(sermon note: 04-16 sermon note)
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a time when the Pope decided to visit America. He was out on the highway when suddenly he told the driver of his limo that he had the urge to drive himself. The driver was a good Catholic man and would not ever dream of questioning the Pope’s authority. So the Pope got behind the wheel while his driver got in the back. They continued driving down the road until the Pope got their speed up to 90 mph. Naturally they burned right by an idling policeman. As he pulled them over, he called in to headquarters reporting a speeding limo, with a VIP inside it. The chief asked, “Who’s in the limo, the mayor?” The policeman told him, “No, someone more important than the mayor.” Then the chief asked, “Is it the governor?” The policeman answered, “No, someone more important than the governor.” The chief finally asked, “Is it the president?” The policeman answered, “No, someone even more important than the president.” This made the chief very angry and he bellowed, “Now who is more important than the president?!” The policeman calmly whispered, “I’ll put it to you this way, chief. I don’t know who this guy is, but he has the Pope as his chauffeur.”
Only in America would not only the Pope get away with driving himself around but he would also be considered a chauffeur of someone else! Gotta love America! The land of oh, so many freedoms including the freedom of stupidity! I mean, come on, the Pope chauffeuring anyone around?! I suppose that adds a special absurdity to the joke. At the same time, it’s exactly what we, as Lutherans, would expect of our church leaders, even our head bishop, Bishop Eaton. As much as the Catholic church loves to idolize their Pope and consider him God’s right-hand man, us Lutherans tend to treat our bishops a little more practically. No one’s driving our bishops around, not even our head bishop. They get to maneuver traffic and construction and speed limits just like the rest of us! Catholics are kind of funny in what they prioritize and/or idolize…
Early in that joke it was suggested that the driver wouldn’t dare deny the Pope his request to drive because he wouldn’t dare question the Pope’s authority. I think this reveals what’s at the root of the unique Catholic priorities/idolatries. At the heart of their Pope worship is this twisted sense of authority. The Pope isn’t considered to be like the rest of us. The Pope was divinely chosen to lead the Catholic church and as such he has ultimate authority over the church. His voice is the voice of God himself, or so it is believed. When he speaks, he speaks for God. Of course, we as Lutherans don’t believe anyone has this much authority other than Christ himself. Christ is the head of the church, always has been and always will be. Even as powerful as Bishop Eaton is, she doesn’t remotely have the same authority as Christ. Her authority is only as powerful as we and Christ allow it to be. She serves us and the larger Lutheran church. We don’t serve her or worship her or idolize her. She would just as likely chauffeur someone else around as you or I would. Or Christ would for that matter. Christ never allowed his authority to elevate himself above others. Christ never felt he deserved to be treated special. Jesus would never allow himself to be pampered in the same way that the Pope is pampered. And yet he, above all people, deserves it! His words of comfort and healing, his ability to conquer sin and death, of course he deserves to be treated special. But he would never allow it. Jesus wants to be treated just like we treat each other. Sometimes with love and appreciation, other times with anger or suspicion. Jesus wants to be given opportunities to serve us. If that means driving us around in a limo then so be it! Jesus wants to serve…Jesus lives to serve!
Right in the middle of our passage for today, Jesus’ closing words in Matthew’s account, Jesus makes a bold statement: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” It’s an important statement because it helps us realize who Jesus is and the power he wields. Jesus has great power given to him by the Father, ALL authority. No one has such power; no king, no queen, no president, no bishop, no CEO, no parent, no Pope, no teacher, no pastor, no dictator…no one has the same authority as Christ does. And you know what he does with all that authority, all that power? He puts it to use ensuring the spread of God’s love! “Go therefore and make disciples of nations.” Go and share God’s love with the world and help others become aware of God’s love. Empower others through baptism to participate in God’s creative and redeeming work. That’s all that disciples are empowered to do: to actively receive and share God’s love with others. Disciples serve those around them. Jesus gives his authority away! All that authority, all that power, he just gives it away! Now that is absolute power, the ability and willingness to give away power. Recall when Jesus sent out 70 of his disciples to go into towns and share his love with strangers. He told them, “See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.” (10:19) Or when he spoke to his chosen 12 disciples a little bit earlier in Luke: “Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases.” (9:19) Friends, Jesus gives his power and authority away so that we might destroy the wickedness of this world through love. Sure, he could do it himself but it’s far more efficient to get us to do it for him!
We’ve been blessed with his authority to go out and serve and share God’s love with the world. Nothing can or will harm us if we trust in him and the authority he’s given us. We ought not doubt it nor lose our faith in it. His authority is almighty and all-powerful! Let us rejoice and give thanks for it! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.