If you noticed, our assigned scripture reading this morning is the entire account in Luke’s gospel of the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion, often referred to as the Passion Narrative. We will only hear a small portion of the story this morning, but the entire text is a foundational story of our Faith and it is hard to fully understand the celebration of Easter and the resurrection when the details of the passion are forgotten. So I invite you to spend time with this lengthy passion passage this week.
And, as a reminder, we will have worship on Thursday at 7 to remember Jesus last night with his disciples, which takes place before this text we are reading today. We will not be having services on Good Friday, but First Pres has a service at 4. Whether this is the first time or the 50th time you’ve heard this story, listen for God’s new word to us this morning.
Narrator: When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought Jesus to their council.
Council: ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us.’
Jesus: ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’
Council: ‘Are you, then, the Son of God?’
Jesus: You say that I am.
Council: ‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!’
Narrator: Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. they began to accuse him, saying,
Council: ‘We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.’
Pilate: ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’
Jesus: ‘You say so.’
Pilate: ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’
Crowd: ‘He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.’
Narrator: When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them,
Pilate: ‘You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.’
Crowd: ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!’
Narrator: (Barabbas was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting,
Crowd: ‘Crucify, crucify him!’
Narrator: A third time Pilate said to them,
Pilate: ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’
Narrator: But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church, March 24, 2013.
We had an interesting discussion last week at Brewed for Thought about Francis, the new pope of the Catholic Church. One question that was asked was, “why do a bunch of Presbyterians in Idaho care about who is the leader of another denomination in Rome?”
Fair question. Pope Francis won’t be directing this congregation or denomination as we live out our Faith. But he now inhabits a very visible role, perhaps the most visible role, as a Christian leader. There are many illustrations, bad illustrations—embarrassing illustrations— of popes and other Christian leaders saying and doing things that make us cringe, things that make Jesus cry. Covering up of sex abuse cases. Claiming that God hates, well, anyone. Blaming victims for the crimes committed against them. The list is long.
And most days I am thankful that the things I say don’t make it on the national news. I recognize that no human leader is perfect or immune from mistakes.
I suspect I would have some disagreements with Pope Francis, were we to find ourselves having coffee one day. His statements on women, on gays, and his connections to political regimes in South America should not be ignored or go unquestioned.
But since his election as Pope, it seems the church universal has received some good press. You may have seen the images of him riding the bus with the other cardinals after his election.
He also called back to Argentina to cancel his daily newspaper subscription, so he could personally thank the people who had delivered his paper for him each day. He paid his own bill at the hotel in Rome where the cardinals had been staying during the election. When he was a Cardinal in Argentina, he turned over his large home to house the homeless and he routinely used public transportation instead of the car service at his disposal. And it was announced that he will be celebrating Maundy Thursday by washing the feet of prisoners at a juvenile detention center in Rome, rather than by washing the feet of some priests in St Peter’s Basilica.
(And let’s add this story too. Apparently Pope Francis is choosing to live in more simple guest quarters, rather than the papal apartments.)
Not everyone is excited about this new way of behaving as pope. We hear reports that Vatican insiders and traditionalists are nervous about the way he is challenging the status quo, the way he isn’t doing things the way they have always been done.
So we will watch and see what happens.
It seems Pope Francis will lead the church differently than many popes have done in the recent past. And so I pray for him, as I pray for us all.
That we might lead well.
That we might live into the best of the traditions of our Faith, and set aside those that no longer give life.
Since our actions speak louder than our words, I pray our actions will be good and faithful ones.
The action of the pope washing the feet of juvenile offenders will hopefully be an important witness in the lives of those kids. The image of that action will no doubt be splashed across the news. The illustration of living out Jesus’ teachings will, hopefully, inspire us to live as faithfully in our own lives.
I thought of Francis and his leadership style as I read this passion narrative this week. Because there is a model of leadership on display here too. But it is not exemplary. Pilate and Herod are leaders. They are successful leaders, by worldly standards. They have money, troops, and power on their side.
But they seem to be more concerned with making people happy than they are interested in making the right decision. Pilate is brought in to condemn Jesus. The crowd and the council are ready to have Jesus killed.
But Pilate can’t really figure out what he has done. And rather than dispersing the crowd and telling the council not to waste his time, he finds a loophole. “Did you say he’s from Galilee? Well that’s Herod’s jurisdiction. You should send him over there….”
So Jesus goes to another courtroom scene, where Herod is thrilled to meet him. He’s been hearing these stories about everything Jesus has done and now Herod can finally get his autograph and have his picture taken with him!
But Jesus won’t play that game. He isn’t there to put on a show. He’s there to expose their show, which infuriates Herod.
I read something in the text this week that I hadn’t ever noticed before.
“That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies”.
