Sunday’s sermon: Testimony is Invitational

Text used – John 20:1-18

  • Stories make up the realm of who we are – our past, our present, and even our future. Stories build meaning. Stories construct our shared experiences. Stories connect us to one another and to the world around us. And it’s been this way as long as humans have been communicating with one another.
    • Stories = how we relate to one another
    • Stories = how we teach one another and learn from one another
    • Stories make up the very structure of our lives → Just like the bones in our bodies give our muscles and sinew and our very skin something to cling to – something strong and stabile and solid – stories are the strong and solid foundation on which our identity is built. There is nothing in our lives that doesn’t involve some sort of story.
      • Your relationships produce stories → There’s nothing quite like listening to a pair of people – spouses, siblings, friends, neighbors – tell a story together.
        • Each person adding their own details and impressions
        • Each person remembering things just a little differently
        • Each person’s telling feeding off the other person’s telling until story itself has taken on a life/personality all its own
      • Big events in your life are saturated with stories: story of driving out to Bob and Arlene’s with Grandma Viv for Thanksgiving every year → passing the same one-room schoolhouse every year → hearing the story of how that was the schoolhouse that Grandma and Bob went to as kids
      • Even places in our lives our rich with stories.
        • All the stories that swirl around you when you’re in your home
        • Or this sanctuary. I bet if you asked …
          • Gail: story about the Bible stand and her dad
          • Cindy/Nancy: story about the rose window and Wayne
          • Joanne: story about paraments and her husband, Bill
          • Many: story about remodeling the sanctuary
          • If you flip open the Bibles in the pews, many of them have been given in honor or in memory of someone, and each one of those dedications comes with a story. Or if you flip open your hymnals, many of those bear name plates in honor or in memory of someone as well, carrying not only the story of that dedication but also the story of the congregation that those hymnals came from: The Presbyterian Church of Le Sueur.
    • Point: We are story. Story we are. Story is in us and through us and around us and flowing from us all the time.
      • Author Philip Pullman: After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.
      • And as Christians, this is particularly true. We find our identity, we find our hope, we find our purpose in God’s grand story of faith. It is the story that grounds us. It is the story that inspires us. It is the story that gives us direction when we are lost and comfort when we are in distress. And it is a story that is undeniably and inextricably a part of our own stories as well. And today, friends … today, we get to bask in the fullness and glory of the climax of that Grand Story of Faith. Today, we get to celebrate both the origin and the ultimate purpose of that Story. Today, that beautiful, miraculous, radical Story both circles back to the beginning and starts anew because today, we can boldly and joyfully declare that Christ our Lord is indeed risen!
  • Today’s gospel story is unique in that it’s the only Easter gospel account in which the resurrection Jesus actually makes an appearance in the garden
    • Mt’s account[1]: multiple women coming to the tomb → find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty → encounter the stranger/messenger/angel in the shining clothes: “Don’t be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said.”[2] → women run to share the good news (this beautiful, miraculous, radical story) with the disciples → encounter Jesus on the road
    • Lk’s account (very similar)[3]: again, multiple women coming to the tomb → find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty → encounter two strangers/messengers/angels in shining clothes: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised.”[4] → women run share the good news (this beautiful, miraculous, radical story) with the disciples → Peter (in disbelief at their story) runs to the tomb himself to check and finds only the linen burial wrappings → disciples encounter risen Jesus later (road to Emmaus story[5])
    • Mk’s account[6]: multiple women coming to the tomb → find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty → encounter one stranger/messenger/angel in a while robe: “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here.”[7] → women are so terrified and alarmed by this encounter that they flee the tomb, saying “nothing to anyone because they were afraid”[8]
    • That’s a lot of story all tangled up in one place … in one event … in one person! But John’s account tangles it even further. – today’s reading = Jn’s account[9]
      • Jn’s account = more characters
        • Mary Magdalene (goes to the tomb alone)
        • Simon Peter
        • Unnamed beloved disciple
