Tuesday, April 08, 2014

FCC Shelbyville | April 6th, 2014 Sermon

April 6, 2014 The Way of the Cross: Behold, the Man!

Mark 15:1-15

As we continue our series The Way of the Cross, we come today to the account of Jesus before Pilate.  We’ll read Mark’s recording of the encounter.

Mark’s telling of the encounter of Pilate and Jesus is a bit more economical in words than some of the other gospels, so I’m going to fill in some of the events that we learn from the other gospels as we talk about this event this morning.

Mark 15:1-15

1 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.
2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.  “You have said so,” Jesus replied.
3 The chief priests accused him of many things.
4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”
5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.
6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested.
7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.
8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.
9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate,
10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.
11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
13 “Crucify him!” they shouted.
14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them.  He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

Occasionally, we read a story of someone found innocent after years of incarceration.  It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to survive such an experience.  Our system of justice operates on the assumption of fairness, which is very difficult to guarantee.  If people do not believe the justice system is as fair as it can possibly be, their sense of trust will be greatly diminished.  Imagine a system of justice that makes no pretense of justice; this is what Jesus faced in the Roman justice system.  The Roman system of justice operated on two basic principles – power and force.  The Romans held absolute power and as such were able to force their will on their subjects.  Those who lived under Roman rule had no expectation of fairness in their justice system.

In recent weeks we have talked about the betrayal of Jesus by Judas and the subsequent arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. After his arrest, Jesus was taken before the Sanhedrin, which was the religious court, for the first of his trials.  There was nothing fair about the trials – before the Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate – that Jesus faced. 

The Sanhedrin was a religious court, and each town could have there own Sanhedrin, but Jerusalem held the Great Sanhedrin, which was the final authority on religious law.  There, before that court in Jerusalem, Jesus was convicted of blasphemy for claiming to be divine (Matthew 26:65-66).  But the religious leaders were not allowed to carry out a death sentence.  Only the Romans, who were in complete control at that time, could carry out a death sentence, so Jesus was taken to Pilate.  Pilate was the prefect of the region, and his responsibilities were to collect taxes, hear legal matters, and keep peace in the region.

Pilate, after an initial interrogation of Jesus, sent him to Herod, who was a puppet king for the region of Galilee and was put on the throne by the Romans.  Herod was initially excited to see Jesus, about whom he had heard a great deal (Luke 23:8).  Herod was hoping Jesus would perform a miracle.  Instead of a show, Herod received only silence from Jesus (Luke 23:9), and so sent him back to Pilate. 
The entire process was a farce, in terms of fairness and justice, and while the religious leaders, Pilate, and Herod believed they were the ones dictating the course of events, they were not.  Pilate and Herod were not on control; neither were the religious leaders.  None of them were controlling these events or determining the outcome.  Jesus, who remained largely silent throughout his trials, was not only in control of these events but was also the one who determined his destiny.  Jesus was not a victim of these events, but the one who determined and controlled them.

Pilate, throughout these events, proves to be a strange case.  As one who had little, if any, hesitancy to condemn others, Pilate appeared to be looking for a way to avoid pronouncing a sentence of crucifixion upon Jesus. Pilate condemned many – revolutionaries, false messiahs, and others, but Jesus was a different case altogether.  Though he sought a way to relases Jesus, Pilate eventually relented to the desires of the religious leaders and had Jesus flogged and crucified.

One of the tragedies we see in this passage, besides the obviously terrible miscarriage of justice and abuse of power, is that the religious leaders present to Pilate the dark, negative, side of religion.  It is no surprise to any of us to know that throughout history there have been unfortunate things done in the name of religion, and those episodes sadden us all.  Prior to the time of Jesus, during the time of Jesus, and all the way to our age, there are people who have used religion to gain power and wealth, and were willing to do things in the name of religion that are as far away from the purposes of religion as can be imagined.

The religious leaders, who professed such concern about religious and doctrinal purity, did not hesitate to do what they had to do in order to have Jesus put to death.  They had no love for the Romans but were willing to turn to the Romans to accomplish their terrible purposes.  They were willing to change their story in order to accomplish their purposes. The religious leaders convicted Jesus on a charge of blasphemy, but presented him to Pilate as a revolutionary who challenged Rome by proclaiming himself king.  They had no hesitation in making a false claim in order to accomplish their purposes.  For them, the end totally justified the means.

