“Everybody’s Gotta Serve Somebody”
A sermon by
The Rev. Keely Franke
January 29, 2012
Authority: “The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.” Authority. I don’t know about you but I’m not a big fan of authority. This might come as no surprise, but I don’t like others giving me orders and I do like to make my own decisions. I am a product of the western world after all what can I say. One might even say from time to time that I can be somewhat anti-authoritarian.
When I lived in Germany a few years back, I was surprised to find a whole culture that actually taught anti-authoritarianism in their schools. This is a country who experienced the great power behind authority go badly wrong in the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. So in the school systems and in his society growing up my husband was taught to always question those in authority and to only trust what you believe to be right. The propaganda and misuse of authority during this time when Hitler ruled made such an impact on Germany that even this week the Munich court system once again blocked a British publisher’s plan to reprint portions of Mein Kampf in a German magazine. Mein Kampf has not been allowed to be published in Germany since WWII.
I however don’t have a good excuse for questioning authority other than I was raised in the south by a family who valued independence. I rejected those authorities that told me women were a lesser gender and simply couldn’t do certain things as well as men like shoot a gun, drive a four-wheeler or boat or take a full time job. So I learned to shoot a gun, drove four-wheelers and boats growing up and when I was grown up went to college, the first woman in my family to do so, got a masters degree, and even a full time job.
The only problem was, the full time job was as a priest. As many of you know, there is quite a lengthy discernment process before one becomes a priest. A group is formed with various members who ask questions and listen for a genuine calling towards the priesthood, deaconate, or lay ministry and they also make sure the bases are covered. I will never forget when it came time to talk about authority in the Episcopal Church. My group decided it was best to ask another priest to come in to discuss this with us. Episcopal priests weren’t exactly lining up at the door to talk about authority. Many in fact said they would rather not come, they didn’t know what they would say. It seemed I was not the only one with authority issues.
And yet in the ordination service to the priesthood the first question the bishop asks the ordinand is this: “Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?” You can’t exactly cross your fingers when you answer this one. We finally did find a priest to come speak with us and he gave a presentation titled “Authority in the Episcopal Church: not a new question.”
In Mark’s gospel today, my favorite gospel by the way, Jesus has wasted no time in starting up his ministry. After a quick trip through the countryside picking up a few guys along the way he now heads back to the synagogue to start his teaching. One commentary called it this week his “kingdom campaign.” A campaign marked not only as one of speaking with authority, but as one teaching with authority. Not only was Jesus going to talk the talk but he makes it clear up front he is going to walk the walk and expect others do the same. “A new teaching, with authority!” A teaching that even the unclean spirits or demons listen to and obey. A campaign set out to exorcise demons and to heal the world one person at a time.
After listening to the President speak this week and the political candidates who want to be president campaign, they left me wondering what was missing. These men, all of them, certainly know how to speak with authority, but they don’t necessarily make me want to follow them. This led me to questioning who we give our authority to, from whom do we take our authority?
While we are not a country that has experienced authority gone wrong in the form of a dictator, we no doubt have our demons. To ignore this fact only causes more harm. Whether or not you are for war, for example, President Obama did make it clear in his speech that we cannot afford to turn our faces away from the demons that possess the women and men as they come back from combat anymore. The president called for more money to support our veterans and made a plea for businesses to hire veterans. A cause that many of us in this church could support.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 13 percent of post-Sept. 11th veterans were unemployed last month, compared with 8.5 percent for the country. Veterans account for 20 percent of suicides in America even though they are only 7 percent of the population. And according to the Iraq
and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the divorce rate among veterans continues to increase as well.
I read a story about one such veteran recently and the healing work being done on
their behalf that I found to be quite touching. Kenneth Sargent was in Iraq when a rocket attack shattered three bones in his spine. 16 months later he was able to walk again when doctors told him he never would, however, he was left with psychological wounds the doctors could not heal. He and 10 other veterans went to a four day camp called LifeQuest Transitions. This is an organization formed to help veterans transition from war to civilian life again through the arts.
One day Sargent sat down with a song writer at the camp and as the article in the Washington post said, “he began to talk. About Iraq. About the suffocating heat. About the perpetual anxiety of combat. About the numbness that slowly crept up his legs in the blurry hours after the explosion that broke his back. About the depression that clamped down once he returned home. About the nights he spent laying on piles of dirty laundry in his bedroom closet, hoping to find enough quiet, enough darkness to sleep through his nightmares.”
After telling his story and then hearing his words put into a song the floodgates opened for Sargent. Tears began to roll down his face and he said, “This is the first time I’ve heard myself speak,” he said. “It’s like I’m hearing myself talk. I’m healing myself through you guys.”
For Sargent this experience was a sort of modern day exorcism if you will. Even if we haven’t been to war we all have our demons that cloud our thinking, get in the way of our speaking, prevent us from fully living. Jesus told the demons to be silent and to get out of the man. Imagine his thrill once they were gone. The thrill of hearing his own voice again of finding his way back home.
Whether we like authority or not we are all ruled by some kind of authority or another. Sometimes we even end up giving over our authority to those unclean spirits found in our working long hours, our addictions, the voices in our heads telling us we’re not good enough. To our politicians, to the people the world has deemed famous, to a society, in the words of the apostle Paul, puffed up with too much information and knowledge to sift through and not enough love to build up. And then Jesus arrives on the scene, teaching with a different kind of authority.
One that provides release to the prisoners and sets the captive free. One that even the unclean spirits hear and obey.
The Episcopal Church, thankfully, is not one that sets hard and fast doctrine, but rather, within limits, gives us the freedom to work out what we believe. The priest who ended up coming to my discernment committee ended on this reflection about authority. He said, “I suspect that we will keep faith with the Lord of the Church, who both appreciated authority and challenged it.” Because of that it can oftentimes get messy in our church and we don’t all always agree on who has the final authority.
But in the words of Bob Dylan, everybody’s “Gotta Serve Somebody:”
You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
The question is, who’s it gonna be?