Tag Archives: lent

A Lament for Jerusalem, a Lament for Addis Ababa, Christchurch and the Red River

Luke 13:31-35

31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus,] “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

The Lenten wilderness is real today. A couple of weeks ago on the mountain of Transfiguration and then out in the wilderness of temptation, there was an abstract sense to things… not quite connected to our experience. But today the wilderness is very real and familiar. Jesus is in Jerusalem, the holy city… but not in the royal courtyards or temple. He is in amongst the crowds, on the streets, in the centre of human activity. He is where humanity is, where we are. And it is indeed in the middle of humanity’s messiness and chaotic existence, where true wilderness is found.

The thing that we were reminded of this week is that Lent is by no means just a spiritual exercise divorced from the rest of the life. Just when we are close to forgetting how real this struggle of wilderness is, the world brings us back to harsh reminders. This week, we received harsh reminder after harsh reminder.

Another plane crash, another tragedy measured in numbers that we cannot imagine. This is what wilderness is.

Another terrorist attack on mosques, shock and grief and the feeling helplessness. This is what wilderness feels like.

Another report reminding us just how much society failed a young woman missing and murdered in our community. This is the wilderness where we live.

Today, Jesus has moved from mountain to desert to city street. He has come to Jerusalem, the holy city of Israel. We can imagine the scene. Jesus makes his way down a crowded street, bustling with marketplace activity. People jostling and bumping him, as if he isn’t even there. There are beggars on one side, vendors and hawkers on the other. People are bartering and milling about. Some clump together on street corners to listen to religious zealots, while other groups stand together talking and gossiping. As Jesus wanders invisible, a group of Pharisees finally notice and call out to him. “Go away or you’ll be killed” they warn or threaten… it is difficult to know which.

Jesus retorts back telling the Pharisees to run back to Herod the Fox and tell him that Jesus is not afraid.

As Jesus this scene around him, the bustling and oblivious crowd, it can be hard to believe that all of this began as a promise made between God and Abram who became Abraham. As Abraham complained to God that he had no heirs, no offspring, God made a promise: That Abram’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. A promise made out in the same desert that Jesus has just wandered, has now become the chaotic family turned nation centred together in Jerusalem. And this chaotic group in the centre of human activity, human chaos and messiness, the centre of sin and death… they don’t even notice as the very same God who made that covenant with Abram and Sarai, who walked with their ancestors in the desert is now standing in their midst, Word made flesh, Messiah come to save.

And so Jesus laments… Jesus laments for God’s people. Just as God looked up into the starry night sky with Abram and imagined descendants for Abram… Jesus looks around Jerusalem with the same tender compassion and care. Jesus wants to gather these lost and desperate masses together, just like mother hen gathering her chicks.

And yet, God’s people are unwilling. Unwilling to be gathered, unwilling even to see. To see the Word made flesh walking among them.

Unwillingness is central to the human condition, it is central to how we are in the world. Its is perhaps our most powerful tool and trait. Even cats and foxes, dogs, horses and cows can show great unwillingness. Unwillingness to be moved, unwillingness to obey, unwillingness to be distracted. And with all creation, humanity is the best at saying no, the best at choosing ourselves first. The unwillingness of creation towards God is powerful. We are unwilling to have a God other than ourselves, and therefore unwilling to be loved by the true creator of the universe. As God moves to love us, to be close to us, we push back, we say no, we want to be our own God, we want to be in control.

Unwillingness overtakes us in so many forms. Today, the people of Jerusalem are unwilling. They are unwilling to be see God present before them, to see God casting out demons and performing cures in their midst, just as Jesus says. And their unwillingness will eventually lead them to nail Jesus to the cross.

For us, unwillingness my strike us in different ways. Perhaps it is unwillingness to set aside our rage or grief or distraction. Or maybe our unwillingness to care just a little more for those around us. Perhaps it is the unwillingness to be comforted or consoled, to be vulnerable to a community but instead to choose hatred and violence, to place skin colour above human kinship. Perhaps it is unwillingness to see possibilities and hope for the future, but instead only see with fear a future of loss and destruction.

And our unwillingness, either individual or collective, leads us always to wilderness. Always to the harshest realities, that we are imperfect and flawed people, that our unwillingness leads to death.

158 in Addis Ababa, 50 in Christchurch, 1 in the Red River.

And it is for this unwillingness that Jesus laments. Jesus laments over Jerusalem and he sees see where their unwillingness will lead them. It won’t be long until the people of the holy city are getting ready to lay down their coats and palm branches on the highway. They will shout “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”, the blessing shouted for David and Solomon and for every king of Israel. As Jesus rides in on a donkey, being expected as King, the people want a conqueror. They want the Romans ousted and they want to be powerful as they once were. But the shouts of “Blessed is He” will turn to shouts of “crucify him”.

Jesus knows how the unwillingness of humanity will respond to God. Jesus knows that it won’t be until the third day that people might begin to see, and even then it will not come easily to us. And even with this knowledge that our unwillingness will torture and execute God like a criminal, Jesus longs to gather us in, to gather all people in as mother hen gathers in her chicks. Even as a mother hen protects her children in the face of the fox.

