By Pastor Linda Dolby
Scripture: John 18:33-37
18:33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?"18:34 Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?"18:35 Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."
18:37 Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
I just got home last night from spending Thanksgiving with family and friends at my daughter Emily’s home. It was a wonderful time and I trust you had a good Thanksgiving too. Something really funny happened to us – it’s funny now, but it could have been disastrous. My nephew and his 15 year old son drove to Cleveland from Pittsburgh. Arriving after dark on Wednesday, they walked in the house, took off their coats and shoes. A woman in a housecoat they did not know walked into the kitchen and Brian said “hi,” introduced himself and his son. The woman introduced herself. Then Brian asked, “Where’s Emily?” And the woman said, “Next door.” They had walked into the wrong house.
Thank goodness the neighbor was a nice person. Thank goodness she did not have a shotgun to shoot at these intruders. She called my daughter to verify that she was expecting these 2 strangers. All turned out well.
Brian and his son were confused. That’s the kind of Sunday this is. Confusing. It’s called Christ the King. Just after Thanksgiving, just before Advent.
While I was still recovering from gluttony on Thursday, the nation moved on to a new holiday called Black Friday. How odd that after being so grateful for the things in life that truly matter, we then spend the very next day buying stuff that truly does not matter. How can our grasp on gratitude slip so quickly? One day we have all we need, and the next day we need all we do not have. I know some who get into Black Friday, camping out to stampede Walmart at the stroke of midnight. Oh wait, make that 9 PM on Thursday night. If someone proposed to me that we should go to the mall and camp out in the cold to get a good place in line, so we can elbow a few million other people to get a good deal on the latest electronics, I would look at them like they had just joined a strange mind-controlling cult.
Now here we are at Christ the King Sunday. This Sunday has not been a part of the church year for centuries. In fact, Pope Pius XI inaugurated Christ the King Sunday in 1925, when the authority of the church was waning in the world – the time between World War I and World War 2. He wanted to remind the world that it was Christ the King, the Prince of Peace, who truly ruled – not the warring political factions. Of course over ninety years later, the “authority” of the church—or even just the “place” of the church—in the world is almost laughable. We are all but irrelevant in the power structures of the community of nations.
Today we bring the Christian year to a conclusion. In the church’s calendar, Christ the King is the parallel of the Super Bowl trophy or the Final Four in college basketball or the last game of the World Series. This is what everything had been moving toward. In baseball, for example, there is spring training, the opening pitch of the season, the first games, the long summer, the end-of-year stretch, the playoffs. It all leads, for someone, to the World Series.
The Christian year begins with Advent, preparation for the birth of Jesus; and then the celebration of his birth at Christmas, and then his appearances -- to the wise men, at the wedding, in the transfiguration at Epiphany -- and then he sets his face toward Jerusalem and we are plunged into the days of Lent, suffering, sacrifice and self-denial, the betrayal and death of holy week, the silence of Holy Saturday, but then the miracle of resurrection at Easter, and the prayer, over 50 days, for the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.
To follow Jesus is to profess him as Lord. This is the basic Christian conviction and creed. To believe that he is Lord of all is to honor and glorify him, above all else, and above all other rulers and authorities. He came upon this earth to establish the Kingdom of God, an alternative to the kingdom of Herod. He spoke not of the love of power but the power of love. And he clearly gave his presence, his spirit, his authority, to his disciples, to spread his influence, his teachings, his goodness upon this earth until he comes again. And so on Christ the King Sunday, the reading from Scripture and the hymns associated with this day not only magnify the Lord, they call upon us to be a part of establishing the kingdom of God upon the earth.
