March 29, 2018 – Maundy Thursday

Today’s text is from Mark 14:12-26.


And when he had given thanks. We hear this phrase in our reading today and we hear it every week before we have communion – that before Jesus gave the bread and wine to his disciples to eat and drink he first gave thanks.

I find that to be an incredible moment. Now, it’s not unusual for us, we as people, to give thanks – we do it all the time. We give thanks for seeing another day, we give thanks for family, friends, work, freedoms, food – we each have things that we’re thankful for.

But what a humbling reminder to always be thankful that we get from Jesus today. In our narrative timeline we’re only moments away from Jesus being arrested. Jesus’ last moments with his disciples is unfolding before our eyes – and Jesus knows what is going to happen next – he knows that Judas sits at the table with him – that his betrayer is present in the midst of this final and intimate meal shared between friends.

And yet in the midst of impending arrest, trail, and less than 24 hours away from his own death, Jesus gives thanks. Not for all the miracles he performed or all the lives he changed, but instead for the simple elements he held in his hands: Bread and wine.

That the God of all creation – the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end – thought it necessary to give thanks for the meal that was before him. What a powerful statement. That in the midst of impending pain and suffering and death, Jesus didn’t worry, didn’t run, didn’t hide from what he knew was approaching.

Instead, he ate a meal with his friends. He gave thanks for the food that was before them. And so this day we give thanks for the gifts that we have been blessed with – whether they are many or few. For in and through Jesus Christ you have been given the ultimate gift of salvation.

In Jesus Christ you have been made right with God, all your sins have been forgiven, and you have been given grace upon grace, mercy upon mercy, and love upon love. The Savior of the whole world calls you friend. At this table Jesus Christ joins you each and every week providing abundant and overflowing gifts.

And so, we too, can give thanks. We can give thanks for the love and friendship we receive from Jesus. We can give thanks for the forgiveness and salvation. We can give thanks for the breath of life in our bodies. We can give thanks for the creation that surrounds us. We can give thanks for the seemingly small and insignificant things in our lives – like bread and wine – for through Jesus Christ they are transformed into gifts of everlasting life.

Advertisements

March 25, 2018 – “Reversal”

Today’s text is from John 12:12-36.


The crowd waited with nervous energy as Jesus approached.

A young girl jumped up and down to see who was sitting on the donkey. “Who is that, mamma?” she asked.

“It’s Jesus!” her mother replied.

“He’s the Son of David!” another said.

“He’s here to save us!” said yet another.

The little girl weaved between people’s legs until she reached an opening where tree branches had been spread out to form a road.

As Jesus and his disciples road past she could hear the crowd anxiously saying to one another, “Who is this?”

Others responded, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The little girl’s eyes opened wide. “A prophet?” she asked her mother.

“Well,” she replied, “that’s what some people are saying.”

And so, the little girl stood anxiously at the edge of the crowd, waiting for Jesus to appear. She imagined a parade of important people would come down the road at any moment. People dressed in royal purple, maybe even wearing jewelry made from gold, with Jesus seated on the back of a horse. Maybe there would be a crown on his head? Maybe it too would be made from gold – with jewels of every color set on it.

His followers would certainly look the part, too. Wealthy, full of power, looking ready to take over the city.

“Mamma,” the girl asked, “is Jesus here to free us?”

“That’s what some people think,” she replied.

“Will he be made the king?” the girl asked.

“Well,” her mother replied, “we shouldn’t get our hopes up.”

But the little girl couldn’t help herself. In the distance she saw the crowds begin to shout and yell – tree branches were being held high in the air – a commotion of people were coming down the palm-strewn path.

“Here he comes!” the girl shouted in excitement. But as the group of people came closer she stood with a puzzled look on her face. No royal robes. No crown. No horse. No wealthy looking followers. No sign that this was a king.

“Is that Jesus?” she asked her mother.

“It must be,” she replied, but even she was lost in thought. Was this really Jesus? The Jesus of Nazareth who they had heard so much about? The Jesus of Nazareth who healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead? Was this really him?

“I don’t think that’s a king, mamma,” the little girl said with confusion in her voice.

“No,” she replied. But after a moment of thought she continued, “At least, not our idea of what a king should be.”

_________________________

Throughout the week Jesus taught at the temple. The little girl and her mother were joined by hundreds who sat patiently and quietly nearby as they took in every word. With each passing day the crowd became larger and larger.

But by the end of the week a dark cloud hung over the city. The mother and her young girl left for the temple like they had all week, but Jesus was nowhere to be found.

“Where do you think he is?” the girl asked. Someone nearby overheard and replied, “He’s been taken to the council of the elders – and Pontius Pilate.”

“Hurry,” the mother said, “we must go and see what is happening.”

They rushed off to find a crowd gathered at the foot of Pilate’s palace.

“What’s happening?” someone asked.

“They’re putting Jesus on trial!” another replied.

“Jesus?” the young girl said. “Isn’t he the one we’ve been listening to this whole week? What did he do wrong?”

“The leaders are saying that he’s been causing trouble in the city.”

“What trouble?” someone asked.

“Something about claiming to be the Son of God. And how he caused a disturbance at the temple the day he came into the city.”

“Well,” another said, “much of what he said goes against our law.”

“He is quite unusual,” the mother said, “and what you say is true – if our leaders think he’s broken some laws then we must trust them.”

“But mamma,” the young girl said, “what’s he done wrong?”

“We’ll just have to trust the council of elders,” she replied. “Look! Here they come!”

