We started the summer with a bang on Sunday.
A few highlights.
– Our Music Director totally spaced that we moved to 9AM and so worship started “fashionably late”.
– My sweet little angel baby was in worship because our nursery care provider isn’t contracted for the summer and he MADE HIS PRESENCE KNOWN. When I stood up to make announcements he yelled, “MAMA GET DOWN!” and then cried when Bruce said, “shhhh”. At one point he ran up to the pulpit, found a leftover confetti canon from Easter and set it off. Bruce took him out and then his friend, Bridget, who was sitting behind him with his mom started crying, “I want Harrison!” #PKlifebelike
– I found a typo in the baptismal liturgy, which was totally my fault and ugggggh. I hate that.
– A cat ran into the sanctuary at the end of my sermon and made it halfway down the aisle before one of the Deacons caught up to her.
Sooooo, yeah. I need to regroup this week.
I was preaching on the condemnation of Jesus, which I imagine rendered its own level of chaos when it was happening. So I guess the lesson in all of this is whether we are yelling, “Crucify him!” or, “There’s a cat in the sanctuary!” God is present in the midst of the mayhem.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
June 16, 2019
Holding The Tension With Grace
It has been through the peculiar, but also grace-filled, work of the Holy Spirit over the past 11 months (since starting the Year of Mark) that, without fail, every time I have to preach on a particularly challenging or objectionable text, there is always a baptism that Sunday.
So – to Adam’s family and friends, who have joined us for the blessed occasion, I am going to say the same thing I said to Hunter Fernandes’ family when he was baptized and I happened to be preaching on the beheading of John the Baptist and also Charlotte Chaput’s family when she was baptized and I happened to be preaching on the drowning of the demonic pigs: My sincerest apologies that we happen to be condemning Jesus to death on Adam’s special day.
You see, last July, we embarked on a year-long sermon series throughout the entire Gospel of Mark, start to finish. It has been a really incredible and transformative year (at least for me, I cannot speak for everyone else). We have not only been able to refamiliarize ourselves with the stories of Jesus and understand their context a little bit better, but we have also been able to look more intimately at how the Gospel is still very much relevant in our lives and in our world today.
The unfortunate part of the whole thing, however, is the whole timing of everything in the sense that I do not actually get to choose what I am preaching onwhen. Hence the cries to, “Crucify him!” on morning when I just got finished saying, “Look to the cross, the symbol of our faith. Jesus is not there; he is risen and lived among us.”
Isn’t that ironic?
Here’s the thing: As people living on this side of the resurrection, we have to balance the tension of reading the hard part of the Jesus story with knowing how it ends while also wrestling with why it had to play out the way that it did.
And that is kind of what I want to talk about today.
But first, let’s recap the story. Last week was Pentecost, so we jumped out of the Year of Mark for a week so we could read the Pentecost story in Acts of the Apostles. Before that, however, Jesus was in Jerusalem with his disciples. The chief priests and the scribes were plotting to kill Jesus and Judas, one of the 12 disciples, went to them and agreed to betray Jesus. Jesus then invited the disciples to share the Passover meal with him; it was there that he instituted the Lord’s Supper and told the disciples that one of them would betray him. Immediately after the Passover meal, he told the disciples that they would desert him and, when Peter denied that he would do this Jesus said, “Well actually before the rooster crows twice, you are going to deny me three times.”
And then it all played out the way that Jesus said that it would. Judas betrayed him and the disciples deserted him. Jesus went before the Council of the high priest, the chief priests, the elders and scribes. They asked him if he was the Messiah and he said, “I am.” They condemned him as deserving of death and then Peter denied him three times.
Now Jesus is appearing before Pilate.
It’s funny, because there is an historical accuracy to this story, but also a historical inaccuracy (which I will get to in a minute). Our passage begins with the verse, “As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council.” Now the first part of that sentence, “As soon as it was morning” is the historically accurate part, because early morning is when there was time set aside to hear legal cases. So it is kind of fascinating to think that, while we often look at this story from sort of a theological place of Jesus the Christ being crucified and resurrected, there is also this competing historical narrative where Jesus the man is being put on political trial, as others routinely were during that time.