        • Two angels dressed in white → not messengers as in the other gospels (only words they utter in Jn’s account: “Woman, why are you crying?”) → more placeholders
        • And, of course, Jesus. – text: [Mary] turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).[10] → What a story! What a story! Can we even imagine ourselves as Mary in that moment? Can we feel first her despair and consternation at finding the body of her beloved Teacher missing? Can we feel her racing, anxious heart and her racing, frantic thoughts? “Where is he? What have they done to him? Where have they put him? What does this mean?” Can we feel her confusion and desperation when she first encounter “the gardener”? Can we feel the dawning of recognition and awe, not slow and steady but quick and crashing the second she hears her name fall from those lips that were both familiar and wholly unexpected? You see, friends, this is the beauty of the story of our faith. It invites us in.
          • Invites us into the experiences of others
            • Experiences of God
            • Experiences of faith
            • Experiences that mirror our own
            • Experiences that are vastly different from our own
            • Experiences like Mary’s encounter with the Risen Christ on that first Easter morning
            • Scholar: Before they became the Bible, the stories of Scripture were lived. Unfortunately, that seems lost on many of us. Once they became cemented within the canon, they no longer smelled of the real world. The dust of ancient walking paths settled, and the sweat of an early morning run evaporated. … John tells the story of that first resurrection morning, and the portrait he paints … invites the reader to feel at home with people a lot like us.[11]
  • Friends, our faith is a relational faith. We were created to be in relationship with God, and in order to demonstrate the love and grace not only possible but promised in that relationship, God came down to dwell among us in Jesus Christ. God took on the fragile and mundane form of the same creatures that God created for love and faith and devotion. God endured the pain and shame and suffering and brokenness of humanity on the cross to make that love as unmistakable and conspicuous as possible. That pain and that brokenness are a part of our story. That love and that grace are a part of our story. The miracle and scandal of that cross and that empty tomb are a part of our story.
    • Story that shapes us
    • Story that is shaped by us and our own experiences → How we tell the story of our faith shapes how people hear the story and, in turn, process their own stories. Our story adds to their stories and vice versa.
      • Sort of like a beautiful, complex macrame creation full of different colored threads, different kinds of knots and hitches, different textures, different bits and baubles to accent and adorn this Grand Story of Faith that we all share
    • Like the story that Mary experienced that morning, it’s a story meant to be told … meant to be shared … meant to be proclaimed
      • Exactly what Mary did – text: Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.[12] → Mary told the disciples. And probably the other women that had followed Jesus as well. And her friends. And her relatives. And maybe even strangers she met on the street. And the disciples told others. And the other women told others. And Mary’s friends and relatives told others. Maybe even the strangers on the street told others. And they told others. And they told others. … And here we are today. → built into the resurrection story itself is not just an invitation but a directive to tell the story and to keep telling the story
        • Learn from the way Mary told her story → Mary had just come from the garden in the early morning hours. She had been weeping. She was probably hot and sweaty and dusty after first running to get Peter and the belove disciple, then running back to show them the empty tomb, then running again to the disciples after her encounter with Jesus. She was probably still shocked and confused and overcome with emotion as she told her story that first time. Maybe her words were jumbled. Maybe she mixed up the order of events in her excitement. Maybe her story came out all in a rush before she could even remember to breathe, so she had to repeat it. I’d be willing to bet that it was perfect and measured and edited and practiced. But it was her story, her beautiful, miraculous, radical story. And she told it. And she kept telling it, not because it was perfect, but because it was
          • Thomas Long (book: Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian): Christians believe that we cannot tell the truth, not the whole truth, without talking about God, and if we cannot tell the whole truth, we cannot be fully alive as human beings.[13]
  • Friends, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! It’s a story that’s true. It’s a story that’s powerful. It’s a story that’s worth telling. Again and again and again. Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Mt 28:1-10.

