Showing items filed under “The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin”

I am Also Under Authority

    Like many of you, I was raised in a time when the culture said “Question Authority.” (The culture was pleased to put that injunction on a bumper sticker.) It was and remains everywhere, the sense that authority is oppressive, and that to become a full human being we must throw off authority and assert our individuality.
    This view is just false. If you are forever questioning authority, you won’t become a full human being. The reason is that to flourish we must cooperate with other people in lots of things, and cooperation always involves a recognition that we live and move within environments that are marked by authority.
    Authority is not about one person forcing his will upon others. It is, rather, an essential part of our achieving common goods. If you are a musician, and you want to play in an orchestra, you must submit to the direction of the conductor. If all you do is question her, the conductor’s, authority, you will never get around to playing the music. I’ve written about this in my book, Up with Authority, for which my publisher found a perfect cover picture: a conductor in a polo shirt, baton in one hand, his other reaching out towards you in a commanding way. The conductor is saying, in effect, follow me and you will find your fulfilment as a musician.
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    Jesus says, in effect, follow me and you will find your fulfilment as a human being.
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    Saint Luke gives us a remarkable account of the recognition of Jesus’ authority. It comes from a centurion whose had a sick servant near death. The servant sent word to Jesus to ask him to cure his dear servant. Jesus sets off to visit him, whereupon the centurion sends further word. You don’t need to visit me, he says to Jesus; I know you can heal without coming to me. The centurion is not seeking to witness some miraculous display of power. But note his words: they are amazing! I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
    The centurion describes himself as “set under authority,” and it is because he is under authority that he is able to speak authoritatively, to issue commands that are effective. He doesn’t say he “has” authority or that he “has been given” authority; he says he is “under” it.
    Authority, in truth, is dynamic, multidimensional, flowing up and down. No one is simply an authority wielding power; everyone is potentially an authority because he is also under authority.
    This is what Jesus wants for all humanity: for us to flourish. When that happens, we recognize his authority above all else, and join the choir of heaven to offer him praise.
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    I will be speaking more particularly about the exercise of authority when I give the Fall Theology Lecture on Sunday, October 22. Specifically, because I think they make interesting examples, I will look at authority as exercised in the church by clergy, and also at authority in sport: the various sorts of authority exercised by referees, coaches, and players. I think you are likely to find this interesting also, and I would love to see you. The lecture will be at 6 p.m. at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas, in the church itself. There will be time for questions, and a reception will follow.
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    Out & About. This Saturday, October 7, I will speak to the OMGs (“Outrageously Mature Group”) at Church of the Annunciation in Lewisville, Texas; the program runs from 9 a.m. to noon. The topic is: Your future is greater than your past.
    Sunday, October 8, I will be preaching at the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services at All Saints’ Church in Phoenix. At 10 a.m. I will be teaching on caregiving and suffering, with reflections drawn from Losing Susan.

St. John's Gospel

The Gospel according to Saint John has (besides its opening hymn and closing appendix) two parts, which Raymond Brown calls “The Book of Signs” and “The Book of Glory.” The signs are miracles that point to truths concerning Jesus. The first one is the changing of water into wine at the wedding at Cana. The last one is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. All together they indicate that Jesus is one with the Father, and that his purpose on earth is to open a way for those who believe in him to become God’s children by adoption.

In the second part of John’s Gospel (chapters 12–20), Jesus performs that which was signified in the first part. He gives plain teaching, by example and word, to prepare his disciples for their future life. The example is washing their feet. The teaching in word culminates in his declaration that they are his friends. He then performs the ultimate act of friendship, laying down his life for his friends. This act precipitates the revelation of his glory: as king on the cross, as conqueror of death, as giver of the Holy Spirit.


Thus do signs yield to glory. There is nothing quite like Saint John’s Gospel in all ancient literature. It is full of love and beauty. Many of us, when we came new to the Bible, were told to read John first. And just as often, we come back to John after we have read much else. First and last, it is a beloved gospel.
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There is a mystery about signs. No sign is ever sufficient to prove the reality or truth of that to which it points. Signs must be interpreted, and they can be misinterpreted by mistake, and worse, they can be willfully misconstrued. It takes humility and openness to be able to receive a sign, and a basic generous disposition towards the sign-giver.

That’s why the opponents of Jesus don’t see the signs. Their hostility and pride preclude their seeing the truth that is before them. So for instance, when a man born blind is given sight, they see wilfulness in Jesus, refusing to submit to the Sabbath’s holiness. The miracle of giving sight is not, for them, a sign of who Jesus is.

But what can we do if we want to see God’s signs? There are no guarantees. But it seems that a certain humility is required, and an avoidance of cynicism. What one seeks is a certain breaking down of one’s hard heart. And also — thankfulness. People who “count their blessings” seem to see more signs of God than the rest of us!
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Out & About. This Sunday, October 1, I will be preaching and teaching at St. Augustine’s Oak Cliff, Dallas. The services are at 8 and 10:15 a.m., with the class at about 9 a.m. on “Authority in Sport.”

The following Saturday, October 7, I will speak to the OMGs (“Outrageously Mature Group”) at Church of the Annunciation in Lewisville, Texas; the program runs from 9 a.m. to noon. The topic is: Your future is greater than your past.

Sunday, October 8, I will be preaching at the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services at All Saints’ Church in Phoenix. At 10 a.m. I will be teaching on caregiving and suffering, with reflections drawn from Losing Susan. Among the many delights of visiting Phoenix, I would like especially to note the privilege of being in a place where it’s always Standard Time.

And looking ahead: The fall theology lecture, October 22, Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, 6 p.m.: “What Good Is Authority?” Even though it can and will err, authority is necessary for us to be fulfilled as human beings. I’ll be looking at the topic not only in broad terms but also (to help us see what it means) in particular forms: the authority of clergy, and how authority functions in sport.

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."