Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on Good Friday – March 25, 2016
[sermon begins after Bible reading]
John 18:15-27 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17 The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself. 19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. 25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
The cross tells the truth. The truth about living. The truth about dying. The truth about God. And the truth that we can’t handle the truth.
I don’t mean truth as hypothesis-and-supporting-points true. I mean truth as we know it in our guts true. The truth that gets lived out in the day-to-day. The kind of truth we know when we worry about the assassination of someone who puts themselves at risk in the world for the good of the world over what’s good for themselves. The kind of truth that knows suffering is real over the false optimism that denies real pain.
A few months ago, a young man very dear to me was sitting in my kitchen telling me about God and church. He told me that, “It can’t just be about love.” But here’s the thing…it can just be about love because it is the truth. God would rather die than raise a hand in violence against the very people ready to crucify. God would rather die than point an accusing finger at his friends caught in the kiss of betrayal and cowardice of denial. Love of this kind is beyond comprehension. The truth is that we can’t handle the truth.
Peter certainly can’t get his head around it. A murder trial is in the works and Peter is a bestie of the accused. Peter is so close to Jesus that he follows him to the trial. He’s also so close to Jesus that he doesn’t want people to know the truth of how close. When the bonds of friendship are tested, Peter fails. Epically. Peter had just said to Jesus, “I will lay down my life for you.” Peter’s pledge of allegiance to the death was still warm and then this happened:
The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.”
[The slaves and the police standing around the charcoal fire with Peter] asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.”
One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
In John’s gospel, Peter’s denials are interrupted by Jesus’ testimony to Annas, the high priest. Jesus is composed during the questioning. He resists false accusations by the priest and protests excessive use of force by the police.  Throughout the story of his passion, Jesus moves toward the cross with the courage that clarity brings. The clarity of one who loves the world so much that death is preferable to raising a hand against it – a self-sacrificing love of the highest order. You see, it CAN “just be about love” when it’s the truth about God’s love for the world.
Peter’s failure is written about in each of the four different gospels. There are different twists each time but it’s in there four times. This story was very important to the early church. Why might that be so? In other Bible verses, Peter is described by Jesus as the one on whom the church will be built. Peter’s failure is an important story because “heroic faith is not a requirement to be a disciple.”
The cross is the natural end-point of Jesus being Jesus and us being ourselves. When left to our own devices, we prioritize camouflage over courage and say the easy thing over the true thing. Fortunately, Jesus’ death on the cross has no bearing on worthiness. If it did, how would anyone know if they were ever worthy enough? Worthiness is off the table…or off the cross, as the case may be. What’s left? Jesus. On a cross. For you.
Jesus lives and dies the truth about the unflinching love of God in the face of our failures. Your qualifications of worth are not on trial.
Do you leave Jesus hanging when you have a chance to confess him? This love is for you.
Don’t think you love God enough to do the right thing for someone else? This love is for you.
Not being honest about the doubt that plagues you? This love is for you.
It IS “just about love.” The truth is that we are people who can’t handle the truth of God’s love. The truth that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Not even us. Because in the end, it’s about Jesus. On a cross. For you.
 David Lose. John 18:24-27…in the Meantime. March 4, 2015. http://www.davidlose.net/2015/03/john-18-24-27/
 Romans 8:35, 37-39 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.