“You Have No Power”

Good Friday-April 14, 2017-John 18 & 19

My Good Friday sermon from “Preaching Against Violence” class.

Jesus refuses to speak.

[Pilate] entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

Jesus refuses to speak.

“Where are you from?”

Silence.

“Don’t you know that I have the power to either release you or crucify you?”

Another pause. And then Jesus says, “You have no power … unless it was given to you from above.”

“You have no power.

“You may think you do, Pilate, but you don’t. Sure, you could have me killed, or you can set me free. If you set me free they will riot, and then they’ll find someone else to blame. You can have me killed, and they’ll be satisfied for a moment or two. It’ll buy you a few weeks, but they’ll be back. There will be something else, someone else.

“All of that out there—the angry crowd, the screaming, the hate welling in their hearts and spewing from their lips—you have no power over it; you can’t really control it. The only true power comes from above. My father has not given you that kind of power.”

Jesus knows that something far greater than human power is at work in the events of his crucifixion. Evil forces conspire to create divisions that Pilate and the angry crowd are completely unaware of. Jesus knows that the power of Satan is at work and its plotting to get exactly what it wants.

All around us the devil’s scandals run riot. Some develop quickly, others over long periods of time. Sooner or later those scandals envelope even us. They carry us unknowingly along with them, and all the while we are complicit in evils of which we are completely unaware. [1]

Don’t believe me? Take Jesus’ word for it. In John’s gospel he tells us, “If God were your Father, you would love me…you are of your father the devil and it is the desires of your father that you wish to do.”

“Your father, from the beginning, was not my father. My father you do not imitate, but you imitate the devil. You take after him. You’re using the devil as a model for your life, not God.”

We’re tempted to use the devil as a model for our life. Not God. Never has that been more apparent than it was on the day God died.

It is apparent because, we, in our frail human condition, have become rivals of one another. We, in our lowliness, have become living obstacles, stumbling blocks for each other. We, in our unworthiness have begun to think the worst of each other. When things get this bad, it starts to look a lot like our problems will be solved if we destroy each other. We begin to think that if we could just eliminate the enemy everything would be okay. We begin to think that if we can squelch our rival everything will be just fine. [2]

If only I could rid my side of town of that black family. It would be nicer. People would feel like walking up and down the sidewalks again and looking at the flowers. Parents would let their children play in the yard. We could leave our doors unlocked!

Satan wins when our rivals start to look a lot like our neighbors, and their rivals a lot like their neighbors, and in our effort to beat those rivals we all band together to take them on!

If we could just get rid of the Muslims then our country would be safe again! If we could just push the Mexican’s back across the border and build that fence high enough, then we’d have more jobs again. 

Satan’s winning.

And if we all group together and lynch our rival, that’ll fix it!

Satan’s winning.

Once we’ve gotten rid of the Muslims and the Mexicans we’ll oust the Catholics! We’ll identify a new rival in our community. One of those who used to be one of us no starts to look a lot like our arch-nemesis. 

Satan’s winning.

Boy, the devil’s really got us wrapped around tight, and we don’t even know it.

When we get rid of them, all will be right with the world! Yes! That’s right. And then we’ll take on the next, and the next, and the next and we’ll keep weeding out our enemies until until there’s nobody left to weed but God!

We have to understand that Satan gloms onto us like bacteria. He’s contagious. [3] We are infected with an evil that has no identity apart from its affect on us. It’s proclivity to make us sin is its lifeblood, and it’s detrimental to us and to the kingdom of God.

If we do Satan’s bidding, if we act as children of Satan instead of children of God, then why is Jesus silent? Why doesn’t he speak up? Well, I don’t know, but in his silence he says more than we could ever hope to understand, more than we could ever hope to be able to say out loud.

Where are you from?

Silence.

Why even dignify it with a response?

“You have no power,” he tells us. “You have no power unless it comes from God.” We have to understand that before we can understand what comes next. As long as we lead lives of service to spiritual forces of wickedness, to hatred, to that which stands opposed to God, then we have no power.

But we do! We do have power. We have power to drive out the Muslims and the Mexicans!

No, Jesus is here to tell us we don’t.

Last year the Bishops of our Church heard him loud and clear. They issued a statement critical of our nation’s political climate during Holy Week saying, “We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.” [4]

They told us that even in a country shadowed by the lynching tree we continue turn against our neighbors. We seek safety and security at the expense of others, and we think nothing of it. Satan has made an idol of our privilege. Satan drowns us so deep in death that we are willing to stand by while our Lord is killed.

We have no power to save ourselves.

No, of course we don’t.

Only God can do that.

 

[1] Rene Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001), 41.

[2] Girard, 38-41.

[3] Girard, 32-46.

[4] The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, A Word to the Church (Holy Week 2016).

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