I wonder what Pilate thought about those religious leaders.  I am no defender of Pilate, certainly, but he was an astute enough man to see through their charade.  What a terrible example of people of faith they were, showing Pilate their willingness to do whatever it took to get rid of Jesus.  They were certainly a poor advertisement for faith.

The religious leaders, in order to get their way, not only lied about the charges against Jesus, they also stacked the crowd against him.  Mark begins this passage by telling of the unanimity among the religious leadership to execute Jesus – it was the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin.  It was not the entirety of the Jewish people who had turned against Jesus.  In fact, among the people at large, Jesus was very popular.  The crowds of people are, unfortunately, often portrayed as being fickle, welcoming Jesus into the city of Jerusalem at the Triumphal Entry and then turning on him, becoming the mob that only days later cried out for him to be crucified.

This is not an accurate portrayal of what happened.  It was not the large crowds of people who had turned against Jesus, but the religious leadership (John’s gospel tells us it was the chief priests and their officials who shouted for Jesus to be crucified – John 19:6).  This is why they wanted to arrest Jesus privately, away from the crowds, because they were afraid the people would riot it Jesus were arrested.  Many of the people were probably not even aware of what had happened until Jesus was carrying his cross to the place of crucifixion.

This is how some people like to operate – in the dark corners of life, away from the eyes of the world.  Their work must be done in secret because it is ugly work that many people would oppose.

These leaders felt threatened by Jesus, and they did not like being threatened.  He was a threat because his teaching was popular, drawing the loyalty of the people away from their leadership.  He was also a threat because those leaders were afraid that Rome would become agitated at the large numbers of people following Jesus and react very harshly.  If Rome decided to respond to what they considered a rebellion, it wouldn’t be just Jesus and his followers who would be targeted, but the religious leaders as well.  The Romans expected the religious leaders to keep the people “in line,” and as long at they did, the Romans would allow them to retain their positions of power and prestige.  These men, then, were out to protect their power, status, and privileged station in life.  Jesus was a threat to all of this, and as such, they had decided that he must be eliminated.

I find it fascinating that, in Mark’s telling of this story, Jesus remains quiet.  Though he faced unjust trials before the Sanhedrin, before Herod, and before Pilate, he remained mostly silent.

I find the silence amazing and impressive.  Jesus, of course, was not out to defend himself.  Jesus was not seeking to avoid the cross.  The cross was, he knew, his destiny and was the culmination of his mission and purpose.  Jesus did not use his power, his verbal eloquence, or his popularity to plead his case, because these events all fit into the divine plan.  But even though Jesus was not seeking to avoid the cross, his silence remains fascinating.  For most of us, when we are in a difficult situation we are far too quick to strike back, and to allow our fear to control us. Jesus certainly did not react in such a way.
But here was his opportunity to set straight the Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate, and he said very little.  He had the ear of Herod, the king, and said almost nothing. He stood before, Pilate, the representative of the Roman Emperor, and what an opportunity it was to proclaim the truth of who he was and the nature of his mission, but he offered very few words.

Perhaps Jesus realized that nothing he would say could penetrate those hard hearts or open those closed minds.  Or, perhaps, he was content to allow his actions to speak.  It is actions, isn’t it, which really captures the attention of people.  Far too often we unleash a torrent of words, which have far less impact upon others than actions.  The actions of Jesus had spoken, and would continue to speak volumes.

When Pilate presented Jesus, and proclaimed behold the man, he meant it in a mocking way.  Though Pilate had the wrong attitude, he had the right words – behold the man!  Behold the truth that Jesus is the center of our faith.  It is not our church building, it is not our programs, it is not our worship services, it is not me, it is not you that are the center of our faith; it is Jesus. 

William Willimon tells the story of going to speak at a church and being told we try to avoid the J word around here.  The J word? he wondered, before he realized they meant Jesus.  It’s actually easier to put something other than Jesus at the center of faith because it makes our faith easier.  When Jesus is at the center and we reflect upon his life – in particular those final hours – it is a bold challenge to the status quo of humanity.

