To Teach with “Authority” and Not as the “Scribes”

By the Rev. Dr. Frederick R. Trost
Theologian and Conference Minister Emeritus of the Wisconsin Conference UCC

In the times through which we are living, there is likely no more urgent need than this.  There are millions around the world who anticipate “with eager longing” faith that is lived authentically in the face of the scorching heat of all that denies the wonder and magnificence of creation and the grace and truth of the Creator.  We are summoned daily to faith that addresses and transforms the “unclean spirits” of the age. 

In the twentieth century, one of the greatest of the Church’s poets, Jochen Klepper, observed that true authority is deeply rooted in our trust in God who knows us well and calls each of us by name.  Where our words and deeds dance together, God is honored, even in the midst of human doubt and weakness.  “Without God,” the poet wrote, “I am like a fish stranded upon a beach; I am a drop of water evaporating in the blazing heat, a stem of grass immersed in sand,… a bird with wings, unable to fly.  But when God calls me by name, I am water and I am fire, I am earth and I am sky.” 

The faith of the Church, where authentic, offers a multitude of illustrations:  There is the life of Lilias Trotter, a gifted artist who was mentored by the painter, John Ruskin.  When she was 34 years old, she left her native England and traveled to Algeria where, without knowledge of a single word of the language of the people, became understood and trusted by them because of her great compassion for the sick and for children.  It is said that she possessed a “spiritual authority” that enabled her to establish a vital mission among the poor, reflecting authentically the deep, radical love of Jesus for the “little ones” of this world.

This came home to me dramatically a few years ago when visiting one of the diakonic ministries of the Evangelical Church of the Union in East Berlin.  It was a Sunday morning. The great UCC theologian and teacher at Duke Divinity School, Frederick Herzog and I were just returning to the campus of St. Stephen’s Home for exceptional children, after speaking in Sunday services in the city.  The children, some of whom could not see, others who could not hear or speak, had gathered for a celebration of the Eucharist in the chapel.  As the service ended, they appeared at the chapel door.  Those who could, raced across the courtyard to a dining room where all of us were to enjoy dinner together.  As we passed the chapel, a young boy seated in a wheel chair, saw us, complete strangers.  Having received the bread and cup of Holy Communion, he rolled his chair across our path, turned to us and, with a beautiful smile on his face, said simply, “I wish you much joy.” 

I have never forgotten that boy or those words.  They express the deep and abiding spiritual authority of those who seek to live in the world aware of the presence of Jesus.  They witness to the very nature of the Church.  Having been fed with the “spiritual food of the body and blood” of our Redeemer, we enter the world and, in words and deeds that bear some resemblance to each other, we seek to offer it “much joy;” wholeness, peace, the gift of true shalom.  Such is the foundation and the way of authentic diakonic ministries. 

Thanks be to God!