Text: John 11:45-57
Theme Verse: “What do we do now? This man keeps on doing things, creating God-signs. If we let him go on, pretty soon everyone will be believing in him and the Romans will come and remove what little power and privilege we still have.” – The Pharisees and High Priests (John 11:47-48)
The navigation of conflict is a part of growing up. From the early days of playground disputes to vying for shelf space in the office break-room refrigerator, conflict is a daily part of our existence. There are moments, however, where the stakes are higher than most. Ideologies are called into question. The loss of power and privilege are possible. Faith, security, and status quo are jostled. The way we deal with conflict in small matters may very well reveal our strengths and weaknesses when everything is on the line.
reader : Debbie Robson
preaching : Rev Mark Briley
There they were. Four Rabbis doing what they do when they get together – they talk God and Temple and the box scores from last night’s games. On this occasion, they were discussing some theological matter. Three of the four Rabbi’s agreed. The lone ranger Rabbi was holding out to his angle on the truth. It was a friendly debate but he was adamant about his point of view and decided to bring God fully into the mix. He asked for a sign. Have you ever done that? It’s a risk. I mean, what if God is watching the morning edition of Sports Center and doesn’t catch your ask for a sign in the instant you need it? Anyway – the lone Rabbi goes for it. “God, I know I’m right on this and I know you’re with me on it. Please give us a sign so my colleagues can see the Light.” Just then, a huge clap of thunder hits and the Rabbi requesting the sign looks at his friends with big eyes. The other three Rabbi’s shrug and say, “Lucky ask – there’s a storm brewing – even Al Roker predicted that.” So, the lone Rabbi asks again, “God, sweet thunder but my compadres aren’t buying it. I’m asking for another sign.” Before he could hardly get the words out of his mouth, lightning strikes across the skies… brighter than any of them had ever seen. The trio of Rabbi’s held out again – “Nah, lightning and thunder always go together. Not buying it. We know we are right.” Determined, the Rabbi fighting for his own cause ramps up his ask, “God, these three are not buying your obvious signs, would you please offer an unwavering affirmation that I am right on this matter?” And just like that, a booming voice from the heaven’s calls out, “HE IS RIGHT!” The lone Rabbi turns to his three colleagues with a smile of all smiles knowing they could never dispute this clear sign, the very voice of God, affirming his stance on the subject. The three Rabbi’s collaborate shortly and then respond to the fourth, “It’s still a 3 to 2 vote. We’re right.” 
It’s sort of a silly story and might not go down as one of the better jokes you’ve ever heard but there’s some truth in there. And it’s a bit of a light-hearted way to dive into a more difficult topic – conflict. How many of you hear the word, “conflict” and your body just sort of twitches a bit or that old crick in your neck returns. There are some people who just absolutely thrive on conflict. They seek it, create it, spur it on and relish in the squirm it creates. Most, however, would prefer to do without it. We’ve seen a lot of conflict in our world these days. Many clashing ideologies and opinions and cricks in necks right now. I feel like if everybody drove with their windows down we’d find that everyone is blaring the same song: Taylor Swift’s, “Bad Blood.”
’Cause baby, now we’ve got bad blood
You know it used to be mad love
So take a look what you’ve done
’Cause baby, now we’ve got bad blood, hey!
Now we’ve got problems
And I don’t think we can solve ’em
You made a really deep cut
And baby, now we’ve got bad blood, hey!
If nothing else, it’s kind of funny to pull up next to someone at a stoplight and think they are blaring this song on the inside. But there it is, in that little lyric of the chorus – “so take a look what you’ve done.” And the finger pointing begins. So much of conflict comes from finger pointing. It finds us when we feel our right to power or privilege or control is lost. We don’t tend to reflect internally about these things – we point to another and say, “Look what they’ve done. Look what they’re doing. It’s their fault. There would be no conflict if it wasn’t for them.” And if you can get inside that feeling this morning, you can join the party of Pharisees and high priests who were singing a little T-Swift in their joint meeting to deal with the bad blood that was curdling at this time. #theJesusproblem.
