Lenten Lessons -- Pilate meets Clem Kadiddlehopper
By DAWN CRIBBS
The usually serene atmosphere was charged Friday afternoon at First Congregational Church by a thunderous challenge to the church at-large by the Rev. Allan Jackson, the speaker for the fifth annual Community Lenten service.
The more Jackson exhorted the church, the louder the chorus of "Amens" from the community congregation of 168. As a final "Amen" the church burst into unprecedented and spontaneous applause at the end of Jackson's remarks.
The animated Jackson, who answered the call to the pulpit at First Baptist Church in January, dealt with the issue of Pilate and his unlikely counterpart, "Clem Kadiddlehopper," a character created by comedian Red Skelton.
Clem was a happy go-lucky, "middle-of-the-road" kind of guy, Jackson recalled. He had a smile and wave for everyone he encountered as he traveled serenely down the middle of the road. When he turned to the right, he smiled and waved. When he turned to the left, he smiled and waved.
Pilate also played the middle of the road. Jackson shared that as he reviewed the text from John 19:8-12, he saw that Pilate was trying to find the middle way.
"He had a deep loyalty to Caesar, and knew he had to please him in order to keep his job," said Jackson. On the other hand, he had civil and civic responsibilities in order to be able to govern Jewish Palestine successfully.
Enter the Messiah.
The Romans took any would-be, "wanna-be messiah" seriously, knowing that rebellion would soon follow.
The Jews were also looking for their messiah, certain that he would be the one to overthrow the oppressive Roman government.
Jesus, however, didn't fit their idea of a messiah, even though he performed many miracles.
"The blind saw. The deaf could hear. He raised people from the dead!" Jackson said. But because he didn't fit the Jewish perception of a messiah he posed a dual threat and Pilate found himself in the midst of a "titanic struggle," Jackson said "Pilate had to ferret out the truth."
And so he takes Jesus into the judgement hall and, seemingly totally perplexed, asks him, "Whence art thou?" according to the King James Version.
When Jesus does not answer, Pilate castigates him, saying, "Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?"
"Man, you better talk to me!" thundered Jackson, exhibiting with vehemence the frustration and anxiety Pilate surely felt that day.. There was no middle ground. There was no way out of this dilemma.
Jesus leaves it up to Pilate. He allows Pilate's character to emerge. And although Pilate argued Jesus' innocence and "thenceforce Pilate sought to release him," (John 19:12) he did not act on his belief that Jesus was an innocent man.
Pilate was responsible, Jackson stated unequivocally. He had the power.
"We live under a Clem Kadiddlehopper form of governance today," Jackson revealed. There are hot button issues we're just not supposed to talk about, especially from the pulpit.
"The Bible talks about these issues. It spoke about these issues long before there was a Plymouth Rock, a U.S. Constitution, a Republican or a Democrat party."
"But the world wants us to be Clem Kadiddlehopper and to stay in the middle-of-the-road."
The church should know better, Jackson chastised. "Whether you're a preacher, a politian, a judge or a juror, remember it is principle over opinion poll."
Are we just going to wave and smile to the left while the murder rate climbs to 50 million and higher? Are we just going to smile and wave when they tell us to be tolerant, "to tone it down?" Jackson questioned disbelieving.
Are we going to let them get away with rearranging the creation story, where they want to replace just one little word, changing it from Adam and Eve to Adam and Steve?
"The church cannot be Clem or Pilate," warned Jackson. "There is no middle ground. It is time for the church to stand.
"Stand on truth," Jackson exhorted, his passion for the message increasing.
"Stand on justice!
"Stand on righteousness!
"We must stand on the truth of God's word, wherever we go!"
The Rev. Bruce Lester, pastor at McCook Evangelical Free Church, served as worship leader and his daughter, Allie, charmed the group with a beautiful rendition of the Twila Paris song, "How Beautiful." The American Baptist Women's Ministry prepared and served an abundant variety of sandwiches, soups and dessert. Collection plates were filled at the entrance to the sanctuary to support the work of the sponsoring agency, the Red Willow County Ministerial Association and at both serving lines, helping to offset the cost of the food.
The Community Lenten series continues Friday, 12:05 p.m., at First Congregational Church with the Rev. Gary Brethour bringing a lesson from John 19:13-16.