Rev. Dave Kovalow-St. John ✞ Isaiah 19:13-14, Luke 20:19-26
It’s been a heck of a week, with news dominated by this guy, COVID-19, the coronavirus. Last Sunday we went over some ways God wants YOU to help fight this virus. Good health habits: eat right, exercise, get lots of sleep. Sneeze or cough correctly (into your elbow or into a Kleenex – which, of course, you then …put in a trash can). Keep your hands clean (wash ‘em in soap and water, or wipe them — and …put the wipe in the trash). Those are good habits God wants us to use… when? Should we use healthy habits Mondays and Fridays? Every other month? No…: ALL THE TIME!
BUT…, because the whole world has decided we need to stop this thing right now, God has helped our medical experts come up with some special things we need to do at this moment in time – not forever, but for now.
- We need to avoid meeting in large groups and being so close together we could easily cough one on another.
- We should avoid contact with people who are sick and infirm. (For a while, it’s better to call grandma than to go see her.)
- And if you were looking forward to a special event or contest, but it got cancelled, …well, accept it. This won’t be forever, but for right now, we’ve got to put up with it.
- And here’s something just for you, if you realize some of the adults around you are going kind of crazy or losing it, or acting depressed or worried, give them some slack and remind them God’s got this, it won’t last. And especially remember: it’s not …your …fault, it’s this guy’s fault.
- One last thing you (and all of us) really need to do: pray.
We’re going to end with a special kind of prayer listing many of the things concerning this virus and our response to it that we need to lift up to God. Pastor Kathy will handle the spoken part of the prayer. And each time she says, “In Jesus’ name…,” you and I and our congregational family will sing part of the “Amen” chorus. Just follow me and we’ll do fine. Kathy, start us off.
Kathy: Would you pray with me: Dear God, we lift up to you all the people who have, or will have, this virus. Give them strength and restore them to health. We ask it in Jesus’ name… ALL SING: okay, just the one word, sing with me… “Amen….”
Kathy: We pray for health workers trying to diagnose and treat those who are sick. Help them do their jobs safely and well. We ask it in Jesus’ name…. ALL: Sing with me: “Amen.”
Kathy: We pray for people whose jobs or savings are at risk because of the quarantine. Help them find whatever temporary fixes are needed and bless them with serenity in the face of so many unknowns. We ask it in Jesus’ name….
Dave: Finish the song with me: “Amen, amen, amen.”
Kathy: God, we lift up to you the researchers who are trying to come up with treatment and a vaccine. Bless them with success and bless the rest of us with patience. We ask it in Jesus’ name…. Dave: Back to the beginning: “Amen.”
Kathy: We pray for the countries and industries most affected by all this. May it help us realize we really are one interconnected world: wonderfully diverse, but united in being your beloved children. We ask it in Jesus’ name…. Dave: “Amen.”
Kathy: Finally, Lord, we end by asking you to grace us all with Your peace, and with the knowledge that our future is safe in your hands. We ask it in Jesus’ name….
Dave: “Amen, amen, amen.“
The opponents who clash with Jesus in today’s Scripture are not just the Pharisees who have dogged his heels since Galilee. Now that he’s in Jerusalem, the temple authorities are threatened by him as well. Usually, Pharisees and Temple priests don’t get along, but in this instance, they are united by a common enemy.
The priests see him as an enemy because Jesus threw out the money-changers and animal sellers who would only have been in the temple with their permission and (we’re pretty sure) financial participation. They just lost a huge revenue stream. …But (give them the benefit of the doubt) maybe they’re also worried that Jesus is a rabble rouser who can easily light their powder keg of a city bursting with Passover crowds.
That powder will get lit 35 years from now, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the leveling of the temple. The priests didn’t know that, but they knew Rome and did NOT want to antagonize it: that was another reason Jesus had to go.
As for the Pharisees, some of them (such as Nicodemus) liked Jesus, but for many, what he taught was heresy. They worshipped a God who makes demands. The Scriptures (our Old Testament) are a set of rules, and the primary responsibility of every Jew is to keep those rules. If you don’t you’re going to hell in a handbasket. Jesus, however, acted as though his favorite scripture was “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 145:8) Isn’t that special?
Actually, the Pharisees were not Darth Vader, demonic. They were religious men, greatly respected in the Jewish community because of their passion for God’s Word. They attended synagogue faithfully, they tithed, prayed, and worked hard to teach God’s law. But according to Jesus, these MISISONARIES for Judaism brought nothing but MISERY to their converts.
For starters, Jesus said the hundreds of rules they’d devised for interpreting the law of God were an unnecessary burden and sometimes even silly. “It is unlawful to heal someone on the Sabbath.” Jesus thought that rule was idiotic and ignored it.
To many of the Pharisees, the only thing that mattered was external compliance with the law of God. But Jesus said God looks at the heart. That’s why, for example, he equated a lustful look with the actual committing of adultery (Matt. 5:27–28).
Plus, when Pharisees evangelized, they didn’t trying to introduce people to the God who loved them, but to convert to their own “brand” of religion. Each Rabbi had his own “pet” theories and wanted people to follow his particular sect of Judaism.