I keep imagining the scene. Pilate and Herod meeting up at the Club, having a drink, and talking about the problem of Jesus. Normally, their dislike of each other would have kept them on opposite sides of the room. But this Jesus! What to do? Riots in the streets. People want to kill him!
And so these two political enemies become friends. Because their dislike of each other is nothing compared to their fear over Jesus.
We see this in our own political arena too. This past year, evangelical Christian Republicans, who just months before had declared LDS a cult, changed their minds because they wanted Mitt Romney to be the President. Many liberals have put aside their politics because they want to support the President, who has allowed drone strikes and has kept Guantanamo open.
When the fear of the “other” is that strong, we override our dislike of people who can be our political ally against that “other”.
Pilate and Herod realize this is such a moment. And that it is worth their time to join forces against Jesus. Because he is a loose cannon. He doesn’t do what they expect him to do. They don’t want anything to do with him. They do not want their names associated with him.
And so they come together and Pilate addresses the crowd.
“Good people of Jerusalem! So glad to see you on this fine day. My best friend Herod and I here both agree—Jesus hasn’t done anything to deserve death. So we’ll have him flogged and send him on his way. Enjoy the rest of your Passover celebrations. Hail Caesar!”
But the crowd won’t buy it. They want Jesus killed.
It is an odd moment of leadership, isn’t it?
Why does Pilate try to engage the crowd in a rational conversation about the innocence of Jesus?
The crowd has no political authority to be making such decisions. It is Pilate’s alone.
And they are whipped into a frenzy. Who does he think will answer him rationally? It is like watching a parent asking a two year old in the midst of a tantrum if she would like to reconsider and go ahead and eat her peas.
It just won’t work.
Luke then tells us:
So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
Isn’t that interesting? Pilate could have said, “you know what. I’m tired. You’re tired. We’ve been at this all day. I’m going to keep Jesus in jail this weekend and we will come back Monday and figure out what to do. You are welcome to scream at my balcony all weekend, but I am going to my beach house. Later!”
We all have leadership decisions to make, whether we are Rome’s flunky in Jerusalem, or just us, living our lives. Thankfully, nobody asked me to decide whether or not Jesus should be crucified.
But I wonder if some of the decisions we face, individually and as a congregation, might be as important in some ways.
Good leadership often involves making unpopular decisions. When the call of your conscience is stronger, is louder, than the call of the crowd outside your window, we have to attend to our consciences.
Leadership involves knowing which decisions are ours to make, and which are not.
We will live with this passion story this week. We will worship together Thursday night. And there is nothing we can do to undo Pilate’s decision to crucify Jesus.
There is something God can do, but that’s the story for Easter.
We can’t reverse Pilate’s decision, but we can attend to our own decisions. During adult ed this morning, you are invited to meet in the sanctuary with me to watch the dvd of the education panel I was able to participate in last month about the Human Rights codes in Idaho. (Note….Until I can find the video online, you can read more about the campaign at Add the Words. You can also read my comments here.) Currently, there is no protection under our law for gender identity or sexual orientation. Which means people live in fear of being fired from their jobs, of being denied access to housing.
My participation in this process, adding a religious voice to the civic and the business voices speaking out against discrimination, has grown out of the work of this congregation.
Because you have chosen to be a congregation where all are welcomed, and have made decisions to exhibit that belief in our community, I am able to add my voice as well.
This past week, there were more presentations made at the capitol in defense of bringing this legislation to a vote. Many were made by people like me who were able to support the cause without worry or fear of retribution.
But there were also people speaking publicly who did not have the safety I had. One woman told the legislators what it was like to live in fear that her co-workers would find out she was lesbian. She couldn’t have pictures of her family at her desk. She couldn’t talk about her weekend in case it led someone to ask questions about her partner.
The leadership she exhibited humbled me. Her willingness to put herself at risk so that hopefully everyone will someday be safe was brave. It was powerful testimony.
I don’t know what leadership will be requested of you. Perhaps it will be to not sit silently as someone makes hateful comments. Perhaps it will be to run for office. Perhaps it will be to volunteer at Grace Jordan because you realize your presence in the lives of those children is important and makes a difference.
And while it is easy to criticize Pilate, as I have so amply done throughout this sermon, it is harder to find my own responsibility in this story, and in the stories playing out in our world today. I am thankful to be using my voice now, to be a part of a community using its voice now.
But I am aware that I have not always done so. I am reminded of the times I have not spoken up on behalf of others. I am reminded of the times I have not led from a place of humility and justice but from a place of arrogance or pride.
So as we enter Holy Week, I invite us to spend time in this passion story, so we can see the model for how we can live in this world and at the same time be reminded of the truth that we all fall short and are complicit in the violence and injustice that this story exposes.
It is a holy gift to be a follower of Jesus, because we are invited to join the divine story, not because of our perfection, but because of God’s. Our task of leadership is to model that as best we can, and then be thankful for the grace attended to us when we fail.
Blessings to you as we enter this Holy Week.