Community Christian Church of Springfield

4806 E. Cherry
Springfield, MO 65809
(417) 877-7821 





Sermon

The Passion Narrative as Autobiography

Community Christian Church of Springfield   
Roger Ray, pastor
Palm Sunday    April 13, 2014

 
Matthew 27:27-37
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews!' 30They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, 'This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.'


It seems that spring is finally here to break the icy grip of one of the most miserable winters in recent history.  Today is Palm Sunday which means that next week we can look forward to a family holiday replete children excitedly wearing their new Easter clothes outside hunting for eggs, the sanctuary will be filled with women in spring hats, and now that the Final Four is over, husbands and wives can try to break the icy silence and begin speaking to one another again.

So I know that the one thing you all want to hear me talk about today is the tortured logic of the Supreme Court's decision to dismantle campaign finance reform regulations.... Don't ever tell me that I don't know my audience!

I happened to be in attending a conference in Washington, DC in 2005 when Chief Justice Roberts was nominated to the Supreme Court.  I met an attorney friend of mine for dinner while I was there and she could hardly stop talking about how excited she was to have Roberts appointed to the court.
She had worked with him in a Washington law firm and she told me, "Roger you are going to love this man.  He is an ardent Catholic, a great family man and one of the most honest and intelligent people in the world."

I think that I made some desultory comment about how unlikely that it seemed that I would like anyone appointed by George Bush and we moved on to our remarkably overpriced entrees.  Everything in DC seems overpriced to me but perhaps we have to try to see such things through the eyes of one of Justice Roberts' "Stone Aged" peers on the bench, Justice Antonin Scalia said regarding the McCutcheon vs. FEC ruling that lifts that donation aggregate ceiling from $75,000 to $3.5 million, "I don't think that $3.5 million is a heck of a lot of money."

Once you are in a position to say that $3.5 million is not a heck of a lot of money, then paying $75 for half a chicken breast on a bed of pasta makes more sense.  But Justice Roberts, this ardent Catholic, honest, intelligent man, said about this ruling:

"Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder's official duties, does not give rise to such quid pro quo corruption. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner 'influence over or access to' elected officials or political parties."

Now, don't let this slip past you.... Justice Roberts.... This brilliant legal mind, said that people who donate millions of dollars to a political campaign are not necessarily expecting to either influence what candidates do when they are elected nor do they even expect to have greater access to the people to whom they have given millions of dollars.

And you have to say right up front that there is no way that you can claim that Justice Roberts is not a smart man.  This is a very intelligent man who is deeply entrenched inside the Washington bubble who can straight faced look into the cameras and say that people who donate millions of dollars do not want anything in return.

These recent Supreme Court decisions that have opened the flood gate to unlimited political influence peddling is an undeniable attempt on the part of the ruling elite to hold onto power even as their voter base is quickly dying off.  They are manipulating voter registration and voting laws to limit the number of poor, elderly and minority voters will be able to cast votes, and removing all accountability around the money in politics so that the party of the super wealthy can hold onto control of the government for a little longer.

So, when Justice Roberts says that multi-million dollar donations have no influence on either policy or access to elected officials, he is not dumb enough to believe that it is true but, and here is the point of my narrative, he wants to believe that it is true and by wanting to believe it, he can convince himself to deny reality, lie to himself, lie to the world, and ignore the consequences.

And one last political point, because I believe that this needs to be said:  Sheldon Adelson, the casino operator who donated $93 million dollars in the 2012 election cycle, is a conservative Jewish Zionist.

Now let me say that even if I were the dictator of the world and could just move national boundaries around at will, I'm not sure what I would do to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem.  We are more than a half a century deep into a very wrong headed land theft and resettlement program that just isn't workable.  I have sincere feelings of sympathy on both sides of this issue and I have no idea how it can be resolved peacefully.

Still, what I know with certainty is that the American military subsidies of Israel are so huge and so irrational specifically because of the financial influence on our government by political donations from people with mindsets like Adelson.  Adelson donates tens of millions to political campaigns and then our government gives over $3 billion every year to support Israel's military... and though we cannot make huge political campaign donations, we do pay hefty taxes to pay for Israel's military.

With all due respect for Justice Roberts' wishful thinking, I'm suggesting that there not only is a "quid pro quo" involved in these political contributions but I am saying that the quid pro quo come with a huge price tag for you and for me and, more importantly, it keeps us from doing things like extending unemployment benefits, providing mental health care for returning veterans, and appropriate and safe schools for children in poor neighborhoods.

