33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 28), Year B

From where does authority come? What power does authority possess? Are their indicators of authority?

In the readings this week, we see a number of different approaches to God -- through various chanels of perceived authority. It just has us wondering how we shape our approach to God based on how we understand the authority of God and of others who claim authority related to God. Is God found in a specific place, or is our approach more likely to be noted and get results in a certain place? Are there people through whom our petitions move faster and with greater urgency? Hmmm. And what authority do we have and from where does it come? Our actions, our station in life, our faith?

This week, we have an extended reading from 1 Samuel. The first tells a story somewhat familiar in Hebrew scripture. Hannah is the second wife to Elkanah, and she has not been able to conceive. She enters the temple and offers her prayers, and she commits that if the Lord will bless her with a son, he will be raised in the purest ways and prepared for service to God. (Specifically, Hannah commits to raising her son as a nazarite, see Numbers 6:8). Eli, the priest in the Temple at the time, observes Hannah's troubled behavior and accuses her of being drunk. But Hannah doesn't back down, she explains her petition to Eli. And his response is promising. He assures her that the Lord will hear and grant her petition. Now, Hannah chose to go to the Lord in prayer, and it seems odd that it was Eli that responded...but Hagar's story about praying for Ishmael's safety in the wilderness is similar - the Lord responds to the child, not to Hagar. This is a time and place where women have little authority, and their direct approach was met with indirect response. Now this promised son is Samuel, who will be last judge in the era of Judges among the Israelites. Judges represented the various tribes in a loose confederacy that was Israel at the time. Samuel will also annoint the first two Kings - heralding a central strong authority among all of the tribes, and Kings are something promised by God way, way back in the journey to the promised land. As a prophet, he heralds a new era of authority among the Isralites. In some ways, the Lord's response is not specifically to Hannah, but to the Israelites as a whole. God's hand is very directly involved in the new direction of authority on the ground - or is it?

Instead of a selection from the book of Psalms, the next reading is a continuation from 1 Samuel, Hannah's song of praise in response to the good news she receives. And she isn't just praising God for her own good fortune. Her psalm of praise is full of signs of the Lord's righteousness. And she offers it with such joy and passion. Now she didn't go back to Eli to thank him, or to ask him to offer thanks on her behalf...she again goes right to God in prayer. She is full of hope - and it is as if she sees the potential big picture - a time of righteousness reigning over the land where the poor are raised up.

In our continued reading of Hebrews, we read a pretty great insight about community and authority. The writer describes a host of priests who offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins, but there attempts are futile compared to what is accomplished in the singular sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, we have a hard time wrapping ourselves around that language - especially in this day and age. But the people hearing this message had been deeply entrenched in a sacrificial system and they understood a certain hierarchy of petition, thanksgiving and related sacrifices. The author of Hebrews is helping them to see Jesus' death as the final sacrifice needed. And with that sacrifice, all are clean, all are forgiven, and all are empowered. And now their job seems to be to empower one another as community - provoking one another to good deeds. Now there is a turn of terms - provoking goodness. You are forgiven and as such you should go encourage everyone to goodness. The people are being given back a lot of authority, it would seem.

Finally in the reading from Mark's Gospel, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple, and also warns the disciples that in the aftermath of such change, there will be false prophets and teachers and preachers about which to worry. And he really saddles them with responsibility for discerning truth. So the temple, a clear symbol of authority and power in their culture, would be destroyed. But that wouldn't mean an authority vacuum. People would have to discern where authority existed, where it was authentic. (A passing thought - given that dialogue, how do you suppose that they discerned Paul's eventual authority?)

The changing landscape of authority is a consistent theme across the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament. What would writers say today about where God's authority resides?

How do you approach God? Are there different "channels" of approach for you?
Where do you see shifts in authority occurring in the world around you?
Who do you see having no authority? What does scripture have to say about that?

Here I am.
Make me. Mold me. Use me.
Open my eyes and ears
So that I may discern
Where I have authority
To evoke your Kingdom
In this world.

© matt & laura norvell 2009 www.settingourstones.org
we want to share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask that you let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.

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