Luke 23:1-12 “Stirred Up”
We are taking a huge leap in our reading through the Gospel of Luke this morning so that we can bring ourselves into the time of Easter, which is next week.
Because of the jump, I am going to fill in a little of the backstory for this part of the Gospel of Jesus. Jesus has just been brought before Caiaphas, the chief priest of the Temple in a kind of a “kangaroo court.” These goings-on were at Caiaphas’ house after the arrest in Garden of Gethsemane. Seventy-one priests were gathered at the chief priest’s house rather than the usual court, called the Sanhedrin, and participated while Jesus was hit, slapped, and spat upon.
Now it is dawn of that same morning. Not much time has passed at all. Jesus is being taken to the Roman Governor, a man by the name of Pontius Pilate. Now they are apparently back in the Chamber of Hewn Stone at the Temple where they normally meet for the Sanhedrin, no longer at Caiaphas’ house. Imagine if you will that everyone is exhausted for having stayed up the whole night spitting on and hitting Jesus as they charged him with blasphemy.
I bring up the fact that they are all exhausted because this last week I flew to the mainland and back—thank you Jared for filling in on the pulpit—and realize that during the time that I was in Los Angeles and then for a time after I had returned here I was exhausted. My mind was not sharp. I had trouble expressing myself. I was dull witted. So, all the priests in this story must have been feeling similar after staying up the entire night—not to mention Jesus himself must have been truly exhausted already.
Pontius Pilate, on the other hand, probably had had a good night’s sleep. Something to consider in all of this is that Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, is still sharp and will not care one bit about the charge against Jesus of blasphemy. He sees right through that. Pontius Pilate himself does not believe in God. He is Roman. He has the Roman pantheon of mythological gods to believe in. Somehow, the priests have to present Jesus in a way to Pilate that makes Jesus to be a threat to the Roman Empire. This is of course through claiming treason. Of course, Jesus has neither blasphemed or has uttered any treasonous statement. He is in fact innocent—in fact absolutely sinless.
Now, when Pilate exclaims that he finds no fault in this man, those exhausted priests make real accusation as to why they want Jesus out of the way: “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee to this place.” (see vs. 5) Hey? What happened to the charge of blasphemy? They know that Jesus has not really blasphemed. They are exhausted and trip over their own story to spout out a little truth here. The only thing they really cannot abide is that fact that “Jesus stirs the crowd.” We could say that the only thing they hate about Jesus is that, “He knows how to preach and therefore stir up a crowd.”
You know, recently I have heard pastors say to me: “It is not just my job to comfort the discomforted but to make also those who live comfortable lives to feel uncomfortable.” So they shoot for uncomfortable sermons. My point is that I feel that having people sit in wooden pews for an hour is already uncomfortable enough. People do not need to be made to feel anymore uncomfortable. Honestly.
Then, there are those churchgoers who say to me, “Just going to a church can be uncomfortable enough.” We talked about this in the Deacons’ meeting a couple of weeks ago. One comes into a new church and does not know anybody. All of the sudden everyone is standing up to sing. Other times people stay seated to sing. It is really hard to make sense of it right off. One minute people are singing out of a book, the next minute they are singing from memory. During time of prayers and praise, you might have a sincere prayer, it might be the reason that you came to the church in the first place, but it is uncomfortable to speak out right in public. Indeed, there are so many things that can make us feel uncomfortable coming to church—Why would I then preach a sermon that makes people feel even more uncomfortable?
The Word of God, the Bible, was surely meant to provide comfort in this earthly life through the sharing of the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. This is what stirs us up in our hearts. This is what was stirring up the people back then as Jesus taught. Jesus was not stirring up the people to start a war against the Romans or the Jewish establishment, he was stirring up the people to surrender their lives to God.
Interesting to note from the verb in the Greek that is being translated as “stirring up,” that is ανασειω in the Greek, is the prefix ανα that literally means “up.” This means that Jesus was “moving the people up.” This is not as if he were really agitating the people. He was in fact moving them up towards God. The directionality is significant. So, for instance, one could preach a moving sermon. That is for the preacher to his or her credit. However, a sermon that moves people upwards is more to the credit of God! So, Luke is telling us that the main complaint rings as if the priests were upset with Jesus because he was moving the people towards God. He was “stirring them”--“upwards”!
