Sermon for Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
February 1, 2015
Tonight is the big game. The biggest game all year. Seattle Seahawks. New England Patriots. The money, the fame, the prestige, the honor – it all comes down to tonight. The players have been hoping to play in this game all season. The coaches have been preparing all season. But in the end – the game won’t be decided by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, or Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. The game won’t be decided by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, or the Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. Ultimately, the entire game comes down to one man. He wears a white hat and zebra stripes. And for tonight’s big game, the referee is Bill Vinovich. A name you’ve probably never heard. But, if it all comes down to one play, one decisive call, Bill Vinovich will be the man in charge. Coaches and players can yell and scream till their blue in the face, but it won’t matter. Because the referee has authority.
Authority is a funny thing. We like authority when it’s on our side. When the president is of our political party, we like the authority, but once the other party is elected, well… We love the referee when the calls are going our way, but the instant the referee makes a call for the other team, he must be a bum, blind, or bought off. Authority is not like trust. Authority is not earned, authority is implicit by office. You may not trust an elected official, but by virtue of the office, they have authority. Tonight, depending on whether you’re for the Seahawks or the Patriots, you might trust the referee Bill Vinovich, or you might hate his guts. But either way, he has the final authority.
It was a big day two thousand years at a synagogue in Capernaum. It was the sabbath, and everybody had crowded into the synagogue like tonight Americans will crowd around our TVs. A new rabbi, a carpenter’s son from Nazareth, was teaching in the synagogue, but his teaching was different. This new rabbi had authority. The other scribes and other rabbis would teach, but they would not teach of their own authority. Other scribes and rabbis would say things like, “according to so and so, this is what should be taught.” But Jesus has authority of his own. He does not need anybody else’s idea, because he has his own authority. Because Jesus is the Holy one of God. A fact which even the demons can recognize. Whether it’s the other worshippers in the synagogue, or it’s the unclean demons in this man – one thing is certain. They all recognize that Jesus has authority. Whether they like it or not, whether they agree with him or not, whether they trust him or not – Jesus is in charge.
The question is then turned to us. Do we live as if Jesus has authority?
I will not ask all of you to raise your hands, but my guess is that many of you wake up in the middle of the night worrying. All of the sudden, it’s three AM, your eyes pop wide open, and your mind starts racing. And you start asking yourself impossible questions. The anxiety train has left the station, and it doesn’t have plans on stopping. “How will we pay for college? Will I have the money for retirement? I think my spouse might be an alcoholic. How will I pay my mortgage if I’m laid off? I think my kids might be doing drugs. I don’t have any friends. All the other moms are so skinny. How am I supposed to take care of my aging parents and run my kids to everywhere under the sun and go to work?” I do believe that there are demons in this world – and among them, they go by names of anxiety, depression, addiction, and fear. It’s three AM, your mind is racing, you toss and turn, but it’s no help. We’ve all had those nights.
It’s not just you. I think the suburbs especially have a way of intensifying our anxiety. We see all the other families whose kids are getting straight A’s and All-Stars in every sport. We see that guy across the street who just bought the nice, new car. The one with leather seats that warm up. We notice that woman who is at least twenty years older than we are but is still out walking her dog everyday.
And here’s the question we ask ourselves in the middle of the night, when the demons are twisting our minds – “What’s wrong with me?”
The real root of that question, is the belief that we are the ones with authority. We have allowed ourselves to believe that we are in control of our lives. And then when things don’t shake out like we wanted them to, the only people we have to blame is ourselves. What the world tells us, and what the suburbs especially want us to believe, is that we have authority over our lives.
The good news of Jesus Christ is that we do not have that authority. The Lord Jesus, the Holy One of God, has authority. We don’t. Many of us wish to be god, we wish to be in control. I promise you, tonight if you’re watching the Super Bowl, at some point Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll will wish that they were the referees. That they were in control, that they have authority. But they don’t. The referee has authority. No matter how much they scream, the referee has authority. And no matter how much we worry and stress, we don’t have the final authority. God does.
The good news is also that your anxiety, fear, anger, depression, do not have authority either. The negative voices in your head, the gremlins that keep you awake, they are not the final authority. The Lord Jesus, the Holy One of God is in control.
And finally, the good news is that the referee, Jesus, the true authority, he is on our side. We hope that Bill Vinovich, tonight’s referee will be fair and impartial. We trust in a Lord Jesus is neither fair nor impartial. The true authority, Jesus, loves us more than he loves our anxiety. Even though he’s the referee, Jesus is pulling for our side.
When it’s late in the fourth quarter, when it looks like your demons are going to win, remember that they won’t. And that they never will. Because the referee is against them, and is on our side. The Lord Jesus wants us to win, and we will win, because the Lord Jesus has authority.