If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn. -- Charlie Parker
I majored in advertising in college. One of my required classes was called Advertising Acount Management; it was an upper-level class taught by a full professor. But a few days into the class it became apparent that something was "off"; the prof was vague and tentative about the course material. My classmates pressed her for some practical information about working at an ad agency; one day she finally admitted to us that she'd never actually worked as an account executive in an advertising agency; that her actual experience in the business was limited to a few summer jobs and some consulting work; that, in fact, she'd spent most of her working life in academia, teaching out of textbooks.
Her professional authority, her street cred, at that moment? Pretty much zero.
Our lessons today underscore the importance of street cred when claiming to speak on God's behalf. The Old Testament pulls no punches; fake it and you die. St. Paul doesn't call down the wrath of God on incompetent teachers, but he does issue this call to humility: If you think you know what you're talking about, you probably don't. (Evidently Pat Robertson's Bible is missing both these texts.)
The Gospel lesson underscores a point frequently made by the Gospel writers: Jesus' power and presence as a teacher is something completely different than what people expect. He's not like the other teachers of the Law; he speaks with a gravitas that makes people stop and pay attention.
How did Jesus speak with an authority different than the authority of the religious bigshots around him? I think the answer lies in Charlie Parker's observation about integrity in art. Jesus did not talk about "the good news"; he lived it. His way of being in the world integrated God's shalom into his words, his actions, his interactions. When Jesus talked about God as a loving divine Parent, people knew that he wasn't quoting a rabbinical proposition, but describing his own observable relationship with God. When he taught about radical faith, he wasn't providing a pat catechetical answer, but describing his own giving-over to God's will. Ween he told stories about the inbreaking Reign of God, he spoke as someone whose own trust in his Father's saving power made him a conduit for that power.
Doing ministry, whether as a layperson, a religious or a clergyperson, can be an extremely humbling experience. Personally, I find assisting the pastor -- being asked to pray on behalf of the whole congregation, offering up our shared regrets, sorrows, hopes and joys to God -- an exercise in humility...the paradox of my own smallness juxtaposed with our collective audacity in praying boldly, and my own audacity in offering to help with this. It gives me gooseflesh every time. On the other hand, ministry can also become an ego trip; depending on what we're doing, it can become a performance that leads us to expect praise for a job well done, or a self-serving exercise in "I know more than you do." That's the point where it's important to remember this Sunday's lessons. What's my street cred? Am I living something worth sounding from my horn?
Jesus the Teacher, Gisele Bauch