Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Lent: What is Truth?

Reading for this Sunday - John 18:28 - 19:3   

He was a mid-level government functionary assigned to a backwater post far away from culture and modern civilization.  If that wasn’t bad enough, this particular backwater had been a hot bed of turmoil and unrest – simply ungovernable – since long before anyone could remember.

His job had just been made more difficult by a major policy change regarding affairs in his part of the world.  The party in power in his country – his party by the way – had its own turmoil.  One of the chief advisers to the country’s leader was found to be plotting to against the leader.  Cast out in disgrace, every policy he had instituted was under a microscope.  And most were completely changed.

Including the policies by which he had operated for the past few years.  In fact, he himself was under review for past handling of certain situations.  Put on notice that if there was one more altercation, one more complaint, he would be recalled.

This morning he had cases to hear.  In addition to the petty criminals and civil disputes, he had two big cased on his docket.  There was sentencing for two low level members of a group of extremists.  They had been caught in a robbery sting – their activities were providing funding for their cell.  Yesterday’s trial had run so late.  The sentencing had to be postponed till this morning.  And then there was the trial for a major terrorist leader.  This one would go fast. By any luck, there would be at three crosses up on the hill outside town by noon!

It was just another day in Jerusalem at Passover in the life of Pontius Pilate. (1)

But today would be different.  There had been a series of extraordinary events last night - events that Pilate would discover would disrupt his day, and even his life.

The sun was barely up and he was finishing his morning meal when he received the news that the high priest and Sanhedrin were at his gate demanding to see him.  They had a case he had to hear RIGHT NOW!

It might seem odd that a Roman governor would go out to the priests, but one of the big policy changes Pilate had to accommodate was how to treat the Judeans.  When he had left for the province, he had been advised that they were hard to govern and tended to rebellion.  So he needed to be firm, hard handed, give no quarter.  But now, the powers that be had reversed this stance – he needed to accommodate their religion and even protect it.  So as not to offend the leaders, he went to them.

And found that they had conducted a hurried, trial over night.  The proceeding itself was illegal, and now they wanted him to ratify their verdict and put the accused to death.  It sounded like a religious squabble between factions and Pilate could not be too careful when dealing with their religion.

So it wasn’t so extraordinary that he decided to do a little more investigating.  What was extraordinary was that he didn’t postpone it.  The docket was full.  But the priests pressured him, and aware of his tenuous position, he accommodated them.

And thus started another extraordinary event – Pilate, the Roman governor, waffling back and forth between Jesus and the religious leaders.

Pilate asks Jesus "Are you a king?"

Jesus replies, "My kingdom is not from this world –make no mistake, if it was, my followers would have already risen up to defend me."

Knowing now that there would be no revolt Pilate wants to just get this matter out of his court.  But the easy answer to the dilemma is to charge Jesus with treason – if he claims he is a king.

Again he asks, "Are you a king?"

And Jesus responds, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." (John 18:37-38)
Then Pilate asks the now-famous question, "What is truth?"

Truth is a fluid thing in Rome.  For over a 100 years, as political factions rise and fall, the truth about who serves Rome and who is treason changes with the tide.  Men govern more or less faithfully, and then get hauled into extortion court and treason court simply because they are affiliated with the leader of the former faction.

There are many gods – Greek gods co-opted into Roman gods.  Ancient deities and new deities from conquered people.  As long at the state god are revered, go ahead and worship who you want.

There are many philosophies to guide one’s life - Stoics and Cynics, Eclectics and Epicureans, Neo-Platonists and Sophists – and more besides.  Plenty of truth to sort through, to find something one could call one’s own.

What is truth?

It’s not something you believe.

It’s not information or a set of facts.

It’s not concepts.

It’s not a proposition.

It’s not doctrines, or teaching or religion or even the Bible.

Those things contain truths that point to the Truth (capital T) – The One Truth. (2)

What is truth?

The Truth stands there before Pilate - just stand there, silent.

This is Truth – the One who is the way, the truth, the life.

The One who is the truth about who God is, and God’s love and mercy, and who we are created to be.

Truth is a person – Jesus.  Knowing the truth is in the relationship and the relationship is a gift of grace. (3)

Jesus has invited Pilate into the truth and tragically Pilate turns away.

Things go quickly now.  The religious leader won’t accept Pilate’s judgment of innocence.  So he offers give Jesus the Passover amnesty, but the crowd won’t stand for it.  Instead the known terrorist with unassailable evidence proving his guilt goes free and an innocent man is charges in his place.

