Sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday

John 12:12-19 & John 19:16b-42

Jesus came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday heralded by the crowds as the “King of Israel”. At least, that’s what the Gospel of John tells us. The other Gospels, not so much. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that the crowds named Jesus “Son of David”. In Mark, they name Jesus as “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” and make reference to the “coming kingdom of our ancestor David”. Luke has the crowds calling Jesus “the king who comes in the name of the Lord”. And out of all four Gospels, John is the only one who specifically names the branches that the people used to strew Jesus’ way as palm branches. Matthew and Mark just say the people used “leafy branches”. Luke only says that people laid down their cloaks for Jesus to ride over. Now, these may seem like minor differences in the story, but I promise you, there’s a reason that John tells things a little bit differently here. In different parts of his Gospel, John has been playing with the idea of what it means for Jesus to be a king. In John’s telling of Jesus feeding the 5000, he relates that when the crowds realized what Jesus had done, they decided they were going to make him king by force. When Jesus saw that, he left the crowds and withdrew. In John’s telling of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when Jesus hears the crowds naming him specifically as the “King of Israel”, and sees them waving palm branches, which were a sign of national triumph and victory, he goes and gets a donkey and rides on that. Donkeys were a sign of humility, as opposed to horses, which were a symbol of a conquering military hero. By riding a donkey, Jesus is signaling that he is not, in fact, a king like the people expect him to be, and he is not going to militarily throw out the Romans and restore self-rule to the people of Israel. He is going to be a different kind of king.

We’ve seen that in the last few weeks as we have meditated on John’s account of Jesus’ trial, first before the chief priests and then before Pontius Pilate. Jesus does not claim the title of king for himself, although others accused him of it. When Pilate asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews, Jesus answered that his kingdom was not from this world. If Jesus’ kingdom were from this world, Jesus said, his followers would have been fighting to keep him from being handed over. And indeed, back in the garden when Jesus was arrested, he reprimanded Peter for drawing his sword to defend him. Jesus proclaims God’s reign over this world by love. And that love means not responding violently when violence is done to him, but rather, laying down his life for the sake of those he loves.

And so, today we see Jesus carrying his cross to the place where he is to be executed. And even here, John shows us a Jesus who is completely in control and who knows what he is doing. If you recall, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, a man named Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross when he can no longer do it on his own. Not so in John. In chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, Jesus says that no one takes his life from him, but that he lays it down of his own accord. He has power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. And we see this in John’s telling of Jesus’ crucifixion as Jesus does not need any help to carry his own cross to the place where he will die.

But even in this moment where we see Jesus walking to the place where he will die, carrying his own instrument of death on his back, we see Pilate arguing once more with the Jewish officials. This time it is about the sign that he has written to place above Jesus on the cross. Crucifixion was an especially cruel way to put someone to death. People who were crucified would hang on the cross for hours, struggling to catch their breath, and every time they would try to twist to relieve that discomfort, the pain of the nails in their hands and feet would pierce them. Rome did this to those criminals that they wanted to make an example of, and they hung those criminals in a public place, so that everyone who walked by would see and be warned what would happen to them if they did the same thing. And so, by writing “The King of the Jews” on the sign to be put over Jesus’ head, Pilate was warning people what would happen to them if they made claims of kingship and tried to rebel against Rome.

But more than that, Pilate was, once again, ridiculing the nationalistic hopes of the Jewish people he ruled over. “Look at this King of the Jews,” he was saying. “You pitiful, conquered people. You can’t even raise up a king for yourselves without getting him killed.” But, as John has shown us before, there is an important truth that is coming through even in the mockery. For Jesus is, in fact, the King of the Jews—but not the king that was expected. Being lifted up on the cross was Jesus’ coronation ceremony, and the cross was Jesus’ throne. And by having the inscription on the sign written in three different languages—Hebrew (or rather, it would have been Aramaic), Latin, and Greek—this is a sign that Jesus is not only king of the Jews, but king of the Romans (Latin) and king of the whole world (Greek was the common language that most people in the Roman Empire spoke). This is our king, up on the cross, and, as Jesus said in chapter 12 of John’s Gospel, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

So what does it mean for Jesus, someone who was executed by the state as a criminal, to be our king? It might mean that, when we think about people in prison, we do not rush to judgment, but that rather, we take into account their stories and ask whether or not they may have been falsely accused or imprisoned unjustly. It may also mean that, when there are laws in place that are unjust: such as laws that forbid feeding the homeless in public places, that we deliberately obey God rather than human beings and be willing to be imprisoned for violating those laws made by human beings. Having a king whose throne was a cross should also keep us humble, as we remember that Jesus took our sins with him to the cross and in their place, gave us his righteousness, so that we might live and walk in newness of life.

