By Whose Authority By Whose Authority By Whose Authority By Whose Authority

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Today’s scripture reading is about the fate not of nations, but of faiths. Christ has just arrived in Jerusalem, a few days before he will be arrested. He knows what’s coming. But he spends his final few days teaching in the outer courts of the Temple. It is Passover, so hundreds of thousands of Jews from all over the Mediterranean have come to make sacrifices and to pray. The Temple is the heart of Judaism. It is run by a group of families who take turns serving as priests and getting rich in the process. They want this system to keep going for their own welfare. They are wary of this Galilean who is attracting crowds, some of whom think he may be the Messiah.

So, the temple officials challenge Jesus. They ask, by whose authority are you saying all these things? They are hoping he will say that he comes from God because he is the Messiah. That answer would earn him charges of blasphemy and give them grounds to arrest him. But Jesus doesn’t want that to happen yet. So, instead, he sets a trap. He says, I’ll tell you who sent me if you tell me who sent John the Baptist.

This is a problem because the people loved John. They thought he was a new prophet sent by God. But the temple authorities didn’t – they couldn’t see his divinity.

If they admit this, the crowd will turn on them, the same crowd who bring the sacrifices and money to the temple. The temple officials decide it is safer to say, “we don’t know on whose authority John acted.” That admission shows that they can’t spot someone sent by God. Christ’s question has led them to undermine their own authority in front of the crowd. Ouch.

We live in a time when the authority of traditional religious institutions is being questioned and rejected. Most of the traditional Western faiths are shrinking. We hear a lot about the regular closure of United Churches, but the same is happening to the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and other Christian denominations. Synagogue membership is declining, too. People are losing faith in Western faith-based institutions. [1]

This decline is fuelled by many factors, one of which is that people feel that churches lack the authority they once claimed to possess. The many sexual abuse scandals have rightfully tarnished our reputation. The residential schools system was a form of cultural genocide, and often resulted in child abuse and even the death of thousands of children through neglect. That’s enough to make anyone have doubts about churches. The Catholic sexual abuse scandals have driven many people from church. Even evangelical churches are suffering from a slow decline.[2]

So, people vote with their feet. They stop going to religious services. This may seem like a drift towards mass atheism, but it isn’t. True religions are never seen as religions at all, but simply as reality. Up until a few hundred years ago everyone in the West thought that the world had been created in seven days by God. That was a fact, not a belief. Everyone knew that there was a heaven and a hell. Those were considered facts. Today, those ideas are beliefs which people can reject or accept, because the authority of traditional Christianity has waned. It’s all open to debate now.

But in parallel with that cultural shift, another religion has slowly grown. It has followers among everyone who has grown up in the West. It is a set of beliefs that are beyond debate or even conscious recognition. Its values are so obvious, so real, that they don’t feel like a faith at all. It has the power the mainline faiths used to have, and it isn’t even considered a religion.

This faith has one authority figure, and that authority is Me, with a capital M. It is the Me inside each one of us.

Everything in our culture encourages us to worship ourselves. To find the real me, the authentic, bedrock, often hidden, true self buried under all the stuff society has thrown at us.

Your parents may have told you that you are the obedient child, the messy one, the good one, or the bad child. Your teachers may have told you that you were destined for greatness, or you would never amount to anything. All these people had ideas about your identity. But in this new religion, only you can know the truth of who you really are. In this new faith, each of us is on a journey to discover our true selves, our true, authentic identity. It is deeply buried beneath all these ideas about us that the world has thrown at us. Finding the real me will reveal the only truth really worth having.[3] It is truth with a capital T. There’s a reason that in bookstores the self-help section is bigger than the religion section. The most important spiritual journey we are on is the search for the real Me.

That search for personal truth takes many forms. It can be a sort of friendly hedonism, where people live the good life, spending their salary on themselves, trying to find what makes them happy. There is no need to tithe or donate to any other cause, unless it feels good to do so. Some people who do want to have a more spiritual experience may seek out practices with a non-Western origin, such as yoga, meditation, or tai chi. Here, I must confess that I am a long-time meditator, and over the past few years I have become a tai chi practitioner. I greatly enjoy doing these practices every week, and I have no intention of giving them up. There is ample scientific evidence now that they are very effective at reducing stress, and can prevent various forms of chronic illness, and delay the onset of heart disease and cancer. So, they are very useful, and I encourage you to try them.

However, it matters how they are framed. In the East, Yoga is part of Hinduism, a faith that stresses the importance of balancing one’s inner energy flow, known as prana. It is an energy which flows into our bodies from the cosmos around us.[4]

Yoga and meditation started out as part of a religious worldview which includes other people and multiple gods, who rule the universe.