When Pilate had Jesus flogged and turned him over for crucifixion, he most certainly felt that was the end of Jesus.  I’m certain the religious leaders agreed.

How wrong they were.

You cannot crucify, kill, and bury the truth.  You cannot crucify, kill, and bury love.  You cannot crucify, kill, and bury forgiveness and grace on a level never before seen by humanity.

God always has the final word.  It doesn’t matter what the skeptics say.  It doesn’t matter what any statistics say about the changing world of faith.  It doesn’t matter how many people believe or don’t believe.  God always has the final word, and God’s final word is Jesus.
Behold the man indeed!

Monday, March 31, 2014

March 30, 2014 The Way of the Cross - The Humble Servant

John 13:1-9

The Humble Servant

I am not, by nature, a “touch-feely” person.  I’m not a person who hugs others very often and I probably communicate that I have my own personal space and would rather it not be violated.  I’m working on that.  In my early months here some people told me they heard I wasn’t a “hugger,” so they would keep a respectful distance.  It is regrettable that I communicated this, and I am working on dropping my personal space boundaries.

As I spend a lot of time in hospitals and nursing homes, I have long been impressed with those who care for the patients and residents of those facilities. It is difficult, and often uncomfortable, work when you are dealing with the bodies of other people.  It is one thing to hug a person you love, but when your job is to touch, clean, and care for the body of a stranger, that is not an easy calling.  Imagine, then, removing the shoes of another person, taking their feet into your hands, and washing those feet.  Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

As we continue our series The Way of the Cross, this week we come to a scene that takes place during the Last Supper.  Jesus and his disciples have retired to the Upper Room where they share the Passover meal together.  While there, Jesus does something that is unexpected and shocking to his disciples.  John relates the events in chapter 13 of his gospel –

1 It was just before the Passover Festival.  Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;
so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

I want to begin with a phrase John mentions at the beginning of this passage – Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  Isn’t that a beautiful statement?  He loved them to the end.  In a world where love can be so shallow and so temporary, the love of Jesus had, and has, no end.  This is such a challenge to us, that our love would not be so easily broken or abandoned.  

In fact, it seems that the more people did to hurt or disappoint Jesus, the more he loved them.  Jesus was about suffer the betrayal of one of his own, he was about to be denied by another, he was about to be deserted by the rest, he was about to be paraded through a charade called a trial, he was about to be humiliated, beaten, and crucified, and what did he do?  He loved all those people.  The more he was hated, the more he was abused, the more he was rejected, the more he loved.

The next statement is followed by this one about Judas – The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  What a comparison – on the one hand you have Jesus and his faithful love that continues to his final breath, and Judas, who forgoes his faithfulness to Jesus and plans on betraying him.

Luke, in his recording of the events of the Last Supper, tells us that the disciples had been arguing about which of them was the greatest, so there is one more comparison between Jesus and his disciples.  He would, then, not only love them to the end, but try to get them to understand the core of his ministry and mission in those final hours.  He loved to the end, and taught to the end.

So, he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of washing anyone’s feet is somewhat repulsive to me.  Is it to you?  I’m right there with Peter, who was initially repulsed by the idea that Jesus would wash his feet and he wanted nothing to do with it, saying, Lord, are you going to wash my feet?  No, you shall never wash my feet.  I imagine that Peter said this with quite a bit of emotion.  Never!  Never!  Peter is adamant about this.

This was an act the disciples would find shocking.  Washing the feet of another person was reserved for a servant, but even the servant would not be required to do the actual washing, only being required to provide towels, water, and whatever else was needed. 

For Peter, and the other disciples, the action was inconceivable – how could Jesus lower himself to an act that was reserved for a lowly servant? 

For Jesus, the act of washing the feet of his disciples was done to offer them a lesson in humility, as they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest – also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest (Luke 22:24).  For Jesus, such an argument among his disciples must have been quite a disappointment.  Here it was, just hours before his arrest and crucifixion, and Jesus wanted to use that precious time to give some of his most important teachings to these twelve men who were his closest followers.  At this most critical of moments, when Jesus had so much on his heart and mind, his closest followers were arguing about which of them was the greatest – what a disappointment for Jesus!  We live in a world where greatness is generally demonstrated from a position of power, wealth, or authority.  His disciples had fallen victim to that view of greatness as they argued amongst themselves.  For Jesus, greatness had nothing to do things such as power, wealth, or authority; instead, greatness was demonstrated by how one serves others.

