Think Again

Sermon by Kathleen O’Keefe Reed, Chief Advancement Officer
for the Gettysburg Seminary community in weekly Eucharist
November 28, 2012
The text for the sermon is John 18:33-38

Kathleen-Reed_Feb-2012_1_web.jpgOn this 28th day of November
at midday between Sundays
time conspires with light and land
calling us
to think again.

Shadows lengthen,
perspectives change and assumptions get challenged:
Who’s big?  Who’s small?
Think again.

Light filters through a cloud canopy
that appears to be descending;
the sky is lying down,
getting into position as if soon and very soon
all hell is about to break loose.
Hell?  Think again

Between Christ the King and First in Advent
are we ending or beginning,
leaving or arriving?
Is Jesus crowned or crowning?

Look around and
think again,
Where exactly do we stand?
Whose high ground do we occupy?
This place, this land called
Seminary Ridge adds layers to
the invitation to think again.

Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary…
Old Dorm…
Schmucker Hall—all monikers borne by
the cupola-ed structure to our immediate south.

Set on this ridge in 1832, it was built to endure,
with supporting beams pitched at special angles
not just for loadbearing but for seismic resilience
in case the earth be moved.

And in 1863 beneath the pounding of
boots, hooves, cannon balls
and bodies
the earth did move.

Think again.

The vision that museum director Barbara Franco has
for Schmucker Hall’s  latest re-purposing
can be summed up with those words—think again--
and reflects the mission of a global network of
site-specific museums called the
International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.

In that network’s own words, these Sites of Conscience
are “dedicated to remembering past struggles
and addressing their contemporary legacies”
in places like

Capetown, South Africa where
the District Six Museum ensures
that memory of apartheid’s forced removals
will endure …

and  Russia, where the Gulag Museum at Perm-36 stands
as a literally chilling reminder
of totalitarian repression…

and  Chile, where the Parque por la Paz stands
as a memorial over the ruins of the Villa Grimaldi
where 4,500 political prisoners were  brutally detained and/or disappeared during the Pinochet regime,
and Arkansas, where the Little Rock Central High School stands the role it played in the desegregation of public schools  with the admission of nine African-American students to the formerly all-white Central High School in 1957.

Spaces that stand open to the public
not to contain in glass cases embalmed versions of events,
but to set memories loose to inhabit and
build new chambers in contemporary minds.

To think and think again.
I believe, is the vision
that the Evangelist brings to 18th chapter of the Gospel of John,
bringing us together with Jesus and Pontius Pilate
in the Jerusalem digs of the Roman Governor.
This praetorium is actually
a palace with a footprint measuring 435,000 square feet
built by the king who was ruling
Jerusalem and greater Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth,
Herod the Great.

In the spirit of sites of conscience,
dedicated to remembering past struggles
and addressing their contemporary legacies,
let’s think about that for a moment, about Herod
and the legacy that would have been contemporary to Jesus.

Herod exercised power as a Jewish ruler
with the blessing of Roman emperors from 37-4 BCE.

Consolidating and
reconsolidating power with shifting Roman political tides
was a brutal, unforgiving dance for which Herod was a natural.

As a soldier crushing enemies on the battlefield
or a sycophant currying favor in the imperial court
no one could match him.

And those who tried… died,
including by his personal command
his second wife and his adult two sons by that marriage,
and shortly before his own death in 4 BCE
his heir apparent, Herod’s own first born.

By the time Pilate became governor of Judea,
Roman rule had Jerusalem on a tighter leash
so while Jewish religious leaders enjoyed liberal authority
over the day-to-day in Jerusalem,
over affairs of life and most especially death
Rome always got the last word.

So here in our gospel reading
this is not a trial—it’s a sentencing hearing:
thumbs up, thumbs down.
And only one party gets to ask the questions.

Think again.

P:“Are you the King of the Jews?”
(Pilate’s unspoken sub text: It’s a simple question, yes or no ?
Quickly, I have other less annoying things to do)

J: “Do you ask this on you own or did others
tell you about me?”

P:( Think again, sonny boy)
I am not a Jew, am I?
(Why did I just state that as a question?!)
Your own (pathetic) nation and chief priests
have handed you over to ME!
(Now, that’s more like it!)
What have you done?

J: (“Sonny boy:” well, you actually have that right,
and yes, please do think again)
My kingdom is not a part of all this.
If  my kingdom were a part of all this
my followers would be arming for a fight.
But as it is my kingdom has no relationship to this place.

P: (Gotcha!)
So you are a king?

J: You say that I am a king.
For this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth
listens to my voice.

P:  (feigning control) What is truth?

Time out.
Let’s a rewind the tape.
Remember this?
 Back in the second chapter of John’s Gospel
Jesus upended
the tables of the Temple money changers.
and interrogators then demanded
some sign of his authority to upend.
And he said “Destroy this Temple
and in three days I will raise it up…”

And remember how they thought he was talking
about a building that took 46 years to build…
when really he was speaking of the temple of his….body?

Well, here in the Jerusalem praetorium of the Roman Empire,
in the space of three swift exchanges of dialog
Jesus reduces the palace of Herod the Great
to 435,000 square feet of dust.

Roman power, the power of all this—death.
Jesus’ power, not so much.
Jesus: the power of his birth,
Jesus: the power of his word.
Jesus: the power of his body.


On this 28th day of November
at midday between Sundays
the time, the light, and the land
are not the only conspiring elements inviting us
to think again.

Between the cross and the manger
shadows lengthen,
perspectives change and assumptions get upended:
Who’s big?  Who’s small?

Think again.         AMEN


Posted: 12/7/2012 11:00:22 AM by John Spangler | with 0 comments

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