Sunday, April 23, 2017

This Week's Sermon: "Ecce Homo: The Man"

John 19:1-7

Then Pilate had Jesus taken and whipped. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. 3 Over and over they went up to him and said, “Greetings, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face. 4 Pilate came out of the palace again and said to the Jewish leaders, “Look! I’m bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no grounds for a charge against him.” 5 When Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here’s the man.” 6 When the chief priests and their deputies saw him, they shouted out, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate told them, “You take him and crucify him. I don’t find any grounds for a charge against him.” 7 The Jewish leaders replied, “We have a Law, and according to this Law he ought to die because he made himself out to be God’s Son.” (Common English Bible)

“Imago Dei: Images and Titles of the Risen Christ,” Week One

There are a great many things that I remember from my days as an undergrad at my alma mater, Lewis & Clark College in Portland—the gorgeous campus on the old Frank estate that looked like the backdrop for Bambi or Fantasia or somesusch, the late nights working on debate evidence and research papers, and most of all, the people I met along the way—professors, students, and staff.

One particular staffer, Ted Jordan, went by Yogi to all of us. He worked in the dining hall and would come out during meal hours to bounce from table to table—sort of how I do during lunch here at church—and just say hello and, on some days, hand out balloons, because who couldn’t use a balloon in their lives?

But housing in Portland has become a “you-own-the-rights-to-my-firstborn” sort of proposition, and Yogi’s own housing had become prohibitively expensive for him after his landlord raised the rent by quite a lot of money on him, and I’ll let The Oregonian take over the story from here:

Jordan told a student he was facing eviction. The rent in his Southwest Portland apartment increased to $950 in February, he said. And his odds of coming up with enough money to stay in it by April weren’t looking good.

When Miranda Shakes heard about Jordan’s ordeal, she approached him with an idea. Why not set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise the money he needed?

“People would want to do tghat? They’re all college students—you can’t afford to help me,” he told her.

“Well, if everyone at the school gave just $1,” she said, “you’d be set.”

After all, Shakes told The Oregonian/OregonLive, she originally planned to raise $1,500 for Jordan’s rent and maybe a congratulatory trip to San Francisco. And as of fall 2015, Lewis and Clark claimed an undergraduate enrollment of more than 2,000.

Jordan gave Shakes his blessing. And the donations began to pour in. Within 22 hours, the Gofundme to save Jordan from eviction totaled $4,700. When Shakes told him the news, Jordan couldn’t believe it.

“I really don’t need all that money,” he said with a laugh… “I don’t think he understands the impact he’s had on this school,” Shakes said.

As of Wednesday, Yogi’s Gofundme has raised over $7,800. I chipped in a few bucks to get them over that particular milestone.

The article goes on to note many of the notes left by students and alums for Yogi, including one that said the donor remembered Yogi better than many of their classes!

When the memories of the exams and the textbooks begin to fade, what we are often left with from our education is the people. And for this one person, what needed to happen was for he and his circumstances to be beheld by others, others who could then step in and help. So while the abstractions may have faded, the person in my fellow alumni’s minds remained. And that can make all the difference—in doing ministry, in following Christ, and in coexisting together amid the kingdom that we are striving to create through our faith in God.

This is a new sermon series for the church season of Easter, which extends for the forty-nine days between Easter Sunday last week to Pentecost Sunday, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples as described in the second chapter of Acts. Much like Christmas, then, Easter does not actually end on Easter Day, but rather continues for a number of days afterwards so that we may continue our celebration of the good news that each of these two holidays represents and teaches us.

So for the 2017 Easter season, we’ll be using words to explore something visual—the images of the living and risen Jesus Christ that have been handed down from one generation of Christians to another throughout the centuries. Some of these images of Christ are almost as old as the church (the Way, in its Biblical incarnation) itself. All of them are rooted in Scriptural accounts of the Lord. And they each have something different to teach us about how different Christian communities at different points in time saw Jesus as the promised Messiah.

So for this first Sunday of this new sermon series, we’ll begin by rewinding to almost ten days ago, to Good Friday, and the trial at dawn of Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. In the Gospel of John’s accounting of the trial, Pilate theatrically hauls Jesus out before the assembled chief priests, scribes, and temple authorities after having Jesus mocked and flogged and proclaims to them, “Here is the man!” In the Latin Vulgate translation of John, that exclamation is translated as ecce homo. And in art, it has become immortalized by a variety of artists, from Caravaggio in 1605 to the Spanish fresco that was famously restored in 2012 by a woman with no background in art restoration and resulted in an image of Jesus so cartoonishly inaccurate that it became an instant internet sensation.

But the image of Jesus as the beaten, bloodied man before the men of power who railroaded him to the cross is far from cartoonish; indeed, it is a compelling, even harrowing image of the sheer extent of the Son of God’s human vulnerability. It is a particularly disturbing image to be coming out of John’s Gospel, because of all the Gospels, John’s is the one that most portrays Jesus as having finally accepted His fate and going to the cross in the security that this is what has to happen for humanity to finally be liberated from sinfulness.

Which means that we cannot, and should not, see the vulnerability that Jesus displays in this image as exclusive to Him. He was not the only person crucified by the Roman Empire, and certainly not the only one executed inhumanely—after all, among the Romans’ other favorite means of executions were being fed to wild beasts and being burned alive.

Instead, we ought to be able to see Jesus as embodying our own vulnerability, in whatever capacities we are vulnerable before others. I know that for myself, part of that vulnerability is right here, on Sunday mornings, when I share with you sometimes some deeply and profoundly personal aspects of my faith journey and understanding of Scripture, with no such reciprocal expectation asked of any of you. And for you in turn, some of that vulnerability might be in coming to me as your pastor for counsel on something you might not be able to share with just anybody.

But that vulnerability eclipses the personal and the individual, the one-to-one moments in our lives, to also cover the larger systemic and systematic vulnerabilities that we still see every day, including the vulnerability of the people to their own leaders and governments, including the ancient Israelites to the high priests who were now pushing for the crucifixion of Jesus--the high priests had not the interests of ordinary people at heart; rather, they were interested only in their own status and wealth even at the expense of the populace and cannot be seen as representing them.

That phenomenon is as true today as it was then. Take Yogi, for example. I can guarantee you that he was by no means the only person facing hardship in the increasingly expensive Portland housing market, and that even after helping him, that market is probably still going to keep creeping up in price for the foreseeable future because people with the wealth and power to make it so find great profit in creating more homelessness out of the rent they charge. But in beholding this one man, and his predicament, it is possible to see the vulnerability of so many others facing the same fear of eviction, of homelessness, and of all the lack of security that comes with it.

Included in that vulnerability, it must be noted, is also the vulnerability of Jesus Christ the man, who spent portions of his life, including his birth, homeless.

So we behold the man, not only the risen, resurrected man of Easter, but also the beaten and vulnerable man of Good Friday. And in Him, may we behold not just the one man, the God-made-flesh, but all people who have faced down such vulnerability, and will continue to face down such vulnerability. May we see in such souls the true imago dei—the true image of God—that God spoke into existence by saying, in Genesis 1, that in “our image” humankind would be created.

Behold, then, the human. And in so doing, behold the truly wondrous God who created them.

Thanks be to that good and great God. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
April 23, 2017

Silhouette of Christ the Redeemer courtesy of

No comments:

Post a Comment