A little over a year ago, I had the chance to give the Theme Presentation at the Gathering of Leaders held in Fairhope, Alabama. The topic for the 2016 iteration of the GoL Gatherings was “By Whose Authority? Faithfully Exercising Authority in the Missionary Church.” The Theme Presentation, as you might guess, is meant to give the topic for our time together some context. At the time, I was still the Associate in Foley. As such, my canonical authority was the equivalent of a thumbtack, and yet, there was something very intriguing about this basic premise of authority that we hear about in Sunday’s Gospel for Trinity Sunday.
As I did some digging on the topic of authority, I found the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms to be significantly lacking in the theology department; defining authority as “the power or right to command belief, action, and obedience.” Merriam-Webster couldn’t have done a more secular job. I kept searching and found a commentary for Trinity Sunday by Craig Koester on the WorkingPreacher website. There, as Koester wrestles with this interesting story of worship, doubt, commission, and promise, he pulls out a definition of authority that an old college professor once gave him. It might sound just as secular as the WDTT attempt to you, but it spoke to me on a much deeper level.
“Authority is followability.”
Something made the disciples leave their fear in Jerusalem to find the risen Jesus on a mountain in the Galilean countryside. That same something would be required for them to leave their Savior’s side to go and make new disciples. It wouldn’t be up to them to concoct it, but rather, their ability to go rests entirely on the ultimate authority, the innate followability of Jesus.
It isn’t a particularly Trinitarian lesson for Trinity Sunday. I suppose the RCL would have us highlight the Triune name of God to be used in baptism, but what’s of interest to me this morning, as I stretch my blogging legs after a week’s vacation (let’s be honest, I’ve been pretty lax of late), is this idea of the authority of Jesus as his followability. We who follow Jesus have the opportunity to share that authority with those around us. We have the chance to share about our worship and our doubt, about our highs and our lows, about all the reasons we continue to follow Jesus in a world that says the story of God’s love is nonsense. And maybe that’s the tie-in to Trinity Sunday. On a day set aside to consider the basically extrabiblical doctrine of the Trinity, we are reminded that the authority of the Church comes from the authority given the disciples, which comes from the total authority given to Jesus, which is a result of his being a part of the Triune God. We follow the teaching of the Church when the Church is following Jesus, the recipient and source of all authority.