What a scene it must have been, then, arguing one moment about which of them was the greatest, and then watching as Jesus poured water into a bowl and began, one by one, to wash their feet.  What a contrast between the humility of Jesus and the pride of the disciples!  The disciples must have grown quickly quiet, convicted by the example of Jesus.  They also grew quiet because they knew that as Jesus served, so would they be called upon to serve others in humility, and that was probably a difficult realization for them.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we?  We have those moments where our pride wells up within us, and we aren’t about to lower ourselves to something or someone we feel in beneath us.  Even in churches, sometimes people get put out of they aren’t given some position of honor or recognition.

Humility is very, very difficult.  It is difficult because we are prone to pride and arrogance.  We want to raise ourselves up, not humble ourselves.  We are drawn to power, not to letting go of power.  But the example of Jesus is the antidote to our striving for power, and our bent toward pride and arrogance.  As Paul writes in Philippians 2:5-8 – Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!  Just as Jesus served others, we are called to serve others as well.

The humility of Jesus is a challenge to us when pride fills our hearts and souls and seeps into our relationships.  That pride can keep us from granting forgiveness or seeking forgiveness and can keep us from dealing with some people because we feel they are beneath us.  The humility of Jesus is like a spotlight that shines into our lives to reveal our pride, but here, in this passage, we see this incredible scene of the creator serving the created.  Jesus performed an act – the washing of feet – that society had deemed humiliating and demeaning to those who had to perform it and transformed it into a demonstration of who he was and who he wanted his followers to be.

I think Peter resisted because of another reason.  I think it was an act of incredible intimacy.  Touching the body of another person means you know that person in such a way that you could possibly touch their hand or their shoulder, or perhaps give them a hug, but to bend down, unstrap their sandal, and wash their feet; that violates a lot of social norms and crosses boundaries.

Jesus knew Peter very well, but how well did Peter want to be known by Jesus?  Do we really want to know one another, and do we really want others to know us intimately, with all of our shortcomings?  Do you find it difficult and disappointing when you learn certain things about others?  Do you ever keep people at arm’s length because you don’t really want to know them very well or you don’t want them to know you too well?

There were matters in Peter’s life, I’m sure, he would prefer Jesus not know.  We hide things about ourselves from even those closest to us, don’t we?  I don’t think it was any different for Peter.  This was Jesus getting a little too close for comfort for Peter.

Here is a fundamental truth about faith – in spite of what we know about each other we must still love one another.  In spite of our disappointments about others, we must still love one another.  Jesus loved his disciples to the end, in spite of what he knew about them, including the knowledge that one was about to betray him.  He served them, and asked that they serve others.

But it’s not just individuals who often exhibit pride; churches have been far too prideful as well, telling people how to live, how to think, and telling others what is wrong with them.  As the body of Christ – individually and collectively – we are called to live according to the manner of Jesus, which was humility.

Monday, March 24, 2014

March 23, 2014 The Way of the Cross - Not My Will...

Luke 22:39-46 

Standing before a crowd of people is not my native habitat.  I was a reserved, quiet kid, and learning to stand before a congregation was a difficult adjustment for me.  My early preaching experiences, in particular, were moments that provoked great anxiety in me.  I can remember sitting in worship services, as the time of the message drew near, and wonder if it would be terribly wrong of me to suddenly fake an illness.  About ten years ago I read of one young minister who was so nervous about the prospect of preaching that he called in a bomb threat to the church.  I have to admit that a number of my sermons have “bombed,” but I never resorted to such calling in a bomb threat to escape preaching.

Think for a moment of the most difficult situation you have faced in life.  What are the feelings that come to mind?  Perhaps you experienced a sense of dread so deep that you felt it in the pit of your stomach.  Perhaps you found yourself walking very slowly towards a difficult appointment, your steps slowed the closer you came to your destination, and the weight of the situation was felt on your shoulders and evident in your demeanor. 