Jesus laments over Jerusalem, longing to protect her from harm, to protect us from ourselves. Jesus laments in Addis Ababa, in Christchurch and on the banks of the Red River. And even there, even in the midst of the harshest examples of human unwillingness. God is gathering us up. Gathering us beneath his wings to protect us with tender care, to love us away from sin and death.

And even as our unwillingness will lead Jesus to the cross,

nailing his hands and feet

with the final blows of our rejection of God.

It will be beneath these outstretched arms,

beneath these the wings of Christ that we are gathered.

Gathered as one creation,

gathered as God’s unwilling children.

And beneath this cross, God begins the work of three days.

The work that is completed, that is revealed to the world on that easter morning.

Yes, today Jesus laments our unwillingness, but today God also gathers and protects us.

Today, in the quietness of Lent, in the middle of bustling and obvious human wilderness, God is gathering. God is gathering us into Christ. Gathering us to be protected from the power of sin and death, the power of our own unwillingness. And while soon we will chant, “Blessed is he who comes…” and then “crucify him”, God will be quietly covering us with his love. Quietly working in the world to bring life from death, quietly reminding us what is truly important despite our unwillingness. Jesus the mother hen stands in front of the fox today, stands in front of death, in order that as God’s little chicks we might know what it is to be beneath God’s open arms, beneath the cross of Christ.


Image source: https://www.wikiart.org/en/stanley-spencer/christ-in-the-wilderness-the-hen

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It is Not Jesus’ Temptation but ours

GOSPEL: Luke 4:1-13

1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ” (Read the whole passage)

Even though it doesn’t feel like it, today we enter into the wilderness. The hot, dry, windy, sun soaked wilderness of Lent.

Last week we were on top of the mountain with Peter, James and John. We watched as Jesus was transfigured and was greeted by Moses and Elijah. We were awed as God spoke, declaring who Jesus is, the Chosen one. And then we confused as Jesus headed down the mountain.

Yet by Wednesday, we were down into the valley. The valley of the shadow of death. The valley of ashes, the valley of nothingness. Our brows were marked with ashes and we were reminded that we are dust and to dust we will return.

And today we have been cast into the wilderness with Jesus. Cast into the place of testing and temptation, far away from the comforts daily life.

Each year on the first Sunday in Lent we journey into the wilderness with Jesus. We hear how Jesus is tempted by the Devil. Matthew, Mark and Luke each tell the story a little differently, but the purpose is the same. This is the place where our Lenten journeys begins. In the wilderness, on the road to Jerusalem and Good Friday. We are being made ready for a transformed life in Christ. But this is only the beginning.

We stand by while Jesus and the devil interact. We watch as Jesus is offered things that the devil hopes will divert Jesus from his mission. We hear Jesus respond with steadfast faith as he quotes scripture in order to hold back the Devil and his attempts to siphon off a little bit of Jesus’ will power.

This familiar story of Jesus life is often upheld as a formula for Christian living. Jesus is an example to us of how to resist those worldly and devilish temptations to satisfy ourselves, to obtain power, to take the easy way out. This story seems like a guide for us. If tempted with food, quote passage A. If tempted with land and power, quote passage B.

But this is no manual on avoiding temptation, and Jesus is not some moral paragon demonstrating the right techniques.

In fact, as we hear this familiar story today there is a strange tension about these temptations. They are things that have caused all the prophets who have come before to fall:

Moses who committed murder,

Elijah who stuck his neck out and then last all hope,

And Abaraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

And King David and Solomon…

even God’s chosen prophets, especially God’s chosen prophets and kings fell for one reason or another.

And yet, Jesus is different. It isn’t that Jesus has some kind of super human will power, it is that these temptations for Jesus, the son of God, the prophet of the most high God, are not really temptations at all.

The Devil has forgotten or doesn’t really understand just who he is speaking with.

God has just declared Jesus to God’s chosen, God’s son. The Devil thinks he is just dealing with another prophet perhaps, he does not understand that this Prophet is not just who speaks with God’s voice, but is the very Word of God made flesh.

The devil is trying to sell power that the devil does not have to give and Jesus knows it. The devil is really doing something that we do on a regular basis. The devil is trying to act as God, trying to be God in God’s place. To control and handle God. To make his will, God’s will.

The devil asks God to bend to creaturely demands, to the whims and desires of the finite and created. The devil’s temptations are not offers of power, but demands that God act according to his desire. And just like the devil, the sinful self, the original sinner part of us wants that too.

In fact, if we are honest… those temptations that the devil offers aren’t really temptations to us either. If we could command the angels, we would! It would be a virtue, we would feel like superheroes. And power… we well know that the pursuit of power in this world is constant, it is the game of the rich and the powerful, but also ours too. And stones into bread, the most seductive temptation of them all, the temptation to survive at all costs, to put ourself first above all others… this is often touted as one of the most important virtues of all.

And so there is tension in the temptations, between how we would hear them and how Jesus does.