The chief priest spoke first: “Listen! This Jesus of Nazareth is a blasphemer! He openly teaches against our laws and against Caesar! He’s going to get us all killed!”

A hush fell over the crowd. The little girl could sense the fear rippling through the hearts and minds of those around her.

“People of Israel,” Pilate shouted to the crowd. “I find no basis for a charge against Jesus. However, during Passover you have a tradition for me to release one prisoner. Do you want me to release Jesus?”

Through fear and anxiety, the crowd shouted together, “No! Release Barabbas!”

“But why, mamma?” the girl asked.

“I’m not sure. But they’re saying he’s causing too much trouble,” she replied.

Others shouted still, “We have a law! According to that law he must die!”

Pilate responded, “Look, I have found no reason to charge him.”

But the chief priest was indignant. “People of Israel!” he shouted, “If we let Jesus go we are no friend of Caesar’s.” He turned to look at Pilate and said, “Anyone who claims to be a king – like this Jesus has done – opposes Caesar.”

Another hush fell over the crowd.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the crowd.

“Take him away! Crucify him!” they shouted.

“But why, mamma?” the girl asked again.

“Because,” she replied, “we must trust what our leaders are saying.”

At this, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.

March 18, 2018 – “Power”

Today’s text is from John 19:1-16a.


Last week we heard Jesus say that, “His kingdom is not from this world.” We heard Pilate ask Jesus, “What is truth?” And now this week we have a shell-shocked Pilate – a person who is being bounced back and forth between the will of the leaders, authorities, and people and his own intuition and wondering about who this Jesus of Nazareth is.

Pilate, a person who is struggling to figure out who Jesus is now asks him a startling question: Where do you come from?

It’s a benign question for most of us. A question usually reserved for first encounters that we have with people. We ask of their name, what they do for a living, and where they are from. It’s really just a way of grouping people together. Are you from the Midwest or the South? A big city or rural countryside? Are you from this country or another? The answers to all these questions help us group people into categories that seemingly help us unconsciously judge a person without really knowing much about them.

That’s what Pilate is trying to do here. But his question has an odd slant to it. The religious leaders and people have let Pilate know that Jesus is claiming to be king – this is certainly troublesome if you’re Pilate. I mean, Pilate himself is not a king – just a governor of a small state within the empire of Rome – as we hear today Caesar would take the true offense to this claim of king. So, up until now it hasn’t been a bother to Pilate.

But what catches his attention today – and prompts him to ask this loaded question of, “Where do you come from?” – is after he hears from the leaders and people that Jesus is claiming to be the Son of God.

After Pilate hears this we’re told he’s even more afraid. In order for that to be the case he had to be afraid before this moment. But what’s he afraid of? I can’t imagine that Jesus poses much of a threat in person. His reported actions are anything but threatening: Healing the sick, raising the dead, providing food for the hungry, eating with the outcast, welcoming in the stranger, offering forgiveness and mercy to those with none – none of these are threatening.

But they are if you’re trying to maintain certain rules, laws, traditions, and rituals that have been in place for centuries. Because Jesus’ idea of power, Jesus’ idea of service, Jesus’ idea of being a king and ruling a kingdom couldn’t look any more different than the religious leaders and people’s understanding of these things, or Pilate’s understanding of them, or Caesar’s understanding of them, or even our understandings of what true power and kingship looks like.

So, Pilate is threatened and afraid of the mere idea that someone else is trying to promote love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, new life, and salvation. But now he’s even more afraid over the fact that Jesus is claiming to be the Son of God.

Now, that doesn’t make any sense when we step back and think about it. Pilate isn’t Jewish. He has no stake in the theological claims that Judaism makes. He has no stake in the claims that this Jesus is making. They’re nothing to him. So, why’s he more afraid?

Because Jesus is a mystery to him. He’s an enigma. A riddle. A puzzle that must be solved. We can see him trying. He’s pacing back and forth between the religious leaders and Jesus. He’s asking Jesus if he’s a king. He’s wondered what truth is. He’s now asking where Jesus is from. He’s telling Jesus that it’s actually Pilate himself in this situation who has real power – the power of judgment – the power of deciding a life or death fate for Jesus.

Pilate is struggling to solve the paradox that is Jesus Christ as king. Because he doesn’t look like one. He doesn’t act like one. He doesn’t sound like one.

So, where does he come from? Perhaps, just perhaps, there’s a single neuron firing in Pilate’s brain that’s wondering – that’s giving some slight, desperate, some asinine chance – that this Jesus of Nazareth actually is what the people say: A king. The son of God.

And so he’s more afraid. Because this is a power he doesn’t understand. The power of love. The power of forgiveness. The power of grace. The power of mercy. The power of reconciliation. The power of salvation.

None of it through force. None of it through wealth. None of it through violence. But instead, it is a power that is vested in service and humility. Power that is found in sacrifice and love.

This other worldly kingdom that Jesus speaks of – Pilate can’t understand it, the religious leaders can’t understand it, the crowds can’t understand it, and at times, perhaps, we too struggle to understand it.

This idea that our allegiance isn’t to wealth, force, violence, national identity, or the myriad of different ways we stake claims to power, but instead through and in Jesus Christ it is directed to service of friends and enemies, family and strangers. To love of God, neighbor, world.

Where does Jesus come from? Perhaps, for Pilate, the leaders, and the crowd, the truth is stranger than fiction. But for us, it is a reality that sets us free. A reality that empowers you to serve the world and Jesus served, to love the world as Jesus loved: Abundantly and unconditionally. For this day and always, no earthy power has any hold on you: For in and through Jesus Christ you are free. You are loved. And you are saved.