Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jesus on Trial

Jesus on Trial
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
March 25, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Luke 23: 1-12 

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

Our journey from Bethlehem, with the child who was in the manger now a man, has taken one step closer to the cross. This week we stand with Christ at his trial. His healings, his teachings, his example, his mission has brought him to this moment, brought forward to be judged. The world of men stands ready to decide the fate of God, or at least that is what appears to be going on. Let's take a look, from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 23, starting at verse 1.

23 Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. 2 They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” 3 Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” 5 But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”
6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. 9 He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. 12 That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies. [1] 

           This passage has made me think a lot this week. And this week made me think a lot. It was kind of a perfect storm of sorts, of ideas. It all started Tuesday with our Lenten Study. What a great evening that was. We had tables overflowing, and such a good exchange of ideas. I came out of it inspired, by the sharing of our hearts with eachother, but then at the same time at Blue Ridge, it was a tough week. As the head of the discipline committee, any time drugs find their way to campus it means I have a busy week, and they did last weekend. Lots of meetings, lots of hard decisions, and a lot of young kids with changed lives. As hard as it is to do that work, it is fulfilling because it really is front line stuff, fighting the battles and reaching kids on their deepest levels, where their vulnerable heart is laid out on the table. I'm also helping with a class that seeks to get kids asking the "big questions." You know like: what is life about? what is my role? Is there a God? If so why is the world the way it is? We are inviting these kids to ask these questions, to challenge whatever notions they have held and honestly seek truth. This week we were looking at how we can "know" truth. It is amazing, again frontline stuff, not just because of the information, but the level of connection and honest communication going on, the trust built between open hearts.
I'm not sure if it was the Lenten Study that got me thinking, the Discipline Committee Meetings, with all the due process, or that big questions class, as we delved into how truth is known, or the Bible passage that I had selected for this week, but it all seemed to come together this week, working together, giving me cross insights for each other. They all seemed to be connected to the idea of trials, proof, justice, evidence. . . I mean how do we know? I can't tell which is the central culprit for it, but I have not been able to shut my brain off this week. It's been running full speed ahead, but DeAnna can tell you there are some major forgetful side effects to weeks like these. Like heading to the grocery store without a list, and having to call to remember even the first item, trying to put the salt and pepper in the dishwasher, the plates in the fridge, juice on my cereal and milk in my glass, drawing blanks on names, losing my train of thought again and again. You know one of those weeks. So sitting down to organize all of this into one sermon is quite the challenge, but here goes.
Basically my ongoing thought has been this. . . Jesus is still on trial, today, just like he was in this passage. We are still trying to determine what to do with Jesus, and by we I mean the world in general. Let's look at the passage and what Jesus' accusers say about him. He is accused by the assembly of "perverting the nation," forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and him saying that he himself is the Messiah the King. I can't help but see the parallels of then and now.
Perverting the nation: Look at these quotes from the secular world of today, perhaps the man who is the chief prosecuting attorney, against Christianity, Comedian Bill Maher

·         We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think religion stops people from thinking. I think it is justifies crazies .

·         When we talk about values, I think of rationality in solving problems. That’s something I value. Fairness, kindness, generosity, tolerance. When they talk about values, they’re talking about things like going to church, voting for Bush, being loyal to Jesus, praying. These are not values.

·         I think religion is a neurological disorder 

·         Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It's nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction.[2] 

