April 2, 2017
Sermon: “Take a Stand!”, Rev. Steve Anderson
Have you ever been locked in a contest of wills? Perhaps it was a coworker, a rebellious teenager, or a defiant two year old. When most people are in this sort of situation, are they listening to others and trying to find win-win solutions or are they thinking of what they are going to say or do next? Are they looking for common ground, or are they trying every way possible to convince the other person of the validity of their opinions and actions?
During the Lenten season, which began several weeks ago, we discuss several things, including Jesus’ announcement that he would suffer as a part of God’s plan for his life; Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem; the celebration of the people, the passion, and pain of the crucifixion; and of course on Easter, the empty tomb.
Today, I want to focus on the process of Jesus being arrested and tried which led to his execution on the cross. I think that this discussion begins with the question of why the religious leaders were so intent on having Jesus killed. If he had been just one lone person sharing his interpretation of Judaism he would not have raised such a stir. But he and his followers were clearly a threat to the abuses perpetrated by the religious leaders and the imperial system. With Jesus in the picture, it could not continue to be “business as usual”. The religious leaders were terrified that they might lose the power, wealth, and comfort that their positions afforded them.
For three years they had tried to trap him in some chargeable offense. Finally they had him. He had done the unthinkable. He had claimed to be the messiah and God in human form. According to their laws, this was blasphemy and high treason. The religious leaders had several options, but crucifixion was not one of them so they sought out the help of the Roman government which was occupying their land. And so off they went with him to the closest Roman governor, asking for the death penalty. Jerusalem was in the province of Judea and Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea and Samaria. In order to have something that would matter to the Romans, the Jewish leaders claimed that Jesus was stirring up people and calling for an armed revolt which the Romans would not stand for. They said that Jesus was “perverting the people” with his teachings, while it was really the Jewish leaders who were doing the perverting.
Pilate was already on shaky ground with the Jews. He had brought statues of the Roman leaders into the temple area and had misappropriated money from the temple treasury to build a system of aqueducts to transport water from one city to another. He did not want them to report him to his superiors in Rome who might move him to a worse place. In spite of being caught between a rock and hard place, Pilate saw through the religious leaders and had no desire to satisfy their wishes and possibly cause more trouble for himself.
Pilate found a loophole when he discovered that Jesus was a Galilean so he passed the matter off to Herod, the governor of Galilee. Herod had heard about Jesus and was actually interested in meeting him, hoping that he would do one of his miracles, not to prove who Jesus was, so Herod might follow him, but just for Herod’s amusement.
The religious leaders were also caught. If they charged Jesus with speaking and acting against the Jewish religion, Pilate and Herod would have no interest. They had to find a change that would put Jesus in the crosshairs of the Romans. Herod declared Jesus to be innocent of any Roman laws and sent him back to Pilate who again declared him to be innocent. The original charges were religious, but since they wanted the death penalty and the Romans were not interested in Jewish religious matters, Jesus’ accusers were determined to have their way, even if they had to twist the facts.
Pilate wanted to release Jesus, but the crowd of people, assembled and prodded by the religious leaders, demanded his death. Pilate suggested that he be flogged with a whip, but that he not be killed, hoping that would be the end of the matter.
The angry mob, loyal to the religious establishment, pleaded with Pilate and Herod to reverse his decision. Neither Pilate nor Herod wanted a Jewish uprising during their watch which would upset the Romans. As you can see, this passage is about different wills, purposes, agendas/ powers, and jurisdictions.
A few years ago, a woman’s wallet was found along a highway just north of the Ford county line in Iroquois County. The closest law enforcement was about a mile south in Ford County, so that is where the wallet was taken. Unfortunately, they did not want to do anything about it because it was found in Iroquois County and the woman who lost it lived in the southeast corner of Champaign County. Champaign would have to send a deputy to Iroquois county to interview witnesses and investigate.