This is still a problem, by the way. Barclay wrote, “The greatest of all heresies is the sinful conviction that any church has a monopoly on God — or that any church is the only gateway to God’s Kingdom.”
This is something I appreciate about our denomination. We’re part of what’s called the Restoration Movement – which started in the 1800’s. Our founding slogans included this, “We are not the only Christians, but we are Christians only.”
I love that. But back to the topic: Jesus told His listeners to pay attention to the words of the Pharisees, but not to emulate them, “for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for show.” (Matthew 23:3–5). So it’s no surprise that most Pharisees don’t like him. They join forces with the Temple Priests and hire some spies to trip him up with a trick question. What we’re looking at here is the moment Jesus gives his famous answer.
During Lent, we’re inviting you to imagine yourself in Holy Week Scenes like this. To help with that, I chose this soldier and tried to write his backstory. As I’ve imagined him, he’s the son of a poor farmer who enlisted 17 years ago for lack of other prospects. The story about the healed servant he will refer to is Luke 7:1-10. The soldier’s name is Octavian.
Octavian (Mike Murray): I admit it, I’m exhausted. We only arrived in Jerusalem two days ago after Pilate marched our entire 6000-man Legion from Caesarea to reinforce the garrison here during the Jewish festival of Pentecost. I’m still lugging 45 pounds of armor and weaponry, but at least I was able to leave my food, tools and supplies at the camp we set up instead of carrying it on my back as well.
Of course, I carted all 85 pounds on the 3-day, 65-mile march here. Shouldn’t complain, though. Ten years ago in the Germania campaign I had to carry all that AND build the road we marched on before engaging in some of the most brutal fighting I’ve ever seen. We buried too many of my brothers for me to remember that as a “great Roman victory.”
Actually, the whole “glory of the empire” can go to the crows as far as I’m concerned. I’ve only got eight of my 25 years of required service left and then I will be done with the marching, and the order-taking, and (especially) the fighting and killing. I’ve served under some centurions who seemed to enjoy bloodshed. I’m good at it – you’d have to be as much as we train – but I’m glad I never took pleasure in inflicting pain.
That may be why I’m so impressed with the current centurion in charge of our 100-man company, Commander Julius. He’s hard, like a soldier has to be, but he’s fair and even kind when it’s possible. He ordered me to watch over this Jesus character – to arrest him if he does something treasonous, but (much more likely) to protect the man if the temple guards or religious leaders try to hurt him. Jesus is a preacher and healer who seems to be a combination of “gentle teacher” (he tells people to love their enemies, meaning US!) and “rabble rouser” (you should have seen him clear out the swindlers and scam artists yesterday!).
I’ve overheard intriguing stories about Jesus – miracles and the like. The best was one Commander Julius told. Last summer, he heard Jesus speak and was so impressed he asked him to heal his servant. This was his favorite slave, and the Commander was convinced Jesus could command disease and paralysis the way he commands us. It sounded ridiculous, but …the Commander said Jesus healed his servant from a distance, without even seeing or laying hands on the man! …I don’t know if I believe it, but I do like the way Jesus stands up to his own religious leaders.
Even Rome recognizes that Judaism is a uniquely powerful religion. Of all the people we’ve conquered, they alone have a temple as impressive as anything you see in Rome. And they resisted any imposition of Roman worship so fiercely that two emperors decided it wasn’t worth the fight! Jews are the only ones who don’t have to burn incense to the emperor, and our eagle-bearer had to hide the legion’s standard when we marched into the city lest we offend their “no graven image” policy.
I respect them for that. Plus, the Jew’s insistence on only one God sounds right to me.
But the Jewish leaders? Bleec. Most of them strike me as pious jerks who don’t care about their own people, but give themselves all kinds of credit for following their own knit-picky rules.
Some of the men talking to Jesus now are minions of those leaders, and they’re trying to get him to say anything that will break Jewish or Roman law. But I’m glad to see he is WAY too smart for them! Now that I think about it: I hope we never have to arrest Jesus. I’m starting to understand why the Commander likes him so much.
Dave: In the 1984 election, Ronald Reagan was 73, the oldest president in American history. In trying for a second term, his age was potentially a huge issue; especially when, during his first debate with Walter Mondale, Reagan occasionally lost focus and seemed confused. After that first debate his rating in the polls took a nose dive.
But in the second debate, Reagan was asked whether age should be an issue. He answered, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” …Even Walter Mondale laughed, the whole world did. Some historians think Reagan clinched his re-election with that one line. At the very least, it was so clever his opponents were afraid to even talk about age lest by comparison, they look plodding and ridiculous.
I think something similar happened when Jesus confronted the toadies of the religious leaders. His answer wasn’t a joke, but it sure shut them up. Consider: the Roman coin bore an image of the emperor, so Jesus says it belongs to the emperor. But what bears the image of God?
…Us. In the very first chapter of Genesis, we are told God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” So, we may owe the government our taxes, but we owe God our whole being, our very life, all that we are.
Jesus wants us to acknowledge that government has a right to expect a certain allegiance, but that allegiance is limited. What we owe God is not. When earthly authority conflicts with God’s authority, each individual must choose. Happily, HIS choice is obvious.