s022g00 Good Friday Somerton Park 21/4/00
"Now Barabbas was a bandit" John 18.40
I began this sermon on the day after our State Parliament resumed, and the headlines in the paper that morning were about the serial pest, Peter Hore, who disrupted the opening session. Mr Hore has a psychiatric illness which leads him to believe that he is Jesus, and he has a reputation for these things. ((( He disrupted the World Cup soccer qualifying match between Australia and Iran in Melbourne, the Melbourne Cup, the funeral of race horse trainer Tommy Smith and INXS singer Michael Hutchence, and the Australian Open tennis final. ))) For someone with such obvious disabilities, he certainly gets around, and foils even the most elaborate security systems. Curiously of course, it was precisely he who got the resumption of Parliament on the front page. Otherwise the report would have been about page 20, and certainly without a picture in full colour! Our "pollies" can't be too unhappy, and probably won't be too fussed about trying to stop him. I suppose Mr Hore is somewhat a danger, probably more to himself than really to anyone else. We really can dismiss his antics as irrelevant in the "big - picture". Indeed he was taken to the police station and released after twenty minutes.
But there was no question of the religious authorities determination to stop Jesus. They go to some lengths to have Jesus arrested. Jesus is taken to Annas, the father in law of Caiaphas, the high priest. Obviously the high priest had his superiors, then I suppose as now. Perhaps Caiaphas the high priest was present and conducted this interrogation, and the later trip "to Caiaphas" was for practical reasons. Then the religious authorities take Jesus to Pilate and after repeated attempts by Pilate to release Jesus, and after the authorities had organised a near riot, Pilate is coerced by the religious authorities to have Jesus put to death.
The religious authorities preferred the bandit to Jesus. They wanted things to stay the same. They had to stop Jesus, because Jesus was doing dangerous things, things that couldn't be ignored. Jesus was not nuisance value, he rocked the very foundations of their existence. They were quite prepared to accept someone who robbed others of their meagre possessions (Barabbas), but they were not prepared to let anyone nibble away at their accumulated wealth and status (Jesus).
So I shouldn't take too much notice of the authorities' charge that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. The scriptural evidence that Jesus claimed to be the "Son of God" and demanded others acknowledge him as such is scant indeed. I wonder why we in the Church believe those who crucified Jesus in these charges against him. But again it would have been a relatively simple matter to eliminate someone who blasphemed - quietly and without all the fuss. No one would have bothered with Jesus if he was, as young people would say today, "up himself". One ignores such people. No one would notice if such a person disappeared. I believe that the charge of blasphemy really does not account for the ferocity of the anger of the religious people against Jesus. He was taking away the theological basis for their positions of power and authority over others.
I was quietly having a look through our prayer book about this time and I came across the words of one of the collects for the Epiphany: "Everlasting God ... fill the world with your glory, and show yourself to all the nations", and I thought to myself: "Hasn't God done enough already?"
The perception of this prayer is that God has something more to do. If only God would convert the heathen, all would be well. The Christian (or the Anglican) Church will in fact survive (depending on which one you most want to survive of course :-).
God was, in Jesus, doing things, which impacted on the whole theology of the religious authorities of Jesus' day. So we can assume that the Cross still does likewise. It will impact on our theologies - as people of faith.
We can assume that God is not going to "fill the world with ... glory" any more than God has already done so. If we don't see the glory of God in the creation around us and only see the glory of the Cross as a past historical legend and not in some ways an ever present reality, we can't really expect God to do more. If we don't, as Christians, see the world filled with glory, then it is us who aren't seeing the Cross in its true perspective. If we as Christians don't see the world filled with glory, how will we show God's glory to anyone else? And if we can't show anyone else God's glory, we have no good news for anyone. We too are left with Barabbas the bandit, who took things from the poor and defenceless. Nothing has changed.
Jesus demanded that the religious authorities reevaluate their own positions of power and authority over others. How often do we complain that the gap between rich and poor is wide and ever widening (unless of course we are on the "right side" and getting richer ;-). Jesus gave the poor preferential treatment, and inevitably bids us do likewise. He gave to those who had no aspiration to live religious lives the dignity of his presence and blessing.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews talks about the cross and resurrection of Jesus as being so much better than the previous offerings of bulls and goats, and (surprise, surprise!) often those "in the Church" have taken this to mean that our own salvation as Christians is more firmly assured, than those who are wedded to the Old Covenant and the sacrificial system there. It is then just a small step to think that we as Christians are of course able to be much surer of our salvation, over and against people of other faiths and over people of no faith. But the Cross and resurrection of Jesus can surely be "better" in that more people are included, just as Jesus included so many more people in his visitation than the religious authorities would allow.
So the Cross is our very assurance that no longer do we have to convert the world. The Cross shows us the extent to which God loves everyone as they and we are.
The Cross is not the ultimate in shaming people into the kingdom. The Cross shows us that everything that needs to be done for each and everyone to be included in the kingdom has been done by God already, and all we need to do is to act towards one another in the light and truth of this fact.
And of course, this is the ultimate attraction of the Cross and resurrection for ordinary people down through the ages. Jesus died at the hands of the religious authorities because he associated with others. This is the reason we can actually assert that he died "for" anyone at all. If Jesus died for anyone, it was those he associated with, ordinary people. For it was this which cause such anger in the religious authorities, enough to have him killed.
Jesus died and in so dying he showed how much he loved "ordinary" people - if of course there ever is such a creature as an "ordinary" person - we are all exceptional in some way. The only person Jesus couldn't have died for is those who asserted he died for them alone and not others.
The Cross still rocks the very foundations of religion which focusses on the personal salvation of the individual followers, and leads us to recognise the good in others.
I mentioned in the pew bulletin last week about the book I am reading: "How to Want What You Have: Discovering the Magic and Grandeur of Ordinary Existence" by Timothy Miller. It is a fascinating book and describes how much of the suffering in this world is caused when individuals are always wanting "More". People are condemned to lives of unhappiness because there is always "More" to get.
The Cross tells us that God loves us as we are, not when we are "More" religious.
And Religion that robs ordinary people of inherent dignity, sets up people to live lives of unhappiness as they seek a dignity they actually already possess, or lives of unhappiness as they (falsely) accept the notion that God would have nothing to do with one such as them.
I don't know how many of you have seen "American Beauty". In that film beauty is seen in all sorts of unlikely people - in the leading character going through a severe "midlife crisis" - a "worm that turned" who overcame his infatuation to see real beauty in the teenage temptress. Beauty in the drug dealer who saw beauty in the "ordinary" girl rather than her friend the temptress. Beauty in a plastic supermarket bag being blown in the wind. The film also showed the pain demons inflict on ordinary people and the lives of heroism of those who so afflicted.
Jesus was not like the religious authorities who took away people's inherent dignity. Jesus was crucified for trying to return some of that dignity stolen from ordinary people by religious people in the name of God.
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