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Wednesday Words
January 24, 2024
Trust Others... With Authority
Pastor John Cunningham

If you’re driving and come to a red light, you would stop. Even if there’s not another vehicle in sight, isn’t it extremely likely that you would wait until the light turns green?

It seems to me that most drivers would do that. On the other hand, speed limits seem to be widely ignored, especially on highways. 

Why the difference? Traffic signals and speed limits are there by the same authority. Why would anyone both obey and ignore that same authority?

Maybe it’s because we Americans like our freedom and are such individualists. Articles are written about how we’ve become much more anti-institutional and much more willing to question authorities than to trust them. We want to decide for ourselves! “I did it MY way!” But what about the right way? What about considering caring about others? What about situations where other authorities are the experts who have the experience, training, and answers – and maybe even the responsibility?

It’s a paradox that being able to trust authorities is essential for our daily living, yet it’s easy to see reasons to be suspicious.

Clear examples keep appearing in my email. I routinely get emails with logos of Paypal, Amazon, even my bank – but from addresses almost as obvious as phish123@gmail! I get urgent messages telling me my antivirus is about to expire, but not from the antivirus product I actually use. The paradox is that I regularly use the Internet to get reliable information (including email). It’s just that I have to keep alert for junk that’s actually malicious.

We constantly trust authorities for everything from traffic (and airplane! and bridge) safety, to medical treatment, to food and water quality. Often exceptions show how much we normally do - and can - trust. 

Not least, as we consider authority, is the reality that trust can be broken easily, yet is often very difficult to restore. Yet we don’t need to live in suspicion and fear and give up on trust in authorities.

Thanks be to God, we can begin with complete confidence that there is one absolutely trustworthy authority. In fact, as first used (in the 1200s) the word “authority” meant that it was supported by a Bible reference. That makes sense when we consider that “authority” comes from “author” – that is, the one who wrote, created, and invented it. We can trust God, the author and creator of life (and the cosmos!)

We received life as a gift. Especially we can trust God because the Bible consistently reveals God as slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love that endures forever, merciful, kind, and generous. Jesus is the best example of the kind of authority that shows its power by sacrificial selflessness rather than tyrannical domination.

During this Epiphany season we see ways Jesus was revealed to be God as he taught and showed God’s love. In this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus teaches with authority. Then he shows his authority by healing an out of control  man possessed by a demon. The people are amazed! 

But then what?

In preparation for Sunday, consider who and what authorities you trust. As Pastor Malpica suggested recently, trusting goes with being trustworthy. So, how can you increase your trust in others, and how can you build trustworthiness in yourself? 

The gospel story suggests ways. And no obstacle is enough to thwart God’s healing power, shown in Jesus.