Pilate has Jesus flogged and mocked.  Bloodied, beaten, wearing a purple robe, and a crown of thorns, Jesus stands there, as Roman soldiers mockingly salute ‘Hail, the King of the Jews.”

What is truth?

The truth is - the King not just of the Jews, but of the Universe, the Son of God, stand before them – it is his coronation day.

And those soldiers don’t know the truth - they have just crowned Christ the King.  That they and Pilate are subject to his judgement, but instead he dies for them.

During Lent we come to terms with the truth – about ourselves, about our world, about life.

About God and God’s love and grace and mercy.

And when we come to terms with the truth, we find ourselves standing before Jesus.

And we discover Truth  - God's grace, God's love. That the God lays down life for friends will stop at nothing to bring us back:

The awesome Truth that God knows us, God loves us, and dies for us.

(1) (This portrayal of Pilate is gleaned from Paul Maier’s historical novel "Pontius Pilate"

(2) This sections is composed with ideas gathered from the working preacher podcast for March 30, 2014 and from a video created by Dan Bollerund "What is Truth?

(3) Also from Dan's video. Thanks so much Dan!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Third Sunday in Lent: One of Those Days....

John 18:1-27

Did you ever have one of those days, when no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to do anything right?

Peter was having one of those days.
No matter how hard he tries, he can’t do anything Jesus wants that day.

  • Jesus washing the disciples feet
  • Jesus talks about going away and:  John 13:36-38   Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered, "Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward." Peter said to him, "Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you."  Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.

No matter how hard he tries, Peter just cannot do anything right.
Now they are in the garden.  He’s still smarting from Jesus’ prediction of his denial, when Judas - that traitor! - shows up with temple guards, and some Roman soldiers. First it seems to go ok - Jesus says “I am” and all the guards fall down. Jesus has it under control.
But when they get back up, Jesus says, OK take me, just let these guys go.

The disciples flee -except Peter.  He’s the loyalest of the disciples.  That’s Peter, the rock, loyal to the end.

Here is Peter’s chance - There’s no way he’s leaving Jesus. He grabs a sword to protect Jesus from arrest – deny you? Ha! I’ll go to my death defending you.
And Jesus scolds him - This is what has to happen.  This is God’s will for me.  
He can’t do anything right.

Then he gets to the gate and the other disciple get him in, until the gatekeeper says, “Wait a minute…”
Peter wants to be with Jesus every step of the way. If he says he’s a disciple, maybe she won’t let him in. It’s a little thing – No, not me – better that than to abandon Jesus. Beside, saying he’s not a disciple isn't the same as saying he doesn't know Jesus.

Once in the courtyard, listening to the trial and the talk around him, he gets really afraid. He just has to be there with Jesus, and he doesn't want the other to kick him out. Next think he knows , the rooster is crowing and he’s abandoned Jesus in the worst way- by denying he even knows him.

Peter is having a bad day.  
We've all been there.  

But Jesus never abandons Peter.   In the courtyard of the high priest, Jesus ‘go ask those who I have taught, they will tell you everything.'
While the most loyal disciple has  denied him.

But Jesus stays faithful to the end, he never abandons Peter - faithful unto death, and resurrection, goes out of his way to restore Peter to relationship.
John 10:14  14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  - Jesus saying to the high priest to ask his followers, even as Peter denies him. But Jesus knows what is in Peter, knows his heart.

He knows that even though Peter fails now, Peter is going to go on and do exactly what Jesus told the high priest - to tell what Jesus said and did.

There’s gonna be a day after the resurrection - where Peter  - full of resurrection hope and the holy Spirit - when he preaches.

Jesus knows this .  And knowing, he loves to the end and beyond to resurrection.Right now,  Jesus is doing what he came to do - John 13:1  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.   - the passion begins with these words at the beginning of the Supper

During Lent, we come to terms with who we are.  We may feel - if you only knew me.  I’m not who you think I am.  And I don’t want you to know who I really am.

During Lent, we come to realized that we are not who we thought we are.

