Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 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?” 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.” 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.”
In the name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are no raccoons or pledge cards or hives in this sermon – no reflections on money or pain or suffering. BUT, there is a debate about royalty and jurisdiction.
There is conversation about the Kingdom of God. And, there are statements about TRUTH.
The whole concept of royalty seems antiquated to our modern sensibilities. It smacks of fairy tales and Disney princesses – as detached from our everyday reality as ghosts or aliens. But for the people of first century Palestine, it was an in-your-face, everyday reality.
Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar, the final Sunday before we enter the season of Advent and a day known as “Christ the King.” You may be wondering to yourself why we still call it that. Haven’t we moved beyond “Christ as King” in our post-modern world? In a day when royalty are more noticed for their excesses and misbehavior rather than deeds of power or control, why do we still associate Jesus with this idea of “king”?
Pope Pious the XI instituted “Christ the King” Sunday in 1925 in reaction to the political climate in the time of Mussolini’s rule and this day was to differentiate between Jesus’ kingship and earthly kingship. Quoting Cyril of Alexandria, the pope wrote, “Christ has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but his by essence and by nature.”
This day reminds us that our allegiance is to a spiritual ruler in heaven, not to Pilate, not to Mussolini, and not to any other earthly power. Without this designation as King, if we confine Jesus to the role of a religious leader, someone who went around saying nice things and performing miracles, then he becomes just another good man, like many others. Elijah said good things, performed miracles, and healed the sick, and yet, Elijah isn’t a king.
Retired priest, Anthony Clavier writes, “In the Old Testament we read that the people wanted a king. They were warned that a king would be partial, corrupt and a bad idea. They persisted and got Saul, who was partial and corrupt. David succeeded him, and despite his very modern notorious sin of adultery, became for the Jews of his time and thereafter the example of a good, wise and heroic king, anointed by God. It is no accident that Jesus was of the House of David.
In Jesus two things happen. Kingship is redeemed and Jesus is a perfect monarch. In him leadership is redeemed, made new, just as all humanity is redeemed and made new through Jesus. We are made new.
However the word “we” doesn’t mean you as an individual caught up in some other-worldy spiritual reality, lived side by side with the reality of life. A restored humanity is part of a restored world. Christians are not a holy club devoted to changing society, feeding the hungry, attacking discrimination and injustice – although Christians do all those things, or should do.
Christians exist to tell the world that it belongs to God, not to us, not to nation states, but really and truly to God. Christians exist to tell the world that it has an anointed Monarch, “Jesus the Lord”.
This makes a lot of sense. In fact, the earliest Christians weren’t persecuted for following Jesus or for doing good deeds in the light of his teaching, not at all.
“As long as they admitted that Caesar was Lord, the Romans were remarkably tolerant of religious diversity. What could not be tolerated was that simple claim: Jesus is Lord. That claim threatened Imperial and thus political authority. It said bluntly that as Jesus is Lord, because God reigns, everything not only has its origin in God, but is subject to God’s will.”
Anthony Clavier goes on to say, “Christians were not subversive because they refused to acknowledge legitimate political power. The church taught that Christians should respect the powers that be, obey the law and even pay taxes.
They were subversive because they believed that legitimate power was passing, was relative, and ultimately judged by a higher power, the power of Jesus, that there are not two compartmentalized realities, worldly and spiritual, but one reality, the Kingdom of God, which, as Jesus says, is from above and is all in all.”
Today’s snapshot of the Good Friday gospel encompasses Jesus’ encounter with Pilate. It exhibits how firmly Pilate is anchored in this world, while Jesus knows he is on the way out. So, when Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king, Jesus responds, “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.” (John 18:37)
But the lectionary reading leaves out the next line, the dramatic cliffhanger, Pilate follows Jesus’ statement asking, “What is truth?”
What is truth? As theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “Church doctrine isn’t the truth, even Jesus’ teachings aren’t the truth. It is only Jesus himself – the reality of God – is truth – for all its messiness and mystery.”
The truth is that Jesus is the incarnate revelation of God. Jesus is God present in this world. In the Kingdom of God, which is right here, right now, Christ is King, not you or I nor any earthly power, but Jesus Christ is King.
In order to acknowledge and praise God’s sovereignty, there is no better way than in the prayers of old hymn texts. As we sing, King of glory, King of peace at the offertory, really read the words.
As we close our worship with another hymn, we may sing merrily, “Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne; Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own; awake, my soul, and sing of him who died for thee, and hail him as thy matchless King through all eternity.”
“But unless in this great hymn we become united in the love song that rings throughout the cosmos, and admit our utter dependence on God and his King Jesus, we merely enjoy membership of a holy club – perhaps enjoyable, even inspiring, but of no ultimate reality.” (Clavier)
We are called to be members of God’s kingdom and subjects of Christ the King and therefore, much is expected of us.
The Rev. Anthony Clavior. “Sermons that Work: Redeeming Kingship.” http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2012/11/12/christ-the-king-b-nov-25-2012/