What the Blankety Blank? A New Authority??? a sermon for Epiphany 4B; Mark 1: 21-28

Blankety blankReadings included: Psalm 111 and Mark 1:25-28, prior to the sermon we viewed the video The Awe Factor of God which can be viewed here

Listen to the sermon here

Years ago, when I was a student at the University of British Columbia, I worked the afternoon shift at the Royal Bank of Canada’s Vancouver Clearing Room. Back then, I’m talking the early nineties here, so not the distant past except if we are talking about technology. Back then, at the end of each banking day, so after 3 o’clock banks used to have people check every single transaction that had been made by hand. Every check, deposit slip, and withdrawal, was recorded on a small piece of paper and at the end of each day all those pieces of paper would be collected and sent to the central clearing room. The room in which I worked housed several hundred machines which looked like big desks, which.  were actually giant calculators. These calculating desks, sat empty during the day, but come 4:00pm they would be staffed with people eagerly waiting for their branch bags to arrive; these operators of which I was one, were called proofers. Each of those operators, knew that the clearing house had until 11 pm to balance the daily transactions of the entire province of British Columbia. 

I didn’t last more than a few months as a proofer. I was plucked from my proofing machine by management and assigned the task of wandering around being useful. Technically I became a runner. It was may job to run around and collect the proofed bundles, and make sure that they appropriate balanced calculation tape was attached. Management also made it very clear to me, that a major part of my job was to be a kind of helper, who would scan the proof floor for confused proofers and quickly offer my help. You see when people are working under pressure to balance transactions and they get stuck because something doesn’t quite balance they can spend an inordinate amount of time stuck on just a handful of transactions trying to force them to balance. Management knew this, and they also knew that sometimes all it takes is a second pair of eyes to spot the mistake and voila, the problem is solved, and the proofer can move on and the giant national proofing machine can be fed, and the books can be closed by mid-night. You see in the grand scheme of things; the bank could not close the national books until the clock stuck mid-night in Vancouver. That’s a lot of pressure. Bonuses were at stake. So, handful of us who functioned as runners, were under a great deal of pressure to make sure than no single transaction slowed down the whole process. We all wanted to be out of there and on our way shortly after midnight, no one could leave until everyone could leave, and bonuses were at stake.  Those of us who were runners wielded a great deal of authority. We could sign off on a forced balance. We could decide that a transaction was simply going to take too long to balance and so with the stroke of our pen, small amounts could be forced to balance. We runners with our red pen wielded a great deal of authority. But we knew that our authority was limited by the number of forced transactions we authorized in a given week. Most of us would rather eat our red pens than force balance a transaction. Reputations were at stake. In the course of a month I would rarely force more than one or two transactions. I was good at my job. And because bonuses were at stake, operators would often call upon me when they got stuck.

I loved that job. After a long day of lectures at the university, that job was such a fun departure from thinking. I was one of the happiest runners in the clearing room. During my last few months on the job, the word got out that I was quitting to go to seminary so that I could study to become a pastor. It kind of freaked people out. The proofers began to watch their language around me. One night when things were going particularly badly, and it looked like we weren’t going to make our deadline, one bad transaction kept leading to another. Problems spread from proofer to proofer like a disease. Proofers were making all sorts of dumb mistakes and we were all losing patience with one another. It was looking like we’d be there until the wee hours of the morning. So, the language got pretty vivid. After solving one particularly difficult branch’s problems, I remember a proofer shouting out, “Hey Hutchings, I don’t what the blanket blank, you think your doing quitting on us to go to seminary. You’re going to hate seminary. There won’t be enough to keep you busy. They have all the answers in that place and all the answers are the same. Jesus is the blankety blank answer to every blankety blank question.” This, somehow lead to most of the proofing floor laughing hysterically, which lead to something I never in my wildest dreams imagined happening in that of all places. Hysterical laugher dissolved into a chorus of “Jesus Loves me this I know for the bible tells me so.” What the blankety blank?

There was nothing left but for me to join in the singing. We didn’t make our deadline that night. But we had the best sing song ever, later in the after-hours nightclub down the street from the bank, and I never did make it to any of my classes the next morning.

Jesus is the answer. Jesus speaks with authority. Let’s all just sing a few choruses of “Jesus loves me” and forget about this sermon. Jesus is the answer.

“They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another. What is this? A new teaching—with authority! Jesus commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread.” What the blankety blank? If Jesus is the answer to every question, what’s the point? Let’s just balance our transactions and get out of here. “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”  As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ and by Christ’s authority I declare onto you that Jesus is the answer. I have the collar, I’m wearing the stole. I have the title. I have the call. I am a Master of Divinity! Jesus is the answer to every question. Go home and enjoy the super bowl. I have the authority to declare that all our transactions have been balanced, even if we have to force balance a few of those transactions, 12 noon is approaching, and we want to be out of here shortly, so we can enjoy the afternoon.

