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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Your Lucky Day

2013-03-10 24 Hours - Jesus Pilate and Barabbas
Or, "Your Lucky Day"

Mark 15:1-15

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
15 As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.2 Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" He answered him, "You say so." 3 Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 Pilate asked him again, "Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you." 5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

OK, now. Here's the part I really want you to listen to carefully. The part about Barabbas. Because I think he's crucial to our participation in this story.

6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked.7 Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8 So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9 Then he answered them, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" 10 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12 Pilate spoke to them again, "Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" 13 They shouted back, "Crucify him!" 14 Pilate asked them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him!" 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

We're in the third Sunday of a message series loosely based on Adam Hamilton's marvelous book, 24 Hours That Changed the World. The book takes a close up look at the last day of Jesus' life, and all the many, many things jammed into it - things both miraculous and shameful. In fact, this one day was so full that it has shaped Christianity for 2000 years.
We're doing this as our study during Lent, and I really encourage you to buy the book. It's a great help for anyone who wants to get ready for Easter. Because we need to get ready for Easter. And by that, I mean more than than just buying new shoes. We need to consciously make ourselves ready for Easter, because most of the time, even in church, we very unconsciously fast-forward through the last 24 hours of Jesus' life. And then during the next 3 days when he's in the tomb, we kind of look away. So, really, we just jump, or, more culturally, "hop" right over all the dark stuff, and pop out into the bright and happy celebrations of Easter, without thinking all that much about why Easter's such a happy time in the first place. The 24, world-changing hours, the last ones in Jesus' earthly life, are dark, and troubling, and amazing - all at the same time.


If I say, "Jesus died for your sins," what comes to mind? What does that make you think of?
Maybe it makes you think of Jesus, on the cross.
Or, maybe you think of a preacher, the one who got all worked up and said that every Sunday.
Maybe I'm just weird, but when I hear someone say, "Jesus died for your sins," I don't think of Jesus. Or anybody else. I think of myself. I think of MY sins. Anybody else do that? I think of how bad, how deep-down rotten I must be, if my forgiveness requires someone as good as Jesus to be sacrificed. "Jesus died for YOUR sins." Anybody else thinking about your own sins, now? Well, that's depressing.
"Happy Easter!"
Hmm. The two ideas just don't go together that well.
Which is ironic because at Easter we're perfectly fine combining freakishly weird ideas. Like, a rabbit, that lays plastic eggs, with jelly beans inside. (Third grade biology teachers are all like, "Seriously? Now I have to explain that, too?" Hey, that's what happens when you start a STEM program.)
Jesus died for your sins. God came in human form and took your place in punishment, on the cross, so you can be justified before God by God's own sacrifice.
If the calculus of that last sentence makes your head swim, you are not alone. Or let me put it this way, if it DOESN'T make your head swim, it should. Because the way God worked out salvation is divine mystery of both cosmic bigness and personal smallness. Quantum physics might be easier to understand. No wonder we flip those Bible pages and jump ahead to the happy ending. Thinking too hard about the mechanics of salvation will give you headaches, or a seminary degree. For some of us, both. And I have to say, neither the headaches nor the degree get you any closer to comprehending it.
Thankfully, we don't have to understand salvation for salvation to work. Whew. That's a relief. Big relief.

Which, I'll bet, is exactly how Barabbas felt.