There in the hot, dry, sandy landscape of the wilderness. There standing beside a tired, hungry, thirsty, chapped lip, windblown, dusty Jesus stumbling through the sand, the Devil offers bread. The devil offers rocks as bread to the creator of the universe. To the same God who spoke all of creation into being from nothing by saying, “Let there be”… and it was so.

The Devil says, if you are God, turn this rock into bread and Jesus says, “One does not live by bread alone”. God in Christ reminds the devil that nothing has come into existence apart from the Word of God, the Word that is standing there in the flesh.

And then from the hot, dry desert, to the top of world, the devil offers Jesus power over all the nations if would only bow down to chaos and confusion personified. The devil offers earthly power to the God of all creation, the same God who has just been born in a manger as powerless baby, who has come to live in the created world, to play in the mud and sleep over at the neighbour’s house, to stub his toes and hug his parents, to go to weddings and learn the torah in the temple as a teenager.

The Devil says worship me, and Jesus says “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him”. God in Christ reminds the devil that being God is not about power, but rather about giving power up in order to love and to love deeply. That being worshiped is not about being on top, but worship is about serving one another.

And then from the top of the world to the temple of Jerusalem. The devil ask Jesus to prove who is. The devil asks Yahweh Elohim, the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Jacob, and Joseph. The God of Moses and Elijah. The devil asks this God to prove who he is on top of his own house, on top of the place that God’s chosen people come to worship the one true God.

The Devil says throw yourself from this temple, and Jesus says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”. God in Christ reminds the devil that there is no need to prove who he is, that this is not about people choosing to believe in God, but about God choosing to love us, about God giving Godself to the creation that has come into being in the Word.

____________________________________________

This story is not about how good Jesus is at resisting temptation. Rather its about Jesus telling the devil and telling us who God is. And telling us who God thinks we are.

This is not Jesus’ own private wilderness. It is is our wilderness, our temptation, our darkness. Jesus has not come to prove that he can make it without giving into temptation, Jesus has come to show us that the God of the Universe, the God of creation. To show us that God has come into the world to be with us, to go with us into our wilderness.

We live in the wilderness of Lent, the wilderness of temptation grasping for material things, for power and for worship. We live in the wilderness trying our best to be like Jesus, but failing at every turn. And yet, we also live as an Easter people, people who are loved and forgiven by God. We live in a world where death has been over come by resurrection and new life. We live each day in both Lent and Easter, both wilderness and mercy. God reminds us each day that we are Baptized sinners, clean sinners, loved sinners.

And it is into this world, this wilderness, that the creator of Universe, that the God of all meets us. The God we fail to recognize, the God who shares in our joys and sorrows, who goes with us, even when would rather do other things. This God sets out with us, on our Lenten journey today, knowing that we will forget who Jesus really is, but never forgetting who we are.

Nothing but Ashes

Joel 2:1-2,12-17

Return to the Lord, your God,

for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,

and relents from punishing. (Read the whole passage)

Tonight we stand at the bottom of the mountain, down in the valley and our perspective has changed. Just a few days ago on top of the Mountain of Transfiguration, Jesus stood between Moses and Elijah as Peter, James and John looked on. And there, Peter wanted to set up shop up on the mountain. You see, the perspective from the mountain top makes everything look great. The world below looks idyllic, like a perfect paradise in every direction. Yet, the story ends as Jesus sets off down the mountain with his disciples in tow.

And now that we are down from the mountain, and the idyllic view of the world is no more. Up close, down in the valley things are less paradise and more real, more authentic. There is no veneer, there is no benefit of distance, there are no flaws that can be glossed over. In the valley, there is brutal honesty.

Jesus didn’t take us up the mountain to be dazzled and amazed. Jesus took us up so that we can witness the prophet of the most high named by God and then sent to God’s people. Sent down to the valley of humanity and death. Down to us.

And down in the valley, down with humanity, the truth is revealed. We are revealed for what we are.

And down in the valley, our worst fears are confirmed. All that we thought about ourselves, all that we thought we could accomplish, all that we thought had meaning, all that we thought was significant is not what we thought at all.

Down in the valley of Ashes, we aren’t just sinners needing forgiveness.

We aren’t just the suffering needing consolation

We aren’t just dying needing good news.

We aren’t just the dead needing new life.

Down in the valley of Ashes, we are nothing. Just like the ash that will mark our brows

We are nothing.

Sin and death turns our lives, our beings, our selves into nothing.

All our living and our doing and our being will mean nothing once we are dead and gone.

This is what this valley of Ashes reveals:

A process that we have no control over, no power to stop.

And so just as the prophet Joel tells us how the people of Israel faced destruction and desolation, faced being blotted out from the earth by conquering armies… they gathered together in worship, gathered around the only real and honest thing they knew.

We too gather around the ashes, gather around prayer and the Word of God.

We gather before the One who brought us down from the mountain.

Before the One who stands beside us in the valley of Ash.

Before the One whose cross gives shape to the nothingness that will mark us.

And we confess and repent and pray and hope that this One will do the thing that we cannot do.

