This is my sermon for Maundy Thursday, based on the lesson, John 19:23-30.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus was his mother.
Watching someone die is a horribly painful and difficult thing to do.
When I served as a hospital chaplain, I was with several families when their loved ones passed away.
I was there when both of my parents died.
It is an emotionally draining and devastating experience.
Being there when your parents die is painful, but it is part of the normal course of life. But to watch your child die must be an unimaginable trauma. Then for that person to be executed must just keep adding to the pain.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus was his mother.
Jesus’ mother is never named in John’s Gospel. She appears only twice, here, and at the beginning of his ministry, at the wedding in Cana.
She was invited to the wedding, as were Jesus and his disciples. She told Jesus that the hosts had run out of wine. She didn’t mind when he told her that his time had not yet come.
She told the servants to do what ever Jesus told them.
She was the mover and motivator behind his first sign. Why? What did she know? Did she know what Jesus could do? Did she know who he was?
John’s Gospel doesn’t have a birth story. John begins with the cosmic origins of Jesus. We first encounter him with John the Baptist and his followers. We know nothing about him
But she does. She knows he has abilities, or she wouldn’t bring the problem to his attention.
While he says, My time has not yet come, he still turns an excessive amount of water into high-quality wine.
Something during his time growing up, before he encounters the Baptist, has told her that her son is special.
She knew that people should do whatever Jesus said.
So when she sees him on the cross, is she thinking that he can get himself out of this? He has saved others, why doesn’t he save himself.
Jesus sees her. He sees the beloved disciple. Then, from the cross, Jesus entrusts her care to his most trusted follower. The one who was faithful to Jesus would be faithful to his mother.
“Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
She knew that people should do whatever Jesus said.
From that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
By handing her care over to another, she knew that Jesus was handing himself over to this fate.
His time had finally come, his time to die.
She knew that people should do whatever Jesus said.
This is what Jesus has said:
Here is my last article for my newsletter for the ONE in Christ parish.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you, and to serve God in this corner of the kingdom. I hope that these churches are in a better position now than when I arrived.
I have two final requests for you all, weighing in with my final two cents. You can use them or disregard them.
One is on page 5, a request to continue the internet and social media work that we started.
The second is about the short and long-term steps that you will be doing. In his message, Kaj Petersen writes that the first step of the call committee is to create a profile of this parish that prospective pastors will receive.
Please, take your time and be honest when you work on this. Describe the church and parish that you truly are. Do not describe the church and parish you think that you are. Do not simply tweak the profile I received seven years ago this week. You are not those churches.
The priorities of Our Savior’s and Emmanuel from 2011 should not be the priorities of Our Savior’s, Nazareth and Emmanuel in 2018 and beyond.
Describe who you are now. Determine what you want to be in the future. How do you want to serve God here in Greenwood, Owen-Withee and Longwood? How do you want to serve your neighbors?
Then figure out what gifts you need your next pastor to have to help you to be the churches and people of God that you are called to be.
Filling out that profile is the first step in the relationship you will develop with your new pastor. Please do not lie to her or him.
God’s Blessings Be With You All,
The article referenced on page 5.
Social Media Person Needed
Pastor Brian set up and maintained the parish website, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and each church’s Facebook pages. With his leaving, someone needs to take over those responsibilities. Not counting special events when photos would be uploaded, this would take 30 minutes to an hour per week. Most could be done while you are using these accounts for yourself.
These accounts have a much larger reach than just inside our church. Last week, our website had almost 700 page views by over 400 unique visitors. Articles on each Facebook page were seen by more people than have liked the church pages. These are outreaches beyond our doors. These impact people, and I ask someone to come forward to maintain them.
This is the text of my message for Palm Sunday, March 25 using the Narrative Lectionary lessons of John 12:12-27, the Triumphal Entry, and John 19:16b-22, the writing of the charge against Jesus.
Our lessons for today intentionally provide a clash of contexts. We continue with our Lenten readings of the Passion and Suffering of Christ from chapters 18 and 19 of John‘s Gospel. But we also celebrate Palm Sunday, and remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. They are connected because in each, Jesus is called the King of Israel.
Hosanna! Crucify! Hosanna! Crucify! Hosanna! Crucify!
How did so much go so wrong so fast?