We do not have to travel far down the road of life before we come to a point of great distress because of a challenge we face.  Sometimes it’s a challenge that becomes a defining moment in our life.  How we face that challenge will shape and mold the remainder of our life, and we understand the great significance of the moment.

This morning, we return again to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Last week we studied the betrayal of Judas, which came in the Garden.  Two weeks ago we studied the promise that we are never alone, and referred to the events of the Garden.  Today we return again to the Garden in order as we look at some of the most famous, but difficult, words in all of the Scriptures – not my will, but yours be done.

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.
40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”
41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,
42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.
44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.
46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

This is the plea of one who knows that pain and suffering is only hours away, which makes this is one of the most gut-wrenching passages in the Gospels.

It is difficult to read of the agony of Jesus in the Garden.  It is difficult to think of Jesus struggling.  It’s hard to see people in their moments of vulnerability, and Jesus was very vulnerable in this moment.  We prefer to think of Jesus as one who is so focused on his mission that nothing will prevent him from its completion.  But the prayer of Jesus shows a moment of hesitancy, as he asks God to take this cup from me.  If possible, Jesus is asking of God, could there be another way to accomplish his mission?

Jesus knew that crucifixion was awaiting him.  He knew what crucifixion was like.  The Romans used crucifixion freely and brutally.  I will spare the details of that horrendous method of execution, but suffice it to say the idea of crucifixion would be one of the most unsettling destinies one could ever face.  It looms so large before Jesus that Luke says he prayed with a fervency and intensity that his sweat fell to the ground as drops of blood.

That, my friends, is a struggle of intense proportions.

And yet, in spite of what was ahead for Jesus, he makes the bold declaration not my will, but yours be done.  It is no small statement, considering what awaited Jesus.

Not my will, but yours be done, is a phrase that could be said in many different ways.  It could be said in a manner that signified a resigned acceptance of one’s fate; not wanting to accept it, but willing to do so because there is no other choice.  One could also say the phrase in anger, carrying a sense of rebellion for feeling pushed into accepting a difficult fate.  One could also say the phrase in fear, accepting the path as one that might be necessary but also feeling a terror in facing what was ahead.  One could also say the words as a way of accepting the fate of the cross, but not agreeing with such a path – it’s your will, but it’s certainly not mine.

But Jesus did not utter those words in any of those ways, I believe.  In spite of the horror of the cross, Jesus fully accepted it as the path that was ahead for him, and he did it willingly.

There are times when we must walk a difficult path in life.  There are times we face situations that are overwhelming to us.  There are times we believe we are not strong enough to make it through the challenges and difficulties that life sometimes brings to us.

Courage, it has been said, is not the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome it.  I think that is partially true, but I would rephrase it to say that it is the triumph of conviction.  It was conviction that empowered Jesus through this moment in the Garden and conviction that empowered him to greet head on those who came to arrest him.  It was conviction that empowered Jesus to endure the trials before Herod and Pilate, it was conviction that empowered Jesus to endure the crown of thorns, to endure the scourging, to endure the mocking and humiliation, and to endure the suffering of the cross.  It was a conviction that the will of God was the right way, the just way, the only way, in spite of the difficulty and in spite of the suffering it would bring.

Sometimes we have our Garden moments, when we wonder if we have the strength to go on, when we question whether or not we can do what God has called us to do, and when we find that we doubt the path that God has placed in front of us. 

After Mother Teresa passed away it was discovered, through her diaries, that she harbored some doubts about faith.  The late Christopher Hitchens – the well-known atheist – attacked her for this.  Hitchens claimed Mother Teresa was a fraud because of her doubts and criticized her in a most unpleasant manner.

Besides asking the question of who in the world could accuse Mother Teresa of being a fraud and who could attack one who gave of herself with such love and selflessness, we would also ask what is wrong with doubt?

There is no shame in doubt.  It is a sign of a healthy faith, not a weak faith.  If you have ever found yourself in a moment of doubt, know this – it is not a reflection of a weak faith but a strong faith, because it is a faith that is not afraid to ask questions.

Doubt comes to us all, at some point or another.  Doubt becomes our Garden moment, when we become uncertain about the path forward and if we cannot acknowledge the sometimes titanic battle of wills within our hearts, minds, and souls we are not thinking very deeply about our faith.

