Sermon – March 29th 2015
By Roland Legge
Palm/Passion Sunday (Year B)
Isaiah 50:4-9a: Philippians 2:5-11: Mark 14:1—15:47:
I am indebted to William Willimon for the idea of today’s sermon.
How many times have you heard this story? Anyone want to venture a guess? In all the times I have heard this story I have rarelly focused on the woman in the story who challenges Peter. So I invite you to join me on reflecting on the importance of what this woman did.
Willimon summarizes the story like this: “It is late at night, toward the end of this Holy Week. It is after the last supper when Jesus had gathered with his disciples in an upper room. The Passion of Christ has begun. The soldiers have seized Jesus and have led him away to the palace. At the palace, Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate and is on trial. But out in the darkness, in the courtyard, down below, another trial takes place. Judge and jury at the trial is a servant girl. And though we don’t know much about her, if she is only a girl, but also only a servant, we know that she is small, insignificant, powerless person. She is not only a woman in a patriarchal culture, but she is also a servant woman. And she is young and you know that also means you are powerless, on the bottom. And this little, powerless girl is the one who puts Peter, the premier disciple, through his paces.
Pulpit Resource Vol. 36 No. 1 Year A January, February, March 2008 by William H. Willimon Published by Logos Production Inc Inver Grove Heights MN Page 46
This oppressed, simple girl challenges the faithfulness of Peter, the one Jesus is to call the rock of the church. She challenges him and he fails miserably. He claims to her that he never knew Jesus. He does this to save his own life. But soon Peter realizes the terrible error of his ways and begins his healing process. In effect this girl is the one that challenges Peter into being the person he claims to Jesus and the other disciples to be. This girl was challenging Peter to walk his talk. It was a tough lesson for Peter to learn. It was even harder to learn from a person that society had impoverished, oppressed and ignored. But he had to move on. Why? Jesus wasn’t going to let him off the hook!
We all need people in our lives to ensure we remain grounded in our faith. We all need people to challenge us to walk our talk no matter how hard or easy life seems to be. Willimon tells of this student:
A few years ago a student was telling me that he and his roommate were not getting along too well. I asked him why, and he said, “Because he is a Muslim and I’m not.” I asked him how that made a difference. And he said, “When we moved in together, he asked me what my religion was. I told him that I was a Christian. A Lutheran—I told him that my family wasn’t the very best of Christians and that we only went to church occasionally and it wasn’t that big a deal to me. My roommate has this nasty habit of asking embarrassing questions.” “What sort of question?” I asked. “Well after we had roomed together a few weeks, he asked me, “Why do you Christians never pray?”
“I told him, ‘We pray a lot. We just sort of keep it to ourselves.”
“He said, ‘I’ll say that you do.
I’ve never seen you pray.’ He prays like a half dozen times a day on his prayer rug in our room, facing the East. When I came in last Saturday morning, and he asked me, ‘Doesn’t your St. Paul say something about joining your body with that of a prostitute?”
I told him, “Look, she is not a prostitute, she is Tri Delta. I told you I am not the best Christian in the world. You shouldn’t judge the Christian faith by me!”
And I, hearing of his torment said, “Well how should he judge the Christian faith? I think I need to write your Muslim roommate a thank-you note. If he keeps working on you with these questions, he may make you into a real Christian.”
Pulpit Resource page 47
I hope this person learnt from his Muslin roommate. He was giving him the opportunity to grow in his faith. If he engages his roommate by choosing to learn more about his own faith this relationship could turn from being a curse to being a blessing. I wonder if Peter was ever able to look back and see the encounter he had with the young girl as a blessing. What do you think?
Most of us have had experiences with people who drive us crazy. There are people out there who will push all the “buttons” we have. These are people who have much to teach us; if, only we would listen.
When I was training for ministry I was in a class called “Basic Christian Beliefs”. Every week I was part of a seminar group. We were made up of Seventh Day Adventist, Roman Catholic, Anglican, United Church and possibly Mennonite. We were definitely a diverse group. What has stuck in my mind from my seminar group was the Catholic sisters understanding of communion and why open communion was not acceptable to them.
This was challenging for me because I believed as I do today that communion should be open to everyone. For me it is so tragic that Roman Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox cannot have communion together on a regular basis. I say how you can break up the Christian family! But by the end of the seminar gatherings I could respect my Catholic sisters in the group. You see the Roman Catholics believe that in the bread and wine is the real physical and spiritual essence of God and Jesus. This is one of the main ways for Catholics to connect with the Holy, So to have Communion with Protestants, who understand communion as an active remembrance of Jesus, takes away some of sacred power for Roman Catholics. While I do not agree with my Catholic sisters I came to understand them much better and learned a lot more about my own understanding of communion. I am thankful for my encounter with them even though it was not easy.
Who have been the people in your lives who have challenged you into being more the person God calls you to be, just like the young woman did for Peter?
God will always ensure that there will be irritating and challenging people in our lives to challenge us to be even more authentic Christians and people of planet earth. May God give each of us the wisdom to learn from these occurrences. May we never fear the light of God being shone on us by people like the woman who challenged Peter.