That this holy One of God, this prophet of the most high, this Messiah sent to save…

We hope that this One will turn our nothing into something.

And just as the prophet Joel tells us how the people of Israel faced destruction…

They were met by the One who is gracious and merciful,

The One who is slow to Anger.

The One who is abounding in steadfast love.

And this One did what they could not.

This One turned their nothingness into something. Their ash into a cross. Their death into life.

And this One who met the people of Israel comes also to meet us.

This Christ comes down the mountain and finds us in our valley of Ashes,

and reminds us that this cross stamped on our forehead was first stamped in baptism.

This Christ comes down the mountain and gathers here with us, here in this moment of brutal honesty, this moment of our final hope in the face of destruction.

And this Christ declares that our nothingness is not the end.

The Christ declares that our death is not the end.

This Christ declares that our sin is not the end.

This Christ declares that our suffering is not the end.

This Christ declares that we are not the end.

This Christ declares that God IS our end

And our life

And our hope

And our meaning

And that this Ash that marks our brows, that the flaws and imperfections and humanity that mark our being… they are no longer signs of our ending, but signs that we are not alone, signs that we are loved, that we are beloved of God.

This Christ reminds us that our creation began in the very dust and ash we are smeared with. And that out of the dust and ash, out of the mud and the dirt God formed and shaped nothing into something, God formed and shaped the Adam, the dirt creature, the muddling, the first of creation. And then God reformed the Christ out of the dust and dirt of grave, into a new creation.

And that Remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return is not just to reminder that in our humanity we shall all die and turn to nothing…

but that returning to dust we will return to the God of life.

Looking for Jesus in the wrong places

John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, …And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. (Read the whole passage)

This is our final step along the way in our wilderness journey. We have heard the story of Lazarus, watched as Peter objected to Jesus watching the disciples feet, and then we spent two weeks with Jesus on trial. Today, we hear again a story from Holy Week, but we are not so deep into the story this time. We preview what is coming next Sunday on Palm Sunday. Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem. They are there for the passover festival. They are there on Sunday, the first day of the week, first day of Holy Week. This piece of John’s gospel takes place just after Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. It should really be told next Sunday, sometime in the afternoon. But we hear it today, on the last Sunday of Lent, for a reason.

It begins with Greeks. Greek who are from elsewhere. Jews who speak greek because they live in greek lands, far from Jerusalem. And they have come for passover, they have come to have their sins forgiven, they have come to see the great spectacle of Jerusalem at festival time. But the way these greeks approach Philip suggest they are looking for something more, something that is more than entertainment or show.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus”.

Sir they say to a lowly fisherman. Sir they say a pilgrims wealthy enough to travel far just for a festival.

We wish they say. We hope. We long. We Yearn. We desire. We need. They express their want to see Jesus as wishing. Wishing which implies a need for change, a hope for something different.

Sir, we wish to see Jesus. They want to see and know Jesus. The man who’s name means God Saves. The man who has been healing people, exorcizing unclean spirits, who has been teaching and preaching. The man who raised someone from the dead in Lazarus.

The greeks have come looking for something, someone. And maybe they don’t know what or why or who. But Jesus might fit the bill, fit their need for something deeper, something mysterious, something bigger than themselves.

The polite request by the Greeks to see Jesus is a feeling we know well. We too long for something more. For things to be different. We hope that our lives could be other than the way they are.

As human beings, we have this longing deep within us. We want to know that there is something bigger than us out there and we want to know where we fit in the cosmic order. Churches try all the time to bring this sense of “more” to worshippers.

Some churches search for that sense of euphoria, that spiritual high. Praise songs and hand raising, long sincere prayers and wonderful fellowship.

Others try to bring people closer to God by serving others. Soup kitchens and food banks, giving money to far way countries and for starving orphans.

And still other churches try to show the mystery and grandness of God. With big stone cathedrals, powerful organ music and reverent liturgy.

And indeed all are ways in which God is experienced. We see God in these places.

But that desire to see God also expresses itself in other ways. We look for the divine in buying and consuming things. We look to make ourselves secure and safe from the the things that would harm us or that make us fearful. We seek out power and control over our world and others.

We look for God in all the wrong places. We look to be like God. We look to be God in God’s place. And we do it because of original sin, of that desire within us to ourselves first.

When the Greeks and Philip and Andrew finally get to Jesus, he doesn’t answer their question in a way that any of them expect. He doesn’t offer himself to the greeks, he doesn’t say, “See I am here!”.

As we pass through this final week of Lent, we have been prepared for what is to come. Jesus has gone into the wilderness, Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead, he has reminded Peter that there is no share in him unless Jesus washes us clean, Jesus has stood firm in the truth while Peter denied him, and Jesus has confronted the powers of the world in Pilate and in death. Now, after 4 weeks of preparation, four weeks of wilderness, four weeks of having our failing and faults revealed, we are finally ready to ask that question that the greeks ask, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus”.

