Hi Friends! I hope you all had a safe and peaceful Memorial Day Weekend. It is the tradition of the Rehoboth Congregational Church to worship outdoors on the Ephraim Hunt Ministerial Land Memorial Day Weekend. We were a little bit nervous about the weather, but it turned out to be the most gorgeous morning for an outdoor service!
I continued with the Year Of Mark, even though I knew we would draw a smaller crowd for worship and it’s a tougher space to preach in. The text is Jesus’ trial before the Council and I talked about how this story exposes our own human vulnerability as we read it.
The sound quality might not be the best on the audio – it’s tough to record outside. But hopefully not too bad!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
May 26, 2019
Exposing Our Human Vulnerability
I was talking to a few of my clergy colleague last Sunday after worship and I described my children’s sermon to them where, in explaining to the kids why it is so important for us in our everyday lives, before we do or say something that might be hurtful to someone or might get us in trouble, to really think about what Jesus would have done, about what God wants us to do (instead of the often paradoxical what we want us to do). I reinforced this point by squeezing an entire tube of toothpaste out onto a plate and then asking the kids to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
It is hard to take some things back, I explained to them.
(First of all, I would like to take the opportunity to publicly thank John Haynes for his unknowing assist with this children’s sermon, because, during the first hymn when I realized I had remembered the toothpaste, but not the plate, he ran back into Fellowship Hall to get me one so that I was able to make more of a point with this exercise and not a mess.)
(It takes a church in the village, right?)
So anyway, I told my colleagues this and, knowing that I was preaching on Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest in the garden, one of them responded: “So how did you finish? Is Judas forgiven?”
I neglected to point out in my sermon last week that I intentionally avoided the actual subject of Judas in my children’s sermon. You probably got the gist of what I was getting at – the children’s sermon was not at all about Judas, but about who weare, as human beings, and how we make choices. My sermon talked about how Judas’ story sort of reflects our own brokenness; the times in our lives where we accidentally squeeze all of the toothpaste out of the tube and are not sure how to get it back in.
But it is not a perfect comparison – for two reasons.
- The question, is Judas forgiven?, is not one for me to answer; it is not one for any of us to answer. Do I believe in the forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace through the love of Jesus Christ? Absolutely. But do I know how it works? Not even a little bit. And for the purposes of the children’s sermon – if you cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube, then does that mean you cannot be forgiven? No. But again, I am not really sure how it all works.
- Judas did an incomprehensible and evil thing; he betrayed someone who regarded him as a confidant and friend and partner in ministry. And yet, without that action – without that betrayal – the story would not have played out the way that it did. And didn’t we need it to? Otherwise, where would we be today?
The Passion Narrative is difficult to hear, because it is tragic and heartbreaking and full of human error and brokenness, but it is also the necessary conduit for our salvation. And Jesus said that, over and over and over again. He foretold his death, long before they even arrived in Jerusalem; and when the time came he was ready. He was ready to be arrested and even in today’s reading, he never denied the accusations against him.
Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ Jesus said, ‘I am; and
“you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power”,
and “coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Jesus knew what was going to happen.
And that is the ironic thing about the whole Christian story. Because, as Christians today, we seek to liveout the Good News; we call for change in the face of oppression and evil and injustice. We fight for what is right.
And yet, Jesus had to let this play out.
When I read this text, it is hard for me to preach on it the way I normally would – pulling a nugget of wisdom out and applying it to our lives today – because I think this story just needs to be told like it happened, a dramatic moment in the story of our faith where Jesus’ humanity becomes the medium for which our salvation is possible.
Imagine you were there: Jesus is praying in Gethsemane with Peter, James and John when all of a sudden Judas, one of the disciples – one of their friends – enters the garden and kisses Jesus. Peter, James and John probably do not think anything of this – they all love Jesus, after all. But what they do not know was that Judas had gone to the chief priests before they all sat down for Passover and agreed to betray Jesus.
