How important are credentials to you? How might you feel going in for surgery and finding out that the person doing the surgery was self taught? When I was a teenager, I had a huge fear of needles and blood work. I had to go to Yale Medical Center to get some blood work and other tests done and the person who came to do the blood work said to me “Hi, my name is Sue and I’m a student! You will be my first blood draw ever.” My first instinct was to get scared and I said “Nope.” I then made her go get someone with more experience to do the blood work. Now I have no problem having people learn on me. But as a child with a fear of needles that was very disconcerting to me. If I am someone’s first ever for medical procedures I would prefer not to know until afterwards.
We like to have our leaders, our medical professionals, and the people who do work on our houses to have some kind of credential. We like to have them learned and educated in their trade. It inspires confidence, comfort, and generally eases our nerves. Even in my career, as a minister, when I do a wedding or a funeral in general people like to know that I have a degree and that I was trained. They like to know they are in capable hands. I wouldn’t be comfortable myself having a lay person, whose only funeral experience was attending grandma’s, running my loved one’s service. We like to have the extra bit of weight that is behind certifications and degrees. And this has not changed in thousands of years.
I have heard “Well I can’t preach; I haven’t been educated. I can’t teach a Bible Study; I haven’t been to seminary”. I will tell you that you do not have to go to seminary to know the Bible. You do not need a degree to know something about the presence of the Spirit in your lives and in the world. My step grandmother out in South Dakota knows the Bible better than anyone I have ever met. She knows the Bible better than many of the seminarians I have known and studied with. She knows about the work of the Spirit in her life and in the world. She leads her small church group once a month. She leads with confidence in what she has come to know to be the truth about God in her life.
This is exactly what Jesus is dealing with in our scriptures this morning. He is not educated in the scribal tradition as all the teachers of the Torah were in the synagogues. He had no degrees, was likely illiterate, and had no credentials that would give him the confidence to stand up to teach the experts about God and the law. Yet that’s what he did and he did so in the tradition of the prophets purely from the leading of the Spirit and what he knew to be true about God. Jesus didn’t have the traditional credentials to be leading people in understanding of the law. This would make those in leadership positions uncomfortable and uneasy. To those in charge, if a wrong teaching was adopted then this could lead to the damnation of the whole nation for generations. This was a dire situation. They would have been as scared by this, as we would to have a self trained surgeon performing surgery on us.
They got so caught up in the credentials that they couldn’t recognize God at work right before their eyes. They had used the need of credentials as a way to shut out the voice of the Lord. We each have a very personal relationship with the Holy and a unique view into the complexity of God in our world. This and this alone gives us each the credentials that we need to go forth and share the message of the love of God to those who seek. No special degree is needed to do this. Just having a relationship with God qualifies you.
In our Psalm reading, we heard the unique confidence of the Psalmist in the goodness and protection of God. His confidence didn’t come from years of study. You can be an expert in the Bible and that is not going to give you confidence in God in a time of need. What gave him that confidence was his very personal and one of the kind relationship with a God that he had known from his experiences of the world and with others. Alice Walker, a 20th century author, wrote “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any”. We have the power to use our experiences of God to change the world. We have the power to change the life of another person just by sharing our experiences and our understanding of God.
The last two weeks we have talked about hearing the call of God, what to do when we have heard the call, and today we have discussed empowerment to share the message and whether or not we are qualified to share such a message. Now I am not tell you how God will call you to work in the world because that is different depending on your gifts and talents. It could be by being a listening caring person for someone in need. It could be inviting someone to join you in church that may be in need of community, fellowship, direction, and inspiration in life. It could be reaching out to someone in need or in the hospital and being a good friend. It could be being the encouraging voice of confidence. How you choose to share doesn’t matter as much as going out into this world and actually trying to do it. Remember in his time of need the Psalmist shared with his friends, who were scared and doubting God, all about the source of his strength and confidence and we should do the same. We should go forth strong enough to say, “In the Lord I take refuge”. So let your faith and your knowledge of God help to transform the world and the lives of others. You already have everything you need to do so. Now is the time to act for God speaks to us all no matter our education level or our credentials to live his truth with each new day.
 Alice Walker, 20th century author.
 Psalm 11:1, RSV.
(Based on Mark 1: 21-28 and Psalm 11)