Dead of Alive
Homily, GOOD FRIDAY
April 14, 2017, St Petri. Pastor Adrian Kitson
Matthew 27:19-2019 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: ‘Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.’20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
It must have been an uneasy peace at best for Claudia, Pilate, the Soldiers and the religious elite. They were looking for some relief from God’s prodding through this man Jesus. They must have at least half-thought they had found some rest from a suffering conscience by getting rid of this man who claimed to be God.
They are not the only people in history to try to silence God’s whisper. Many are still ignoring dreams, words, experiences, thoughts, prayers, churches, and stories of faith. Many are still trying to believe that it does not matter – this faith, this church, this religion, this man, this claim. For many of our family and friends, faith in Jesus’ word from the cross is at best a misguided hope. After all, He is dead.
Jesus, for many is a like a stone in your shoe removed, a lose thread in your underwear snipped, a troublesome relative avoided, a winning opposition team supporter silenced. It is easier if he is gone.
If he is just noble man who came to a sad end he can now only be an example to us. Then we are free to choose or not choose to follow his example and we can choose to bask in our own likes and dislikes, our own wins and losses, our own dreams of how it should be and how everyone else should be.
Claudia had a dream. She sensed that killing Jesus was unjust and dangerous. Her husband however was under extreme pressure from the fickle crowd. He found it too difficult to follow his wife’s advice of having nothing to do with killing this man. Talk about a dream – it was a real nightmare!
It makes you realise that Jesus was just a nightmare for those who had much to lose by his presence and truth. This is still true now.
We have been told for at least 40 years that Jesus and his claims and those who trust them will soon be gone. Religion will die out, they say. If only this religion would face the inevitable and play dead!
Our discovery of the stars, the forces of nature, the history of the natural world, the intricacies of the human brain… will all eventually be fully understood, and more importantly, mastered by us.
As far back as the late 50’s we heard that there will be no need for a God in this future; no need for any divine presence and spiritual life. By solid research and unrelenting unbelief, we will get there to this lovely human-centred utopia in which we are the masters of our own destiny, the givers of our own vision, the realizers of our own dreams, the creators of our own ideal world with no nightmares anymore.
But the script has not played out. The advertising has not delivered the promised hassle-free self-determination. The scientific proofs for no God have fallen short. Religion is not declining but increasing in the world – everywhere but in this Western society.
We in the West are in full flight, heading further into a human centred universe with no God, and we firmly at the centre. We will probably keep pressing on with this faith in a closed universe for some time yet. We seem harder to shift on this than North Korea on communism and nuclear weapons!
But we, even in the West, are still hungry, we are still fighting, we are still often unwell, we still die, we seem at a loss to know how to be community or family at peace. We are still searching. We still know what it is to feel alienated, lost, judged, condemned, lonely, and fearful of what may come.
But can Jesus on the cross the game-changer? Surely he can’t offer much from there for here. Claudia says it well. He is dead now, anyway. And that is better. We can all rest from region, from those annoying but crucial questions of who we are why we are here and whose we are.
Claudia, asks the question: is he a criminal breaking all the rules of our expectations, or just a lunatic who knows no better – an object of our pity. Or is he the One who had direct connection to God and offers it to you and me today?
His message was clear. He said his time has come to rule the world by serving it, loving it, empowering it to be true community with its Creator.
And here is the “ah ha” moment: if this man on the cross is the Lord of life and death, that means I am not; we are not. His humility, his strength in suffering, his forgiveness in injustice, his giving of everything for me means I am called upon today to lay down my ego and my dreams for life and my family and my career and my very self.
Will I do this? They are MY dreams and my visions. I have EARNED them. I have learnt my vision in the school of hard knocks. I deserve my dreams. I am entitled to this life and how I choose to live it!
But I look at that cross on the wall and it jumps off the wall and I feel myself going to the wall. It speaks because he speaks from the cross. He screams from the cross. Seven telling words that send a ripple across our nice calm pond.
I cannot just have nothing to do with killing this man _ I do every time I reject his sacrifice for me and place me at the centre!
Surely today I cannot dismiss or kill him. I cannot just let him lie in the grave. His words live. They move me, they melt me, ….. even us Lutherans who only dance on the inside!
Friend, does regret steal your sleep? Do the questions keep you awake? Does his gracious stare and prayer from this torture unsettle you, challenge you, undermine you, as he did for Pilate and Claudia and all who had much to lose? He should.
It would be easier in a way if we went with Pilate and Claudia on this. Letting Jesus be dead cost us less, we think. There is no challenging question and no call to follow and no Lord of my life except me.
But then we are worse off. A dead Jesus makes everything mean less. Without these words of forgiveness, hope and promise everything turns into nothing of any lasting value. Eat, drink and enjoy the gourmet Vintage Barossa and the fruits or OUR labour for tomorrow or some day we will die.
Claudia told her man to have nothing to do with this man. Plenty of people give the name direction today. By my own heart, I shun him often.
But friends, his blood, the wood, the sand, the rocks, the pain, the look and especially the words scream a question that demands our response either way today. “Who do you say I am?”
Friend, for life and for love and for the vision of God for his world including you, don’t follow Claudia’s advice. Have plenty to do with this man today.
Hear his words from his cross. Hear the question he asks you. “Who do you say I am?” He asks in love, not hatred, in mercy not judgement.
Stare into the costly call of these seven words from the cross. They are life and love unfathomable.
Look into what may seem a nightmare to the human ego, but is freedom that allows us to learn and love and truly live together in holy community and holy serving, as we have been served and still are.
He is not dead and praise God, by his grace, neither are we!