Text: Amos 7:7-15; Mark 6:7-13

Theme: Our Authority is from God in Jesus Christ

Subject: Authority

Title: I’m no expert, but I do know who Jesus Christ is.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “authority” and “expertise” lately. It seems like authority is a big question in our society—who has it, how can I get it, how do I get other people to recognize that I have it.

That last part seems more important than the others most of the time.

It is more important that somebody thinks I know what I’m talking about than it is that I actually know what I’m talking about. In fact, that’s one thing you learn in college… to talk in such a way that you seem to know what you’re saying when in fact you have no idea either about what you’re supposed to be talking about or about what you are actually saying. But here’s the catch—lots of people go to college these days…and we’re getting better at figuring out when somebody doesn’t really have a clue.

So we invented graduate school—a place where you can go and learn how to talk about something, or nothing, in a language completely other than English so that you can fool people into believing you’re an expert.

The more unintelligible you are, the more you must know… the more “authority” you must have.

…I’m not just picking on the academic community because we do the same thing in our everyday lives.

A comedian I once saw talked about how he got by at his family gatherings with his dad and uncles who were sports fanatics. He said he would pick one good player’s name from a pro team, like the Titans, and when conversation would die down he would look around and just say “that Vince Young…” and shake his head and let the conversation get rolling again, all the while everyone assumed that he knew what he was talking about, whether it was good or bad. We do things like that…

We live like we’re in one of those commercials… you know the ones… “Thank you for delivering my baby Dr…” “Oh, I’m not a Dr… but I did stay at a Holiday Inn express last night.”

People want short cuts to authority…

Ways that we can do something, or get the benefits of doing something without the work that goes with it.

But even though I think we all want to look like we’re experts, we tend to want other, real experts to tell us what to do and/or assure us that what we’re already doing is alright. I think that’s why news casts so often come equipped with talking heads these days… experts to share their wisdom with the rest of us.

And none of us wants out Doctor or dentist to be in the practice of pretending to know what they’re talking about.

The scriptures have their own take on authority and where it comes from, and few stories could exemplify that better than our Old Testament and Gospel lessons today.

By the time of our Old Testament lesson the Kingdom of Israel had been divided, with the Northern Kingdom being known as Israel or Samaria and the Southern Kingdom known as Judah. Historically we know that the Northern Kingdom was the more powerful of the two kingdoms, and the more involved in the politics of the region. Because of this, it tended to trust in its military strength and be more open to outside influences.

This sets up the tension we see in the Old Testament prophetic writings where we see people sent out from Judah, the southern kingdom, to warn their brothers and sisters in the north.

This was the case with the prophet Amos who is sent to Samaria to the Northern Kingdom of Israel to proclaim the coming judgement of the Lord. God tells Amos to prophesy saying:

“See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by;

the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,

and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,

and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

In other words, God is measuring Israel, testing them with the plumb line and seeing how far they’ve strayed. Amos has prayed for Israel twice and the Lord has relented, but he will not relent a third time, and so Amos is told to prophesy their destruction.

It’s not a surprise that those in authority in the Northern Kingdom don’t like what they hear Amos saying, and so the priest Amaziah, someone with the appropriate credentials, an expert with authority, talks to the king about it and then goes to Amos and tells him to leave the country.

And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

It’s interesting to me that the priest, when telling Amos never to prophesy again in Israel, uses the words he does when describing the shrine at Bethel. “never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

What Amaziah said may technically have been true… Bethel was recognized by the king, and it was a temple of the kingdom—they didn’t have separation of church and state after all… but isn’t it interesting that it is those things that are important to Amaziah, and evidently to Jeroboam as well.

that it is a sanctuary of the King’s… never once is God mentioned. You could say that Amaziah and Jeraboam were testifying against themselves, justifying God’s judgement.

As if to accentuate the fact that they had given up on God and instead focused on human authority and power, Amos tells the priest, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, `Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

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The contrast couldn’t be starker… the authority Amaziah invokes is the authority of the king and his earthly kingdom, he points in the direction he believes authority flows from and never mentions God.

Amos on the other hand freely admits that he has no credentials… he doesn’t have the background, he didn’t go to prophets’ school and learn how to prophesy,

his daddy wasn’t a prophet,

he wasn’t from a priestly family. He has no authority…at least not from that perspective.

But that’s not important—Because God is the source of Amos’ authority…

God gave Amos a task and as long as he was faithful, and proclaimed the message that God gave him

Then he had the authority… and not just the authority of an “expert”

He was speaking with the authority of Almighty God…

The only authority he might have outside of sheep and sycamore trees.

But it’s God’s authority that matters.

And that’s the image we’re presented with in a different way in our Gospel lesson today, where Christ sends out the twelve with a very specific charge, and specific requirements:

Mark tells us that Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits..

That he told them what they were to wear and to take with them

And that if they went somewhere and the people wouldn’t hear their message, they were to “shake off the dust on their feet as a testimony against them.”

Elsewhere in scripture we’re told that when the twelve, and later a larger group of 70 or 72, are sent out, that they heal and cast out demons in Jesus’ name.

Because, it was Jesus’ authority they were exercising…

It was Christ’s authority over demons and the natural world that he’d demonstrated to dramatically in the calming of the storm and the casting out of demons

It was his authority they were ministering under… it was by his authority that they healed the sick and cast out demons.

I really don’t think they would have been effective if they went out, ran into a demoniac, a person who was possessed by a demon and said “In the name of Peter, I command you to leave”

The demon would have just laughed at them…

If I ever run into a demon, I’m certainly not going to rebuke it in the name of Jody…it wouldn’t work…

If I did it in the name of Bill, it might get a little more scared but it still wouldn’t work…

It’s only through the authority of Jesus Christ that those things happen…

It’s the name of Jesus that has the power, because all the power belongs to God and Jesus Christ.

And this doesn’t just apply in cases of possession or healing… It applies when anyone claims to prophesy… we have to test prophesies against the word of God written and see if what is said adds up…

The same thing goes for teaching… and this is something that many in the Church need to hear today: When Christians, ordained or lay people, speak about things addressed in scripture, they only have the authority of Christ behind them if what they say is in accordance with the revelation given in the Holy Bible.

There are too many people… especially clergy, who play upon their status in the world, as representatives, as people with a certain status, to foist their opinions on others…

to get a pulpit to shout their opinions from…

To try to railroad people into believing something that is against the word of God

Simply because they have a degree

Or wear a collar, or a certain kind of suit…

Because they—because we—are seen as experts…

And to the people out there, who aren’t in Church this morning, who haven’t heard about Jesus Christ—You are their expert, because you are one of the few Christians they may know or talk to… this applies to all of us.

The problem is, without Jesus Christ with me, I have no authority,

Without the bible, I have nothing to say…

I don’t have any authority of my own,

Not to stand up here and preach, not to teach, not really even to pray on my own, except I do it through the name of Jesus Christ.

Amos might have been able to talk about sycamores, or sheep… Peter and the other disciples might have been able to talk about fishing or taking up taxes… I might be able to talk about football or history or something, on my own authority…

But when anyone is talking about the things of God, they can only speak from the authority of Jesus Christ as tested by the word of God in Holy Scripture.

As Christians we need to remember that our authority, if we have any at all, comes from Jesus Christ, and nowhere else…

If we remember that, if we do the things we do for Jesus Christ’s sake and through his name…

Then we’ll see miracles even greater than the disciples saw…

“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.”