If you could summarize and mold together these four quotes, wouldn't they be saying that the idea of Christ is perverting the nation? And therefore should be dealt with accordingly.
Okay, now so, refusing to pay taxes to the emperor. Obviously that is inciting people to be against the government. This also I've heard in today's world. Christianity stands in the way of the government's enlightened rule of the people.
Claiming to be King/Messiah/God: How many times do you hear? Yes I believe Jesus was a very good man, and a great teacher of morality, but Son of God. No way. . . Prove it. So Pilate asks him, flat out, so is this true? Tell me. Jesus says, "So you say," or what do you think, what do you believe, Pilate?
No confession = no conviction. It was good enough for Pilate. This is where some of the events of this week come in for me. I don't want to go into detail about the drug hearings we had this week, but I will say this: Without proof, a confession is key. Without a confession you have one word against another, which means who are you going to trust? And what are you going to base that decision on? A confession makes all the difference. Jesus is no help here. I have a thought on this but I want to wait a minute for it. So with no proof, he decides that he is getting nowhere so he sends him to Herod, maybe he can get somewhere. Herod goes farther than just asking for a confession, he wouldn't have trusted that, he wants real visible proof. Come on Jesus show me, I've been looking forward to meeting you, I've heard so many great things, let me see for myself. The scene is so memorably shown in Jesus Christ Superstar with Tim Rice's line, "Come on Jesus, prove to me that you're no fool, walk across my swimming pool."  But again Jesus does nothing. The accusations are raised again and Jesus is returned to Pilate, then the verdict is made, but not by Pilate and not by Herod, instead it is the crowd that passes judgment: Crucify him.
It is interesting that Pilate and Herod seem to ignore the first two and focus on the third of the accusations. It makes sense, when you think about it. If the third accusation is true then the other two fall apart. If Jesus is really God, then he is not perverting the people, and the taxation issue also seems to fall away. And this is the real issue that Jesus is "on trial" for today. Is Jesus God? And by association, is there a God? There is our modern rub. The trial still lingers.
If that is the case then what is our role? What is the disciples role in the trial of Jesus? It seems like the 12 disciples are nowhere to be found. They've all left, fled, in fear, so we have no real model for what we should do in this situation? I mean what is it? Are we the judge, the jury, Pilate, the crowd what is it? Who are we called to be? What role are we called to have?
This is the thought that kept coming up this week. It seems that we believe we are called to be the defense attorney for Christ. It seems to be that most Christians feel called to work to protect the faith, working to convince others of the truth about Jesus. Point out the evidence, make definitive arguments, remove as much reasonable doubt as possible, making it easy for people to believe the truth. The book, "The Case for Christ" comes to mind. If only we could show the world the evidence that we see, then they would buy it, and believe it. Isn't that what we feel called to be? Isn't that what Fisher's of Men do? Is it our job to be about the business of what is called apologetics, stating the case for Christ. What do you think? How many of you believe that, that should be the disciples' role in the trial of God?
I'll tell you that in many ways I thought that was the case too, but this week has challenged that notion for me. Because look at it, does Jesus need legal counsel? Perhaps,  you could say yes because who in his right mind would not speak up? I can't think of a lawyer, who is interested in winning the case, if not inspired by care for his client, who would not have told Jesus to take some kind of a deal. Come on Jesus speak up, save yourself, show just one miracle. Wouldn't that help. Have you ever thought that? Jesus, if  you would just perform one miracle I could get all of these people to believe. Nothing big. . . just give us something to work with here. I think the biggest one that people want is to have their church succeed, you know by growth. . . Jesus if my church grows, that'll show the world. By sheer numbers we can quiet that noisy crowd, we can have an insurmountable voice that will finally convince the world of your greatness. . . Come on Jesus throw us a bone, give us a sign, you are not helping our, I mean. . .your cause. That is the trouble with the defense attorney role. It is not invested enough because it is detached. It is out for its own interests. It becomes about being right and winning the argument, and the point is missed.
There is a reason Jesus doesn't defend himself. Some of it has to do with last week, and the "let this cup pass / thy will be done" stuff. The mission is not to get acquitted but to be convicted and crucified. Three times Jesus asks and three times it is the only way. I believe that to be true to my soul, but that is not all. There is a reason for why that is true, and that is because the facts of the case are irrelevant. It does not matter what proof is displayed. The mind of the mob has been made up. The world crucifies Jesus every time. The evidence is irrelevant.  
The world already has decided that "All religions, with their gods, demigods, prophets, messiahs and saints, are the product of the fancy and credulity of men who have not yet reached the full development and complete possession of their intellectual powers."[3] The world has already decided that the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centuries since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes."[4] The Jury has come back with the verdict that To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today.[5] The minds of many are made up, just like the mob shouting crucify him. Not even the miracle of Jesus standing right before them could change their minds, their minds, their minds. . . so Pete, are you suggesting that we do nothing? Aren't you an education guy? Aren't we called to be fisher's of men? Isn't fishing going out and convincing people to change their minds?
This series of sermons, from Christmas to this morning, has looked at the life of Jesus with the understanding that the life of Jesus models for us the life of a Christian. Why should it change now? Should it change because the stakes are raised? Because they certainly have been raised. Death hangs in the balance, but don't forget that life is around the corner. Jesus doesn't wish to change their minds, he's after their hearts. I've been quoting many atheists and scientists throughout this sermon, and I would like to do one more. This is Albert Einstein speaking about reason and faith, "To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with the natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot.[6]" Scientific knowledge can explain many things about the world, but it has a hard time with the human heart. Einstein is suggesting that these places, inside the human heart, where "scientific knowledge can't set foot" nor try to explain are dangerous, and he's right. Human hearts are dangerous.
Jesus is turning the world upside down, by letting hearts loose. Passion, emotion, love, caring, affection, hope, kindness, sacrifice, mercy, deep feeling, faith, these are the things let loose on the world. Man are they dangerous. So what then is our role as Christians? It's not as lawyers, standing on the sidelines making the arguments so that other people can decide to follow. No that's way too cheap. There is not enough invested if that is our role. No instead we are called to take up our own cross; to give up our lives; to leave everything behind; to follow even unto the cross. . . and there die, so that our hearts can be born again. To the mind it is a paradox that does not make sense. . . a paradox on which no jury could make a verdict completely forgoing all reasonable doubt. Jesus knows this, so let me ask you one final question in two different ways. . . Jesus knows that it takes the cross, why do we think we could convince the mob today with less than the cross? Why do we think we can ever save the world with less than the cross? God give us the strength to bear the cross. Amen.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Lk 23:1-12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[2][2] Bill Maher. "Religulous," 2008.
[3] Mikhaïl A. Bakunine, Of God and State, 1871.
[4] Canadian Atheists Newsletter, 1994
[5] Isaac Asimov
[6] Albert Einstein, Science and Religion (1941)