It is the Sunday before Passover; Jesus enters Jerusalem, a top a young donkey, a sign of the anointed leader of Israel.
It is just days after Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, and Jerusalem still buzzing about that. Now, with the Passover festival approaching, Jesus comes into the capital city. The people greet him as a potential king.
Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of The Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel. Hosanna! Crucify!
It is the day before Passover, and it was the practice of the Roman Empire to make a crucifixion a public example. Should you dare to defy the Empire, this will be your fate. So to inflict terror to the community, the crime these pour souls were charged with was placed above their heads.
Pilate had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.
Crucify! We have no king but Caesar!
Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel!
It is Sunday, and the people of Jerusalem are thrilled by the possible promised Messiah. Could this be the one the Scriptures have prophesied? Hosanna! They have seen his signs.
This is the third time Jesus has come to Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem know Jesus. They know of his signs. He fed 5,000 with what one would eat for lunch. He has healed the blind, the crippled. He has raised the dead.
They wave palm branches as a sign of a conquering hero, just as we would wave flags on the 4th of July, or school colors at a game. Hosanna!
All that is needed is for the Temple leaders to signal their support. But they have already rejected Jesus. They have already decided that he must die.
He cannot be the Messiah. He doesn't do things the way they expect. He doesn't act how they want the Messiah to act. So they lead the call against him. Take him away! Crucify! Crucify him!
It is Friday, and the people have rejected this possible Messiah, calling instead for the rebel bandit Barabbas.
The man who was hailed as king on Sunday has been rejected. The crowd’s claim of being the King of Israel is now the charge of which Pontius Pilate has placed above Jesus’ head. Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.
The Temple leaders complain, that's what he said. It's not what we said. It is not what we have said about him. That is what we want to avoid. Pilate tells them he has made his decision; What I have written I have written.
Hosanna! It is Sunday and travellers from Greece fight through the crowds to seek out Jesus. His disciples allow them to meet the celebrated hero. He says that it is the time for his glory.
But he says that the glory will come as that of a single grain of wheat. When it dies and is buried, it flourishes and provides countless grains. Much fruit comes from one who dies. He, and his followers, must be willing to set aside their lives, to be willing to live for others, and die to themselves. His followers must be willing to go where he goes, and do what he does.
As we move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, we move from celebration to condemnation. As we move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, we move from praise to rejection. As we move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, we move from Hosanna! to Crucify!
As we move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, how far are we willing to follow Christ? What are we willing to give up? What are we willing to risk? How far are we willing to go?
Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
If we are the disciples we claim to be, we will follow our teacher, our rabbi, our master. But how far will we follow?
As the King of Israel, the Son of God went without resistance to the cross. He knew that his crucifixion and resurrection would bring glory to God. He knew the price. He paid the cost.
He calls us to follow him. He calls us to leave the comfortable and take up the challenge. He calls us to live out the values and priorities we speak out.
While we may not lead the call to crucify, we simply stay silent or fade away. While we remember that Judas betrayed him, and Peter denied him, we often forget that the other disciples simply stayed away.
Unlike the Temple leaders, we do not reject Jesus, but we resist him. They rejected Jesus because he wasn't the Messiah they expected. We resist because the Messiah expects too much of us. He calls us out of our comfort zone.
But his words to the visiting Greeks ring in my ears.
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
What are we willing to do to bear much fruit?
What are we willing to risk?
How far are we willing to follow Christ?
This is my sermon from Sunday, March 18. The lesson from the Narrative Lectionary is John 19:1-16a.
The ways of framing this theological concepts is taken from Nadia Bolz-Weber’s video, Cross, from Augsburg Fortress’ video series, animate: Faith.
Why did Jesus have to die?
I’ll be honest; this question doesn’t directly flow from this text. This lesson may better phrase the question of “Why do these people want Jesus to die?” I’ll answer that question after explaining why Jesus had to die. And it won’t be for the reasons that you have probably heard most of your life.
Here are some of the reasons that have been used to explain why Jesus had to die.
Jesus had to die because God the Father was mad at us because we are sinful and sin filled, bad and evil. God chose to punish Jesus in place of punishing all of humanity. This makes God to be a cosmic child abuser, and Jesus is an enabler in this depiction of divine wrath and retribution. This is also referred to as sacrificial atonement, because, as was the case in the Jewish Temple system, a lamb, here The Lamb of God, is sacrificed for the accumulated sins.