[2] Mt 28:5-6a.

[3] Lk 24:1-12.

[4] Lk 24:5b-6a.

[5] Lk 24:13-35.

[6] Mk 16:1-8

[7] Mk 16:6.

[8] Mk 16:8.

[9] Jn 20:1-18.

[10] Jn 20:14-16.

[11] Sean White. “John 20:1-10 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: John, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 308.

[12] Jn 20:18.

[13] Thomas G. Long. Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 5.

Sunday’s sermon: Testimony is Sincere

Before the Scripture reading:

  • Before we read this morning’s Scripture reading, tell me what we’re going to hear in the Palm Sunday story. Think about it in terms of a play being staged. What are the essential elements of the Palm Sunday narrative? (And no peaking at your Scripture reading this morning.)
    • Who are the characters?
      • Jesus
      • Crowd
      • Disciples
      • Donkey
    • What’s the setting?
      • Jerusalem
      • Road
    • What are the props that we need for this scene?
      • Palm branches
      • Cloaks
    • Okay … keep those elements in mind as we read John’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem this morning.

Text used – John 12:12-27

  • So of all those things we talked about before we read our passage for this morning, what elements were a part of John’s narrative? [pause for answers] What elements weren’t there?
    • Let me help jog your memory a little bit. – read Mk’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry: When Jesus and his followers approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus gave two disciples a task, saying to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away.’” They went and found a colt tied to a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. Some people standing around said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them just what Jesus said, and they left them alone. They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields. Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.[1] → Other than a few central elements, that’s significantly different from what we read this morning, isn’t it?
      • Similarities
        • Crowds shouting “Hosanna!”
        • Jesus riding a donkey’s colt
        • Palm branches (Though did you notice that Mark didn’t actually call them palms?)
        • Quoting one of the First Testament prophets, Zechariah: Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem. Look, your king will come to you. He is righteous and victorious. He is humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the offspring of a donkey.[2]
        • But that’s basically where the similarities end, right? Mark gives us a lot more detail about the actual entry itself – about the act of Jesus riding into the city. But John gives us a lot more detail about the acts surrounding that central event.
          • More detail/background about the crowd
          • More detail about what was happening with the Pharisees (sort of a behind-the-scenes look)
          • More detail about what transpired btwn Jesus and the disciples directly following their entry into the Holy City
          • Mark – as well as the other synoptic gospels, Luke and Matthew – give us fanfare. John’s gospel, on the other hand, gives us … you might be able to guess this by now … testimony.
            • Scholar: John focuses squarely on the entry into Jerusalem and includes details that serve only to affirm the event as a momentous occasion, a sign of Jesus’ lordship, and a foreshadowing of his final victory. … As with so many passages in John, the would-be mysterious sayings and doings of Jesus [touched on by the other three gospels] are revealed from the outset as portents of good news.[3]
  • One huge clue that points toward this good news – giant Biblical neon arrow – that’s only present in Jn’s account = reference to Jesus’s recent miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead – text: The crowd who had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead were testifying about him. That’s why the crowd came to meet him, because they had heard about this miraculous sign that he had done.[4]
    • Significance of “testifying” in this passage = emphasized by the Gr. → So here’s the thing about ancient Greek. Sentences aren’t structured the way we structure them in English. The myriad of different endings on the words tells you what the subject and object are and which verbs go with which parts of the sentence. But sentences are rarely laid out the way we lay them out in English.
      • English = subject + verb + object → e.g.: He reads books.
        • Subject: He
        • Verb: reads
        • Object: books
      • Instead, in ancient Greek, the sentences are structured by importance – the most crucial thoughts or words or phrases are placed at the beginning of the sentence. And that verse about the way the crowd that had been present at Lazarus’ resurrection was testifying about Jesus … I bet you can guess what the first word of that Greek sentence is. Testifying.
