Sun, March 28, 2021

From our Gospel reading from Mark 15: It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.
The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

To Jesus’ own people, the inscription on the cross, “The King of the Jews”, set there in mocking
fashion by the hated Romans, was “Fake News.” Now that’s a term we have heard quite a bit in
the last handful of years. Spokespersons from both sides of the political spectrum—utilizing
networks such as the ones symbolized by a fox and a peacock—consistently label contradictory
reporting from the other side as “fake news.” And a very popular documentary on Netflix
entitled “The Social Dilemma” calls out both sides as spewing fake news, utilizing the power of
social media platforms to feed people ‘news’ which very effectively supports and expands their
already held convictions, leading to increasingly hateful and too-often violent polarization.

Truth be told, fake news has been around for a very long time. The Biblical story of humanity’s
fall into sin teaches us that fake news and deception have been a sad reality of our existence
ever since. The question becomes: WHO DO WE TRUST IN OUR PURSUIT OF ‘TRUTH?”

There was a whole lot of fake news surrounding Jesus as the climax of His passion approached.
According to Mark’s Gospel, right before setting His face toward Jerusalem, Jesus had asked
His disciples who the people who had been hearing and witnessing His teachings and miracles
were saying He was. They answered: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still
others, one of the prophets.” That will all prove to be fake news.

When Jesus goes on to ask who the disciples believed He was, Peter gave the correct answer:
“You are the Messiah!” But when Jesus speaks of what’s about to happen to Him in Jerusalem—
that He must “suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of
the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again…”—Peter rebukes Him, indicating
that Peter still trusted the fake news about what the Messiah from God came to do. They did not
understand Jesus came to save them from sin and death, not from the Romans.

The Jewish leaders had increasingly demonstrated a lack of understanding, condemning Jesus
as a fraud, a false prophet, even as an agent of Satan. And, of course, the Roman leaders had no
understanding either, mockingly labeling the one they agreed to crucify as being “The King of
the Jews.” So much fake news!

We need to be aware of—and very wary of—two very deceptive and dangerous examples of
theological fake news in our time. The first one flies in the face of what we’ve been reflecting
on as part of our tradition known as the season of Lent, a lie summed up with book and phrase
popular of few decades back: *“I’m okay and you’re okay.” The discipline of repentance leads
us to conclude that we are in truth not okay but are to the contrary born deeply broken by sin.

But as you have heard repeatedly, that conclusion must never be the final word. This is where
the second deadly deception can gain a foothold by convincing us that we are unredeemable,
ugly, useless, and--worst of all--hopeless trash. Capitalizing on our ongoing struggles with sin,
and sadly too often reinforced by legalistic and manipulative preaching and teaching, many are
led to conclude that it must be time to believe that an angry God is close to giving up on us.

As we have focused on a lot lately, the truth is that the purpose of repentance is to prepare us to
receive God’s amazing grace and to experience the healing of His profound love. Repentance
leads us to cry out to Jesus, “Hosanna! Help! Save us!” And as we follow Jesus to the cross, we
hear Him pray to His Abba and our Abba: “Father, forgive them!” And we come to realize it is
not the nails holding Jesus to the cross, but His incredible, redeeming, transforming love for us.

I came across this recently in a daily devotional: “I’ve come to see that the call of God, the love that
bids us welcome, is always a call to become the true you. Not a doormat. The true you. Not an imitation
of someone else. The true you: someone made in the image of God, deserving of and receiving love. …
There is a Jewish proverb, “Before every person there marches an angel proclaiming, ‘Behold, the
image of God.’” Unselfish, sacrificial living isn’t about ignoring or denying or destroying yourself. It’s
about discovering your true self—the self that looks like God—and living life from that grounding.
Many people are familiar with a part of Jesus’s summary of the law of Moses: You shall love your
neighbor as you love yourself [Mark 12:31]. Yourself. Loving the self is a required balance. If we fail
in that, we fail our neighbor, too. To love your neighbor is to relate to them as someone made in the
image of God. And it is to relate to yourself as someone made in the image of God. It’s God, up, down,
and all around, and God is love.”

Admittedly, this is a challenging balance to maintain in preaching and teaching. The balance is
that of the “Law and the Gospel.” The Law which speaks truth to us about the reality of sin,
leading us to see how incredibly far we have fallen short of living up to the level of obedience
demanded, is what brings us the necessary diagnosis. The Law, which is proclaimed in order to
bring about repentance, has been a key theme during this season of Lent.

Lent speaks the message: “I am broken.” But the Gospel has the last word. The Law says: “You
are terribly broken!” but the Gospel proclaims: “You are absolutely beautiful!” The Law focus
on our being wounded; the Gospel on the healing of grace.

Hear those words. The Passion of the Christ occurred because your Abba Father in heaven sees
beyond the sin, beyond the struggles and the weaknesses, beyond all the messes. Your Abba
sees a child-- a beautiful and beloved child, a wonderfully gifted child, one who was created,
and is increasingly being recreated, in His image.

As we follow Jesus the Christ through this week long called “Holy”, we follow Him to the
Upper Room, where He speaks of love and models servanthood through the washing of feet,
and where He takes the Passover bread and wine and proclaims it to be His body and blood,
given for the remission of our sin, given in order for us to remember forever His profound love.

Then we will follow Jesus to the cross, to experience the epitome of bitterness and sweetness…
the bitterness of understanding that what Jesus is experiencing is the result of our sin, but at the
same time the sweetness of the truth that He is doing this willingly because of His love. And
we will finally follow to the open tomb, celebrating eternal victory over death. Enough with all
of the fake news… this is the “Good News!” May this Gospel truth save and transform us all,
becoming the truth which sets us free and becomes the center of our perception and our actions.

  July 2021  
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