November 22, 2015

John 18:33-37

33Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate 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?” 36Jesus 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.” 37Pilate 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 don’t usually talk about the process of writing sermons. For me it’s a fairly personal, vulnerable wrestling with scripture. Often, I end up somewhere totally different than where I started and the last thing I write is the introduction. Well, as I began to work on the sermon this week, my mind filled with the rich imagery of the kingdom that Jesus represents in our broken world, and my eyes peppered with continued images of terrorism, refugees, and fighting, I knew that I could not write an introduction that properly discussed these issues. No punchline, no subtle pun, no amusing anecdote would be able to address what Jesus is telling us in this passage in the context of the world that we see today.

We’re not always very comfortable, in our culture, with the idea of kingdoms. We will proclaim, sometimes, the Christ is Lord, and often our readings contain the language of lordship or kingship, but, to be honest, we’re not always very sure what to make of it. As a democracy who, fairly recently in the realm of world history, overthrew a king and have done much in the last century to make sure that others have the tools they need to fight for their freedom from oppressive regimes, we don’t often use the image of king to describe God among ourselves. Servant? Sure! Savior? Absolutely! Good? All the time! But king? Lord? Commander? Not so much.

Yet, the reign of Christ is proclaimed each and every year as we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. This is the last Sunday of the church year, as Advent, starting next week already, begins a new cycle of birth, life, death, and resurrection. And it also pretty clearly leads us into Advent, waiting for the Christ child to be born. But, before we pivot that direction, before we leave here, focused on turkey, family, friends, football, parades, and shopping, let’s spend a few moments here and turn our imaginations on.

In this account, we see Jesus talking to Pilate and so much is at stake. Jesus is about to be crucified – he knows that already – and Pilate is the only person who could possibly save him from that fate. In this conversation we see the kingdom of God facing the kingdom of Rome, the mastery of God taking on the mastery of humankind.

Now, we are pretty familiar with what the kingdom of humankind looks like. It looks broken, filled with death, fear, hatred, sin, and evil. We see it on the news as we continue to hear stories of Beirut, Paris, and the Russian plane bombed over Egypt. We see it in our communities as we witness the effects of poverty, racism, sexism, and any other practice that makes someone else an “other”, separated by anything that we mark as unusual, abnormal, or scary. It’s true and it’s all too easy to see what this brings – oppression, violence, fear, hatred, and greed.

But what about the kingdom of God? That’s a little harder to put our finger on. I think this is certainly in part a cause of what is reported to us on the news, but I also think it’s because we are not living in a way that looks for the kingdom of God. Because the kingdom of God takes imagination to see. It requires that we keep our minds open to new interpretations of what God is doing in the world. It can look like someone opening up their home to refugees fleeing war. It can look like working for equality and the rights of people who have so often been oppressed. I, for instance, saw it when I heard reports of the soccer match between England and France this last week. The match was held in England, but the match was far from normal. The whole stadium sang the French national anthem while the players stood, not separated on their own sidelines, but together, in the middle of the field, huddled together. If they didn’t have their team jerseys on, you would not have been able to tell who was British and who was French.

And I think that’s the most powerful thing about the kingdom of God. We when proclaim that Christ is king, it means that we are identifying ourselves first as forgiven children of God through faith in Christ. We are leveling the playing field. Who we are, what we’ve done, where we’ve come from is no longer important as we claim that our citizenship is from another kingdom, another culture. We choose to define ourselves based on our forgiveness, rather than our merits.

When Christ is king, we follow our king. The king who journeyed to the cross, giving of himself for the benefit of all. The king who healed blindness, deafness, and all manner of physical ailments. The king who taught us that the peacemakers, the poor, the hungry, the people who turn the other cheek are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of God. Jesus, God who came down to us, showed us what the kingdom of God looks like.

But, still, we wait. We wait for the kingdom to arrive, even though we can sometimes see it, however dimly, through the haze of the world. We wait for the “then” while dealing with the “now”. We experience the “already” while waiting for the “not yet.” And while we wait for the kingdom to come in its full glory, we choose to live in the here-and-now like it’s already a full reality. Because, just as Christ was the instrument or means by which God’s grace and salvation, we are the means by which the kingdom of God is made known.

Jesus was absolutely telling the truth when he was talking to Pilate – his kingdom is not of this world. But it will be. It comes is the form of equality, even when it feels dangerous. It comes in serving our neighbors, even when we don’t understand their language or customs. It comes when we put aside our own achievements, our own agendas, and Christ’s forgiveness and grace levels the playing field. Christ’s death and resurrection is not some limited power, only able to save a select group of people, but is unlimited. Nobody is beyond the reach of the Son’s love and nobody is beyond the boundaries of the kingdom that God rules.

You have been saved by grace, you have been made a citizen of the kingdom of God. We are beloved children of God, but the love and kingdom do not stop when we leave these doors, or the state line, or the national boundaries. And, even in the midst of horrors and evil the sight of which we cringe to see, and yet are seeing each and every day, Christ still is king. Christ still is lord. The kingdom of God is still coming. Amen.

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