The answer, we find, is in the actions of Jesus.  He knew the way forward was difficult.  He knew the way forward was painful.  But he also knew the way forward was his path, and he accepted it.

It is not easy to say not my will, but yours be done.  It is not easy to move beyond what we think best for our lives and to accept what God knows is best for our lives, but it is the best path forward.

I find it fascinating to think about how little, in one sense, Jesus had.  If you think, in particularly, about the final days of his life, much of what he had was borrowed.  He borrowed a colt on which he rode into Jerusalem; he borrowed the upper room where he shared the Last Supper with his disciples; he borrowed a garden, where he could go and pray; and, after the crucifixion, he was laid in a borrowed tomb.

But what Jesus possessed was such a clear and powerful sense of conviction of God’s will, and he maintained a tremendous commitment to that will. 

I have read that one of the most beautiful places to visit in Paris is the Sainte-Chapelle, the chapel of the saints, near Notre Dame Cathedral.  The outside is drab and dirty, with windows covered in dirt and grime.  Inside, however, is a different story. 

One of the windows is called the Rose Window, which is one of most famous pieces of stained glass in the world.  From outside the chapel, with your back to the light, the window looks black and dull.

From the inside, however, as you look through the widow towards the light, it is a piece of absolute beauty.  Seeing the beauty, though, depends upon your perspective.

In the Garden, as we peer into this most difficult of moments for Jesus, it seemed anything but moment of beauty, and the cross would never look to be anything of beauty, but from a different perspective, that of the empty tomb, we see both the Garden moment and the cross as times of deep beauty, because they demonstrate to us a love of deep and incredible beauty.

Your Garden moment may be hard to understand, but know that further down life’s road you will be able to find the beauty, and will know that God was with you.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

FCC Shelbyville | March 16th Sermon - The Way of the Cross: The Betrayal

March 16, 2014 The Way of the Cross: The Betrayal

This morning we continue our series of messages The Way of the Cross, which will take us through the season of Lent.

Today we come to one of the most infamous events in all of Scripture – the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, one of his twelve disciples.  How does it happen that a man who ministered with Jesus for three years could betray him into the hands of his executors?
We read from Luke’s telling of this story, 22:1-6; 47-48 –

1 Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching,
and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.
Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.
And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.
They were delighted and agreed to give him money.
He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.

47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him,
48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

When I moved to Louisville in 1981 one of my first tasks was to get a post office box.  I went to the post office, got my box, and quickly found something rather surprising.  My middle name is Paul.  I’m David Paul Charlton.  Originally, my parents were going to name me Paul David, but changed their minds at the last minute.  I don’t know how to calculate these odds, but the person who had that same post office box before me was named Paul David Charlton.  It was quite difficult to get things sorted out with the post office when they confused our mail.

In the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, names are very important.  A person’s name told something about them, such as their character, or even their calling in life.

Abraham, for instance, was originally named Abram, which means father.  In Genesis 17:5 we read Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you:  You will be the father of many nations.  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.” Abraham means father of many, so when God changed the name of Abram to Abraham, it was an important reminder that Abraham would be the father not only of a nation, but also a spiritual father for all who would come after him in following God in faith.

When Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah was born, his name was symbolic of the reaction of Abraham to the news that he and Sarah would have a child – he laughed (“I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her.  I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of people will come to her.”  Abraham fell facedown, he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old.  Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” – Genesis 17:16-17).  Isaac means he laughs.  The name is representative of Abraham’s laughter, certainly, but also, perhaps, that God laughs in the face of humanity’s many doubts about what he is able to accomplish.

When Isaac and Rebekah have twin sons they are named Jacob and Esau.  Esau is the older son, and when he is born Jacob, the younger, is holding onto the heel of his brother.  The name Jacob means to grasp by the heel and supplant, to deceive.  Jacob becomes known as one who practices a great deal of deception throughout his life, so his name predicts his character.

Think about this – how many people do you know who are named Judas?  Anyone?  I doubt it.  The name Judas carries such an incredible level of infamy that it has fallen almost completely out of usage. 