Besides having someone who was crucified as our king, what does it mean that Jesus is king not only of the Jews, but also of the entire world? For one thing, it means that racism has no place in the community of Christians who follow Jesus. Jesus, after all, did not speak English, and he was not white. Jesus spoke Aramaic, which is related to Hebrew, and he probably looked like someone who would have a difficult time getting through airport security today. We Americans often forget that we are grafted into Jesus’ family, and that we are not the natural-born heirs of the promise. But in spite of that, Jesus does love us. And, Jesus loves the immigrant who comes to our shores, either legally or illegally. And Jesus loves the refugee who comes seeking asylum from persecution, because he knows what it’s like to be persecuted. Can we who claim to follow Jesus do any less? If Jesus is king for the whole world, then we who follow Jesus must love the whole world just as Jesus does, and get rid of any racist attitudes that we might have.

Jesus is a king who rules, not by earthly power and glory, but by his suffering and death. Jesus is the king who draws all people to look on him and to believe that he loves us, which is much more than any earthly king or ruler can do. Jesus, who was executed as a criminal by the empire on a horrible instrument of torture, is the one who we look to as our king, with the cross as his throne. Let us behold our king on the cross, and let us take his actions as the model for our behavior. Let us strive to show sacrificial love for our brothers and sisters here in Steelton and around the world in every way that we can, not just in word but also in our actions. In all of our actions, let us remember this: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son. Amen.

 

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Sermon for Lent 5 Narrative Lectionary

John 19:1-16a

This week, we continue where we left off last week with Jesus facing a trial at the hands of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Last week we saw Pilate asking, “What is truth?” and we saw in Jesus’ response that he, Jesus, is the truth; the one who is willing to give up his life to show the world how much he loves the world. This week, we continue to see who Jesus is throughout the story of his trial. But we also see the gospel writer, John, asking us this question: Who is really on trial here? Is it Jesus, or is it the world?

In the opening scene, we see a continuation of Pilate making a mockery both of Jesus and of the Jewish people. Pilate orders Jesus to be flogged, and the soldiers make a crown of thorns and place it on his head, and dress him in a purple robe, and they say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Pilate then brings Jesus out to the crowds and shows Jesus to them, saying, “Here is the man!” What Pontius Pilate doesn’t know is this: what he says in a brutal attempt to shame both Jesus and the Jewish people is actually the truth. This man who is deeply wounded from the vicious flogging and the torturous crown of thorns pressed into his head is actually king over both the oppressed and the oppressor. But Jesus is not king as any of the kings of this world are: instead of majesty and beauty, we see in this king frailty and weakness. And isn’t this indeed how God rules in the world? We do not always see the face of Christ in the strong, the healthy, and the beautiful, but we do often see Christ in those who are suffering, who are weak and sick, and who we consider to be ordinary or even ugly. But we human beings continue in our violence, and we continue in the ways of the world to value the beautiful and the strong above the weak and the ordinary. The verdict in this scene is this: Jesus is innocent, we human beings are guilty.

In the next scene of the trial, we see Pilate continuing to relentlessly mock the people that he rules. The people shout out for Pilate to crucify Jesus, and Pilate tells them to crucify Jesus themselves. Only the Romans were allowed to crucify people, and Pilate knows it. He is taunting this people who he does not understand with their utter powerlessness in the face of his authority. It’s like he is saying this: “You pitiful people who want to rule yourselves. Here is your king: whipped, beaten, and tortured, wearing a crown of thorns. You can’t even execute him in the way that you want to.” But then the Jewish officials say something that makes Pilate think twice: “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

John then tells us that Pilate is afraid. Why? Because the people whom he rules have just upped the ante. This is no longer just about a man who claims to be a king in an empire where the government tolerates no rivals. Now this is about someone who is potentially divine, and even though Pilate doesn’t believe in the Jewish God, he does have a healthy respect for the Roman gods. He does not want to suffer divine punishment for killing someone who may be semi-divine. And so he starts asking Jesus where he comes from. When Jesus does not answer him, Pilate, in frustration, pulls the authority card: “Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” When we human beings don’t get the response that we want, we start pulling the power card over the people we think do not have as much power as we do. But Jesus replies, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.”  What Pilate hears is this: Yes, the power over Jesus has been given to me from the emperor. But what Jesus means, and what we know, is that the only power that Pilate has over Jesus is given to him, temporarily, by God. The verdict in this scene is this: We human beings are guilty of pretending that we have power and control over things that we really don’t. And Jesus, once again, is innocent of this.

