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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
April 19, 2019 at 3:00 PM
Central Passage
John 18:1-19:42
Subject
Good Friday
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Good Friday – April 19, 2019

John 18:1-19:42

 

God’s Image

 

            Like many of you, I was shocked to see Notre Dame Cathedral on fire last Tuesday. As the cathedral burned, I heard the whispers of doom. The prognostications of total destruction.

 

            And then, a word of relief. The bell towers would be saved. The rose windows would remain intact. The relics would be preserved. The brave firemen of Paris had averted total disaster.

 

            Then, donations started pouring in. From Disney. From two of the wealthiest people in France, whose contributions would proportionally amount to a twenty-dollar bill from our pockets. Billions and billions of dollars have been pledged to rebuild that sacred place.

 

            All this outpouring of support reminded me of an article Pastor Lillian Daniel eight years ago about her encounters with folks who claim the “spiritual-but-not-religious” moniker. She summed up several of these encounters:

 

Next thing you know, he’s telling me that he finds God in the sunsets. These people always find God in the sunsets. And in walks on the beach. Sometimes I think these people never leave the beach or the mountains, what with all the communing with God they do on hilltops, hiking trails and ... did I mention the beach at sunset yet?

Like people who go to church don’t see God in the sunset![1]

 

            Before we think that we’re not like that, we would do well to remind ourselves that we fall prey to the same thing, just as our parents did, and their parents did, from generation to generation. This catastrophic human failing is at the root of what happened to Jesus. It is at the root of all the violence and cruelty we inflict upon each other. We find God and sanctity far more easily in places than in people. It isn’t a bad thing to find God in those places; quite the opposite. Human skill and the beauty of nature can and do show us God all the time. The problem comes when we see God only in the beautiful building or the beautiful sunset. The problem comes when we overlook God in the very beings made in God’s male-and-female image. It is much easier to find awe and wonder in a massive cathedral than in that person next to you in the pew. It is much easier to see God in nature than in the face of an impoverished child from Flint. Or in the person suffering from addiction or illness. Or the person who says things in the media that infuriate you. Or in the person who worships differently, who believes differently, who votes differently, or who looks and acts differently from you.

 

            People in general are hard to love, after all. It’s hard enough to love a spouse sometimes; the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with. It’s much harder to love others. But it is in those others that God’s image is most present.

 

            Perhaps, though, it’s not so much a problem of not seeing God’s image, but that we can’t stand to see it in such close proximity. Maybe we just can’t handle it. After all, that’s how Jesus’ enemies react. Jesus did many amazing signs and wonders that demonstrated God’s love for the world. He showed God’s abundance at the wedding at Cana and across the Sea of Galilee, where he fed five thousand people. At the Pool of Siloam, he restored a man’s ability to walk. He gave sight to a man born blind. And in his greatest sign, he raised Lazarus from the dead. Among all these signs, Jesus pointed to himself as the embodiment of his Father, one with God, and the sender of the Holy Spirit. As he fed the crowds with the bread that only satisfies for a day, he pointed to himself as the bread that satisfies for eternity. He reminded his disciples that he was the true vine, giving life to all who abide in him. He also reminded a bemused Philip that he was the very image of the Father. Even Jesus’ opponents knew that he was someone special. John tells us that many of the leaders knew who he was and where he had come from, but they had too much to lose by believing openly. John writes, “42 Even so, many leaders believed in him, but they wouldn’t acknowledge their faith because they feared that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. 43 They believed, but they loved human praise more than God’s glory.”[2]

 

            Like the religious leaders, sometimes the image of God is in front of us, but we refuse to acknowledge it. Maybe it shakes up our world too much. Maybe acknowledging God’s image would require something of us that we’re not willing to give. Maybe we have too much to lose. And so, the passion of Christ continues. It continues in the suffering of those whose humanity remains unacknowledged.

 

            But here’s the good news on Good Friday. Though our callous refusal to see God in Christ put Christ on the cross, and though the Christ suffers still in those he loves, Christ overcomes our hate, our cruelty, and our willful ignorance and disobedience through his own public lynching. Christ overcomes all that keeps us from seeing God and experiencing the fullness of God’s gift of life. He does this, paradoxically, as he hangs on the cross, helpless and exposed. Jesus had told Nicodemus, “14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.”[3] On Good Friday, Jesus is lifted up on the cross, so that we could see God in his suffering face and live.

 

            And in that free, full life God gives us, we are given the ability to see and bear God’s image in others, even in those we hate. Yes, we can still enjoy the beauty of God in a cathedral or on a mountaintop. We can be moved to tears by a beautiful worship service or a piece of music. But it is in the people that God is most fully present. That is where you’ll see the face of the suffering Christ, now until the day he returns in glory.

 

© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Lillian Daniel, “Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me.”, Retrieved April 18, 2019, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/spiritual-but-not-religio_b_959216

[2] John 12:42-43, CEB.

[3] John 3:14-15, CEB.