A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on April 25, 2010.
I like porches. I grew up in a home that had a porch that wrapped around the front and side of our house. I recall sitting on that porch with family and friends watching it rain, listening to birds, smelling newly mowed grass and having countless conversations. Those are special memories I’ll always cherish.
The setting for today’s text is a porch. However, it was not anything like the porch of my childhood. I am confident there were no swings or rocking chairs on it.
This was a stately colonnade, known as Solomon’s Porch, with magnificent pillars almost forty feet high that was attached to the eastern side of the temple in Jerusalem. It was a favorite gathering place for worshipers where meaningful dialogues took place. Our text includes one of them.
Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of Dedication, or Lights as it was sometimes called. Actually, we know it by another name, Hanukkah.
This is the latest of the Jewish festivals to be founded and commemorates the purification of the temple in 164 B.C. after Syrian leader, Antiochus Epiphanes, turned it into a brothel and shrine to Zeus. Judas Maccabeus, who became a Jewish folk hero, was the leader of the revolt that resulted in expelling the Seleucid monarchy from Jerusalem so the temple could be reclaimed.
While at this festival, Jesus was confronted by some of the religious leaders who questioned his identity. “How long will you keep us in suspense?” they asked him that chilly December day on Solomon’s porch. “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Why do you think they asked this question? Obviously they were confused. Jesus was not acting or talking like the Messiah they were expecting.
What did they think he should do or refrain from doing? For starters, he should have already mobilized his followers to run the Romans out of Jerusalem the same way Judas Maccabeus ran the Syrians out of Judea. There was certainly no shortage of people ready to follow him.
I am confident the religious leaders felt that Jesus should spend more time with them on Solomon’s Porch, discussing what people could or could not do on the Sabbath. This was, after all, the true measurement of someone’s spirituality.
Without a doubt, they felt he should be critical of sinners and judgmental. This “let him who has no sin cast the first stone” talk had to go. Guilt and shame, not grace, would change people’s behavior.
It was obvious to them that he should select a different set of disciples. Fishermen, farmers, carpenters and tax collectors were completely unacceptable. What did they know about rituals and rules that were essential to maintaining their religious customs? Not one devout man of the cloth who knew these things was chosen. What was he thinking?
Speaking of commoners, I am certain the religious leaders felt that Jesus needed to dress up his pedigree a little bit and quit telling people about being born into such humble circumstances, working in a carpenter shop until he was thirty. This was giving people the impression that anyone could be a minister.
He also needed to quit talking about his baptism and how meaningful it was. There was absolutely no reason for him to be baptized as a descendent of Abraham. How would they convince people that they were superior to others if everyone needed to repent and be baptized?
By all means, Jesus needed to quit accepting dinner invitations from sinful people like tax collectors and letting women from the street anoint his feet with perfume. No self-respecting Jew, especially the Messiah, would be caught dead eating with filthy trash like this.
He also needed to quit going through Samaria when traveling to and from the northern region of Galilee. Even God despised these people and had nothing to do with them because they had impure blood flowing through their veins. They were not “our kind of people” and everyone knew it. Didn’t he get it?
He needed to quit healing Gentiles. They were sick for a reason and deserved what came their way. If he kept this up, everyone would expect compassion and mercy.
On the subject of healing, he certainly needed to quit healing people on the Sabbath. Surely he knew this grieved God because it prevented people from worshiping without distractions.
He needed to quit all this talk about loving your enemies, praying for those who hurt you, turning the other cheek, carrying someone’s luggage an extra mile and sharing, ever so discreetly, what you have with someone in need. If this took hold, it could re-define what it means to be a good neighbor.
He needed to quit telling these silly little parables that were so vague and rather uncomplimentary of authority figures. They were undermining those who were divinely appointed to lead by creating suspicion and mistrust.
Immediately, if not sooner, he needed to quit associating with women and letting them be disciples. If he didn’t, it would only be a matter of time until they would want to learn and lead.
Finally, he just had to quit building bridges to people who were different, especially total strangers. This would erode walls they had worked so hard to erect, which kept people in their proper place.
Do you think Jesus knew the religious leaders were upset with him? How could he not know? If he had any doubt at all, it vanished when they picked up rocks to stone him during this conversation.
Why didn’t Jesus live up to their expectations? It would have made life a lot easier for him.Why did he do all these things, which upset the authorities?
For him, this is what it meant to be the Messiah and one with the Father. It meant being a teacher, a healer, a friend, a good neighbor, a bold prophet, a peacemaker and a caring shepherd.
It meant speaking truth to power and voicing the needs of those who had no seat at the table of power. It meant walking the dusty roads of the countryside and responding to people’s hurt and pain with compassion, grace and generosity.
It meant giving people hope who thought they had none. It meant bringing people together so they would never face life’s challenges alone.
It meant calling people by their name so they would never feel forgotten. It meant replacing death with life by being a suffering servant.
You know what I think Jesus’ purpose was that day in the temple? It was not to tell the religious leaders who was the Messiah, but what the Messiah was and who they needed to be. Deep down, I think they realized this evidenced by their intense anger.
I think we are living in a time of great confusion, too. People aren’t so sure what it means to be a Christian. They hear lots of things, but quite frankly, they just don’t add up.
They hear words like courage, sacrifice, forgiveness, compassion, generosity, honesty, reliability, inclusiveness, grace, mercy, faith, hope and love, but do they see them fleshed out in the lives of Christians?
The early 20th century religious leader and reformer of India, Mahatma Gandhi did not. “I would have become a Christian had it not been for the Christians,” he said. He respected Jesus and what he taught. He just didn’t see it in his followers. Many believe this is why India is a Hindu nation.
Do people see Jesus in us? Based upon your lifestyle and works, what do people think it means to be a Christian? Are you one with the Father, united in your hopes and dreams for the world? Are you seeking His heart, mind and will and relying upon Him to help you live what you profess?
Who is looking at you to determine what it means to be a Christian? Who needs you to be a good neighbor, a loyal friend, a faithful mate and a loving parent? Who needs you to hear their plea for help and respond with compassion? Who needs your forgiveness? Who needs your encouragement? Who needs you to call their name? Who needs you to sit on a porch and listen to their story?
Who needs you to be like Jesus?