In the face of Jesus’ refusal to play along with the system and answer Pilate’s questions, Pilate for the first time may be sensing that there is something more to Jesus than what he appears to be, and so he tries to release him. But the people taunt him once more: “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” First, the people say that Jesus claims to be the Son of God and so, by their law, he must be killed. Now the people are back to saying that Jesus claimed to be a king, threatening Pilate with what he fears the most: Rome removing him from power because he did the wrong thing. The people are playing along with the system—a system they hate, by the way– to make an injustice happen, and we still do that today. Again in this scene, the verdict is that human beings are guilty and Jesus is truly the innocent one.

And finally, we come to the last scene in our reading today: the scene where Pilate gives in. But once again, Pilate taunts the people. When they shout, “Crucify him!” Pilate responds, “Shall I crucify your King?” Pilate is saying, “If he’s your king, you pitiful conquered people, shouldn’t you want him to live? Shouldn’t you place your hope in him so that he can throw us Romans out and you can rule yourselves? Are you so stupid that you want me to kill the hope that I know you have to rule yourselves one day?” And the chief priests respond with, “We have no king but the emperor.” I think there should be a note here that says, “They spoke this line dripping with sarcasm.” They are playing along with the system and with Pilate. You Romans told us we have no king but the emperor, so we’re just repeating that line right back to you. But, when you read this response another way, you can see the people’s betrayal not only of themselves, but of God. As Jewish people who worshiped only one God, God was supposed to be their king. Back in the book of 1 Samuel, we hear how God was not pleased when the Israelites demanded a human king to rule over them. God and God alone was supposed to be the ruler of God’s people. And in this response to Pilate, they denied not only God’s rule over them, but also their very nature as God’s chosen people. The verdict in this scene is that the people are guilty of betrayal, and once again Jesus is innocent.

Even while Jesus is on trial before the world, the world is on trial before God. And this is the world that the trial reveals: we human beings value the strong and the beautiful above, and many times at the expense of, the weak and the ordinary. We try to exert power and control over people and things that, in reality, we are powerless over, and which, in a different situation, would have power and control over us. We are willing to play along with systems that we otherwise hate in order to create an injustice to one person, so that we might get our own way at the expense of the other person. And we deny who we are and whose we are—God’s children beloved by God—and worship other people and things as our gods and as our kings. This story may be about Jesus’ trial before Pilate, but in reality, it is about our trial before God, and we are revealed to be guilty of the worst kinds of sins.

And yet. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus knew all this ahead of time. Jesus knew exactly how wretched and sinful human beings are, and he still chose to become flesh and to dwell among us. Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to him, and he still chose to be with us, to be one of us, and to die for us. Jesus knew all of this, and he still chose to love us enough to show us a different way: a way of non-violence and a way of giving up oneself so completely that he was willing to die for his love and his passion for us. St. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Romans: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

Christ died for us. For all of us. Because God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. This week, Stephen Hawking died. If you don’t know who Stephen Hawking was, he was a prominent physicist who was trying to unify Einstein’s theory of relativity with quantum mechanics, and he also suffered from ALS. He was also a professed atheist, and for that reason many Christians are saying that he wasn’t saved, based on the idea that you have to believe in Jesus. But this is us trying to understand the mind of God, and it’s also us trying to understand the soul of a person who claimed not to believe, and it’s also us trying to be God and pronounce judgment. This is an example of many of the sins that we see humanity guilty of in the story of Jesus on trial before Pontius Pilate. The fact that Jesus died for everyone—while we were still sinners—should make us humble, aware of our own sinfulness, and not willing to pronounce judgment on others. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. And that is what we are called to do, too: to love one another in humble gratitude for the love that God has showed us in Jesus Christ. Let us be mindful of our sins and be merciful to others as God has been merciful to us, and let us love one another as Christ loved us. Amen.

