March 11, 2018 – “Truth”

Today’s text is from John 18:28-40.

In 1995, the Disney movie “Pocahontas” was released. One of the feature songs in the movie is called, “Colors of the Wind”. Its lyrics, in part, say this:

“You think you own whatever land you land on, the Earth is just a dead thing you can claim, but I know every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name… Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest, come taste the sun sweet berries of the Earth, come roll in all the riches all around you, and for once never wonder what they’re worth… you can own the Earth and still, all you’ll own is earth until you can paint with all the colors of the wind.”

In our text today we hear about two individuals who view the earth from these different perspectives – two individuals who have different interpretations about what it means to paint will all the colors of the wind.

In our reading we find ourselves in the early morning hours of Good Friday – we’re just hours away from Jesus’ crucifixion. But before we get there we get to spend two weeks with Jesus before Pilate. We get to see an earthly ruler stand toe-to-toe with a heavenly one. And, to borrow a wrestling term, the tale-of-the-tape is seemingly one-sided.

On one hand, we have Pilate. Now, Pilate’s a Roman prefect – but only of the small state of Judea. We could think of him as the Governor of a small state – say Rhode Island – he’s not in control of much land, much money, or much influence – but he still has the title and power that being a governor – or in his case, a Roman prefect, would bring.

And since the city of Jerusalem is in the region of Judea it falls under the influence – and oppression – of the Roman Empire. So, although the Jewish people have their own religious leaders and authorities – at the end of the day they have very little real power. Rome is the true center of power, Roman officials and guards are the true source of fear and oppression, Roman governors – like Pilate – are the final and true say on matters like life and death. At least, that’s what we’d be led to believe.

Because that’s where Pilate’s meager opponent enters the arena – or palace as it would be. The tale-of-the-tape on Jesus is a strange one. So far throughout John, Jesus has healed, taught, preached, and proclaimed the love of God to all the world. While certainly extraordinary and unusual, these actions wouldn’t seem worthy of death.

And yet, throughout John’s Gospel we’re told that the Jewish leaders are fearful of what the Romans might do to them if Jesus is allowed to continue healing and teaching and preaching. They’re fearful of an individual who is non-violent, peaceful, forgiving, and loving. They’re fearful of the freeing love and grace and mercy and friendship that this Jesus is proclaiming.

And so, standing toe-to-toe in Pilate’s palace we have two individuals who are vested in power. But power is such a strange thing. Strength, might, wealth, force – culture and society has taught us over the generations and millennia that these are something we must fight for, that we must use violence to win, that we must defend at every cost.

And so we have land plots drawn up, municipalities created to regulate ordinances and rules, cities incorporated, boards elected, counties outlined, states created, and a federal government to oversee the whole mess of political, regional, cultural, and practical powers that be.

So, when Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is from another place, I can only imagine Pilate is envisioning all of these different forms of government that Jesus is in control of. Pilate is envisioning a specific plot of earth that Jesus is staking a claim to, that Jesus is drawing his power based on how much land and wealth and influence he wields over his people.

I can only imagine that Pilate is thinking that the earth is just a dead thing that anyone can claim, that Jesus can own whatever land he and his followers land on. But that’s Pilate’s opinion. Because nowhere in John’s Gospel does Jesus announce himself to be king. Nowhere in John does Jesus claim that he can own whatever land he lands on, or that the Earth is just a dead thing he can claim.

Power for Jesus is not vested in land, wealth, force, violence, or the amount of fear that he holds over his followers. Power for Jesus has nothing to do with being crowned king. Power for Jesus has nothing to do with the blood-stained red of violence, but instead the intimate connection of relationship and love.

Power for Jesus has everything to do with being a servant, a friend, choosing love over law, forgiveness over death, healing over pain. Truth and power for the reign of Christ are made manifest in service, sacrifice, and love.

It is a truth that runs against everything culture and society have taught us – but it is a truth that sets us free: Freed to serve, freed to forgive, and freed to love.


March 4, 2018 – “Dissonance”

Today’s text is from John 18:12-27.

On a musical keyboard there are twelve different sounds you can combine to make music. Seven sets of white keys and five sets of black keys for what amounts to eighty-eight total keys on a full size piano.

So, any piece of music you hear is just a combination of these different pitches. But of course, it’s a bit trickier than that in practice. No matter the instrument – whether it’s a piano, flute, guitar, trumpet, violin – I think we each find out very quickly that although making the instruments themselves sound is fairly straightforward – to make a piano play you just press down on its keys, to make a violin sound you just draw the bow across its strings, to make a trumpet sound you just need to blow air into it – to actually make music with these instruments and not just mere sound takes a knowledge of what pitches sound good together.

The word dissonance means a “lack of harmony or agreement” according to Merriam-Webster. A lack of harmony or agreement. Now, I’m sure you’ve seen dissonance play out in your own life. You’ve seen conflict, arguments, division, infighting, disputes. Dissonance in real life is arguments, emotions rising and falling, tempers flaring, disappointment that commonality can’t be reached.

But dissonance in music – and in our text today, dissonance in literature – brings with them whole new dimensions to the word. Dissonance in music is like hearing nails on a chalkboard. Because while you can make beautiful sounds on an instrument, you can also make jarring ones.

That even though every key on a piano has a next-door neighbor, that doesn’t mean they sound good together. That even though in our text today we have two narratives side-by-side, two narratives occurring at the same time, it doesn’t mean they resonate with one other.