    • And the testimony of that crowd – that crowd that watched Jesus weep and then call a dead man out of his tomb – brought this crowd that greeted Jesus with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!”
      • Chain of testimony was sincere enough – candid and genuine and wholehearted enough – to bring more and more and more people to Jesus’ presence
      • Chain of testimony = so obvious it even has the Pharisees grumbling – text: Therefore, the Pharisees said to each other, “See! You’ve accomplished nothing! Look! The whole world is following him!”[5]
  • And just in case that foreshadowing about raising Lazarus from the dead wasn’t pointed enough (which is clearly wasn’t because our Scripture this morning said: His disciples didn’t understand these things at first. After he was glorified, they remembered that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.[6]) … just in case call that foreshadowing wasn’t enough, Jesus gets even more pointed with his words toward the end of today’s passage. – text: Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.[7]
    • As the daughter of a farmer and the granddaughter of not one but two prolific gardeners, this is probably my favorite of Jesus’ much testimony in just a few words
      • Speaks truth about the effort that will be required → Anyone that has done any planting – whether it’s a single houseplant, a backyard garden, or hundred of acres of farm fields – knows that planting takes work. Your hands have to get dirty. Your brow might get sweaty.
      • Work has to be intentional → Especially when you’re talking about something larger like a garden or a farm field, you can’t just plant willy nilly, scattering seeds wherever you feel like it. You have to make the space in the ground. You have to put in the seed. You have to cover it up. You have to pay attention to where and how your seed is planted. How deep should it be? Is there an “up” side and a “down” side? (I know I can’t be the only one who’s planted bulbs upside down before!) Does it need shade or full sun or something in between?
      • Work has to be ongoing → You have to water it. You have to water it again. You have to weed around it. Maybe it needs some sort of fertilizer or it needs to be sprayed for bugs. Maybe you need to build a fence to keep out critters that want to try to eat what you’re trying to grow. You have to water it again. You have to prune it. Planting seeds is never a one-and-done endeavor.
    • And all of that comes into play in Jesus’ words here.
      • Speaks truth about the effort that will be required of Jesus
        • Work that is intentional → Nothing reveals just how intentional – just how purposeful and willing and deliberate – Jesus’ actions are than the last verse of our Scripture reading this morning (again, Jesus’ own words): Now I am deeply troubled. What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time.[8]
          • Sheds a stark but sincere light on Jesus’ testimony → Even Jesus himself had reservations about what was to come, but he knew that this was part of his story – part of the testimony that his very life was meant to be – and so he kept on telling it. “This is the reason I have come to this time.”
        • Work that is ongoing → Jesus story … became the apostles’ story … became the story told by the Church throughout the millennia … has become our story.
          • Story of love
          • Story of grace
          • Story of service
          • Story of gathering in
          • Story of making space
          • Story of hope
      • Jesus also speaks truth about the effort that will be asked of any who follow after him – Jesus’ own words: Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.[9]
        • Scholar: After all, taking on a new identity means saying good-bye to another. When we welcome strangers, we invite what is strange about them to come along too. When outsiders are allowed in, what was familiar no longer is. … Yet unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. Being a servant of Christ, being a part of the church, is to be in an honored position, but being one of his life-giving grains means inevitably to fall to the earth. … This passage reminds us that at the heart of Christianity is a bunch of unsettling truths: some things we are familiar with need to die, in order for new life to arise; the work of the Spirit will not be contained in set patterns; and anyone and everyone who wants to get involved should do so. In the end, the blessing and honor of God come not to those who follow guidelines, but to those who give up their lives in service.[10] → It’s a story that’s true. It’s a story that’s powerful. It’s a story that’s worth telling. Again. Amen.