By this time, Jesus was well on his way toward the cross. That hasn’t surfaced yet and Holy Week wasn’t a thing the people of this time were planning toward. No one was ordering palms for the palm processional or purchasing nails for their parishioners to nail into the cross on Good Friday as a way of saying, “He bore my sins too.” There was no shortage of Easter lilies at Costco because none of this was a thing. Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi who was healing the sick, caring for those in need, and challenging the status quo of what it meant to teach, and live, the Torah. We see the direction this is heading but in that moment, it was just a growing headache – a frustration of Jesus’ rising popularity and the religious leaders thinking, “There’s no way Jesus could ever win the nomination, could he?” And the stakes were rising. Jesus had just raised his buddy Lazarus from the dead in a pretty public fashion. Lazarus had been dead for several days already and his sisters who were super close to Jesus said, “There’s already a stench – don’t go in there, Jesus.” Rigor mortis had set in and the grieving… oh the grieving… was in full swing.
Grieving is one of those experiences that manifests itself in surprising ways. C.S. Lewis, in his work A Grief Observed, wrote this: “No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times, it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.” In the midst of these fluttering emotions, Jesus steps in and his running buddy, Lazarus, finds life again. The buzz was flooding the area and the movement of Jesus was on the map like it had not been to this point. To ignore it from a perspective of its impact on the comfort, power, and privilege of those in authority would be a mistake. The conflict would either come to them or they would bring the conflict themselves. The Pharisees and chief priests couldn’t see a reality in which Jesus could co-exist with them. Perhaps it was their fear that felt so much like grief. All they had worked for and believed in was at stake. They say when they gather as a ruling body: “If we let Jesus go on, pretty soon everyone will be believing in him and the Romans will come and remove what little power and privilege we still have.”
Have you ever felt that way? It does have those mixed emotions wrapped up in it all. Someone new comes to the company who is touted as the “Golden Child” and you’re left wondering, “Will they even need me anymore?” Technology evolves and you worry you can’t keep up with new college grads. A young athlete comes to your team and you lose your starting position. A rival figure skater appears to be on a trajectory to out-perform you at the Olympics. What do you do? What do you do when you fear losing your place? What do you do when a one-time adoration has left you for the greener pasture of another? Do you get bitter? Do you fight? Do you eliminate the threat?
The meeting of the Sanhedrin in this passage – a combination of the Pharisees who were not a political group at all – just concerned with living every detail of the law and the Sadducees who were intensely political and interested in maintaining power – opted to eliminate the threat. After all, Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes. It seems that it never occurred to them to ask whether Jesus was right or wrong. It didn’t matter if his way offered new possibilities of embodying faithfulness. It only mattered that they had the votes to maintain power. Their only question: “What effect will this have on our ease and comfort and authority?” They judged things, not in the light of principle but in the light of their own career. Caiaphas, the chief priest, states clearly his position. “It’s better that Jesus die than there be trouble with the Romans.” It was settled. Jesus was now a wanted outlaw; a brewing conflict you could now put on a poster.
What poster worthy conflict are you facing right now in your own life? What is the motive? Is it all on the other involved or is there something unsettling in your own spirit that is building the conflict too? Sometimes it is totally another, okay? Abusive scenarios and oppressive situations are not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the conflicts of the soul… they creep up on us. We may not even see them at first – sometimes we don’t see them at all. They are simply a part of self-preservation. They may be purely stubborn in nature – to be right above relationship. My friend, who happens to be color-blind, was sharing with me this week about the occasional argument he has with his wife about the color of some item of clothing. He says, “I know I’m color blind but I just can’t help myself sometimes.” I said, “So what do you do?” “I double-down.” He knows it’s blue and even if the voice of God said it was gray, he’d fight for the blue vote. We chuckled about it but we knew it was all too true.