And we discover that God knows exactly who we are, God loves us just as we are - to the end.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Second Sunday in Lent: Looking Forward, Looking Back

Six days before the Passover -
  • This is the pivotal point in John’s gospel.   This texts looks back over Jesus’ ministry and forward to his passion
  • This is 3rd Passover- 1st Jesus cleanses temple, revealing God is doing a new thing; 2nd Jesus feeds the 5000 – abundance, bread of life; 3rd and final, death and resurrection
  • Jesus’s signs end in raising of Lazarus.  This meal is only possible because Jesus restored Lazarus to his family.
  • Looks forward – one day before Jesus enters Jerusalem amid psalms and shouts of acclamation and the beginning of the end
  • six days before Passover, before Jesus becomes the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world

A family meal with those Jesus loves -
  • Jesus goes to Bethany often – this is home for him
  • Martha – Yes Lord, I believe you are the messiah – does what Martha does best - cooks dinner,
  • a feast?  For Jesus – all his favorite dishes.  This is not an unplanned visit like we hear in Luke’s story of Mary and Martha – she is pulling out all the stops to honor Jesus
    • foreshadowing Last Supper
  • Lazarus = new life.  How does one live a resurrection life?
    • Lazarus is silent in both chap 11 and here(maybe it’s hard to get a word in edgewise with sisters like Mary and Martha!)  - by his very presence he testifies to the abundant new life God gives.
    • His death and resurrection foreshadows Jesus’ own

And Mary, who sat listening at Jesus feet, whose grief for Lazarus was so overwhelming -   
  • Costly perfume – a whole year’s wages – extravagance
    • Nard was used to anoint a body for burial, Mary had it, but didn’t use it on Lazarus?  
    • Saved it for Jesus
    • Did not count the cost of discipleship, nothing held back
  • Washed Jesus feet – an intimate act of caring
    • foreshadowing Jesus’ own example of discipleship – wash one another’s feet, serve one another, love as I have loved you
  • Her hair – a woman would not have let her hair down in public – it’s scandalous, it’s intimate, - it’s shows complete devotion and a willingness to be over the top in her expression of that devotion
  • Filled the house – Mary’s extravagance – Jesus preaching of life abundant, abundant wine at Cana, abundant food for 500 with abundant leftovers, abundance of God’s grace
  • Looking back, looking forward:  Mary’s act
    • gratitude for new life (Lazarus),
    • anticipating Jesus’ death
  • Model of discipleship – foreshadowing the love Jesus has for us
    • “fragrance of love’s actions is carried on the wind to places we never see. (FOTW, Year C, 5th Sunday in Lent, Homelitical perspective)
The disciples are there too,  Judas becomes their spokesman
  • Judas counted the cost of discipleship
    • Care for the poor a major teaching of Jesus - disciples learned this lesson well,
    • Judas had ulterior motives as well
  • Both Judas and Mary were disciples
    • Contrast of Mary as perfect disciple and Judas as failed disciple,
    • yet Jesus loves and dies for both.
  • Both Mary and Judas are preparing for what lies ahead –
    •  Mary anointing Jesus for burial,
    •  Judas by his betrayal setting the wheels in motion for Jesus’ passion
  • Judas as that lost sheep that the Good shepherd lays his life down for?
    • Judas at the Last Supper, shares in the meal before he goes to betray
    • Jesus saying that he loses not of those whom God gives him
  • The paradox in our own lives between faithful discipleship and those times we too fail
Jesus accepts Mary’s gift with grace -
  • Leave her alone!
  • The poor will always be there –
    • Not a loosening of the requirement to care for the poor
    • Deuteronomy 15:11   Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, "Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land."
  • Generosity breeds generosity –
    • that generous spirit that impels Mary to give such an extravagant gift to Jesus reveals a generous heart
    • Judas’s objection reveals a heart that does not love generously
  • Mary anointed Jesus,
    • As King?
    • For his death?
    • Either way – tomorrow is Palm Sunday, six days later Jesus is buried.  The need is now
  • Jesus accepts the gift in the spirit intended – even if Mary may have been not quite sure what her gesture meant
Looking forwards by looking back -
  • The crowd who believed -  and the leaders who plotted to kill not only Jesus but also Lazarus because we can’t have the  sign of God’s glory revealed walking around as witness
  • This is the tension in the whole book of John
    • People loved the darkness instead of the light (John 1)
    • At each sign, some believed, but some didn’t
    • An invitation to come and see,
    • John 20:30-31  30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name
Lent becomes a pivotal moment on our own stories with God.  We too look forward by looking back.  During Lent –
  • we look back on that which God has done for us
    • and how we expressed our gratitude,
  • back on those moments when we too failed
    • and how God redeems us.
That looking back  turns our eyes forward

  • Resurrection hope
  • learning to live lives of love and service