And while Judas’ kiss seems like an affectionate and loving gesture, what Peter, James and John also do not know was that Judas had told the chief priests that he would lead them to Jesus and that he would kiss Jesus so they would know who he was.
And now Jesus is standing before the Council. His friends are no longer with him; Peter is the only one of the disciples that followed him and even he is standing at a distance.
They are outside in a courtyard; scripture says that Peter is sitting with the guards, warming himself by the fire, so I assume that a chill was in the air. I do not know why Mark chose to add the seemingly insignificant detail about the fire, but it does kind of give us this audible association with what is happening. We all know that crackling sound a campfire makes as it breaks through the silence of a quiet night. We can imagine a pretty vivid picture.
So the Council has Jesus in the courtyard. A crowd has gathered and the Council is desperately trying to find a reason to legally condemn Jesus to death. But they cannot seem to get anyone to agree on whythey should put Jesus to death; people are giving testimonies against him, but none of the testimonies agree with one another so they cannot use them.
And here is where Jesus obedience to his purpose is so powerful; because I can only imagine if I were in his position and nobody could agree on why I was supposed to be put to death, I might have said out to them, “Hey, y’all can’t agree on this, so I’m just gonna let myself out.
But that is not what Jesus did. When the high priest asks Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” Jesus is silent.
Jesus’ silence is reminiscent of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
“Jesus, aren’t you going to answer us? Aren’t you going to respond to these testimonies against you?”
Silence. The only sound you hear is the crackling sound of the fire.
“Jesus, are you the Messiah?”
Silence. Fire crackling.
Finally Jesus breaks the silence and says, “I am.”
This is all that they need. The high priest tears Jesus clothes and says, “We do not need witnesses anymore; he admitted it! What are you going to do about it?”
Then the Council condemns Jesus to death.
As Christians living on this side of the resurrection, it is sometimes hard to read this story, because we want to jump to the end. It is hard to read it without wanting to see how it plays out so we can talk about the end and not the middle. It is hard to find wisdom in a story that’s not done yet; in a story that has exposed human vulnerability to its very core without immediate resolve.
But as we read it we have to remember that it is through this narrative that God’s love took control and triumphed over evil in this world. It was through Jesus’ humanity – Jesus human vulnerability – that redemption was made possible. It was because of who Jesus was as a person, as a human being that walked on this earth – that the power of God’s grace was revealed in the first place.
And it is through our own humanity that this story is still being written today. We are part of this holy mystery in which our own human vulnerability is the precipitous slope on which our salvation can be found.
There might not be a nugget of wisdom in this story, but there is a blanket of humanity that reflects the very same things that we struggle with today. We are far from perfect. We might not necessarily not be with Jesus in a courtyard, but there are countless others ways that our brokenness is exposed.
And we have to know that there is hope. That God is not finished with us yet.
I did a graveside service yesterday for a woman who died of breast cancer at a fairly young age. When I talked to her daughter about the service, she expressed to me that they were not very religious. And I respect that; it is my job to help walk them through the difficult task of burying a loved one, not shove my own religion down their throats.
And yet, I still felt compelled to share Jesus’ words from the Gospel of John where he says that in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places and that he will go ahead and prepare a place for us. I didn’t share this because I wanted to sneak some Jesus in while I had a captive audience, I did because I wanted this grieving family to know that, even if they do not consider themselves “very religious”, this story – this story of resurrection, this story of hope, this story of God breaking through the brokenness of our humanity and finding a way to make us whole again – is not done yet. I wanted to assure them that it is precisely in those moments of exposed human vulnerability that God is most present.
As you read this story and put yourselves inside the drama of the narrative, I invite you to feel the chill, listen to the contradictory testimonies being shouted back and forth and then hear the sounds of the fire crackling, the tearing of Jesus’ clothes and the guards beating Jesus.
Then remember that this story is not over yet.
And neither is yours.
Thanks be to God!