 

Sermon for Lent 4 Narrative Lectionary

John 18:28-40

Today we continue with John’s story of Jesus’ arrest and trial with no break from last week; today’s scene with Jesus before Pontius Pilate comes right after Peter denies being a disciple of Jesus. And the central question that this scene revolves around is, “What is truth?” This is a question that seems to reverberate down through the centuries to our society today, with “fake news” and “alternative facts”. But lest you think this is a new problem that has come up within the last few years, I found a clip online of Stephen Colbert from 2005, when he was still doing “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, where he coins the word, “truthiness”. What Colbert mocks in this clip is how we define truth in our society: whether we believe that something is truth based on the facts before us, or whether we believe that something is truth based on the feelings we have in our gut. And this should give us pause to think. When presented with facts, evidence-based facts, that are contrary to our world view, do we believe those facts? Or do we immediately cry out, “No, that can’t be right. It’s fake news, and I’m going to go find some group who will reassure me that it’s wrong so that my view of the world will not be broken.” No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, we all do this to some extent. But these days it seems more pronounced than ever. We don’t know what truth really is anymore, and so we echo Pontius Pilate’s disdainful, sarcastic question, “What is truth?”

But let’s go back to the first century for a moment and find out a little bit more about Pontius Pilate. After all, if you look at our creeds, there are only two human beings named in them besides Jesus: Mary, the woman who gave birth to Jesus, and Pontius Pilate, who was the one who gave the order for Jesus to be crucified. We hear a lot about Mary in the Scriptures, but not so much about who Pontius Pilate was outside of being the Roman governor who authorized Jesus’ death on the cross. And in order to understand his question, “What is truth?” I think we need to know a little bit more about the man.

The first thing to understand is this: Romans, in general, did not understand the Jewish devotion to one God. They also did not understand why the Jewish faith prohibited making images. In all of the other cultures that the Romans conquered, those cultures simply added the Roman gods to their own, and made idols of the Roman gods to put next to their own. But the Jewish culture and faith was different: the Jewish people insisted on worshiping one God alone and on not making images. When Roman officials discovered that entering Jerusalem with images could cause the people there to riot, they made an exception in their usual practice and removed the images from the shields and other paraphernalia of Roman soldiers. Pontius Pilate, however, decided not to follow this practice, and he allowed the images to once again come in to Jerusalem. He did not relent until he discovered that the Jewish people were ready to die rather than allow the images in their city, and he finally had them removed. So, already he was off to a bad start in his rule of the people. Furthermore, Pontius Pilate had a reputation for being cruel and for insulting the people that he ruled. So it is rather confusing, given his reputation, that he would try to let Jesus go free rather than have him crucified.

But, I think that we miss something in this scene if all we see is a Roman governor who is bewildered at why the people would want to have Jesus crucified. In the first part of the conversation, we see a Pilate who is utterly bored with and dismissive of these people that he does not understand. “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The only reason that Pilate continues on with the conversation is because the Jewish people, under Roman law, are not allowed to put anyone to death. But after questioning Jesus, Pilate finds no reason to have him put to death. Jesus has not admitted to leading an active rebellion against Rome, which is all the Roman officials were really concerned about. But, in the end, Pilate goes along with what the people want, simply because he does not want to be blamed for causing another riot. Rome is watching him, after all, and if Rome doesn’t think he’s doing a good job, then he could be removed from his position of power. And he doesn’t want that. He doesn’t think Jesus is innocent because he’s convinced by anything that Jesus tells him. His sole concern is this: What action of his will keep the people under his control from rioting and making him look bad to Rome?

That is the truth for Pilate: he is a man who doesn’t want to be removed from his position of power. And so, when Jesus says to him that he came into the world to testify to the truth, Pilate asks him that famous question, “What is truth?” Because for Pilate, the truth is that he is enslaved by the power structures of his day and he can see no way out of them, but instead must do what he can to try and survive. But what Jesus testifies to is a different truth: the truth that God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son. And Jesus is that Son of God, the one who John names as the Word, the one who was in the beginning with God, and the one who brings abundant life to his disciples. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the one who lays down his life for his sheep, the one who is the light who overcomes the darkness. That is the truth that Jesus testifies to, the truth that the world cannot see.

