April 4, 2015 by jmar198013
This is a table talk I delivered at Cordova Church of Christ Sunday March 29, 2015. It was inspired by this quote from Stanley Hauerwas: “Never think that you need to protect God. Because anytime you think you need to protect God, you can be sure that you are worshiping an idol.”
Welcome to the Lord’s Table. My reading today is from Matt. 26.47-54.
While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came. With him was a large crowd carrying swords and clubs. They had been sent by the chief priests and elders of the people. His betrayer had given them a sign: “Arrest the man I kiss.” Just then he came to Jesus and said, “Hello, Rabbi.” Then he kissed him.
But Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
One of those with Jesus reached for his sword. Striking the high priest’s slave, he cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put the sword back into its place. All those who use the sword will die by the sword. Or do you think that I’m not able to ask my Father and he will send to me more than twelve battle groups of angels right away? But if I did that, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say this must happen?”
When I was a kid, we used to sing this song Sunday mornings: Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the Cross. It’s a catchy song, if somewhat dated. I suppose the song does what it’s supposed to, because whenever I sang it, I always wanted to march right out and stand up for Jesus. I never quite could imagine exactly what crisis would lead me to take such a stand in the quiet Bible-Belt town of Gurley, Alabama. But I resolved to stand good and firm when it did.
Here’s the thing, though. I don’t think the writers of that old hymn had the story we just heard in mind when they wrote it. If there ever was a time to stand up for Jesus, it was when that rotten scab Judas turned Jesus over to the posse of temple goons. One of the disciples – we learn from John’s Gospel that it was Peter – did stand up for Jesus. He cut off some dude’s ear. It’s actually sort of a silly scene, because he probably meant to cut the guy’s head off, but only managed an ear.* And Jesus told Peter to knock it off before he hurt himself. Funny thing is, Peter – the disciple who stood up for Jesus – is also the disciple who pretended not to know Jesus a few hours later. Sometimes I’m afraid that the church will be so busy standing up for Jesus that we, like Peter, will forget who Jesus is when knowing that matters most.
Thing is, Jesus doesn’t need us to stand up for him. I think that when he hears people singing, Stand up, stand up for Jesus, he shakes his head and says, Why? I’m not in any danger! I suspect that Jesus would rather have a bunch of disciples who stand with him than who stand up for him. See, when we maintain a posture of standing up for Jesus, this tends to make us stand-offish. We get into needless skirmishes. We hurt people. Standing with Jesus requires more patience, more courage, more creativity. Because standing with Jesus means that we stand with those who suffer; those who have been rejected; those who have been told they are not worth saving. Standing with Jesus means we stand up for people who are being bullied, oppressed, and exploited. It means that we stand up to those who have to make others feel small to make themselves feel big, and boldly say, No more! That’s dangerous. It’s scary. It’s awkward. We might get hurt. But that’s what happens when you stand with Jesus. He got hurt, too.
Standing with Jesus is hard work. That’s why I am glad we get this opportunity each week to sit down with Jesus. To be welcomed at his table, and nourished with his life. As we remember the body he gave, his blood that was shed, we remember that he died standing against every power and principality that harms people; the powers that shame us; that tell us some people are less worthy of our care than others; that lie to us to keep us distant from God and our fellow humans. We learn that we are called to stand with Jesus against those forces, even if it kills us. But we also learn from his resurrection that if we die standing with him, God will not let even death have the final word.
Bread: Father, may this bread, the body of your Son, nourish us to stand with him; to stand with those who suffer, and stand up for those who are mistreated, so that no one has to stand alone. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Cup: Father, may our share in this cup fill us anew with your Son’s life, for we do not have the strength to stand without him. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
* I have long suspected that Peter’s failure at decapitating the guy had less to do with his crummy aim, and more to do with divine intervention. I wouldn’t put it past Jesus to pull some sort of Jedi mind-trick that caused Peter to miss. Luke–who according to long-standing church tradition was a sawbones–includes the detail that Jesus “healed” (Luke 22.51) the man’s ear (I suspect by reattaching it?), which is just an incredibly Jesusy thing to do. And an object lesson for the church: when someone “standing up for Jesus” harms a non-believer, one of us better go and try to rectify the damage.