When we come to worship, we should be stirred upwards. I am sure you all agree. I just want to share with you all what happened last week as Helen and I worshipped with our old companion in ministry Pastor Mitchell Young now at the Montebello UCC. At the time of the announcements, we presented Kahu Mitchell with some gifts from Waimea, a bicentennial mug and a t-shirt. One lady in the congregation, hearing that we were from Waimea on Kauai was stirred up to come and interrupt the gift giving.
“I know your church,” she exclaimed. “My mother used to attend the church before she came to the mainland to live with us here.” “We watch you online.” “Oh we loved your bicentennial worship service.” “Make sure you come to speak to my mother after worship.”
After the worship service, I ran into another person I knew. That was the brother of Rev. Tom Fujita. So we spoke for a time before the family got into our rental van to go to lunch. As we were just about to pull out of the parking area, the woman who had spoken in the church tapped on the driver’s window and said that we could not leave yet. Her mother then appeared pushing her walker. I rolled down the window. She introduced herself as Mrs. Taketa from Waimea. She was so thrilled to have someone from Waimea come to her church. She kept saying that I had to tell everyone that Mrs. Taketa says “Hi.” So, yes everyone, “Mrs. Taketa says HI from Montebello.”
She held onto the door of the van so that we could not leave. She would not let us go. Then, Pastor Mitchell came out to the other side of the van wearing the shirt we had given him. So, we had people on both sides of the van not wanting to let us go. All the cars were lining up behind us trying to get by. I mean to say that people were stirred up. I mean, really, when was the last time that you could not get out of church because people were grabbing onto your car!
I think about the early church in the time of Luke’s writing and about the itinerant ministry of Jesus that culminated in his being hailed with “Hosannas” and people waving palm branches. People were being stirred up. And, in this people were moved upwards towards God. Church is supposed to be a life-stirring event.
Now, I am fully aware that it has been en vogue today in some churches to agitate the crowd with one particular brand of politics or another. This is not stirring up people in a godly fashion or moving them up towards the divine. In the second half of our scripture for today we see this happening as Pilate discharges Jesus to go Herod for judgment. At first it seems that Herod wants to be moved like the crowd, but Jesus does not do the miracles that Herod is wanting him to perform. Jesus is not a circus animal after all. So, Herod decides to do some crowd stirring of his own. He accuses Jesus of being a fake, dresses him up, and mocks him.
The axiom seems to be here, “If you cannot stir up the crowd to God, then just stir up the crowd.” Make fun of others. Insert a political agenda. Create a spectacle. I remember one pastor once telling me that he has his praise band over-amp all the instruments so that the volume is unbearable because he wants the congregation to be agitated. That is the plan. When I heard that, I just could not hold my tongue and responded with “Jesus never had to agitate others. He moved people with the Word of God.”
Jesus is sent by Herod back to Pilate. We did not read that part of the Bible text yet. (Read Luke 23:13-25.) We see here that Pilate and Herod join together to stir up the crowd, not towards what is godly, but rather to send Jesus to the Cross. Again, it is not Jesus stirring up the crowd at this point. Jesus is not agitating. He is in fact quite silent at this point. Two thousand years later we are left with the heartfelt question of which crowd are we? Are we the ones that are stirred upwards towards God as we sing hosanna to the Christ of our salvation, or are we the agitated crowd succumbing to the political manipulations that would cause us to condemn Jesus to the Cross?
What if these are the same people who sang hosannas that are now screaming for death? That same issue that was so critical in the early church we still face today. How do we stir people upwards to God so that we may offer the salvation of everlasting life through Jesus without getting political and thus mocked and led to trial? It is a very delicate line that the church is still walking today! This delicate line is ever more precarious in such places as China, North Korea, or in Muslim dominated countries where being a Christian carries real political risks.
Stir people upwards to God by stirring up their hearts! Tell the story of Jesus who did miracles of healing, spoke the Truth, and sacrificed His own earthly life to lead us into the life eternal with God. Do this with out screaming and agitation. Do it with the love of Jesus in your heart. Then, let people respond with praise to God.