December 18, 2018

Sermon: Christ the King Sunday 2018

Pilate’s Second Interrogation of Christ. Duccio

Sermon: Christ the King Sunday 2018

Then 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.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’ (John 8:33-38)

• • •

We spend a lot of time life talking about politics, don’t we? They used to say that baseball was “America’s pastime,” but I think it’s really politics. Everybody seems to have their own opinion, and we are clinging to our positions more stridently than we’ve seen in a long time. This has been called an era of “polarization” and “tribalization.” Somehow, we have this urgent need to be right and for everyone else who’s not in our little to be wrong. I have to win, and you lose.

Americans have separated into camps and are taking sides. We attack and demonize one another without mercy. Political candidates whip up their base to fight against the enemy. Debates become shouting matches. “Attack” ads fill the airwaves. Any possibility of civil conversation about ideas, compromise, and cooperation, is nearly non-existent. To strengthen my side, I must destroy your side. It’s a zero sum game. For me to win, you must lose and lose completely. We take no prisoners. We leave no fortress standing. We burn it all to the ground.

These are the politics of destruction. They are rarely about truth or principle. Instead, it’s all about defeating the enemy. At all costs.

Would it surprise you to learn that Jesus doesn’t like that strategy?

As he talks with Pilate in today’s Gospel, Jesus stands face to face with a consummate politician. This is a guy who understands how you play the game. He’s a Roman, representative of the most powerful nation on earth. He commands armies. He puts people in prison and sends them to their deaths. He has power. He has authority. He’s strong, he commands armies. He’s a winner, committed to staying on top, no matter what it takes.

When he looks at Jesus, Pilate scoffs at the idea that someone like him could be a king in any sense of the word. Dealing with this loser is a waste of Pilate’s good time. He can’t fathom that this backwoods rabbi or those opposing him could have any importance or impact in the real world. And then, addressing Pilate, Jesus starts talking about “truth” — ha! what a joke!

I don’t know about you, but there is something in me that doesn’t like this scene. I kind of wish Jesus would fight back. I don’t like seeing Jesus standing there as a helpless prisoner, getting mocked and disregarded and dismissed. I don’t like to see our guy and our side losing. I hate it when people think Christian talk about God’s kingdom and truth and love is silly and idealistic, impractical and ineffective. I don’t like getting dissed. It makes me want to fight!

And that’s when Jesus’ words hit me, from right here in this passage — “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…” I hear that, and I begin to wonder if I really know anything about Jesus’ kingdom at all. He doesn’t want us to fight! He doesn’t expect us to fight! In fact, he says it goes against the very nature of God’s kingdom for us to put up a fight. And yet, everything within me wants to fight.

I read Jesus’ words, and that’s when I realize my human nature — I have it in me to be just as tribal, just as violent, just as committed to power politics, and just as dedicated to destroying my enemies as anyone else. It’s not just Pontius Pilate, it’s not just the Jewish leaders, it’s not just “the world” out there that’s like this, it’s me. It’s me! I’m the one who needs transforming. I’m the one who needs a king who will come and rule over my life and make me a good citizen in the kind of kingdom Jesus is talking about.

  • I need a King who is not about the endless quest to win and gain power over others.
  • I need a King who is not about angrily spouting his own opinions and dismissing yours.
  • I need a King who is not about getting all the perks and privileges while others suffer.
  • I need a King who is about truth and integrity, who abhors falsehood and misleading words.
  • I need a King who refuses to demonize his neighbors.
  • I need a King who refuses to think the best way to get ahead is to trample over others.
  • I need a King who renounces violence, manipulation, lying, corruption, cheating, and saving his own skin rather than serving others.
  • I need a King who is willing to die rather than betray his commitment to love God and his neighbors wholeheartedly.

I need a King like this because all of these actions and attitudes and tactics are part of who I am as a flawed human being who lives in a broken, mixed-up world. And we all need a King like this because this is part of who we all are. Bob Dylan once sang, “This world is ruled by violence,” and he was right.

But I want us to stop and realize this morning that these are the very things that put Jesus on the cross. He absorbed all this hateful, violent, winner-take-all mess in his own body to the point of dying so that we could be freed from it and live differently under new rules.

As David Lose wrote:

“[We bear] witness to the One who demonstrated power through weakness, who manifested strength through vulnerability, who established justice through mercy, and who built the kingdom of God by embracing a confused, chaotic, and violent world, taking its pain into his own body, dying the death it sought, and rising again to remind us that light is stronger than darkness, love is stronger than hate, and that with God, all good things are possible.”

Faith, hope, and love are stronger than any fight we could ever put up.

Amen.