June 24, 2012

 

    ON AUTHORITY AND ABILITY

                                                         Sermon delivered by the Reverend Father Bill Smith
                                                at Holy Faith Episcopal Church, Port St Lucie, on 24 July 2012
 
                                                           Reading from the Psalter: Psalm 107: 1-3, 23-32
                                                          Reading for the Epistle:       II Corinthians 6: 1-13
                                                          Reading from the Gospel:                Mark 4: 35-41

 

I was once riding up in the elevator, except we called it the lift, at the United Nations Building in Bangkok.  Most of the other passengers were Filipina secretaries who worked there and what struck me was how they carried on a conversation in three languages, English, Spanish and Tagalog.  And when I say this, I mean that each of them would utter sentences in which words from all three languages occurred and were just the right words in their context.  I shared in a similar experience in our home in Nairobi when our son, Lincoln, had done something which earned him a chastisement from his mother.  I don’t remember what he had done, and I don’t remember what she said, but it was only three words long, and it had the whole family laughing since each word was in a different language, English, Thai and Ki-Swahili, and each word was exactly the right one. 

It is often very useful to have knowledge of several languages, and also knowledge of several versions of ones own language.  And not just so one can use a variety of words, but because thoughts and concepts are often expressed in more meaningful ways in one language than they are in another.  I find this to be the case when we have joint services.  I follow the readings at these services in Spanish rather than English and see how the Spanish translation is sometimes quite different from the English, and that sometimes it adds new insights for me to what the writers of the New Testament were seeking to express. 

I would also say that it is useful to follow the English versions printed in the bulletin each week using a different version.  We forget that translators use words and phrases, which, while being a translation of the Greek text, are often used to advance the theological or sociological viewpoint of the translator.  Even the ever-popular King James’ Version does this, the panel of translators knowing that they had been appointed by a king and his bishops and that their work had to paint both the king and the bishops in a positive light.  So little tin-pot rulers of a small town or a tribal chief might be described as a king, and people, men and women, who held positions of leadership in a congregation might be described as bishops. 

The other day I was talking with one of the members of our congregation who attends the Spanish-language service.  A question arose as to the meaning of the word, “might”.  We noticed that often in English texts this could be replaced by the word, “power” or “authority”.  However, in Spanish texts the word most used is poder, which basically means, “to be able to”, “to have the ability to”.  Whether “power” or “poder”, both translations reflect something of the original Greek, but each places emphasis on a different shade of meaning, or, as it is often phrased these days, “a different layer of meaning.”  What I find helpful is to keep both shades of meaning in mind as I read the Bible.  When we refer to God as Almighty, as we do in the Creed, what we are really saying is that he is the source of All Power, which is what one of the terms used in Hebrew to describe God actually means, and that he is able to do all things.  In English we sometimes use the word “Omnipotent” to describe God, from the Latin, a word which might be translated as “All Powerful”, but might just as well be understood as meaning that he has all the potential to do anything he chooses to do.

Both understandings reflect something of the divinity of God, but the question remains as to how we are to understand the concept of “mightiness” when we talk about Jesus, and then when we talk about the Church as the Body of Christ in the World, and of ourselves as individual members of the Church.  The passage from the Gospel according to Mark that we read just now points up something of the character of the “mightiness” of Jesus.  But does it display his authority over the weather or his ability to control the weather?  But before we pursue that too far, let us consider for a moment how Jesus talks about power or poder in another context.  We are familiar with the story, elsewhere in this Gospel, of Jesus carrying out a healing by pronouncing the forgiveness of the patient’s sins.  This brought forth strong criticism from the authorities, the “powers”, in the synagogue where the healing took place. Jesus rebutted his critics by arguing that the Son of Man has the power to forgive sin, and to demonstrate that he told the invalid to take up his bed and walk, and the man was empowered to do so.

What I understand this miracle narrative to be telling us is that each of us, as a member of the Church and, therefore, of the Body of the Christ, has the ability to forgive, and that it is as we forgive others that we see the healing of relationships.  We know this is so very true within the family, if only we would exercise our ability to forgive one another.  And being true within the particular human family, we surely have the ability to recognize that the same is true within the wider family of the Church, that Christians have the ability to love and forgive one another, so that, as happened in Antioch in the time of Acts of the Apostles, we are recognized as being the followers of Jesus by our ability to love one another.  If there is one way in which we as individual Christians and collectively as a congregation are able to reveal the omnipotence and the almightiness of God, it is in our exercising our God-given ability to love and forgive one another.  We do not need to be given power to do this, for we already have the ability to poder, to do so, if you will allow me to misuse a Spanish word.

Yet our Gospel reading this morning was not about the healing power of forgiving love, it is about changing the weather!  In this passage, Jesus was seen as demonstrating his ability to change the weather.  Now we can address the question as to whether we can change the weather.  These days this is a hot-button issue in national and international politics.  Governments rise and fall over the issue of climate change and how to effect it.  What is all too often forgotten in the heat of the argument is that we do have the ability to change the climate.  We have already done it very effectively over the last two centuries!  But we have done it in such a manner that it is to our universal detriment. 

It is not industrialization that has been the cause of climate change, so much as the way in which the human race, or those members of the human race with access to industrialization, have gone about exploiting the knowledge, the God-given knowledge, that led us to industrialization and all the scientific wonders that have been revealed to us – which we proudly claim that we have discovered or invented.  If one thing is very clear from the Scriptures it is that we are called to use God’s gifts in the service of his creation for the benefit of all and not the material and financial advantage of a few.

That might sound like something akin to heresy in the World as it has become through our actions, but we need to keep going back to the basics.  Jesus made it very clear that he came to save and to serve others, and he sought no material or financial profit, save that of knowing that he was doing the will of his Father.  He once described that as his food and drink. 

If we are to walk the way of Jesus, the way about which he spoke as he approached Jerusalem and Gethsemane on the last night of his earthly life, then it must be the way of self-surrender, of surrendering the wealth of assets, knowledge, and skills to the will of God and the benefit of those who are really in need, just as did Jesus when he reached out to the sick man in the synagogue.  It is to be the way of using power, poder, to relieve the needs of others, as Jesus did in the boat that night on the lake.  And as did Jesus that night so long ago, we need to wake up and act!  We need to surrender our wills to God and to use the ability that has been given us in his service and the service of one another, and not just for our individual benefit, but for the well-being of all, for we are all of us members of the Body of Christ, we are members of the Son of Man, and  so we are called to together be the Son of Man and to live, to do and to be as he has shown us, and has told us that we have the ability to be.   

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