[1] Mk 11:1-11.

[2] Zech 9:9.

[3] Alexander Wimberly. “John 12:12-19 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: John, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 82.

[4] Jn 12:17-18.

[5] Jn 12:19.

[6] Jn 12:16.

[7] Jn 12:23-24.

[8] Jn 12:27.

[9] Jn 12:25-26.

[10] Alexander Wimberly. “John 12:20-26 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: John, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 88, 90.

Sunday’s sermon: Testimony is Insistent

Text used – John 18:28-40

  • Every night at bedtime, I read to my kids.
    • First read to Julia → tuck her in, sing to her → head downstairs to read to the boys → tuck them in, sing to them → say goodnight and turn out the lights
    • Truly, reading to my kids is one of my favorite things to do.
      • Fun to read through pictures books when they’re Julia’s age
      • A whole different kind of fun to read through chapter books now that the boys are older → hanging on together as the story twists and turns from one chapter to the next, from one night to the next
      • Right now, we’re reading the first book in a popular series called the Wings of Fire series by Tui Sutherland.
        • Books about a land populated by all different kinds of dragons
        • Very creative
        • Great dialogue
        • Really fun to read out loud
        • One of the great things about Sutherland’s writing is she’s really good at cliffhangers. The end of each chapter leaves us wondering and guessing about what’s going to happen next, especially now that we’re about halfway through and the storyline has really taken off.
          • The thing about cliffhangers: they can be a little tough on the nerves, right? → perfect e.g.: When I finished our chapter last and went to reach for the bookmark, Luke said to me (in a very exasperated way), “Mom, why do you keep saying things that make me think?!” (referring not to anything I’d actually said but to the cliffhanger chapter ending that I’d just finished reading)
            • Had a conversation about the arc of a story
              • The importance of a climax and how that’s what makes the story interesting/moving (my e.g. last night: “Once upon a time there was a snake. He had a rattle on his tail. The end” = lame story … not good) → importance of building up to a climax
            • And as I was talking to the boys about this – the whole idea of story building and climax and how it’s important for stories to make you think – it dawned on me that that’s exactly where we are with our Scripture reading this morning.
              • Today’s text = one of those uncomfortable points in the storyline that makes us squirm … that makes us think … that builds us up for what is to come
  • Tying last week’s story and this week’s story together
    • Last week = period of time just after Jesus’ arrest[1]
      • Jesus is questioned by Annas, one of the chief priests and Caiaphas’ father-in-law
      • After receiving Jesus’ unsatisfactory answers to his questions, Annas sends Jesus to Caiaphas, the high priest
      • And in the midst of all that, we read John’s account of Peter’s three-times denial of Christ.
    • Today’s text follows directly after that but still skips a bit
      • Verse 24 (last week) = Annas sending Jesus to Caiaphas
      • Verses 25-27 = Peter’s 2nd and 3rd denials
      • Verse 28 (today): The Jewish leaders led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Roman governor’s palace.[2]
      • When we put it all together, it seems to indicate that Jesus is being passed around a bit: chief priest to high priest to governor. And I don’t know about you, but to me, that seems to indicate that those who arrested Jesus don’t really know what to do with him.
        • Get further indication of this as we continue with this morning’s text: [Pilate] asked, “What charge do you bring against this man?” [The Jewish leaders] answered, “If he had done nothing wrong, we wouldn’t have handed him over to you. (Which, you’ll notice, isn’t really an answer.) Pilate responded, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your Law.” The Jewish leaders replied, “The Law doesn’t allow us to kill anyone.”[3] → It feels a little like a really dangerous round of hot potato, doesn’t it? Clearly the Jewish leaders want Jesus gone – permanently gone – but they can’t do it themselves. But Pilate doesn’t really want to deal with Jesus either. So what are they going to do with this problem … this radical … this man?
  • Let’s take a closer look two little bits in today’s text before we move on. → bits that could be easily missed but are really interesting – Bible-nerd interesting!
    • 1st – finish out the first verse of today’s reading: The Jewish leaders led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Roman governor’s palace. It was early in the morning. So that they could eat the Passover, the Jewish leaders wouldn’t enter the palace; entering would have made them ritually impure.[4]
      • Particular verse = giving us some timeline context → tells us that Jesus’ trial is happening on the Day of Preparation, a day to prepare for the high holy day of Passover
      • Particular verse also gives us some ironic insight into the minds of the Jewish leaders – scholar: The key detail [here] is the narrator’s note about ritual defilement. There is a historically plausible explanation for this note. The Mishnah stipulates that dwelling places of Gentiles are unclean … The narrator’s comment [establishes] its theological irony. The trial narrative opens with [the Jewish leaders] insistence on ritual purity and their meticulous attention to the demands of their faith, and it will end with their complete denial of the claims of that faith.[5] → The Jewish leaders are so concerned about being made unclean by simply stepping over the threshold of Pilate’s house – of this unclean Gentile’s house – even while the very errand that brings them to the house is beyond unclean: killing Jesus. The irony is both thick and significant.