And Jesus points us to a time and place. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” It takes a while, but Jesus does answer our longing, our hope, our desire for something different, something bigger than ourselves. But it is not at all in the way we expect. We are longing and hoping for a glimpse of the divine, to see past the veil. We want to see the world as it should be, as we would like it to be. We want the spiritual high, the feeling of gratification after helping someone, the reverence of divine mystery. And instead Jesus gives us a cross. A cross where we will see God.

Imagine if someone came here looking for a church home, looking for some truth bigger than themselves, looking for a place to belong, a place to be fed, a place to meet God, a place to see Jesus. And instead of doing all the things we normally do when a visitor comes seeming interested in us, like giving them a newsletter or a mailbox or pointing them to the pew we know isn’t unofficially saved by a regular… Imagine if we instead simply pointed to the cross.

Imagine if someone said to us,

“We wish to see Jesus.”

And we just turned and pointed at the cross on the wall.

It is absurd.

The cross is an absurd place for God to be found.

Yet the cross is the place where God is revealed.

Yet the cross is the place where Jesus reveals God to the world.

Yet the cross is the place where God is visible to us in plain sight.

And the cross, the place of suffering, humiliation and death is the very place where God gathers all people to Godself.

The cross is the place where we see Jesus.

In just less than two weeks, on Good Friday, the glory of God will be revealed on a cross and no matter what we are looking for, no matter the places the we search, churches, shopping malls, schools, places of work, places of power, places of escape. And on the cross God is making room for all of us beneath it arms. God is gathering us all up to show us that in the least likely of places, God is revealed.

And we will see Jesus. We will see Jesus in all his glory. We will see God changing the world. We will see God changing us.

All we have is a man hanging on a tree

John 18:28-40

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” (Read the whole passage)

It has been quite the journey through the lenten wilderness. We began not in the wilderness of temptation, but the wilderness of grief, loss and death with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. And then we skipped forward to Maundy Thursday with Peter as objected to Jesus’ washing of his feet. Last week, we saw the parallel stories of Peter and Jesus as each was put on trial – where Jesus stood firmly rooted in the face of the moving target of truth, and Peter denied his master and teacher to save his own skin.

These stories have not been the usual stories of Lent – the Narrative Lectionary that we are exploring this winter is taking us through a different lenten wilderness than normal. And today we skip ahead again to that chaotic time between the Last Supper and Crucifixion as Jesus is arrested, tried and sentenced to death.

Today, we go along with Jesus to see Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. The crowds and temple authorities demand that Jesus be put to death for the crime of heresy. And the interaction that follows is one we will hear again on Good Friday… as part of the passion. We know where this is heading, each trial, each set of questions marches Jesus and us forward to the cross.

But it is not Good Friday today, we are still in Lent. There are still a few weeks left in our lenten journey. So we hear this story not as just one step on the way to the cross, but rather with lenten ears listening out in the revealing wilderness.

As Pilate and Jesus’ speak today, their exchange is unusual. Unusual in the sense that Pilate’s approach and reaction to Jesus is unlike what has come before. From the moment that Jesus processed into Jerusalem on a donkey, to his arrest and questioning before the temple authorities, the anger and rage against him builds. The crowds and mobs are out for blood, and the temple authorities are stoking the rage in order to rid themselves of a threat to their power.

So when Jesus finally ends up before Pilate, it is the top of the food chain. There is no one in Judea with more power than Pilate. Pilate might answer to Caesar, but Caesar is far away in Rome.

Knowing his power, Pilate seems nothing more than mildly curious about Jesus, if not annoyed by having to deal with someone the local religious zealots call a heretic. Pilate tries to figure out who Jesus is,

“Are you the King of the Jews?”

Not a question of religious doctrine, but a question of political power. Pilate’s concern is whether or not Jesus might represent a threat to peace in Judea. But Jesus turns the question back on Pilate and steers the conversation back to matters of doctrine and faith. Jesus states he is has come into the world to be a king but not an earthly king, and not king of an earthly Kingdom.

Certainly listening to Jesus, Pilate must have wondered why he had been woken from sleep to deal with this guy. Pilate could care less about Jewish religious beliefs, yet here he is dealing with some zealot who claims to be the King of the heavenly kingdom of truth. Pilate probably thought that Jesus was nuts.

“What is truth?” he asks.

Pilate, a good son of the empire, would have been schooled in greek philosophy. He would have believed that truth is not something found in flesh and blood, in the abstract unknowable things of the universe.

But Pilate isn’t debating philosophy. He is dismissing Jesus.

Pilate isn’t asking what truth is, but pointing out Jesus’ predicament,

“What does the truth really matter here buddy, you are about to die.”

It is often the case that we can see ourselves in the people around Jesus. Whether it is disciples who sometimes struggle to get it, people who are in need of healing and reconciliation encountering Jesus, or religious folk who get upset with Jesus as he upsets our ways to doing things.

But Pilate’s apathy and dismissal of Jesus is probably not something we easily see ourselves in. Yet, there is something familiar about it.

As Pilate seems to be asking Jesus, “Why does any of this matter, what good will it be to you when you are dead?” we know what it is like to be asked that question.