Jesus had to die to pay for our sins. It views our sins as a transaction; the more we sin, the more indebted we are to God for our disobedience. We cannot pay off this indebtedness or work it off with our piety and good works. This portrays God as a debt collector, or that God is somehow indebted to the forces of evil. Someone has to pay for all of this sin, and God let it be Jesus, the one person who never added to the final total. This is called the ransom or satisfaction atonement.
Jesus had to die in order to defeat death and sin. By living without sin, and by being raised from the dead, Jesus has defeated the forces of evil, specifically sin and death. Since they have no power over Jesus, they have been defeated for once and for good, for you and for me. Christ’s death and resurrection liberate us from our bondage to sin and death, and set us free. This describes God as having to battle to defeat evil, and is known as the Christus Victor, or Victorious Christ theory of atonement.
But none of these reflect a loving, all-powerful God. They show God as vengeful, petty and with limited powers. They show God with human frailties and faults. These theories take parts of our behavior, our characteristics and say that since we act this way, God must act the same way.
They depict God standing above the cross, judging us. Instead, God hangs from the cross, refusing to judge or condemn, refusing to stop what could easily be halted.
Let me offer an alternative. Jesus CHOSE to die, and to die on a cross as a rejection of the violence and self-absorption of our way of life and as a presentation of an alternate love-filled, other-focused, service-centered way of life. A life full of actions and teachings consistent with our understanding of the God who wanted God’s people to be blessed in order to be a blessing to the whole world.
Jesus CHOSE to die to show us that not even killing the Son of God, the Word of God made Flesh, the Light that has come into the World, can stop God from loving us. He was raised from the dead to show us that not even dying can separate us from the love of God. Sin and death have no power over God. They are a part of this world, but they, as are all things, are subject to the will of God.
John’s Gospel shows this idea most clearly.
Jesus surrenders himself to the forces of the Temple leaders. He isn’t seized by them, he hands himself over to them. To the leaders of the Temple, who see him as a threat to their understanding of how to love and serve God, he doesn’t confront them. Instead, he asks them to judge him by what he has said and done. They find that his message of taking care of those in need threatens their way of life, and for that he must die.
Jesus submits to the rule of Rome and the power of Pontius Pilate. He doesn’t challenge Pilate or his authority, but he challenges Pilate’s understandings of who Jesus is and what he has done. He challenges Pilate’s understanding of true power, and from where power is derived.
Jesus accepts the brutal beating, mockery and bullying of the Roman soldiers. He does not resist, or rebel, but allows those who want to abuse the limited power they have to have their way with him. His stoic attitude as he is abused and mistreated stands as a rejection of the human cruelty that we display toward one another too often.
Jesus takes the rejection of those whom he came to save. The people whom God chose to be God’s own, the ones whom God blessed so they could be a blessing to the world, reject and repudiate him. Those who were His own did not know him and instead called for a bandit and murderer to be released in his stead. They use language from a hymn of worship, “We have no king but God,” and use that to pledge allegiance to Rome, “We have no king but Caesar.”
Jesus chooses to die. Jesus chooses to go to the cross. He does this because by doing so, from the cross, Jesus Christ loves the violent, loves the abuser, loves the betrayer, loves the denier, loves the God-killer in all of us. Only a God who becomes truly human and suffers our abuse, insults and rejection showing only love and mercy can save us from ourselves.
Having suffered the rejection, abuse, denial, injustice, torture and judgment of this society, and of the world, Jesus Christ chose to go to the cross. From the cross, he judges our violent ways and our spiteful values.
And the judgment is forgiveness.
That is why Jesus had to die. For us to, hopefully, finally see, that no matter what we do, or do not do, we are forgiven.
This is the text of my sermon for March 11, 2018, the Fourth Sunday of Lent and the 1st Sunday of Daylight Saving Time. The text is John 18:28-40.
Much of my thoughts on this text were influenced by David Lose's Lenten Devotions from his website ... In the Meantime, especially the devotions here and here.
The lesson we hear today is at the heart of the telling of the Passion, or Suffering, of Jesus Christ. It is a key scene in any depiction of the last day of Jesus. I think of the various movies about the life of Jesus, and all of them feature this scene.