That is why we Christians are different. We follow a savior who had power. His power was always on the side of justice for the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast. His power was never self-serving, rather it was always exercised in behalf of others. That is not the way power is typically understood or seen in the world today, not then or at most any time in known history. Indeed, the power that Jesus had led him right into being on trial for blasphemy himself. One where he wound up being judged by both the authorities of the temple and of the state as we hear about in today's Gospel lesson. Jesus' power led him to a shameful death on a cross. No, his kingship was not marked by the usual trappings of power.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate asks Jesus. Yet Jesus won’t play along. He responds, “Did you come up with that on your own or have people been talking to you?” Pilate responds, “Am I a Jew?” He is saying: “Look, I don’t get into the vagaries of Jewish politics.” Then he asks Jesus, “What did you do?” The implication is that whatever it was, it must have been bad, because the Jews didn’t like the Romans, yet here they are handing over one of their own to these very Romans.
Jesus responds in a way that answers Pilate’s first question (Are you King of the Jews?) as well as his second one (What did you do?): “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“Aha!” says Pilate, “So you are a king.” Jesus answers, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Jesus’ point was that whether or not he was a king was actually secondary. What was primary was his mission which was to testify to the truth. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” This is the key phrase in this entire passage.
Who does our society crown as king? Athletes playing games before thousands, muscles toned, competition, superiority the focus. Pop culture musicians’ lyrics entrenched in cultural whims, role models of excess. Warriors seeking violent solutions, snuffing out a life of hope, reconciliation, healing. Consumerism of the best, newest, coolest that will only rust, rot or break, while further separating the haves and have-nots by an ocean of excess. Collaborators of greed amassing obscene sums of money in a day, while others struggle, maybe working two jobs, just to survive.
Who do you crown as king? I know that is an old-fashioned term, we really don’t have many kings anymore. So, let me re-phrase: who (or what) rules your life? Is it your quest for success, your desire for more – recognition, or a bigger house, true love, or whatever it is that you think will make you happy.
Jesus speaks to us today. He’s speaking to us about our identity. He’s speaking to us about our calling. We are representatives of the kingdom of heaven called to redeem the world to its Creator. That’s what it means for him to be our king.
Jesus is not the king of lies, deception or mere appearances. His kingdom is not of that “world.” He is king of truth, reality, essence and sacredness. That’s his world. Both worlds exist side by side here on planet earth. The question for us, is, as we go through our lives, what world will we live in? Who will be our king, the Pilates if our age, or Jesus? Do we know the questions?
Jesus shows us another way.
Delores Williams was a wise theologian and teacher. She grew up in the South and remembers Sunday mornings when the minister shouted out: “Who is Jesus?” The choir responded in voices loud and strong: “King of kings and Lord Almighty!” Then, little Miss Huff, in a voice so fragile and soft you could hardly hear, would sing her own answer, “Poor little Mary’s boy.” Back and forth they sang: KING OF KINGS, Poor little Mary’s boy. Delores said, “It was the Black church doing theology.” Who is Jesus? “King of Kings” cannot be the answer without seeing “poor little Mary’s boy.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
O Holy Night is one of my favorite Christmas songs.
It’s that one line.
Fall on your knees.
For that is what we do before a king.
Fall on your knees before a God whose love comes to us in delicate unprotected, unarmed, defenseless flesh. Fall on your knees before the one who loves without caution, without measure, without concern for pre-existing conditions. Fall on your knees before the one who submitted to the very worst that humans are capable of, who let the twisted thing in us, the thing in us capable of betrayal and flogging, and violence and vengeance and even murder and didn’t say “I’m going to get you back” but said “you are forgiven.”
Because at the feet of this king what we can do but spread our trophies. Our victories, our standard of living, and our delusion of safety.
Fall on your knees. His kingdom is not of this world’s values. It is not a kingdom that guards its borders or arms its citizens or takes hostages or bombs theaters. Christ is our king because human’s violence and competition, the need to be right and the need for everyone else to be wrong and the belief that God favors us above all others and the use of that delusion to kill and alienate is seen by Jesus for what it is: so, so small. This is why we are in need not of a king who kicks people’s behinds but of a savior who draws all people to himself in pure love. A crown of thorns and a throne of a cross.
What can we do but spread our trophies at his pierced feet. And call him Lord of all. Amen.
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