We’re told that back in the olden days the priests did have the authority. We’re told that there was a time when religious authorities welded all sorts of power. That day is done. And while there are still those who insist that Jesus is the answer to every question, our questions are piling up at a rate no mere proofer can begin to balance. Gone are the days, if they ever really existed at all, when religious authorities could dismiss every question with the authority of their office. Gone are the days, if they ever really existed when a chorus of Jesus loves me will calm our troubled souls, let alone our disturbed psyches. Whatever daemons or unclean spirits are rattling around inside of us I’m pretty sure that it’s going to take a whole lot more than invoking the name of JEEEZZZUUSSS to drive them out.

There are still those people on this tiny planet of ours who are convinced that all we need is the kind of authority that wilds power in ways that can terrify the unclean spirits out of us. The reality is that life in this complex cosmos of ours is enough to scare the bejesus out of those of us who are brave enough to ask the big questions. Who are we? Where did we come from? Who made us? Where are we going? Why are we here? What’s the point of life itself? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be divine? What will happen when we die?    JEEEZUS! JEEZZZUS is the answer. Shout it loud. Shout it as loud as you like, but I dare say the authority of Jesus doesn’t have the power it once had. Especially if you believe that authority is about power.

For many of us the words authority and power, as in power over, have been intimately linked one to another. We look to authorities to exert their power over us. Some of us were led to believe that speaking or teaching with authority actually meant exerting one’s power over someone else. There are many who believe that proving ones point and speaking or teaching with authority pretty much go hand in hand. But the word authority actually comes from the Latin verb “augere” which means “to cause to grow; or to augment that which already is.” We get our word author from the same Latin verb, which actually means, “one who creates or brings into being.” The dictionary defines authority as “that which or those whom one has reason to trust.”

Carter Heward, a theologian who writes about Christian ethics uses the Latin origins of the word together with the definition of the word to describe authority as that which calls into being something that is already and for that reason can be trusted. A person who has authority calls into being something that is already, and for that reason they can be trusted. A person who has authority calls forth or evokes something we already know, or have, or are.

Jesus’ authority did not, nor does it reside in his ability to prove his point and thereby exert his power over people. Jesus authority came because he added to what people already knew. Jesus’ authority is derived from the Good New that Jesus taught, the Good News that the ONE they called God is LOVE.

Jesus insisted that he came that they might have life and live it abundantly. Jesus taught a Way of living abundantly which began with the law as it had been established by the WISDOM of the ages. All the rules and regulations which people had adopted so that they might live in peace with one another, Jesus insisted, came down to, “Love God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and with all your soul and love your neighbours as you love yourself.”

LOVE. LOVE is the final authority. GOD is LOVE. LOVE GOD. LOVE your neighbour and love yourself. Abundant life is about LOVE. Who is my neighbour? Jesus answers with stories about LOVE and it turns out that everyone is our neighbour; even our enemies.

LOVE. LOVE your enemies. LOVE because at the very heart of all that is, is the SOURCE of all that is, which is LOVE. It is not easy. It is not simple. LOVE is as complex and as multifaceted as the cosmos. This vast, wonderful, intricate, awesome cosmos in which we live and move and have our being, finds its SOURCE in the ONE who is LOVE.

Everything that IS, Everything that WAS, Everything that Ever shall BE was called into being by the ONE who lies at the very heart of REALITY and that ONE is LOVE.  Authority, ONE who adds to what we already know, authority will flow from what IS.

As we struggle to balance our everyday transactions, whatever authority we look to for assistance, must flow out of what we already know to be true. As our knowledge of the cosmos grows and expands, so too do our questions, our desires, and our hunger for more knowledge. As we continue to author new realms of possibility, authority will continue to lie in that which, or those whom, one has reason to trust will continue to enable us to grow or augment what already is. LOVE is infinitely capable of enabling growth so that we might augment that which already is LOVE. Whatever authority we hope to offer the world must derive its power from LOVE. We need authority precisely for the purpose of helping us to discover, recover, empower and encourage ourselves and one another. Sounds like LOVE to me.

Sisters and brothers as a called and ordained minister of the Church of CHRIST and by CHRIST’s authority, I declare to you that as members of the Body of CHRIST, we all share in CHRIST’s authority.  We have been given authority precisely for the purpose of helping us to discover, to recover, to empower and to encourage ourselves and one another. LOVE is our authority, LOVE embodied in, with, through, and beyond us. It is nowhere near as simple as singing a chorus of “Jesus loves me.” Embodied LOVE is as complex as the cosmos and infinitely more awesome than we can even begin to understand. But, the power of LOVE permeates the cosmos. May the ONE who IS LOVE,  grant us the WISDOM to use LOVE’s authority with love for God, one another, for ourselves and indeed for all of Creation. In all things, let LOVE be our authority to call forth life.

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