In a world that asks the same question that Pilate did, “What is truth?”, how do we see that Jesus is the truth? And what does it look like for Jesus to be the truth in a world where even Christians of different persuasions seem to disagree on how to live by what Jesus taught? I’d like to share with you about the movie, “A Wrinkle in Time,” which is out in theaters now and is adapted from Madeleine L’Engle’s book of the same name. In this story, three children are charged with traveling through the universe to find their father, who is trapped on a planet that has given in to evil. Their angelic helpers give them the command to fight the darkness with light. And when Charles Wallace, the youngest of the children, is caught up in and trapped by the evil, Meg, his sister, discovers that the only way to rescue him is by giving him her love. And I think that goes along well with how the Gospel of John describes who Jesus is. And that is how we determine what the true voice of Jesus is amidst all of the competing claims in our culture: Jesus is the voice that brings light and love.

The love that Jesus shows for the world is the sacrificial love that would do anything so that the beloved might live. In our society, true love for one another would mean that, even though the government gives us the right to own guns, we would be willing to sacrifice the right to own certain types of guns because we love our children so much, that we want to give them the best chance we can to help them live a full and abundant life. Sacrificial love would mean that, even though immigrants may have violated the law of the United States by the way in which they came here, we as Christians have mercy upon them, try to understand why they felt they had to flee their own country, and do what we can to help them to live full and healthy lives. The truth that Jesus testifies to is that God loves the world and every single life that is within the world: from the baby conceived in the mother’s womb, to the single mother with three kids trying to make ends meet, to the Mexican immigrant family fleeing gang violence on the desperate chance that they might be safe in the United States, to the children in our schools wondering if they will come home from school or will be shot that day, to you and to me. Jesus stands in front of Pontius Pilate and says, “Don’t you think I could command an army to come and free me? But I’m not going to, because that’s not how God’s kingdom works. God’s kingdom works on love, and even you, Pontius Pilate, the one who will sentence me to die on that cross—even you are loved by God. And that is the truth to which I testify. And that is the truth for which I will give my life.”

One final thought: Jesus is taken from his hearing with the high priest to Pontius Pilate right after the cock crows, and just as morning is breaking. He testifies to the truth of God’s love for the world right as the sun is rising, bringing daylight to the world after a long, dark night of sorrow. Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” When we follow in Jesus’ way, the way of sacrificial love for one another, we do not stumble about in the dark, but rather, we walk in light. And as we show love for one another, we also bring light to the people and to the world around us. So, as we go about our daily lives this week, let us walk in that light, remembering that we are beloved by God, and so is everyone we meet. Let us show that love and that light to everyone we meet. Amen.

Sermon for Lent 3 Narrative Lectionary

John 18:12-27

This week, we have jumped several chapters ahead in the story of Jesus that the Gospel of John has presented to us, and so I would like to take a few moments and summarize the stories that we have skipped. After Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume, John tells us that, not only was there a plot to kill Jesus, there was also a plot to kill Lazarus, because people were coming to see the man whom Jesus had raised from the dead and were putting their faith in Jesus because of him. After this, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey with the crowds waving palm branches—come back to worship on Palm Sunday to hear that story being told. In the next scene, some Greeks come to Philip with the request to see Jesus, and Jesus says that this is the sign that his hour has come and the Son of Man will be glorified. He speaks of his death as the means by which the Father will glorify his name, and how, when he is lifted up, he will draw all people to himself. John tells us that some people believed in Jesus while others did not. Jesus says that whoever believes in him believes in the one who sent him. In the next chapter, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and gives them a new command—to love one another as he has loved them. Come to the Maundy Thursday service to hear more about this story. Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him. Then he gives his disciples final teachings about the Holy Spirit, about himself, and about how they are to continue following his teachings. Jesus then prays for his disciples, and they all get up and go to a garden. Judas, who had left the gathering earlier, reappears with a group of soldiers and temple police to arrest Jesus. In the process, Peter draws his sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave, whose name was Malchus. Jesus tells him to put up his sword.