If I can bring this back to the gospel lesson today and pose the larger question, "Why do otherwise good people tell lies and act like they are not lying?"  I am inclined to take my friends word at face value... she knew John Roberts as an attorney, a family man, a business partner and a Christian.
Now the whole world can see that he is also a hypocritical liar but what does he see when he looks in the mirror every morning? My guess is that when John Roberts looks into his bathroom mirror every morning, he sees a brilliant, Supreme Court Chief Justice who is a good family man and a good Catholic.

So we read the passion narrative in the gospels.  Jesus is falsely accused.  His brothers and sisters are nowhere to be seen.  His good friends fade back into the shadows.  Religious leaders conspire with political officials to trump up a case against him.

The priests can say, "Thank God we saved the people from that socio-path they were following."  His siblings can say, "His arrogance finally got the best of him."  The political leaders probably didn't say much at all..... Jesus never came close to the old $75,000 cap on political donations so he never really mattered to them.

We read the passion narrative of Jesus, not because we think that Jesus was God or even because we think the gospel writers are giving us a reliable historical account.  We read it as a story, an archetypal story. We read it because it tells our own story.

When you read any great story, you have feelings for the characters in the story and a lot of those feelings are rooted with how deeply you identify with the characters.  Why do you think that Halloween is such a popular holiday for children?

They have a deep, a primal desire to be the characters they have seen in their stories.  It always worries me a little bit when you see a kid choose to be Darth Vader or Freddie Krueger.... I don't want to over interpret that.
But when you read the passion narrative, you probably want to identify with Jesus, as sad as the outcome of the narrative is.  You don't want to be the callous and morally indifferent governor of Palestine.  You don't want to be the unfaithful friends, the lying religious leaders, the back stabbing best friend who throws Jesus under the bus.  Nobody wants to be Peter on that day.  No one wants to be Judas, or Pilate or Caiaphas.

But what do you want to bet that Caiaphas brushed his teeth that night and went to bed with no trouble at all?  That Pilate got up the next day, looked in the mirror and saw a powerful and wise ruler?  The gospels tell us that Peter was ashamed and Judas killed himself but it this were a real life drama, I would bet that they both would have gotten up the next day and said to themselves, "I sure am tired of all of the drama that Jesus creates."

The passion narrative has staying power through the centuries because, at some level, we have lived it, felt it, known it.  Like all archetypal narratives then, it is cathartic to us to hear it again, to feel it again.  But is there a larger point?

I hope so.  What if Justice Thomas, also an ardent Catholic, had looked at Justice Scalia and said, "You're joking.  $3.5 million dollars is an obscene amount of money and it could ruin our democracy."  What if Justice Kennedy would have pulled Roberts aside and said, "Do you realize that the legacy of your court is going to make you look like a corrupt joke in history?  Don't you want to work to preserve democracy rather than flushing it down the toilet?"

We somehow live in a world in which a President and a Vice-President can say that torturing prisoners is not torture because we don't torture and if we did it that it wasn't torture.  And presented with that circular logic, the country shrugs its collective shoulders and doesn't put that President and Vice-President on trial for war crimes.

Could it be that we are willing to pass on such things because we have grown so accustomed to it in our personal lives?  That people wish that something was true and so they tell themselves that it is true... have we allowed our conscience to wander away from reality so far that we believe in our own innocence, we believe our own lies, we abandon family members, throw friends under the bus, and acquiesce to falsehood to keep ourselves out of any uncomfortable fray?

Would any of us rushed in and saved Jesus from Judas' betrayal, Caiaphas' false allegations, or Pilate's depraved indifference?  If you wouldn't, if you know that you wouldn't, then decisions like our recent Supreme Court decisions and all of the times that you have felt betrayed just make sense... they are par for the course.

I think that what we owe to the universe is more than a casual acquaintance with the truth.  When it really matters, when someone is getting hurt, don't let your friends lie to themselves about their involvement.  Don't turn your back on your siblings when they really need your support.  Don't throw your friends under the bus just because doing so may raise your status or give you a temporary feeling of power.

Don't be Pilate, or Judas, or Caiaphas, or Peter or any of the unnamed siblings or disciples who risked nothing and cost Jesus his life.  You be the game changer, the truth teller, the one who wouldn't go along to get along.
You'll have fewer friends but better friends and when you look in the mirror in the morning you won't have to lie to yourself. 

Roger L. Ray, D.Min. 

Pastor
Community Christian Church
4806 E. Cherry Springfield, MO 65809
(417) 877-7821

"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up." (Martin Luther King, Jr. - Nobel Speech)
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