Sunday, April 11, 2010

S’mikhah - A Sermon for April 11, 2010

You know how a word gets stuck in your head and you can’t get it out? You go around all day saying it to yourself, hoping nobody notices? The writer James Thurber wrote about getting the name “Perth Amboy” stuck in his head when he was a boy. He spent an entire night saying Perth Amboy until his parents came to his room wondering if he had a fever and was delirious.

For me this week, that word is “s’mikhah.” Earlier this week I was teaching a class for Marist College’s Center for Lifelong Studies, about Jesus as rabbi. So there I am talking about the history of rabbis when I realize half the class is Jewish.

When I get to the word s’mikhah one little old ladies says, “Dear, that’s not how you say it. It’s s’mikhah.”

S’mikhah,” I repeat.

“No, s’mikhah.” Back and forth we go till she’s satisfied I can say it right. So for the rest of the week, I’m saying s’mikhah to myself.

Now, you have probably already guessed that s’mikhah is Hebrew and has something to do with rabbis. But what does it mean? It means “authority.”

Not just any authority, mind you, but a divine authority. It’s a word used today that means the authority given to a rabbi to teach and preach. In Jesus’ day, it was a word given to those sages who had authority to interpret scriptures. They were the traveling rabbis who went out into the world and took on disciples. They were the cream of the religious crop as it were.

This is the sort of authority we see bestowed upon the disciples in today’s Gospel. While most of the disciples are gathered together, Jesus shows up and sends them out. Remember, he has been their rabbi, their traveling sage, and they have been his disciples following him around. He has not only been teaching them but, in the model of those traveling sages, has been molding them into his own likeness.

Now they are ready. He has risen from death and is now preparing them for the day he will leave for good. So he comes to them and says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathes the Holy Spirit onto them – remember, in John, there is no day of Pentecost. THIS is when they receive the Holy Spirit, the power to do God’s will.

This is their authority, the s’mikhah. As a mark of that authority, Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” That’s power. That’s authority. The fact that Jesus repeats this action later – so that Thomas doesn’t miss it – shows just how important it is. None of them should be left out, and this authority comes directly from the risen Christ himself.

You see this authority at work later in the Acts of the Apostles. There they are preaching despite the orders of the Sanhedrin, the legal counsel. So, the Sanhedrin have them arrested and they demand to know why the apostles are still evangelizing. Peter, the bold one, stands up and says, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”

It’s like that old Hebrew National hot dog commercial: We answer to a higher authority. The authority of the Sanhedrin is not s’mikhah. It’s governmental – human authority. They are filled with a purpose given directly by God, and no human authority will stop them.

This is all wonderful, but who cares? You do. You care because you have s’mikhah. Not the same kind that a modern rabbi has, but you have authority all the same. Remember when we baptized those kids last week? Remember, we said, “Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”

By virtue of your baptism, YOU have authority to confess the faith of Christ crucified, to proclaim his resurrection and to share in his eternal priesthood. You are the priests of Christ. No human authority can ever take that away from you.

The only question is, will you embrace your s’mikhah? My guess is, some days yes, and some days no.

But now the word is stuck in your mind, just as Christ’s s’mikhah is stuck in your soul. It’s going to be awfully hard to let go of it. Amen.