Preached April 5, 2012 at Pleasant Hills Baptist Church
That the saints of history said “Yes” to God is not a story. Esther, Mary, Jesus, the Ethiopian eunuch, Dorothy Day, Rosa Parks, Dietrich Bonhoeffer are not unique because they answered the call. They are household names because of the context within which they said “Yes” to God. Their yes was spoken into the darkness of opposition, oppression and hatred. They are a voice crying out from the wilderness, the margins, outside dominant culture and accepted norms.
This is no easily whispered “yes.” For saying yes in conflict is different than clicking “like” on your facebook, safely from your couch.
This is exactly the setting in our gospel story and in our world. Jesus is in the darkness of opposition, oppression, and hatred. His world is coming for him. And Jesus invites us in, laying it on the line with, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” He apparently knows who it is, but he doesn’t let the disciples know. They’re left in their distress with the terrifying question,“Surely, not I?”
This is the moment, the moment of trial and temptation. This is the crucible of faith! This is what Paul referred to when he said we should boast in our suffering because it produces endurance, and character, and hope! (Romans 5:3-4).
But like the disciples we’re quick, anxious, hungry to get out of the crucible. And so we look for someone to pin it on. Surely Jesus means Judas, right? Whew! Then I’m off the hook. “Surely it’s those Mennonites from the suburbs who have turned their back on Christ. Right?” “It’s the Baptists, clearly! They don’t believe exactly like we do!” ‘Oh, those mega-church types have all fallen away” we say!
Surely, not I! Surely Lord, not us?
What, according to our story, would it look like to betray, deny, or be disloyal to Jesus? There are too many examples!
- Pilate was swayed by the crowds. He didn’t want to kill Jesus, but he let the hype dictate his decisions, “Everyone’s doing it!”
- The crowds are swayed by the religious leaders! Refusing to think for themselves, they parrot back what they hear, untested.
- Religious leaders are swayed by the will to power. They don’t want to give up their power, and so they do everything they can to uphold the status quo. Conservative, they see nothing wrong with the world around them!
- And Judas. Judas is swayed by money. Cold hard cash causes him to exchange the truth for a lie, eternal life for a meal and 401k. Which, apparently, doesn’t work out very well for him.
And all the disciples said they wouldn’t do it. Mark 14:31, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” But each and every one does exactly that. Within 19 verses, and what, 3 hours, they go from proclamation/worship to complete denial and abandonment, swayed by fear, emotion, and self-interest.
Surely, not I?…. Surely, not I?
There remains one who does not turn his back on God. Through Jesus, our gospel story moves past an indictment to give us a picture of faithfulness. What would faithfulness, allegiance, loyalty, trust look like on this night in the crucible? What do I have to do to not deny Christ?
We must get our identity and mission from God, and nowhere else. No one, and no suffering, can cause us to set aside our values and respond out of hatred or fear. Our typical response is to treat people how they treat us. We allow ourselves to drop down to the lowest common ethic and give our enemies (of all people!) permission to dictate how we will act. But Jesus says we must be willing to be broken and poured out. 1 Peter 2:23 says, “When [Jesus] was abused he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten.” Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” No matter what they do, I obey God.
We must do more than speak. All the disciples, including Judas, said the right thing! “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” Where there is No justice, there is no worship. As Amos says in 5:21,24, “I hate, I despise your” worship… “but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
We must be with Jesus. Where Jesus is we are to be. We must fear God more than man. We must pledge primary allegiance to God alone. Not self, not our future, not our interests, nor our nation. We find Judas hanging out with the armed guards… not where he is supposed to be. Peter’s with the servants and guards in the courtyard… not where he’s supposed to be. The disciples are sleeping while Jesus prays… not where they are supposed to be.
It’s essential we cultivate a spirituality and life of prayer that binds us as one with Christ. Howard Thurman says in Jesus and the Disinherited, “The basic fact is that Christianity as it was born in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed.” Indeed. As Jesus himself said, if we act on Jesus commands, the rain will fall, the floods will come, the winds will blow and beat on our house, but it will not fall. Because it had been founded on the rock. (Matthew 7:25)
On this night, in this setting, will you say yes to Jesus invitation? Will you pledge your loyalty to Christ? Jesus invites us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him.
Will you then deny Jesus and pledge your loyalty to something, or someone other than to Jesus Christ?
Will you then put down Jesus cross and pick up your own personal interests, safety, and support of the cycle of violence?
Will you choose to follow the crowds, or money, power or fame?
Surely, not I!