And this kind of speaks to my point where I talked about the tension of reading the hard part of the story while knowing how it ends but also wrestling with why it had to play out the way that it did. Because I think when we read this story during Holy Week, it makes us uncomfortable; but we also know that in three days, it will be Easter morning so we remind ourselves of that.
But reading it in this context, where we are looking at the narrative chronologically, we kind of have to deal with the fact that in order to get to the resurrection, we had to go through some stuff first; some really hard, really human stuff.
So Jesus is on trial. And, like when he appeared before the Council, he is asked by Pilate, “Are you the King of the Jews?” But, unlike his response to the Council, Jesus does not answer the question directly. First he says, “You say so,” (as if to say, “That’s your story not mine,”) and then when Pilate asks him again, Jesus does not say anything at all. And then Jesus is condemned.
Now the heading in this section in the NRSV says, “Pilate Hands Jesus over to Be Crucified,” but I actually think that the real key figure in all of this is actually Barabbas.
Let’s talk about Barabbas, because here is there the historical inaccuracy comes into play. According to this passage, “at the festival” (presumably the Festival of the Passover), Pilate would release a prisoner at the request of the people. In the case of this narrative, Pilate asks the crowd if they would like for him to release Jesus, but the chief priests “stir up the crowd” and convince people to request that Pilate release Barabbas, a man who was supposedly in prison for committing murder during the insurrection, instead.
But scholars are not totally convinced that Barabbas is who Mark says he is.
Here’s what I mean: First of all, there is really no historical record of this practice of Pilate releasing a prisoner of the people’s choosing actually taking place. And furthermore, the insurrection that Barabbas supposedly had committed murder during is also kind of ambiguous because, again, there is no specific historical record of an armed uprising happening in this time frame (although some scholars do argue that even if nothing was specifically recorded, it was still a time of civil unrest, so the story is not completely out of reach, but still – it does not quite add up).
And finally, the name, Barabbas, is the Aramaic term for,“son of the father,” which leads some scholars to suggest that this was not actually the prisoners given name, but it was Mark’s way of casting a harsh dichotomy between these two men. On the one hand, you have Barabbas, who’s name means “son of the father,” who was guilty of a crime, yet set free. On the other hand, you have Jesus, the actual, “son of the father,” who was innocent of the charges brought against him, yet crucified.
I think this was the gospel writer’s way of reinforcing this idea that we are always going to be holding this dichotomy in tension – between good and evil, hope and despair, light and darkness, love and hate. It is because of this tension that Jesus needed to come in the first place.
As hard as it is for us to hear our beautiful baptismal hymn one moment in worship and then hear cries to crucify Jesus the next, I almost think we needed to experience that to sort of reinforce this dichotomy – this dichotomy between good and evil, hope and despair, light and darkness, love and hate – and be reminded not only of what we are up against in this world, but also of just how powerful God is in defeating it.
Because as people living on this side of the resurrection, we have to believe – believe in good, believe in hope, believe in light, believe in love.
Hear these words from our baptismal liturgy:
Because of Jesus’ risks of faith, his enemies saw to it that he was put to death. But by the grace of God, death did not—and does not—have the last word. And while evil does exist in the world, in baptism, we are saying, “I want to turn away from evil, accept God’s gift of forgiveness, and do all in my power to extend God’s goodness into the world.”
Our baptismal liturgy does not falsely promise a perfect world; but it does promise a world filled with God’s grace.
And so as you leave this space and enter back out into the world – a world that is scary, a world that is frustrating, a world that is sorrowful and a world that will sometimes disappoint you – I encourage you to hold that in tension with God’s grace.
The grace for good to overcome evil, hope to drive out despair, light to shine brightly in the darkness and love to triumph over hate.
Thanks be to God!