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July 4, 2021

“Authority, Power and a Plan”

(From Mark 6:6b-13) 

He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

     It was during my junior year of high school that a group of my friends decided to form a sorority for those gals at my high school the “popular” sororities had denied, or even worse, completely ignored.  I had not wanted to join any of the existing sororities, but at the personal invitation of a few of my close friends, I reluctantly agreed to become a charter member of this newly formed group.

     I soon came to realize that the leadership of this sorority was lacking in their development of a clear plan of action for this new group.  They did not seek to charter with our school as a formal sorority with a staff advisor, and so they lacked the authority that came with the organization and structure of a chartered school group.  Needless to say, the only real power the leadership of this group had was the power of persuasion; and that dwindled away when the charismatic President of the sorority moved with her family to California.   The Vice President of the sorority, one not nearly so energetic and charismatic, could not persuade the group to mutual agreement on activities, charitable missions, or fund-raising.  With neither authority, power, nor a well-developed plan at work for her, the group lost its cohesion and was able to survive only about a semester under her direction.  

     This high school sorority experience taught me a valuable lesson about the consequences of lacking in authority, power and appropriate planning when engaging in any new undertaking.  Jesus knew well that potential negative consequences and outcomes could arise from a mission venture that was lacking in authority, power or adequate planning.  Jesus insured that his ministry and mission lacked in no area, so that it would accomplish, in its time, all that was intended to be completed.  Jesus had authority that derived directly from his place among the persons of the Godhead—he was, and is, God the Son.   When Jesus preached and taught, he did so with authority.  In Chapter 1 of the Gospel of Mark, we are told, “He [Jesus] was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes”.  In fact, it was this very authority in his teaching that caused a fuss among the people in his hometown, as we read in our lesson this morning. They wondered where he got such authoritative teaching, and they took offense at him because they knew his family and humble background so well.

     Jesus backed and validated his authority as a member of the Godhead with deeds of great power.  His compassion and mercy for the infirmed, the sin-sick and the downtrodden were accompanied by his performing works of healing for the body, mind and soul of those who believed in him.  When, in Matthew Chapter 11 John the Baptist’s disciples asked if Jesus was the Messiah, or if they should wait for another, Jesus had these words for them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

     Jesus also had a plan for the path of his ministry.  It was God’s plan for the fulfillment of our salvation.  Jesus followed this plan without deviation, and in the proper course of time.  In keeping with Jewish tradition, Jesus began his ministry when came to John at the River Jordan to be baptized.  He spent forty days in the desert to deeply discern and hone the course of his public healing ministry.  As we already discussed, Jesus backed his words and teachings with deeds of power, so that those who heard him may come to believe.  And, he then completed his journey in Jerusalem, where he submitted to a horrific death upon a cross, arising from death on the third day to prove that the love of God conquers all-even death.  He then ascended into heaven, sending the Holy Spirit to guide, defend and empower all believers in a new era of grace abounding, until Christ Jesus shall come again to claim his church.  What a plan for our good this plan has proven to be!

     As we are discussing authority, power and planning on this July 4th, 2021, Independence Day in America, I felt it would be appropriate to share with you about how American Independence from British rule affected Methodism under our founder, John Wesley. It reveals for us that sometimes, in the course of our earthly living, we must take up the mantle of authority and power and develop our own plan in order to accomplish our goals.  As American independence loomed imminent, John Wesley became aware that the Methodism of his homeland, England, would no longer well serve American Methodists.  For example, British Methodism was favorable toward King George as ruler over matters of state, which was the very source of the contention that lead to the American Revolution.   I can still recall from my school days the colonists’ cry of, “No taxation without representation”, or in other words, we in America demand a say in how we are governed and taxed.  So, John Wesley set out to develop a Methodism for America.  The trouble was, Wesley could not get any support from his native Anglican Church.  The Bishop of London, Robert Lowth, who also had oversight of missions in the American Colonies, would not ordain elders for the purpose of serving in residence in America.  Therefore, seeing this need as crucial, Wesley personally ordained Thomas Coke, Richard Whatcoat, and Thomas Vasey to be sent to America.  Coke was specifically ordained as a “superintendent,” and Whatcoat and Vasey would serve under him.  In addition to ordaining Ministers for the American Church John Wesley developed amended “Articles of Religion” based on the Anglican Articles, a Book of Common Prayer,  A “Collection of Psalms and Hymns for the Lord’s Day,” as well as his written sermons and notes.  A new Methodist Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church of America was thus provided by Methodism’s founder, John Wesley.  It was formally chartered, in Wesleyan design, at the Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, Maryland, at the Christmas Conference of 1784.

     Needless to say, these activities created a great deal of consternation in Wesley’s native England, as well as in America, where Francis Asbury had an established and working hierarchy among his preachers.  Yet, accommodations and concessions were made to form a new church in America.  John Wesley remained loyal to both his Methodist Societies and to the Anglican Church of England until his death in 1791.

    On this Independence Day, July 4, 2021, may these examples of authority, power and planning from scripture and life experience guide us at Peninsula United Methodist Church.  Our times, just as Wesley’s offer both challenges and opportunities.  So, may we be creative in taking up our mantle of authority to discern our next steps in mission and ministry, to our Church and community, and to the greater world in our time.  Amen.

Hymn: “O Worship the King”

 (words-Robert Grant, music-Johann Michael Haydn; arr. William Gardiner)  

 O worship the King, all glorious above, O gratefully sing God’s power and God’s love; our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days, pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.