This morning our text fast forwards us all the way through Lent, past Palm Sunday, past Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper, past the Garden of Gethsemane, and into the evening hours before Good Friday.

Jesus’ so-called trial in front of the high priest is underway. Jesus – standing before the highest ranking Jewish official in Jerusalem, surrounded by other officials and guards, being interrogated without witnesses present, under a presumption of guilty until proven innocent. Jesus stands condemned. He knows it. He’s known this moment was coming the whole time. And so he stands free of fear or anxiety. Jesus – under siege by those in power and abandoned by those who call him Teacher and Lord – Jesus remains calm, at peace, confident that no matter what path lay ahead new life will be the end result.

This narrative of a bold and confident Jesus, of a fearless and free Jesus, is sandwiched between Peter waiting just outside of the courtyard. Peter is not bold or confident, he’s not fearless or free – he’s imprisoned by the fear of death.

The dissonance between these two narratives cannot be underscored enough. In Jesus Christ, we have a Savior who does not fear death, who does not back down from the words he has spoken, who continues to love until the very end.

And then, in Peter, a follower, a believer, a person who calls Jesus friend, we have reality. I think we see an honest example of what discipleship looks like at times: Denial. But in the Gospel of John this denial is stronger than simply taking Peter’s words at face value.

At passing glance it may seem that this servant girl is simply asking if Peter is a disciple of Jesus – and in fact the way her question is phrased in the Greek she’s assuming that his answer is going to be, “no”. Three times he’s asked this question.

In the Gospel of John, to truly answer this question of being a disciple is not a matter of reciting proper theology or faith statements. To be a disciple of Jesus in the Gospel of John means being in relationship with Jesus.

Discipleship and relationship go hand-in-hand. Which makes this denial all the worse. Because Peter is denying more than theology and belief and faith, but denying the very friendship and the very abundant love he received from his friend, his Lord, his Savior.

But even in the midst of this denial we see that Jesus does not give up, not does stop loving Peter, does not stop doing exactly what Jesus was always going to do: Die on the cross for Peter, for all the disciples – die on the cross for you.

Because even on days where we doubt our faith and beliefs, even on days when we deny the very abundant and life-giving relationship we have each received through and in Jesus Christ, we find that our Lord and Savior – our friend – does not abandon us. That although we may at times turn our backs on the very relationship and calling we have received from Jesus, we find that Jesus does not give up on us.

The Holy Spirit does not stop encouraging us and empowering us and strengthening us. For through and in Jesus Christ we have each received the ultimate gifts of forgiveness and mercy and grace and love. Gifts that are yours whether you think you deserve them or not. Gifts that showcase the abundant friendship and love you receive through Jesus Christ. Gifts that set you free.

February 25, 2018 – “Service”

Today’s text is from John 13:1-17.

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted 50 years ago this month in 1968. Four years before the series began, on June 18, 1964, black and white protesters swam in a white’s only hotel pool in St. Augustine, Florida. The owner of the hotel proceeded to put acid into the pool.

The very next day, the Civil Rights Act was passed in Congress after 83 days of filibuster. Four years later Fred Rogers, a white man, and Francois Clemmons, a black man, sat together with their feet in the same swimming pool on television.

In the same decade where a white man and a black man shared the same waters of a pool, Senators in Congress said, “they would resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality” and that the Civil Rights Bill was “unconstitutional, unnecessary, unwise and extended beyond the realm of reason”.

In 1969 Fred Rogers extended a love, friendship, and hospitality that at the time was hotly debated in Congress and this country. But I’ll let Francois Clemmons explain this moment that occurred on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1969 in his own words.

In the same decade where discrimination against People of Color was rampant, two individuals of different backgrounds came together. Two people shared a friendship and a love that broke down barriers.

In our reading for today Jesus does the same. There are a couple scandalous things about our reading today – the first thing being that to wash someone else’s feet was the task and job of a servant.

This explains Peter’s intense reaction to Jesus attempting to wash his feet. Jesus was their teacher, Lord, master, Savior. And yet Jesus assumes the role of servant – not because he has to, but because he wants to.

The second, and perhaps more, scandalous thing about this reading is that Jesus washes all his disciples’ feet – Judas included. We’re told that Jesus knows what Judas will soon do, we’re told that Jesus knows what the days ahead will hold for his fate.

And so he shows unprecedented love, grace, mercy, friendship – not only to those who we think would deserve it, but even to those who are doing the work of the devil – even to those who would betray and bring about Jesus’ death – even to those who would deny Jesus – even to those who would soon abandon Jesus in his very time of need.

Death awaits Jesus. Betrayal awaits Jesus. And Jesus knows it. Yet he loves anyway. He serves anyway. He doesn’t claim to be great. He doesn’t demand confession. He doesn’t withhold love or grace or mercy.

Instead, in the midst of looming death and betrayal and evil itself – Jesus loves and serves. We too are called to serve the world as Jesus served – without hesitation or reservation. It won’t be easy. The world won’t understand our actions. Others will demand that greatness stems from our power and wealth, not our humility and compassion.

But Jesus Christ shows us another way. The way of unfailing service and love. A love that is overflowing and abundant for you and the world. A love that never ends. A love that surrounds us whether we think we deserve or not. A love that secures us in the arms of our Lord and Savior.

For this day and always you are abundantly loved by Jesus Christ.