Good Friday 2019

Good Friday – April 19, 2019 – Trinity, Winchester

Pontius Pilate entered his headquarters and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate 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.” John 19:9-11

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Pilate asks Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus remains silent. 

This utterly baffles Pilate. “Don’t you know that I have the power to either release or crucify you?” Jesus replies, somewhat calmly as I imagine it, “You have no power over me unless it was given to you from above.”

“You have no power.” 

Jesus is right. Pilate has no power. It is easy to see why Pilate thinks he has power over Jesus. In his mind, he can either have Jesus killed or he can set him free, but in reality, it’s not so simple. Nor does Pilate have power over the angry mob outside. He has no control over the hate welling up in their hearts and spewing from their lips.

Something far greater than human power is at work in the events of Jesus’ arrest and trial. Evil forces conspire to create divisions that Pilate and the angry crowd are completely unaware of. Only Jesus recognizes them as the work of Satan plotting to get exactly what he wants. 

Jesus sees Satan at work in the mob mentality. Tensions arise and instead of trying to discover their underlying causes, the group casts all the blame on one person: Jesus. They identify him as a scapegoat. He has been putting some crazy ideas in the minds of the poor, the widowed, and the sick. They consider him the source of their problems. If they can only kill Jesus, then all of their problems will go away.

Satan still works like this in the world. Truth be told, I get nervous throwing around words like “Satan.” Some of you might wonder, “What in the world is he talking about?”

I’m talking about systematic evil in the world. All around us the devil’s scandals run riot. Some develop quickly, others over long periods of time. They carry us unknowingly along with them, and all the while we are complicit in evils of which we are often unaware. [1]

This was the story of the United States during the Civil Rights Movement. “If only that black family would move back to their side of town! People would walk around the neighborhood again. Parents would let their children play in the yard. We could leave our doors unlocked.”

It’s still the case today. “If only we could keep the immigrants on that side of the border! Our jobs would be safe, our economy would be thriving, and our streets would be free of crime.”

That’s not the only example of our modern tendency to scapegoat. Think about the human impact on climate change or the societal acceptance of school shootings. Even as we cry out for solutions, systemic forces of evil keep us from working together to find them. 

We would much rather attack each other than work together to solve the problem. “If we got rid of Trump, everything would be so much better!” “If Nancy Pelosi disappeared, we wouldn’t have these problems anymore!”

As toxic partisanship takes over the political landscape it’s nearly impossible to have civil dialogue. Fear has become our only motivator. When we respond out of fear, we vilify people who are different from us. We lose sight of the real issues and instead mistake each other for the problem. We begin to think that if we can suppress our rivals, then all of our problems will be solved. [2]

As long as that’s our attitude, then the devil has us right where he wants us. As long as Satan keeps us afraid of each other, then we’ll forget about God. As long as Satan keeps us focused on destroying each other, then we won’t notice Jesus hanging over there on that tree. And as long as the devil keeps us at each other’s throats, then we can ignore the fact that we hung him there. 

Three years ago, during Holy Week of 2016, the House of Bishops issued a statement to the church reminding us to reject hatred and fear. They wrote, “We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.” [3]

Their sentiment is, unfortunately, still relevant. Even in a country that stands in the shadow of the lynching tree, we continue to turn against our neighbors. As long as we seek safety and security at the expense of others, and as long as we engage in dialogue only with those who agree with us, then we have not learned our lesson. 

It’s as if we have forgotten about Good Friday. It’s as if we’ve forgotten that today is a crucial part of our Christian story. Today Jesus teaches us one of his most important lessons: fear has no power. 

Today Jesus refuses to play by the devil’s rules. Today Jesus refuses to lower himself to cheap scare tactics and manipulation. Instead, he does the one thing that Satan never expected. He gets up on the cross and he dies. 

He dies. 

Not because he’s weak. Not because he’s stupid. Not even because his Father willed it. No, Jesus does not die out of guilt or necessity or coercion. 

Jesus dies out of love. Jesus dies to show us what it looks like when you refuse to fight fear with fear. 

By dying Jesus upends our worldly expectations. By dying he teaches us that what we consider to be power is not power at all. By dying he teaches us that no matter how afraid we are, we cannot solve our problems by eliminating our neighbors; by dying he teaches us that fear never gets the last word; by dying he teaches us that love triumphs over death. By dying Jesus teaches us that we have no power to save ourselves. 

No matter who we persecute, no matter who we lock up, no matter who we expel, we can’t save ourselves. 

Only God can do that. 

 

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

[2] Ibid., 38-41.

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

“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).