The navigation of conflict is a part of growing up. Sure. We’ve been dealing with conflict since the early days of playground disputes. You write threats on several extra sticky notes to attach to your sandwich before putting it in the office break-room refrigerator because you can’t trust so-and-so to leave what’s yours alone. There are moments, however, where the stakes are higher than most. Ideologies are called into question. Faith, security, and status quo are jostled. The way we deal with conflict in small matters may very well reveal our strengths and weaknesses when everything is on the line. Rocky Balboa said, “When you stay in one place too long, you become that place.” This can have deep sentimental meaning and can be a beautiful thing but when that place you’re staying in is stubbornness or fear of losing controlling power, you create destructive conflict to maintain that place you’ve become.
Richard Rohr, a great theologian and Catholic priest, said the same thing a little differently. He said there are “whole people” and “split people.” I know such is very black and white and we’re all on some spectrum of this sense of healthy beings. He’s not describing individuals themselves as much as what they bring to the rest of their lives. What he is getting at here is this, and I’m paraphrasing, “Some people come to situations in their lives where they bring wholeness. They bring a desire to reconcile and value another and learn and grow themselves.” You know people like that, right? You tend to enjoy their company because they are not know-it-alls. They listen and consider and bring something to build-up the cause or the moment or the situation. They bring a spirit of wholeness. And then there are those people who come to situations in their lives with a splitting spirit. Split-people. They come with a spirit of divisiveness. You always feel like they have an agenda built around their personal gain. They tend to tear down and degrade others ideas as a way of puffing up their own. Again, I know the two categories don’t cover the spectrum of who we are and how we may approach life but I’m going to ask you anyway – for sake of consideration. Which of those two better describes your spirit in this season of your life? Do you bring wholeness to the situations and relationships in your life or do you tend to have a splitting spirit in those arenas? It’s tough to be vulnerable in those considerations. I know it is. But thank you for cracking that spirit open enough to even consider it for yourself.
Our passage in John goes on – again – it’s not one of the feel good stories – there’s a lot of tension and not a lot of resolve but our lives are lived in that zone much of the time. The passage goes on and Jesus, knowing the tension is full, steps away for a time. The text says, “Jesus, therefore, [meaning because of his outlaw status] no longer went out in public among the Jews.” He withdrew to a place and with a particular group of people. Jesus has somewhere to go and people to go to. And in this moment, he handles conflict with some space. Jesus did not unnecessarily court danger like that guy who enters a bar on a Saturday night with intent of punching the biggest guy in the place just to start a fight. Jesus was willing to lay down his life, but not so foolishly reckless as to throw it away before his work was done. At some point, however, we engage conflict. The buzz was certainly unavoidable. The Jewish people were making way to the city for the Passover celebration. It was a crowded and exciting festival. Many made their way early to get through the purification process because you couldn’t be unclean and share in the feast. So you’ve got these excited little groups of people getting ready for the big party. They all know what’s going on – everyone’s tweeting about it. There was this mortal contest of wills between Jesus and the authorities. People are always interested in someone who gallantly faces fearful odds. “Do you think Jesus will show?” sparked the most common conversation. “Nah. No way. He won’t show.”
I wonder how often we’re debating the same things in our own lives. We assume Jesus won’t show up in our situation. We never think, then, to invite him. We assume we already know the right response… the right way to behave… the right way to consider another… we don’t even need his vote because we’ve got this all figured out on our own. But what if we invited him in? What if we made room for him in the conflict? What if we invited love to be present – measured the outcome based on the way love was shared, grace was extended, forgiveness was given or received? Do you think he’d show if you asked? That was the question that day too. And did he come? Well… next week is Palm Sunday. A parade is being planned. Come with me and let’s see if Jesus shows up.
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 I’ve heard this joke told various places over time. It’s embellished here a little for purpose of this message.
 A Grief Observed. C. S. Lewis. Faber and Faber. 1961
 Exegetical support for this passage comes from William Barclay’s commentary on The Gospel of John. The Westminster Press. 1975.
 Richard’s Rohr’s work these days is prevalent in many places. Here is one: https://cac.org/richard-rohr/richard-rohr-ofm/. The particular conversation about “whole” and “split” people came from a sermon I once heard. I couldn’t locate a written source on the concept.