As 21st Century Christians, our world has been pushing back on us with that question for a while now. And just as Jesus appeared like a nut to Pilate, Christians too have begun to seem a bit nutty to a lot of the world.

Whether it is the culture wars over morality questions that the rest of the world seems to have settled, like gender roles, abortion, same-sex marriage and so on. Or whether it is our propensity over the past decades to condemn and judge non-believers. Or whether it is how many Christians these days have abandoned all those strongly held beliefs in order to cozy up to power…

And while we as Lutherans night not identify with that kind of Christianity, our credibility is equally challenged when it comes to the core parts of our faith, like Jesus being God, and the resurrection and salvation.

The world is saying just as much to us as any Christian group, “Why does any of that stuff matter, what good is it to you when you are dying?”

It is easy for us to wonder what our role in the world is anymore. It is easy for us to feel as though this faith of ours has no impact, that we are gathering together in order to proclaim things that no one cares about.

And all of a sudden, this lenten wilderness journey of ours, the one that strips back all the covers that hide our flaws and failings finally reveals to us our own questioning, our own doubts, our own apathy. If the world says that our message, our truth doesn’t matter because we are dying… maybe all the trouble we go to believing this stuff isn’t worth it. Maybe Pilate is right.

Pilate tries to send Jesus away, to make him disappear, to suggest that those overly religious jews should stop caring about this guy who claims to be king of a heavenly kingdom.

But mobs and religious authorities won’t allow it…. they want blood. And they will have it.

Jesus doesn’t respond to Pilate’s question, but they both know that this situation is leading towards one end.

Jesus’ silence is an answer to Pilate’s dismissive comment,

“What does this truth matter if you are going to die.”

It is as if Jesus is saying,

“The truth matters precisely because I am going to die.”

In fact, it is what Jesus has been saying all along.

He is going to die for the truth.

And Jesus is going to die because everything is going to die.
Pilate, the mobs, the disciples.
The Jews, the Romans.
All humanity and all creation.
All of it is going to die.

The truth matters precisely because Jesus is on the way to the cross.

The truth of God’s love and mercy and grace given to dying people, given to a dying creation.

The power of death that the mobs and temple authorities cry out for.
The power of death that Pilate holds over Jesus’ head.
The power to kill that is humanity’s greatest power… isn’t really power at all.
The power to kill isn’t truly power when we are all dying anyways.

But God’s mercy.
But God’s forgiveness.
But God’s love.
But God’s life.

That is the truth that matters.

Because, as Martin Luther said, all we truly have is a man hanging on a tree.

Because the only thing that means something to the power of death, is the new life that God brings into the world.

So what is truth, even when we are dying?
It is truth of empty tombs and terrified women.
It is the truth of fearful disciples meeting their master behind locked doors.
It is the truth of lost and lonely followers recognizing the risen One in the breaking of the bread.

And on the days when we almost might agree with Pilate, when we feel like giving up to a world that doesn’t think we matter.

Jesus reminds us that the church is dying indeed.
And that we are dying, and the world is dying.

But Jesus reminds us of the only truth that matters,
The only truth that means anything to a dying world,
The truth revealed to us in the Lenten wilderness.
The truth of God’s mercy and absolution given to sinners like us.
The truth of God’s Word of life proclaimed to the walking dead like us.
The truth of Christ’s body given to a dying a church like us.

What is truth?

Christ crucified and dead with us, with all of creation.
And Christ risen and alive with us, making all creation new.

Lenten Wilderness and the moving target of truth

John 18:12-27

19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” (Read the whole passage)

We are coming to the half way point of our Lenten pilgrimage. We entered into the wilderness two weeks ago, and we will have two more weeks to go after this. But this year, as we have been using the Narrative Lectionary and the Gospel of John, we have been hearing different stories than the usual ones. We began in the wilderness of grief and loss with the story of Lazarus. We then jumped forward to a moment familiar to us in Holy Week, Jesus washing the disciples feet. This week, we hear a story of Peter and Jesus again… yet not as they interact with one another, but as they are contrasted.

As we continue our wilderness journey today, we are thrown forward again. This time we hear a story from Good Friday, a nighttime story of the chaos between Maundy Thursday and the cross. And it can be an odd moment for us to consider in the middle of Lent. Yes, we know that Holy Week and passion are place that we are eventually headed, but the Lenten wilderness is still very much before us. And Lent isn’t quite the intense chaos of Good Friday. Instead, it is slower, quieter, toned back place. And so again, we hear this story with new, Lenten ears.

After Jesus is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, only a few hours after washing the feet of the disciples and sharing in the Last Supper, he is brought to the high priest Annas. While Jesus is questioned in the court of the high priest, Peter is outside in the courtyard with the common folk around the fire. And each is questioned, Peter and Jesus, about their identity and relationship to the message that they have been proclaiming together for three years.

As Jesus responds, he does so grounded and firm in the things that he has been preaching and teaching. He asks for the wrong that he is accused of to be pointed out to him. But as he is struck by a solider, it becomes clear that he is in the middle of a game of power. A game where truth is a moving target, a game of politics and manipulation, a game of self-interest and control.