It would have been easier for the Ford county folks to do it, but they didn’t want to spend any time dealing with this matter anymore than the other county law enforcement did. Sometimes we want to have jurisdiction and responsibility and sometimes we want anything but that.
The power and control in this passage was “who would decide the fate of Jesus?” Who had the power to nail God in human form to a cross? In desperation, Pilate agrees to free Barabbas, a hardened criminal who was guilty of leading a political uprising, the very thing Jesus was accused of. The other interesting thing is that the name Barabbas means “son of the father”. How ironic is that? Throughout the different trials in this “kangaroo court”, Jesus kept his composure and trusted in God’s mission for him.
What did Jesus do to these who accused him of things that he had not done? What was his response to all the violence that whirled around him? Jesus was laser-like in his determination to follow what he knew to be the Father’s purpose for him. This included forgiving those who beat him and falsely accused him. He stayed true to his principles as he moved toward the cross, humbly and willingly setting aside his desires in order to be faithful to God.
Remember last week how we looked at Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane? Deep in him were his basic beliefs of humility, justice, forgiveness, and truth. Focusing on these core values he was able to say “not my will, but yours be done”.
Last week we talked about prayer. I hope that you pray for me. Don’t pray that I’ll grow a foot taller or have more hair. Pray that I’ll be more like Jesus. That I’ll stay focused on God’s purpose for me, that I’ll stay calm in the midst of the stresses of life, and that I’ll stay connected to all people, even those who think I’m the worst pastor this church has ever had.
What do we do when we have differences? Do we wait until they grow into big problems and then do damage control? Too often, instead of turning to our core values we focus on how others will react. Being anxious about the response of others stifles our best thinking about issues. I’m not suggesting that we avoid relationship systems. It’s just that the temperature of the relationship should not determine what we do or don’t do.
Our job is to do the right thing. By that, I mean that we do things that are in keeping with our mission as the church and as God’s people. Anxiety will rise anytime there is a threat to the homeostatic of a group. It’s like when a big wave rocks a boat one way. What happens? Someone yells, “Run to the high side of the boat”. Let’s use our weight to put the boat back where it was.
In times of danger, we fight, run away; take over the responsibility of others or allow someone to take over our responsibilities; or blame one person for all the problems the boat has ever had. Taking a stand is not about protesting or debating or trying to convince others. It does involve stating clearly what you will and will not do. It involves separating thinking from feelings.
Have you ever wanted to punch someone in the nose? That is a feeling. When you thought about it, didn’t you realize that it probably wouldn’t do any good and might make things worse? That’s thinking.
Taking a stand is about sharing what you believe and think, assuming responsibility for your own happiness, and freeing everyone else from having responsibility for your success or happiness. Taking a stand is about separating real fear from perceived fear. I think that someone might do me harm so I act in one way, but the more we think about it, the more we realize that they mean us no harm. This includes not being afraid when people feel and think and believe differently from us.
Some of my core beliefs are that God loves us, that God is good —all the time —that we need to respond to that love by loving others. I also believe that we should continually grow and learn, that we should help people when we can, and that we should not take ourselves too seriously.
As we think the next two weeks about the cross and the empty tomb, let’s remember that nothing went wrong. The religious leaders did not defeat God’s plan for our world. They didn’t get the best of Jesus. God’s will for us and our world came about and that gives us courage and hope. How do we demonstrate our confidence in God? How do we trust God more? How do we take a stand for Christ in our world?
For some, it will involve not laughing at offensive jokes or not treating some people differently because of their age, their physical condition, their gender, or the shade of their skin. For others, it will be evident in our driving habits or in not telling everyone we know everything that we know about someone or some situation, or not telling things that we don’t know just because it will get attention. It will have to do with being satisfied with what we are and what we have. It will have to do with counting to ten before we speak when we know that angry, hurtful, unhelpful words are about to come out.
How do we act out of the things that we really believe? How do we take a stand?