And now, we have arrived at today’s portion of the story of Jesus’ arrest and interrogation: the scene of Peter’s denial. There are two things that I would like to point out about this story. First, I would like us all to notice how the scenes of Peter standing at the charcoal fire are interwoven with the scenes of Jesus’ trial. In one scene we have Peter making his denial, and then in the next we have Jesus standing firm and telling the truth, and then we have Peter denying again. So, we have a comparison between the model that Jesus sets when he testifies to the truth of who he is over and against the bad example of Peter denying that he is one of Jesus’ followers. And that is the next thing I would like for us to notice: Peter is not denying Jesus directly in John’s gospel; he is denying that he, Peter, is Jesus’ disciple. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Peter denies knowing Jesus. But here in John, Peter denies that he is a disciple of Jesus. It may be a subtle difference, but it is an important one. There is a difference between knowing who a person is and actually following that person’s teachings. In the first instance, when you know a person, it is possible for you to only have a passing acquaintance with that person. But, when you are a disciple of a person, that implies that you have a deep relationship with that person and do your best to follow the person’s teachings.

So, here is my question for you: Are you primarily a member of this congregation? Or are you first and foremost a disciple of Jesus? Like the difference between knowing Jesus and being a disciple of Jesus, there is a difference between the two. Our constitution defines a member of the congregation as one who receives communion once a year and gives once a year. If you do that, then you are a member. But that says nothing about your relationship with Jesus. Are you studying the Scriptures? Are you learning to obey what Jesus has commanded, as taught in the Gospels? Are you praying regularly? Are you finding ways to work for justice and peace? Are you forgiving others as God forgave you? These are just some of the things that a disciple of Jesus does, and these things become a very part of the identity of that disciple.

 

So, why would Peter deny not only Jesus, but also his very identity when tested? One word: fear. This is the man who earlier that night swore that he would follow Jesus and lay down his life for him. This is the man who, in the garden, drew his sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. But now, when the true test comes and when he is asked to own his identity, Peter gives in to fear and denies Jesus and himself. Now, I’m not saying that it’s bad to be afraid. Fear is a natural human reaction and gives us information about circumstances that could be harmful to us. But, we do have a choice as to what we do in response to that fear. Scientists tell us that the natural responses are to fight or to flee. We see Peter responding with both reactions: he fought in the garden, and now by denying his relationship with Jesus, he is fleeing. But Jesus offers us a third way: in the face of the threat of violence against him, he calmly stands and testifies to the truth of who he is and what he has taught the people, come what may.

What does this third way that Jesus offers look like today? It means that, when we are confronted with violence, we do not respond in kind, but, as Jesus told Peter, we put up our swords. Responding to violence with non-violence can be a frightening thing. But if we are to follow the example of Jesus, who laid down his life for the truth of the Gospel, which is the message that God so loved the world, then we are called to respond to violence with non-violence, and to testify to the truth about our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Here’s the thing, though: we are sinful human beings. We are going to fail at being disciples of Jesus. We may say that we are going to respond to violence with non-violence, but when confronted with violent circumstances, we may forget ourselves and fight back. We may say that we are going to be welcoming of everyone who comes through our doors, but then one day we may say or do something that hurts someone else, so that they do not feel that welcome. We may say we’re going to forgive others as God forgave us, but then continue to hold a grudge against someone without seeking reconciliation with that person. We may say we are going to live at peace with everyone, but then threaten someone because that person doesn’t act in the way that we think he or she should. In short, like Peter, there are going to be days when we don’t live up to the ideal of being a disciple of Jesus. We may be all bravado—we may think that we’re ready to declare to the world that we follow Jesus—but when the true test comes, we deny who we really are.

Here is the good news: Jesus stands ready to call us back to ourselves. The moment of grace in Peter’s story is when the cock crows. This is the sign that Jesus predicted, and this is the moment when Peter realizes what he’s done. In John, we don’t see Peter weeping, and we don’t see Jesus offering forgiveness until after he rises from the dead and asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. But the point is this: when we fail, and when we deny being Jesus’ disciple, Jesus will use something to call us back to ourselves and to remind us who we are. There is forgiveness when we don’t live up to the ideal of being Jesus’ disciple, and the Holy Spirit is with us as our helper as we start over and try again to live as Jesus’ disciples in this world.

Our failures are not the final word in our journey as Jesus’ disciples. Peter denied being a follower of Jesus, and yet Jesus restored him, and Peter went on to make many more disciples of Jesus before his journey on this earth was finished. We are a people of hope, and we therefore have hope that Jesus is with us through our failures and uses even those to work for good in the world. But more than that, because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross, we have hope that we can be restored as Jesus’ disciples and that God can continue to work through us. Amen.