Weekly Seeds: Authority
Sunday, June 4, 2023
Trinity Sunday | Year A
God Who Calls, God Who Comes, God Who Sends, help us carry your ministry forth into the world.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
All readings for this Sunday:
Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Psalm 8 • 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 • Matthew 28:16-20
How do you understand power?
What power do you hold? What is the nature of your authority?
When do you delegate your power and authority?
How do you understand God’s power to be at work in you and through you?
How do you share your authority?
By Cheryl A. Lindsay
Delegation is an act that transfers power, responsibility, or authority from one to another. A delegate represents someone, using a larger group, at a gathering of similar representatives. At the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, members of local churches will represent conferences as delegates. At that gathering, we consider the whole church to be together through these delegations. In delegation, the transference serves a purpose: to ensure that the needed activity takes place by those entrusted to do the work.
Delegation requires trust, commitment, and a yielding of power. The beauty of delegation is that by sharing responsibility and roles, the scale of reach expands. The one who delegates is freed for other pursuits. The one who receives the delegation gains in experience, impact, and authority.
The lectionary texts center the power of God at work. In Genesis, we meet God as Creator, crafting the universe in an orderly and systematic way with humanity as the finishing element of the creative act. In Matthew, we observe Creator become Creation in full humanness while retaining divine authority. We note the Human One’s course has completed, and yet the kindom is still coming, having arrived but not fully realized. In Matthew, we know God as the Chosen One, who has taken the brokenness of humanity and creation upon themself in an cataclysmic act that ushers in a new era moving toward a restored creation, where the broken are made whole and the fallen may stand firm.
In both passages, we see God as Power and Empowered. The power of God is evident. The
God who creates life, renews life, and is life loves life. The hope of the resurrection is that nothing can overcome the power of life itself and the authority of the Life Giver.
From the first, Jesus has taught and acted with authority. After the Sermon on the Mount, “the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as their scribes” (7:29). The disciples are amazed at Jesus’ authority when he calms the storm; “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’ (8:22). The Pharisees are deeply offended that Jesus claims and demonstrates authority not only to heal but also to forgive sins (9:2–8). Forgiving sins is God’s prerogative (as administered through them—the designated authoritative interpreters of the law). From that point on, the Pharisees hound Jesus with questions and challenges to the very end of his life and ministry. Jesus even authorizes others, sharing his authority with his disciples. He gives them authority over unclean spirits and to cure every disease (10:1). When Jesus enters Jerusalem and continues his teaching and healing, the chief priests and the elders are distressed enough to ask, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (21:23). The implication in Jesus’ answer is that his authority is from God (21:23–27). Now there is no doubt of Jesus’ authority. God has raised him from the dead; it is a validation of his life and ministry. Now he announces “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me.”
Matthew’s narrative emphasizes the authority of Christ; it’s an essential component of his identity as the Messiah. The Chosen One is anointed and appointed with authority. Jesus says that all authority in heaven and earth have been given to him. It’s a gift with the identity of the giver implied if not explicitly expressed. As we celebrate Trinity Sunday, we acknowledge that Jesus never acted alone or under his own power. His life and ministry were fueled by the community of the Triune God. God as Three Persons in One is essentially communal. It is the collected authority of the divine that shows up and speaks creation into existence. The Trinity is present at the public launching of the earthly ministry of Jesus at his baptism as the Embodied enters the water, the Voice speaks into the atmosphere, and the Spirit descends like a dove.
Now, as Jesus prepares to return to his eternal position, the union of the Three Persons is acknowledged in the commissioning of the disciples to continue the embodied work of kindom creation. The assignment from Genesis: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” evolves to his words as noted in Matthew: “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.”
Humanity has always been charged with responsibility for tending, maintaining, and advancing God’s creative acts in the world. God has always chosen to work through people. In creation, we were created to resemble God; in the incarnation, Jesus comes to resemble us. Through it all, Creator continues to refine us anew through the power of abiding love.
Note that Jesus had invited the disciples to meet him on the mountain. They come… accepting the invitation, and their response upon greeting him was to worship. Jesus inspired them and drew their adoration and praise. At the same time, the text tells us that “some doubted.”
Jesus does not separate them by the strength of their convictions. He does not eliminate some from the commissioning based on a litmus test of faith. He does not sit down the doubters or make them prove their worthiness to spread the good news that they struggle to fully accept. He commissions them (and us) all to make the good news way of being, living, and going part of who we are…because of who his is and what he has been given in order to delegate this work to his disciples.
And like Jesus, we can be strengthened and encouraged that we do not journey alone.
The Gospel closes with a promise. “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” “I am with you” has been a central theme for the Gospel. This theme also pervades the book of Isaiah, which is the Scripture Matthew relies upon more than any other. It offers an understanding of God’s way with God’s people. It offers a vision of the coming reign of God and the coming Messiah. Isaiah is a book full of assurances of God’s presence and saving work. Emblematic is Isaiah 43, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you … For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa. 43). “I am with you” is the beginning, middle, and ending of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is identified from the beginning as “Emmanuel” (1:21), which means “God with us.” Midway in the Gospel Jesus comes to the disciples across the storm tossed sea and addresses them with his assuring presence: “‘Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid’” (14:27). Now the promise is given, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” It is the final word of the Gospel, and perhaps the only word we really need.
Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus, an account of his human ancestry. It’s filled with names connected to lives and stories of a particular people who journeyed, struggled, and wrestled with God who was faithful and true through it all. The narrative ends with this passage that opens wide the net beyond that people group. The genealogy begins with Abraham and emphasizes David. The Great Commission reminds us that God is the Creator and Lover of all creation.
The power, energy, and love that spoke the world into being has been gifted to human creatures. The authority of the Triune God delegates care, responsibility, and stewardship of creation into our hands.
Go in the name of the Voice, the Body, and the Spirit…with authority.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
Disturb us, O Lord
when we are too well-pleased with ourselves
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, O Lord
when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the water of life
when, having fallen in love with time,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.
Stir us, O Lord
to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas
where storms show Thy mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
and invited the brave to follow.
(Attributed to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu adapted from an original prayer by Sir Francis Drake)
For further reflection:
“Authority without wisdom is like a heavy axe without an edge, fitter to bruise than polish.” ― Anne Bradstreet
“But it doesn’t take a thousand men to open a door, my lord.”
“It might to keep it open.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin”
“We are to be agents of His great upside down Kindgom, where the outcasts are listened to, the broken are given dignity, and those suffering under the weight of sexual exploitation are rescued and healed.” ― Mary E. DeMuth
A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.
The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (email@example.com), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.
About Weekly Seeds
Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the “Lectionary,” a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.
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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.