    • 2nd interesting bit: Just after the Jewish leaders tell Pilate that the Law doesn’t allow them to kill anyone, we get this little aside verse in parentheses: (This was so that Jesus’ word might be fulfilled when he indicated how he was going to die.)[6]
      • Rewind to 2 previous points in Jn (both Jesus’ own words)
        • Jn 3:14: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up.”
        • Jn 12:32: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.”
        • It’s clear that Jesus is referring to crucifixion in both of these references … but as the scholars that I read this week pointed out, crucifixion was a form of execution practiced only by the Romans.
          • One scholar: [This verse] is the only time in the trial narrative in which [John] interrupts the story to provide explicit theological commentary; Jesus’ crucifixion at the hand so of the Roman government is to be interpreted in the light of Jesus’ earlier predictions of his death … The maneuvering of Pilate and [the Jewish leaders] in reality is in the service of Jesus’ exaltation and return to God.[7]
  • Following this exchange, Pilate takes Jesus into his house so he can question Jesus himself. → challenging back-and-forth btwn Jesus and Pilate
    • Pilate keeps trying to get Jesus to either admit to or deny something … anything!
      • Pilate: “Are you the king of the Jews?”[8]
      • Pilate: “Your nation and its chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”[9]
      • Pilate: “So you are a king?”[10]
    • Jesus’ evasive and enigmatic responses
      • Jesus: “Do you say [I am the king of the Jews] on your own or have others spoken to you about me?”[11] (answering a question with a question … classic deflection)
      • Jesus: “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.”[12]
      • Jesus: “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into this world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.”[13]
        • Followed by Pilate’s final (perhaps exasperated? perhaps resigned? perhaps introspective?) question: “What is truth?”[14]
    • So let’s think about this interaction in terms of what we’ve been talking about throughout Lent this year. Let’s think about it in terms of testimony. On the surface, it seems like Pilate is seeking Jesus’ testimony, doesn’t it? It seems like Pilate is offering Jesus one opportunity after another to tell his story. But is that really what he’s doing? I don’t think it is.
      • Testimony = insistent → It’s emphatic, unrelenting, resounding because it’s our story. One of the central aspects of testimony – of our own faith stories – is that testimony speaks to your own experience. It speaks your Not anyone else’s story. Your own. And it speaks your story without being influence or led by where someone else wants your story to go or thinks your story should go. It is your story and your story alone.
        • Throughout this interaction btwn Pilate and Jesus, Pilate is trying to get Jesus to say one, definitive thing: either Jesus is or is not the King of the Jews (as the Jewish leaders have accused him of claiming)
          • Trying to lead Jesus’ story
          • Trying to influence Jesus’ story
          • Trying to force Jesus’ story into one small, simple, predictable box: king or no king → But Jesus’ own story is so much broader and so much deeper than that simple formula.
            • Rev. Barbara Essex: [John] portrays both [the Jewish leaders] and Pilate as those who have eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear. Jesus – the truth and light – stands before them, and they are so caught up in their own political fog that they are unable to see God’s new thing in their midst.[15]
        • But again and again, Jesus insists on telling his own faith story as it is. He doesn’t let the Jewish leaders tell it for him. He doesn’t let Pilate tell it for him.
          • Makes me think of a line from Maya Angelou’s poem “Our Grandmothers”: She said, But my description cannot // fit your tongue, for // I have a certain way of being in this world, // and I shall not, I shall not be moved.[16] → In the poem, it’s a line spoken in the face of all the ugly, profane, dismissive, belittling names that Black women have been called … names they’re still called today. In Jesus’ context, even in the face of what he knew it would mean … even in the face of what he knew was coming … even in the face of the surety that this portion of his story was coming to it’s climax and ultimate conclusion, Jesus told his story. He wouldn’t let others tell it for him. He would not be moved – not by those in power, not by those who held his life in their hands, not by those who refused to see and hear. He would not be moved.
            • Rev. Essex’s conclusion weaves in the threads our own stories with Jesus’ story: [John] turns the question back to us. In the end, we must all make a decision about Jesus – for or against. How we respond depends on whether we see and hear.[17] → It’s a story that’s true. It’s a story that’s powerful. It’s a story that’s worth telling. Again. Amen.

[1] Jn 18:12-27.

[2] Jn 18:28a.

[3] Jn 18:29-31 (plus my own insertion).

[4] Jn 18:28.

[5] Gail R. O’Day. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 815.

[6] Jn 18:32.

[7] O’Day, 816.

[8] Jn 18:33.

[9] Jn 18:35.

[10] Jn 18:37a.

[11] Jn 18:34.

[12] Jn 18:36.

[13] Jn 18:37b.

[14] Jn 18:38a.

[15] Barbara J. Essex. “John 18:28-38a” in Feasting on the Gospels: John, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 271.

[16] Maya Angelou. “Our Grandmothers” in The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. (New York: Random House, 1994), 254.

[17] Essex, 271.