televangelist and raise His hand and say to the audience “look how wonderful I am”? How many times does He tell the beneficiary of His miracle to go and tell everyone what He has just done for them? Yet, Christ is glorified. He is the King of all creation; all authority has been given to Him. But He took none of that honor and glory for Himself. As Paul reminded us this week, Christ did not glorify Himself. Christ was, as St. Paul puts it, reverently submissive. And because He was submissive to the Father’s will, He was heard and given honor and glory and power. We will read about the cost of that submission and the glory given Him over the course of the next couple of weeks.

So, who rules and who submits when we are considering the Trinity? If you find yourself in a bit of a Gordian knot trying to figure out the answer, you may be on the right path. At various times each person in the Trinity glorifies the other persons of the Trinity. Jesus’ entire ministry is about reconciling us to God and about bringing glory to the Father. The Father is all about glorifying His Son, who will in the end, return all power and honor and glory to the Father after He has subjected the world. The Spirit is at work in the world, at the behest of the Son and the Father, to bring glory to them. And Jesus tells us the only unpardonable sin is a sin against the Spirit. Figuring out who is ultimately in charge in the Trinity, as you and I understand such things, is simply impossible. But we should not lose hope. Indeed, the Bible reminds us that questions of authority and submission, as we understand them, are consequences of sin.

Adam & Eve enjoyed full communion with God and a perfect relationship with one another. They walked with Him and talked with Him as they lived in the Garden, and they were a perfect fit for one another. But, as the story continues, they chose their own way rather than God's way.  And the consequences were disastrous for our relationships.  Questions of authority and submission were just one of the curses of that sin.  And you and I are forced to live in a world full of such consequences.  Of course, the Gospel promises that we are promised a restoration of such communion with God and relationships with one another, if we accept Christ offer of salvation. God, in our passage from Jeremiah this week, reminds us that there will come a day when we will no longer teach one another about God because we will know Him. He will write His torah on our hearts, and we will be His people.

Yes, we live in a world which places great stock in questions of power and authority. But you and I are called to a life which transcends those questions. To put it another way, we are in the world but not of the world.  You and I are called to a life where we die to selves and know, absolutely know, that our Father in heaven will glorify us and vindicate us for our complete trust and faith in Him and His Son.

Think of this for just a moment before we head into the Good Friday and Easter story once again. You and I are called into that perfect relationship where there will be no question of authority and submission. By walking this path to Calvary, Jesus makes it possible that you and I can be restored to full communion with God. By walking that painful road, Jesus makes it possible that we might be glorified by the Father in heaven. The circumcised hearts which He will give us will make it possible for us to be His people, to be His priests, to be His kings. Our purpose will be to do His will, not begrudgingly, not because He says so, but because we know His love for each one of us. And in giving up our lives to Him, He will see us through to the end because He has so bound Himself to us. He will not fail us because He has bound Himself to us. Our honor is His honor; our dishonor would be His dishonor.

One of the telling stories of this perfect relationship, you and I will celebrate on Maundy Thursday.  Imagine for a moment your boss giving you the day off and doing your job.  Imagine for a moment, your spouse doing some tasks you hate to do without any prompting.  Imagine for a moment, your club being more concerned with its goals rather than the next president or chairperson.  That's what you and I will do next week.  But what is utterly amazing, what is "out of this world" is the idea that our God will act as a slave to us.  He will wash our feet -- a task reserved only for a slave.  And He will command us to act that way to one another; He will tell us to be slaves to one another.

Brothers and sisters, questions of power and authority ought not plague us as Christians in our lives. You and I are taught again and again that in dying to self and trusting in Christ, we will live for forever. Instead of knifing others to get ahead or grinding others down to make ourselves look better, what would the world look like if we built others up? What if we saw the image of God in the co-worker, or the spouse, or club member and worked to serve them, to build them up? What kind of transformation could we effect in our workplaces, our homes, our clubs? Imagine if our homes became places of nurture, if our places of employment tried to create items which benefited purchasers while providing living wages to all who were employed, and our clubs were more concerned about their mission rather than the politics of the next Grand Poobah.

And what if we fail or if we get stepped on or stepped over? What if that happens? You and I are called to serve a God who has suffered the greatest humiliation possible, death on a cross though He committed no sin. And yet, His promise is that all who serve and follow Him will be glorified by the same Father who raised Him on Easter morning. Is there a safer bet anywhere in all eternity?  If He can conquer death, can He not remove the knife from your back?  If He conquered death, can He not provide for your material needs?  And the Conqueror loves you and cares for you so much that He was willing to walk the road to Calvary for your sake.  He, the Creator of all this is, seen and unseen, was willing to become your slave.  How do you respond to such an offer of love?



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