 In the West, yoga has lost most of this religious background and authority and has become a form of physical exercise which feels good. There’s all sorts of medical evidence which shows that yoga can be good for stress reduction, engendering a sense of peace, and for improving physical flexibility.[5] These are all good things. But for the individual practitioner what matters most in yoga is whether it works for Me. There is no sense that society or Hinduism will disapprove of you if you stop doing yoga. The ultimate authority in Western Yoga is Me. Does it work for Me? If it does, I will keep doing it. If it doesn’t, the yoga mat can collect dust in the closet.

This has serious consequences. As you know, I often go to social justice demonstrations. These are actions to defend the rights of the homeless, or trans students, or refugees, or migrant workers. I go to demonstrations to help people who are suffering at the hands of society. At those demonstrations, there are usually people from churches, both congregants and ministers. There are Rabbis. There are political activists. There are sometimes banners held by trade unions, and members of the groups who are being oppressed. But never, in any of the demonstrations that I have attended, have I ever seen a banner held by a yoga group, or a tai chi group, or a meditation or crystals group. In my experience, they do not show up to defend the rights of others.

I have no doubt that there are people who practice yoga and meditation at these rallies. But these alternate spiritual practices do not encourage group action to defend the oppressed and marginalized. They are presented as apolitical, as a personal practice which feels good, but has no necessary connection to the needs of the rest of society. In this, they are little different from going to the gym. The problem is not with yoga or tai chi, but with the way the cult of Me has adopted them, stripping them of their connection to others and the cosmos.

Fortunately, not everyone has been taken in by the cult of Me. Indigenous peoples see it as a terrible aberration. They are outgunned by Canadian society, so they have to couch their concerns in polite terms. They remind us that for them, the me cannot exist without the rest of creation. They have a worldview where humans live in relationship with plants and animals, who are considered important teachers and neighbours. Animals have their own souls and place in the mysterious, wonderful creation of the Great Spirit. This very different spiritual orientation brings their way of life into conflict with the cult of Me every day. Our culture has tried to silence theirs, but as the world burns, we would do well to listen very closely to what they have been saying. As Metis [6] author Matthew Oliver has said,


“It is not about understanding our relationship with the creation, it [creation] is the relationship itself.” [7]

In the Christian calendar, today is Worldwide Communion Sunday. On this day we celebrate communion, not just with the people in this congregation and with God, but with all churches around the world. Starting over 12 hours ago in the far east,[8] people have been coming up to tables like this to take the bread and cup to commune with Christ and with each other. If you imagine Earth from space, as daylight moves across the planet, one country after another is celebrating communion. It is a planetary wave of communion, and it will continue for hours until morning arrives in Hawaii. Today we are ritually expressing a counter-cultural idea: that we are not alone. There is more to us than just worshipping ourselves. Through the sharing of this bread and cup, we are re-affirming the truth that none of us is self-created, and that we are all connected to each other and God. It is that connection which gives us meaning as human beings. This meaning cannot be found only inside ourselves, but a rich and wonderful meaning exists through our conscious and active connection to each other.

It all comes down to the question of authority. By whose authority do any of us worship? Is it by our own authority? Or do we recognize a greater authority, a divine being who spins the galaxies, twists our DNA, gives the wolf its howl, the baby its smile, who inhabits our every breath? The choice is ours, who we will follow - that is the gift of free will. God is hoping you will consciously choose to align yourself with this wonderful creation and be in relationship with the divine. In that communion, there is space for many spiritual practices, ones that calm our anxieties and help open us to greater truths. For we should remember that the root of the word authority is “author.” Who do we think wrote us, who has created us?

At the end of today’s reading, Jesus acts like an author by telling a simple allegory. Two sons are asked by their father to go into the vineyard to work the fields. One says yes but doesn’t go. The other says no but changes his mind and works in the vineyard that day. Who is the preferred child? Even the temple authorities get this one right: The child who changes his mind and agrees to work with the creator. We are not lost. There is still time to return to God, and to bring new ideas and new ways of worshipping to serve this worldwide, cosmic communion. We are not alone. And that is a great blessing.



[1] Andrew Faiz, “Why over a third of Canadians now claim to have no religion,” Broadview Magazine, May 2, 2023

[2] John Longhurst, "Canadian Evangelical Churches see Changes", The Free Press, Sep. 2, 2023; John Longhurst, “Evangelical decline may be down to categorization,” The Free Press, November 26, 2022.


[3] Charles Taylor has explored this worship of self in his book The Malaise of Modernity, p 17-18.




[7] Matthew Oliver, “Quantum Physics, Worldviews and Theology: A New Way Forward in Reconciliation?” in Indigenous People and the Christian Faith, eds. William H.U. Anderson and Charles Muskego, p.6

[8] In the Pacific Islands nation of Kiribati:,Kiribati%20has%20four%20time%20zones.