Ironically, Judas is the Greek name for the common Hebrew name Judah, which means, God is praised.  How in the world could God ever be praised through the life and actions of Judas?

We know the story of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.  He received thirty pieces of silver from the leaders of the religious establishment for delivering Jesus into their hands so they could put him on trial and then hand him over to the Romans.  It wasn’t that Jesus was hard to find, but the religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus out of the view of the crowd in order to avoid a riot.

So why did Judas betray Jesus?  After walking with Jesus for approximately three years, how is it that Judas could perform such a terrible act of betrayal?  Not to excuse his actions in any way, certainly, but it is worth considering what Judas hoped to accomplish in this act.  We cannot enter the mind and heart of Judas to understand his actions, but we can speculate a bit.  There was a financial motive – thirty pieces of silver, which was a good deal of money – but I don’t think Judas was acting out of greed.   I believe, instead, that Judas saw himself as acting in the interests of Jesus, as strange as that might sound, in one of two ways.  I believe that Judas was, perhaps, trying to force Jesus into accepting the mantle of a political Messiah, which Jesus refused.  Judas was no lover of Rome, and was probably like most of his fellow countrymen – he would have loved to see Jesus unite the people in revolt against Rome.  When Jesus refused to take this role, and when Judas saw what he had unleashed by having Jesus arrested, his grief led him to suicide.  The other reason for Judas’ betrayal of Jesus might have been to protect him, as strange as that sounds.  Judas was certainly aware that the religious authorities were out to destroy Jesus.  By conspiring to have the Romans arrest Jesus, Judas might believe Jesus would be placed in custody for a brief period of time – most likely long enough to get beyond the time of Passover and all the tension present in Jerusalem during that festival. Judas believed, perhaps, that the Romans would interrogate Jesus, come to the conclusion that he was innocent of any crimes against Rome, and release him, freeing Jesus and his disciples to leave Jerusalem and go into the safer territory of the surrounding countryside.  Again, none of this is meant to justify the actions of Judas, but it does explain the amount of grief that drove him to suicide. 

Judas is a tragic example of how we can fail to live up to who we are called to be.  Judas carried a name that meant God should be praised.  Instead of praising God through his actions, however, Judas betrayed God, and not in some generic manner, but by betraying the very Son of God into the hands of his captors and eventual executors.

We carry the name of Christ in our lives – we are Christians.  We bear the name of Christ and we represent the name of Christ.  We are called to represent him in our words, our actions, and our values. 

Lent is a season that asks us to take very seriously the fact that we carry the name of Christ, because if the Bible shows us anything about human nature it is this – we are very easily deceived by temptation and the primary temptation we face is to abandon who we have been called to be, which is the root of the temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness. 

Temptation doesn’t always come in an obvious form; sometimes it comes disguised as something that seems the right thing to do.  We see this from the very beginning, in the story of Adam and Eve, when the serpent twists the truth in a manner that made his temptation seem like not only the correct choice, but the obvious choice (Genesis 2:4 – 3:24).  In the Gospels, Peter believed he was acting in the right manner when he attempted to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem, but Jesus rebuked him and said, Get behind me Satan! (Matthew 16:21-23).  Peter believed he was acting in a way as to help Jesus, when he was in actuality standing in the way of Jesus’ mission.  The danger of temptation is that it whispers in our ear in a way that makes some measure of sense.  If temptation was always obvious, it would not be able to get a foothold in our lives, but it finds its way into our hearts and minds by using just enough of the truth to appear to make sense and appear to be the correct path.

The antidote is to see the manner in which Jesus conducted himself, especially in the Garden of Gethsemane, at the time of the betrayal.  Jesus always remained true to who he was.  Always.  It didn’t matter what was happening around him or what was happening to him; Jesus always remained true to who he was.  A person with the ability to live in such a way is very rare indeed; in fact, I would make the point that Jesus is the only one ever to truly accomplish such a feat.
And even more amazingly, Jesus allowed people to make their own choice, even Judas.
We can’t control what people will do, and God chooses not to control them.  Judas had a choice, and he made his choice.  Everybody makes some choice when it comes to the role Jesus will play in their life.

The Garden asks that we choose carefully.  May we make a choice that allows us to live up to the name of Christ