Are you Listening?
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
The scene is a crowded, upscale restaurant with men in suits and women in dresses. The waiters and staff all wear crisp white uniforms with polished shoes. Two business men are talking over the remains of a meal. They are talking about investments in the stock market. One man speaks of a new investment his broker had recommended and asks the other man at the table what he thinks. The man replies, “Well, my broker is E. F. Hutton and E. F. Hutton says…”
The entire restaurant becomes silent as every person in the room leans in to hear what the man is going to say next. Next is the voiceover with the tagline, “When E. F. Hutton speaks, everybody listens!”
This commercial is from an advertising campaign of the late 1970s and early ‘80s. The intent of this advertising was to let people know that this particular broker knew better than the competition and that when their company spoke, it was with authority. This was important because people’s livelihoods were greatly affected by good or bad investments in the stock market.
In verse 32 of today’s Gospel reading, it says, “… and they [the people] were astonished at his teaching for his word possessed authority.” [Luke 4:32] Why were they astonished? Earlier in the chapter, in his hometown, they asked themselves, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” [Luke 4:22b] They asked this because they knew Joseph to be a carpenter and not a great teacher. Where had this Jesus learned to speak with the certainty of a Rabbi or even a Scribe? Did he have authority or not? What Jesus said affected everybody’s livelihood on earth and in heaven.
In addition to his authority in the Word of God, he presents an objective truth. He demonstrates that the Word of Isaiah is the Word of God and not merely one truth among many. Jesus speaks the Word in truth and as truth. The people did not like what they were hearing.
Before the good people of Capernaum could attempt to stone Jesus as a heretic or throw him off a cliff, Jesus demonstrates his authority. What does he do? He casts out an unclean demon. Interestingly enough, the demon had no doubt who Jesus is and what authority he has. The Demon cries out with a loud voice:
“Ha! 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.” [Luke 4:34]
After casting out the demon, they were all amazed to see such authority and power.
Even today, it seems people like to reject authority. It really doesn’t matter whose authority it is, all it has to be is in conflict with what people want to do. It also seems to be common in these times not to claim authority because to be in charge means to claim responsibility. Many leaders of our nation try to claim authority that is not theirs or deny responsibility when they do wrong. As we all know, one cannot exist without the other; it will only lead to a false authority and dishonesty.
The idea that we can say and do anything we want without affecting our fellow humankind is foolish and deadly. To wrap up the idea of a “personal truth”, that is, what is true for you may not be true for me… isolates us not only from our fellow man but also from God. This ideology cannot support itself and certainly leads to conflict.
All one has to do is to think about any instance when authority is rejected. I remember quite well what happened when my siblings and I rejected our father’s authority. Whether it was a failure to do our chores, or lying to our parents, we learned immediately who was in charge. In the workplace, one can understand what rejection of authority means when one is fired for failure.
As Christians, we believe Jesus Christ speaks with authority. As Christians, we believe the Word of God is the truth, the life and the way. Through the Holy Spirit, we are given the authority to forgive sins and to speak the truth. In addition, when you speak the truth commanded by our Lord, two things can happen; it can be rejected or it can be received. Sometimes that rejection can be as violent as the crucifixion of Our Lord on the tree of death.
This is a frightening possibility – that we can be killed for speaking the truth in our faith. This is also the reason people in our world are shocked when we speak with Christ’s authority. For example, when we speak to the truth of life in the womb, we are attacked. However, we know through the word of God that His plans for Jeremiah were made before he was conceived. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” [Jeremiah 1:5a] God knows every life in His creation, personally. Human life is part of God’s master plan, and he has plans for every life.
Another example is when we speak to the truth of our salvation. We are told that no one can claim that Christ is the only way. Jesus’ words, spoken in absolute authority are offensive to many. Yes, we will be mocked and labeled ‘intolerant’ when we speak the truth. But if we lie, if we try to save ourselves by denying the truth of our Lord, we die eternally.
This is a very big burden to carry and a heavy cross to bear. Nobody wants to be accused of being unloving because they speak the truth. Sometimes we shirk our responsibilities as Christians so we can avoid conflict. Sometimes we like to hide our Christianity in order to just get along.
One thing I have found in being a pastor is that I can’t hide! Even if I am not wearing my collar, which is the symbol of my office, one of the first questions in conversation when meeting someone for the first time is, “So, what do you do for a living?” After I tell them I am a pastor, I sometimes hear, “Really? Well let me tell you what’s wrong with people like you…”
Why don’t I just lie? Because to reject Christ is to die, but to be a child of God is to live forever. The authority of Jesus Christ is good news. It is the Gospel. It is the truth and the life. People do not want to hear the truth because it takes away their freedom to live in sin. Be honest! Do you like to be told you sin against God and man every day of your life? I know I don’t like to hear it.
The truth of God’s Word is a burden. Even worse is to be told that your works do not save you. Therefore, we leave the presence of God in order to live in sin. Why do people leave one church and go to another? Is it because they don’t like the pastor or - is it because the authority of God’s Word is not what you want to hear? Do members leave the congregation of God’s people because “they’re all a bunch of hypocrites” or because their sin is a constant reminder of your sin?
Let us go further out in the world on this topic. Turn on any radio or television and you will hear how those who reject authority are praised as heroes. People burn down their own communities and kill the police. Students rise up and demand the resignation of University presidents because they can’t have or act the way they want. Others attack people in positions of authority with lies and slander. It doesn’t matter if what they say is true, just as long as it prevents others from achieving their goal.
This is the earthly authority placed here by God to govern us. We need that authority in our lives. Without authority comes anarchy. Why? Because we are all sinful creatures who will fall to our lowest, basest form when given the chance. Just ask the people in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina left large parts of the city without any police or governance. They were pleading for someone to come in and provide security and safety.
We all want freedom, but we also want security. The authority of Jesus Christ brings that freedom and security. Do you think the man possessed by the unclean spirit enjoyed being controlled by a demon? He welcomed Jesus’ authority over evil. Do you think Peter’s mother-in-law was delighted to be stricken to bed by a fever? In a word of authority, Jesus healed her completely.
God saw His creation dying from their sin. He sent His only Son into our midst. He gave His Son all authority in heaven and on earth. [Matthew 28:18] With this authority, Jesus spoke. When Jesus spoke the earth and all things created by his word not only listened but obeyed him. He healed the sick. He cured the deaf, the lame and the blind. He raised the dead, sent demons back to hell and he forgave sins.
All this was good news to the people of that time, but how does Christ’s speaking with authority help us now?
Jesus Christ was given power over heaven and earth but he was also given a command to save all the lost sinners. He could have shirked his responsibility. He could have lied to the people when they asked him why he had come into the world, but he did not.
Jesus Christ obeyed his Father’s will. He took the burden of sin from us and carried it to the grave. He bore the cross to a hill called Golgotha to be crucified unto death. On that cross he once again spoke with authority when he said, “It is finished!”
The separation of God from His people was finished. The atonement for the sin of every human being was finished. When Christ rose from the dead, the power of the Devil, death and hell over us was finished.
Jesus speaks this Good News with authority to you today. In your baptism, through the water and his word spoken with authority, your sins are forgiven. In communion, through the bread & wine and his spoken word of authority, your sins are forgiven. On his authority, he has taken the responsibility of our sin and paid the debt with his very life.
Jesus is speaking to us today, are we listening? We can rejoice that Jesus has authority over sin, death, and the devil. Our peace and secure promise of life eternal in Our Father’s kingdom comes from the authority of His Only Son. Jesus Christ is the truth and the life.