The temple authorities are not expecting Jesus to stand firm. They are expecting Peter instead. Peter plays the game. They know that when most people are faced with he power of the temple, they will recant and deny their heresy… even if they aren’t heretics.

The high priests want Jesus gone, but they also want to take away the power of his message. They don’t want a martyr, they want a disgraced prophet who took everything he said back before he was put to death. They want Jesus to grovel and to admit that he was just seeking power too.

And so, Jesus’ trial is just a game, a sham. Jesus is doomed from the beginning because the temple authorities don’t care about the truth… or at least the truth isn’t their main concern until Jesus starts speaking it.

They want Jesus to do what Peter does. When faced with accusations of being one of Jesus’ followers, Peter denies even knowing the teacher, master and friend that he has been following. He chooses to save his own skin, rather than stand for what he believes.

But instead, Jesus doesn’t play the game.

We know this game well. It is the game that plays out on the news, in parliamentary chambers or capitol hill, in board rooms of fortune 500 companies and on twitter. But is also played in PTA meetings, church committees, between neighbours and in families.

It is the game where truth and honesty are moving targets and information is controlled, but information is power. Truth is dolled out in small bits by those on the top, because when it comes out too much at a time it often spells the end of power, it embarrasses and shames.

But here is the most insidious thing about this game of the moving target of truth that we play. Often, we don’t even realize it. Sure there are some out there who know the extent of their manipulations, and who are only seeking power. But so often we aren’t even aware of the game. We are instead trying to the right thing, we are attempting to be faithful, yet as we seek to do the right thing at all costs, we end up doing the wrong thing.

And it might be only in this Lenten wilderness that we are in that the truth our game playing is finally revealed.

A the church gathers together week after week for worship, we begin by confessing our sins. It is a moment in community that sets us apart from much of the world. As we confess, we speak truths about ourselves that the game of power and the moving target of truth would never allow. We admit that we have done wrong, that we have failed to do right and that the truth is not in us. Our confession is very much a lenten wilderness moment, a moment when the truth is finally revealed about us.

If we listen closely to Jesus’ words today, we notice that he too gives a confession. But his is different than ours. Jesus says:

I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.

If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong.

Jesus speaks things that sound almost opposite to our confession of sin. Jesus confesses the truth.

As Jesus is in the middle of this stormy game of human sin and the moving target of truth, does something that neither Peter nor the rest of us can do.

He stakes a claim and tethers himself to the ground. Instead of the truth being a moving target, Jesus roots it in place.

And all of a sudden the game that is being played looses some of its power. The temple authorities cannot undermine Jesus. They cannot destroy his credibility, they cannot brush his teaching under the carpet.

Jesus is standing firm in his message.

In his message of the Kingdom of God coming near.

In his message of God’s love for creation, for humanity, for us.

Even at the height of the game… Jesus is still preaching about God’s mercy and forgiveness by demanding this errors be revealed.

It is a similar thing Jesus does here week after week. As we all blow in from the stormy chaotic world, where the game of power and the moving target of truth is constantly being played, the very first thing that Jesus does for us is root us. Stake us to the ground in confession.

We confess our sins, we admit our faults and failings. And the game is banished from us for a least a moment.

And then along with our confession, comes absolution. The promise of God’s mercy and forgiveness given to us. Mercy that holds us in place. That lets us breathe and live and let go.

It might feel uncomfortable for us to be so honest. Every week, we might feel like we are wandering into the lenten wilderness when we confess our sin and the games of power are left at the door. But God’s forgiveness is what we need and what we are given.

Jesus roots us in God’s love and all of a sudden the game of the moving target of truth doesn’t matter anymore. It doesn’t matters because human power means nothing next to God’s love.

The truth that Jesus proclaims, that Jesus confesses changes everything, changes us. And the vulnerable, honest, revealing wilderness that we have entered into becomes a place where God is also revealed to us.

The truth is proclaimed today, but it won’t be until Good Friday and the empty tomb that the temple authorities, that the mobs and crowds, that Peter and the fearful disciples will discover that it isn’t just Jesus teaching that cannot be undone. And with that truth revealed, Jesus will deal the other issue of his trial – his condemnation to death

Soon God will show us that life itself cannot be undone, and that the power of death means nothing next to God’s love and new life promise to us.

You only need to wash your feet

GOSPEL: John 13:1-17 

[He] 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” (Read the whole passage)

We are taking our next step into our Lenten sojourn. Last week, we ventured out into the wilderness, not the traditional wilderness of temptation, but the wilderness of grief, confusion, and death as we heard in the story of Lazarus.

Today, the Narrative Lectionary skips us forward again, this time past the end of Lent into Holy Week itself. The washing of the disciples feet is a Maundy Thursday story. A story that begins the Triduum, the Great Three Days of the church that take us to Easter and resurrection.

Still today, we aren’t there yet. We are still just setting out on our Lenten journey, only having begun it last week. And so this story of foot washing becomes something different. Rather than the beginning of a bigger story, it is a moment between Jesus and the disciples that tells us something all on its own.

