Sermon for Lent V
St. John’s Church
March 21, 2010
When all else fails in an argument, resort to name calling! Doesn’t it seem like in the midst of an argument or debate that whenever one side feels like they have been defeated and have nowhere else to run they lob a hand grenade into the discussion, stop debate, and begin attacking from another front. One need only read the newspaper, or an internet article, or watch a journalist on television, and I can almost guarantee there will be some type of labeling in the story. I challenge you to find a news report where at least the term liberal or conservative (or something of the like) isn’t present somewhere. And, if you really want to change the direction of the debate, call your opposition a racist. That for me is the tell tale sign that you’ve actually backed your opponent into a corner, and he doesn’t want to admit that he was wrong, misinformed, or misguided – or even worse, that he’s so obtuse he wouldn’t admit the truth if his life depended on it! For some reason the labels are necessary to tell the story.
The same situation occurs in the church. As we here at St. John’s and I personally have held a strong line on the Biblical interpretation of Scripture pertaining to human sexuality and the unpleasant issue that continues to confront our Church, our opponents and detractors throw derogatory phrases in our direction that we are homophobic, fundamentalist, narrow-minded, hypocrites. They’ve ceased debating the issue, and have resorted to ad hominem attacks of character. Of course, I’m sure that I’ve resorted to the same tactics on occasion, but it doesn’t change the fact that name calling doesn’t solidify one’s case, and actually proves that you’ve lost the ability to have a grounded argument in fact.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus faced that exact same name calling by his detractors because they were either unwilling or unable to set aside their view of what the Messiah was supposed to be, and what He was supposed to look like. Therefore, they used two terms readily available to them to sling in Jesus’ direction. They called him a Samaritan and accused him of being demon possessed. It appears that the issue of demons and spiritual warfare is back among us again. To reiterate what I said two weeks ago, we must use this time of Lent to raise our awareness that our enemy Satan is alive and continues to do his bidding among us every day of our lives; that we must be in fervent prayer so that we might be defended from those enemies that intend to do damage to both body and soul. We will confront these attacks every day, and this side of eternity will never escape the devil’s slings and arrows.
Of course the slanderous attacks coming Jesus’ way continue to bounce off of Him as has happened all throughout His ministry. He doesn’t even acknowledge that they have called him a Samaritan, and He makes a simple rebuff at being called demon possessed. The enemy will try any avenue available to prohibit the spread of the Gospel, and our constant fight and battle is to persevere and remain steadfast in our bold proclamation of the Truth. After all, it is only the Truth that will ultimately set us free, and that freedom is found in one place alone – Jesus Christ our Lord. Just a few verses earlier we hear the Lord make that very proclamation himself, that those who abide in His words are truly His disciples, and they will know the truth and it will set them free.
The crowd of Jews doesn’t seem to like Jesus’ answers very well, and then their true colors shine forth when they confront him when he declares that those who keep His commandments would never die. They say to him in reply, “Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?”
The crowds have totally missed the point here, because of what they are dwelling upon. Three times they mention the “deadness” of their forefathers. There’s no way to know if this interaction occurred at the same time as the exchange between Jesus and the Sadducees when they ask him about the woman married to seven brothers, and whose wife would she be at the resurrection.
Quick side note that I can expand upon when that Gospel lesson comes up – why exactly did the Sadducees ask Jesus about this woman and the resurrection if they didn’t believe in the resurrection anyway? End of side note
Jesus replies to this group and tells them that they don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God. Know, you want to talk about your forceful statements – Jesus is telling one of the priestly groups of His day that they don’t know their Scriptures. That’s the equivalent of telling the Pope he doesn’t know very much about Roman Catholicism. He tells them they’ve gotten it all wrong, but he goes on to tell them why. He says to them, “But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."
He is not the God of the dead but of the living! On Easter Sunday morning we’re going to hear words with that exact same message. When the women come to the tomb and find the stone rolled away, two men in dazzling garments say to they, “why do you seek the living among the dead?”
Jesus confronts the Jews in this morning’s Gospel with that exact same message – why do you keep dwelling upon death – for Jesus came to bring life, and to bring it abundantly. They have turned the ultimate message of hope into a message of despair, and Jesus is going to blow away the remainder of their incorrect teaching with the pinnacle I AM statement when he declares to the crowds, “before Abraham was, I AM.” Please note, Jesus doesn’t say before Abraham was, I was. What he has done in just a few words is take all of the divinity of God upon himself. Actually, he makes the ultimate declaration of his identity by using those two Greek words – egw eimi. When he does so, he takes the sacred Name of God and personifies it. He adopts it as His own, when in actuality, it was his from the very beginning.
When Moses encounters the burning bush and speaks to God in the bush and asks, “whom shall I say has sent me?” the voice replies saying, “Tell them that I AM sent you.” When Jesus tells the people that before Abraham was, I AM, the crowd of Jews know full well what he’s just done. They don’t have a clue what it ultimately means, but they sure know that Jesus has committed an unpardonable sin, and they are going to exact judgment on the spot. However, the Scripture says that Jesus hid himself, went out of the Temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
Jesus tells the Pharisees and scribes that they are like whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside and yet on the inside were full of dead men’s bones. Not only does Jesus accuse the Pharisees of being full of dead men’s bones, John mentions that Jesus departs from the Temple, and I’m sure that there is the implication here that the Temple was full of dead men’s bones as well.
And so, we come to yet another one of those poignant questions of the Bible in our lesson this morning. For me, this question is almost as profound as Pilate’s question to Jesus when he is questioning him and asks him, What is truth? The Jews ask Jesus in our passage today, “whom makest thou thyself?” in other words, they say to him, who do you make yourself out to be? The fundamental difference here is that they are attempting to make Jesus a creature, when in fact they are talking to the Creator! This is a question of identity, and they have started at the wrong place. Since they’re coming to the table with incorrect assumptions from the beginning, they are naturally going to end up at the wrong destination.
They approach their questions from the standpoint of the dead, and they are questioning the very source of life itself. They want to know what Jesus’ life has to do with their dead ancestors, and Jesus is telling them that they are in essence disgracing their history and heritage by missing the point that God from the very beginning is the God of life, and not death. Even in the midst of the Fall, the seeds of redemption were sewn when God says to Eve that even though there would always be enmity between the seed of Man and the seed of Satan that in the end the seed of Man would bruise or crush the head of Evil and Death. Those forces would forever nip at our heels, and part of our time this Lent is to come to grips with that fact. We are called upon to examine those places in our lives where Satan comes each and every day to bruise us in any fashion he can. We are called to fervent prayer to cry out to God for mercy and help that He aid us in crushing those temptations, sinful desires, evil habits, cruel thoughts, and all other wiles and crafts of the Devil. This is critical in the keeping of a holy Lent.
This morning is Passion Sunday in which we continue to draw to a more narrow focus what lies ahead for us these remaining two weeks of Lent. Our focus should direct us to the cross – the place where death was defeated once and for all; where hung for us the God not of the dead but of the living; who hung upon that hard wood so that he might taste death on our behalf so that we might come into that loving and living embrace of Almighty God our Heavenly Father for all eternity.