Sunday, May 11, 2014

Authorising authority.

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis, Rochester, and at St Augustine’s Canterbury on the second and third Sundays after Easter 2014, respectively . 

 You’re probably very well aware of controversial ideas in the Bible.

St Paul says that Man is the head of a Woman; Moses says that you mustn’t wear clothes made of different materials, and gentle Jesus, meek and mild, throws the money changers out of the temple in frenzy wild.

There are lots of things we find difficult about understanding what God is really saying to us.

Do we Christians really have to live by rules that defy common sense or that seem to contradict each other?


St Peter makes a rather controversial statement:

“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.”

So we are to submit to Kings and Governors and the police and so on and so forth.

That sounds fine and potentially makes for an ordered and peaceful society, but you have to admit that this seems to be a rather irresponsible attitude if the Government is behaving in an unpleasant or even evil manner.

We know that the phrase “I am just following orders” is exactly the attitude of the soldiers that crucified Our Lord Jesus and is the same attitude that has and will kill other innocent people.

Unless orders are questioned, they will result in the same atrocities as we saw in the last centuries.

In recent years, the fight for society to remain free has been the focus of our attention. Isaiah bids us “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”

Can we really seek to end oppression and submit to authority at the same time?


Questioning authority is not the same as deciding not to submit to it.

In this country, we are free to question the Government’s actions and policies.

In other countries, this is not true and, to those who do seek to question authority and suffer for it, St Peter says, “This is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.”

If we speak out against an unjust law because it is truly unjust, and are punished for speaking out, then, though we suffer and perhaps suffer horribly, God will reward us to the extent that our sufferings become glorious badges of honour!

But, if we steal a car, then we get punished for it because stealing is a crime.

We can hardly accuse the Law of oppressing us if we’re simply not going to obey the rules of what is just and fair.

But then, who says what’s just and fair?

Who says that stealing is a crime?

Perhaps it isn’t.

Perhaps it’s only the Government saying that stealing is a crime.

Why should we believe that?

Does stealing really have to be a crime?


For some people, stealing really is a way of life and they do it brazenly and at every opportunity. For the Moslem, the Jew and the Christian, stealing is forbidden by the Ten Commandments, and most, if not all, other religions, too, see stealing as being out of order.

For us Christians, it is the authority of God that says stealing is wrong.

The word “authority” has, at the heart of its meaning, the right to make the rules, to be the author of the rule book.

In our society, that authority for the social order rests with the Government and the Queen.

Yet, that authority arises by the consensus of the society they govern.

If we don’t abide by Society’s rules, we are punished.

Yet, that authority still must originate somewhere.

Government and the Queen are also under authority.

The centurion with the sick servant recognises this when he sends his servants to the Lord Jesus.

He explicitly recognises Jesus’ authority, for this centurion says, “I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go , and he goeth; and to another, Come , and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.”

The Lord also reminds Pontius Pilate, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.”

We do see Jesus question the authority of Roman soldier, king, scribe and Pharisee and he is very scathing in his criticism.

However, notice how Our Lord submits to the social authority.

He does nothing wrong but accepts the consequences, no matter how unfair.

St Peter again reminds us that “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”


The fact of the matter is that Society is never going to be perfect, and indeed is often going to be hostile to the way that Christians should live.

Many of the issues that worry us now are going to stay and are not going to get better, if we’re honest about things.

Whatever is wrong in our society, and there are some things which are very definitely wrong, unfair and unGodly, we have to take up our cross and follow Christ, taking it patiently.

We can and should speak out against each and every wickedness in the world, and if society punishes us for that, then we must meekly accept that punishment, just as Our Lord did.

However, we do need to live as Our Lord lived.

He says to us “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's.”

He gave an unfair society the justice that its corrupt rulers sought. They got what they wanted.

Yet they don't get what we have - Hope.

Not the wishy-washy hope that it isn't going to rain because we've got the washing out.

He bids us live in the hope that, one day, we will live under the undiluted authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ as King and God.

"In a little while and ye shall not see me, and yet a little while and ye shall see me."

The Society of Man will not get any bettwe. It will always be against God and His Church.

The Society that Christ promises will be perfect, and He is coming back for us in His own time.
We will be part of this kingdom of God, even here and now!

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if we could realise that great Kingdom here and now?

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