In one of my favorite depictions, the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, the song Trial Before Pilate is one of the turning points in the play. It takes the lessons we hear today and next week, showing how Jesus is abandoned by the very people he came to. It calls back to the opening prologue in John’s Gospel, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”
Pilate who is used to fighting against the leaders of the Temple, now finds they bring him one of their own, wanting Pilate to crucify Jesus. They give no accusations, only claiming that Jesus is a criminal who needs to be put to death.
Pilate wants Jesus to explain himself, and asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews. This isn’t the charge given by the Temple authorities. It is of Pilate’s own invention. Or perhaps that is what his intelligence gathering has picked up on; that the people of Israel hope that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who will restore the Nation of Israel.
Jesus challenges Pilate right back, asking what difference it makes. Pilate says that your own people have turned you over to me, and asks Jesus, “What have you done?”
Jesus answers Pilate. “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Here is where I want to focus. I’ve said previously that I prefer to think of God’s reign, not of God’s kingdom, because we tend to think of a kingdom as a place. God’s reign is when and where God’s authority and God’s rules are lived out. A reign is an attitude. A reign is a way of life.
Jesus’ kingdom is not a place. Jesus’ kingdom is wherever his followers live out the commands and demands of being his follower.
It is where love prevails, and where hatred fails.
It is where the hungry are fed, and where we trust we will wake when we are dead.
It is where the poor have provisions, and where unity ends our divisions.
It is where the sick are cared for, and where peace triumphs over war.
Jesus’ says that “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” We have heard that and understood that to be that if his arrest happened IN his kingdom, that his followers would be fighting to liberate him.
But what if he is telling Pilate that he, and his followers, reject the violent ways of this world?
It isn’t that followers from his kingdom would fight for him, but that because his kingdom is not of this world, because his reign is one of love, justice and peace, his followers will not fight.
What if he is telling Pilate, his followers and the world that he has come to reject our system of violence and retribution?
What if Christ’s surrendering himself to the Temple authorities and to the Roman Governor is his judgment on their system of violent justice?
What if the Word of God made Flesh came to show us how we treat a man with a message of love?
What if we were shown that not even putting the Son of God to death on a cross can separate us from God’s love?
What SHOULD we learn from that?
In declaring that his kingdom is not of this world, Jesus is declaring that his kingdom, his reign, will not use the tools and mechanisms of earthly kingdoms. He rejects control by terror, divide and conquer, victim blaming, the politics of shaming, we verses them, the power of fear, might makes right and the politics of division that have been used from the time of Pilate up to this very day.
Instead, he calls for the truth. It is his reason for being. It is “for this I was born, and for this I came into the world,” that he would speak, and live out, God’s love for the world. A love shown in that for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
The truth is that you cannot drive out hate by out hating your enemy or opposition. In his book, Strength to Love, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. And hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
The kingdom, the reign the Christ comes from, will return to, and will bring to earth, the kingdom and reign, we as his disciples are called to work toward is one that renounces violence, hatred, division and retribution. We are called to work toward peace, love, unity and forgiveness.
In the ongoing trial between forces of light and forces of darkness, we need to choose our side.
At the end, Pilate wants to release Jesus. In the song I referenced earlier, Pilate screams, “I need a crime!”
In the end, the crime was that Jesus is King of a Kingdom that is yet to come. A kingdom where God’s will shall be done. A kingdom that shall reign as Heaven on Earth. A kingdom where God’s power is shown in love, God’s glory is done in mercy and forgiveness, forever and ever. AMEN.
Pastor Brian's Page
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell has served at Our Savior's and Emmanuel since August 1, 2011, and began serving Nazareth on December 1, 2015.
Pastor Brian is originally from Saginaw, Michigan. He graduated from Alma College with a B.A. in Business Administration, and worked for the Saginaw Public Schools' Community Education Department for 17 years before answering the call to ministry. He graduated with a M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish is his first call.
He is the only child of Robert and Charlotte Campbell, both who have entered the Church Eternal.
He is accompanied in ministry by his faithful bulldogge Ananias, who regularly writes for our newsletter. His articles are archived here.
He is a fan of sports teams from his native Michigan, especially the Tigers and the Lions. But we tolerate him despite that.
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