Some percolating thoughts on next week’s (3/11) sermon passage, 1 Peter 4:8-11, and in particular verse 9 in this context (see the last set of words and you will see why as you read my thoughts below):
Can’t get around it: NT (expected) hospitality was risky business. First, it was (as it should be now) developed around unequals and strangers, aliens to one’s own patria (family), peers, and peeps; and if expected hospitality (e.g., 1 Peter 4:9) is for the purpose of opening one’s home for worship, instruction, and fellowship—that is to be the space for a gathered-church—that gathering would be, by its very nature and habitus, subversive and treasonous, for not only would it upset and upend the cultural norms that stabilized the social order of the empire, a cup would be raised to celebrate and acknowledge that the dead-but-now-risen-traitor-criminal Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord and King—and coming again!
Our modern expression of church does not fall under this type of hospitality (space), which needs to be—per the NT, really, ought to be—a part of our ecclesiology. The empire (i.e., our culture, social associations, and government) does not consider us too much of a threat in how we meet or who meets with us. What I find interesting is that when a church does start to act or envision church in this hospitality-way, it is a threat to the existing church. What’s up with that?
As with any story, we should ask “who do I identify with" in the larger John 18:28–19:16 story? More importantly, who does the author expect his readers to identify with? To be honest, we’d be splitting hairs over identifying with the Jewish leaders and priests, or the crowd, or with Pilate. All of these are certainly possible. And, please don’t say Jesus . . . not this time, in this story, anyway. This time, however, it is the original readers that we should be identifying with as we read and place ourselves in this story. So, what was it that the original audience of Ephesus area, Asia Minor gathered-churches were to hear?
So, just a thought . . . as we, our own locally gathered-churches identify ourselves in the story . . .
If Jesus’ claims are to be believed and long term commitment and investment in the church, really a local gathered-church, is to be had, despite and amid social, political, religious, familia pressures to abandon or compromise, then the nature of Jesus’ authority, the nature of his kingdom need to be clear. It is made very clear in that scene before Pilate. Jesus' kingship and kingdom is not of this world–and doesn't defend or act in accordance with the powers of this world. This scene parallels the church’s social-religious-political-civil setting--as Jesus was on trial so is the gathered-church. So, this claim, the fledgling, persecuted, maligned, powerless church needed to hear. Life nor salvation would not be found in the temples that Caesar used to maintain his control over his empire; nor in the Roman house where a cup to Caesar would be lifted up at a diapason (a social supper where people were invited to come and recline); but, in the One standing before Caesar’s proxy—life and salvation is only found in the One who suffered under Pontus Pilate.
The Passion Week is soon upon us and as I prepare my Passion Week set of sermons, here are some thoughts from John 18-19:
The Passion Week scene in that judgement hall with Caesar’s paper proxy, Pilate, and the Lamb of God silent before his shearers, puts us all on trial. Everything about that scene cries out, “There is no king but Jesus!” Yet, we are shocked to hear ourselves shout out of our own mouths, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! We have no king but Caesar!”
Caiaphas, the crowd, the Jewish leaders, even Pilate thought they were each using Jesus as a pawn in their own political, religious, and power game of chess. None of them realize that their own plays of power and ambitions were being used by God to save humanity. As Jesus had tracked the priests, the crowd, and Pilate down to that very hour, He puts every reader, every listener of this story, us all, on trial. Don’t think or rationalize for a moment that we would have been any different. “Crucify Him!” is the shout of every heart that craves even the smallest token of power to save or to protect our own lives.
Can we really say, “We have no king but Jesus?” Hardly. Like the duplicitous priests who handed Jesus over to Pilate so he would do their dirty work and get rid of Him, yet they do not want to go into the judgement hall for fear of being defiled—they did’t want to spoil their religious appearance at holy Passover. What a joke, laughable behind all imagination. We, too, want to look holy, undefiled, yet everything about us is already unclean, for we, too, want rid of this Jesus where it counts and cling to every possible king or power other than Jesus. We show our allegiance every chance we get, while attempting to look pious and spiritual, to other kings—any other king but Jesus.
Do not think this is all of the powerful or the well-positioned. There is that crowd. They were the one’s shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Each one of us, each reader-hearer before this story, are quick to align ourselves with almost any relevant, expedient power to get what we need, what we desire, what protect ourselves, what maintains our spot, even our little, tiny spot. Yet, as Christians standing before this godawful scene (it's all backwards), we are not here so we can save Israel or to leverage any feigned appearance of allegiance to Caesar—no, not at all: we are not here to save America, save our party, save our stake of ground; we are not here to align ourselves with any party we may think we need to protect our way of life, to maintain our piddly sense of power. No. For we would no sooner cry out “crucify Him!” to protect our personal stake and space in this drama and would gladly feign allegiance to any king that will save our asses when are asses are on the line, when our lives depend on bits of our culture for protection, for status, for riches and for power, for our small plot of ground. Hail Caesar is quite easy. And the cry, “Crucify Him! Crucify!” is all but too natural.
Why we are all on trail in that judgment room where Jesus stands before Pilate.
There is no king but Jesus.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.