Barabbas. Talk about a guy who was in the right place at the right time. Barabbas. He was the one the people voted to set free instead of Jesus. Why even include this in the Bible? What difference does it make? I think Barabbas might be the most important person in this passage, after Jesus. Barabbas, the one the people voted for.
You know what we know about Barabbas? Practically nothing. The Bible says he was a criminal. But in Roman-occupied Judea, that could mean just about anything. The Bible says he was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during an insurrection (against the Roman Empire). Maybe Barabbas was the one who pulled the trigger. Maybe not. Maybe he was grabbed in a neighborhood sweep of insurgents. He was a freedom fighter, or at least, affiliated with the movement, in the eyes of Roman justice. But the truth is, we don't know. It's all speculation. All the stories, traditions, books, and movies about Barabbas are just made up. We just don't know that much about the historical man. And yet, he's a very intriguing character.
Hang on. We'll come back to that.
Barabbas. We know his name. Bar-ab-BAHS. It's Aramaic. Aramaic is the lower-class language Jesus spoke. Even if you don't know Aramaic, you may remember that when Jesus prayed, the Bible tells us, he called God his heavenly "Abba," his father. "Abba" means, father. "Bar" means, son. So - and this is the source of a lot of head-scratching, fiction-writing, and religious books - Bar-ab-bas' name literally means, "Son of the Father." OK, hang on tight, because this is where things start to take off. The Gospel According to Matthew says his name is not just Bar-abbas, but that his full name is, Jesus Barabbas, or, translated: Jesus, Son of the Father. Stay with me. Because remember what I was saying about how Easter puts things together in weird ways? The crowds who gathered before Pilate were given the choice to set one criminal free. And their choice was between, "Jesus, Son of the the Father..." and... "Jesus, Son of the Father." That's just spooky weird.
We know which one they voted to set free. "Jesus, Son of the Father." And, by default, they voted to crucify, "Jesus, Son of the Father."
Talk about a lucky break - for Barabbas, that is.
It's also a very lucky break - some would say a lot more than lucky - it's also a very gracious break - for you and me.


Lent is the time of the year when we have Confirmation Class. And, coincidentally, this year, it's also the time we're having a flurry of baptisms. Auden last week; Allison this week. I planned Confirmation. The babies are their parents' doing. Lots of baptism talk, in both cases. Confirmation is all about learning the vows of baptism. We say the same thing about the middle-schoolers in Confirmation as we say about the infants. Baptism confirms what God says these children. And at baptism and Confirmation, we say it over and over again. We say this critical, crucial, biblical truth. We say: See what Love the Father has given us, that we should be called, 'Children of God.' We say, "This is a child of God." We say, "You are a child of God." We tell the kids, "You are a son of God." "You are a daughter of God."
And if, if we were speaking another language, we'd call them, "Bar-abbas." Barabbas.


It's possible that on the day he was voted to be set free, Barabbas, Son of the Father, had never even met Jesus, Son of the Father. It's possible that he just stood there on one side of Pilate, with Jesus on the other, and heard the results as they were announced. He, Barabbas, was set free. And another man, a man he'd maybe never seen before in his life, was not. Why? What were the reasons for the choice? I'm guessing Barabbas on death row, didn't care. He caught a break. And he took it.
Now, as I was saying, there's been so much speculation, so much dramatization about Barabbas. Truth is, we don't know what he thought, what he did. We don't know if his ridiculously lucky break changed him.
All we know is that he got saved. And another man did not. The other man took his place. And Barabbas had absolutely nothing to do with it.

You are a child of God, a son or daughter of the Father. You're a bar-abbas. Me, too. We all are children of the living God. God has chosen to love us, and claim us, and redeem us. And we don't have a clue why. How did God make this choice? How does God's mind work?
Seriously. Does it matter?
What matters is that, like Barabbas, we've got a second chance. We get it every morning. Every day is a lucky break that we can't explain. But there it is.
I can't say for sure, but I think the Bible left the story of Barabbas without an ending on purpose. We don't know how his story ends. Because his story is our story. We're all sons and daughters of God. We belong to God who loves us. This much we know. What we do with that lucky break -
what we do with that wildly cosmic and deeply personal act of grace -
what we do with that inscrutably complex and miraculously simple act of saving love -
what we do with it is our choice.
It's up to each of us to decide how the story of Barabbas ends. You don't have to understand. You belong. You belong to God. You belong to God who loves you. You're enough.

So, my friends all of whom are named, Barabbas. Go make someone else as lucky, as blessed, as you are.

Let's pray.

Gracious God. We don't understand how salvation works. We just believe that it does. Some of us believe it and trust it more than others. Help our unbelief. Because the things you did for our brother, Barabbas, are impossible to figure out. Help us to accept your grace, your co-incidental lucky breaks, help us to accept your salvation, trusting that for some reason, you accept us. In the name of our brother, the Son of the Father, Jesus, we pray. Amen.