When I was in high-school as a cello player, I was recruited to play in the orchestra in a large scale production called Love According to John. It was an annual passion play/musical that had been running for decades. Sitting in the orchestra pit was one of the best spots to be able to see the actors just above us on stage.

And one particular scene still lives freshly in my memory nearly 20 years later.

It is this moment of foot washing. As Jesus washes the feet of the other disciples, the actors playing them, would put confused looks on their faces, but would dutifully play along with their master.

Yet Peter was different – to see Peter with my eyes and hear his voice, rather than reading them on a page… Peter always was reactive and brash, frustrated and clearly insecure. Almost as if he didn’t really know what was happening until Jesus was about to pour water over his feet.

And to watch Peter’s body go from withdrawing in one moment to offering his whole self up in the next, you could see that Peter’s problem was in interior one, a problem deep within himself.

Peter is longing for control… Peter cannot help himself. The same Peter who wanted to build a house for Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, yet who rebuked Jesus for speaking about dying. The same Peter who jumped from the boat to follow Jesus, yet who wanted Jesus to put a cap on the number of times he needed to forgive. The same Peter who hopped out of the boat to walk on water, yet sank when he saw that we has walking on water.

The same Peter who said he was willing to die with Jesus, yet denied evening knowing him just a few hours later.

This Peter is grasping for control, grasping for power and security, for the smallest sense that the world around him isn’t careening chaotically about him.

Peter wants to be the one who will dictate to Jesus how this whole faith relationship is going to work. First Peter will not let his master and teacher wash him… and then if he must be washed, Peter will be the most washed, every inch of him.

Peter can’t help himself, Peter tries to control Jesus every chance he gets.

Sound familiar?

We have a similar habit of trying to control things in our world. We long for security and and power, safety and predictability too. We don’t like that Jesus seems to be constantly changing his mind, doing things differently, and operating outside of our acceptable parameters.

Control and being in control is something that we naturally long for as human beings. We try to control the world around us, whether it is at home, work or church. We don’t like it when things don’t go as we expect, and just like Peter who is stopped in his tracks by his teacher, we can lash out when things come at us unexpectedly.

We often try to control Jesus. As Christians we have been guilty of withholding Jesus from people that we think are the wrong people and then in the next breath telling others that they need more Jesus. The church has controlled access by selling indulgences that granted a little bit of God to those with money… a practice that sparked Martin Luther and the reformation. And more recently, prosperity televangelists have tried to sell Jesus, with tracts or little green cloths or miracles… dolling out Jesus as if he was a Home Shopping Network product.

And of course most recently, many churches hold on to control, wanting Jesus to bring in more people and more resources, as if the point of the gospel was to bring butts and wallets into the pews, rather than forgiveness, life and salvation into people’s lives.

Like Peter, we flail about searching for control, even in the face of Jesus offering himself to us.

The season of Lent is the season in which the church remembers baptism. Those who are preparing to be baptized complete their preparation in this seasons while awaiting baptism at great vigil of Easter. Those are already baptized often take the opportunity to remember our baptismal identity.

And if there is anything the church does that reminds us that control is an illusion it is baptism. In baptism, God claims us, names us, and gives us new life. God does all this, and there is nothing we do to earn any of it.

So as Peter stands there before Jesus, protesting his feet being washed at all, and then asking for is whole self to be washed… we cannot help but imagine ourselves standing (or being held as babies) before the font.

When Peter finally submits, Jesus takes his disciple’s feet, one at a time, and washes the mud and dust from feet that have travelled far. He washes them clean, and dries them with a towel.

And what is normally a perfunctory act that happens between house slave and guest, becomes an intimate moment between teacher and student, between beloved friends.

And perhaps just for that moment Peter got it.

The washing of the his feet is not about control.

It is an act of Love.

Jesus washes Peter’s feet and the feet of disciples not to demonstrate who is in control, but to show them that he loves them.

Jesus washes our feet in Holy Waters not to demonstrate who is in control, but because he loves us.

The tension of our Lenten journey is this one.

In our wilderness journey, we struggle with things like being in control, with power, with fear and insecurity. And the wilderness of this journey reveals them to us, even as the rest of the year we can keep things under the surface.

And yet, as they are revealed, Jesus bends down with water and towel, and washes these things from us.

And Jesus shows us love.
Love that holds us,
love that forgives us,
love that renews us,
love that gives us life.

And as we are washed by Jesus’ hands, by Jesus’ body, we become part of the Body of Christ, forever grafted on to a body that isn’t about control, but about love.

For Jesus, it has never been about control, it is about bringing the kingdom near, about showing us God in flesh, by coming close to us.

Close enough to wash our feet,
close enough to reach out to us in the wilderness,
close enough that we might forget our fear for just a moment,
close enough to show us love.

Today, Peter’s story is a lenten story. Just as our own baptisms are Lenten stories.

Stories that reveal our flaws, and faults, our failings and insecurities.

But also stories that reveal Jesus’ love.
Jesus’ love for Peter.
Jesus love for us.