Last Sunday After Pentecost

Christ the King

Year B, RCL

November 25, 2018

North Fork Ministries

Gospel:

John 18:33-37

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."

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Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pontius Pilate’s chilling reply to Jesus' inquiry was this, “What is truth?”

 Truth is a slippery notion these days.  We are on the heels of a political campaign in which politicians ran fast and loose with the truth, pursued by a variety of fact checkers - intent on holding politicians feet to the fire.  If Pilate was doing the inquisition today, I could imagine his reply to Jesus being more along the lines of a Stephen Colbert parody of truth, “What is Truthiness?”

 It is this passage about Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus concerning his kingship and the nature of his true identity - who he was and what others claimed him to be - that we read on the day designated as the celebration of Christ the King.

 Jesus’ compatriots longed for a king – despite the spotty history the people of Israel had experienced with kings (they had fared much better along the way when they listened to the voice of the prophets) they yearned for a strong and wise king who would overthrown their Roman occupiers, and restore Israel to the days of glory their ancestors had known under King David. Many hoped that this man Jesus might be the one.  And the Romans were also beginning to suspect that this might be Jesus’ plan as well.

 But as Jesus attempted to explain, over and over again, “my kingdom is not from here.” The kingdom that Jesus sought to establish wasn’t an ordinary kind of kingdom. And Jesus wasn’t an ordinary kind of king.

 But the idea of paying homage to a King, for a people like us, who every 4th of July, celebrate the overthrow of a British king, is a slightly unsettling idea. Most of us are more comfortable with expressing our love and adoration for the Baby Jesus, or with receiving the safe refuge and security offered by Jesus the Good Shepherd, or identifying with the justice-seeking strength of the Jesus who drove the moneychangers from the temple.  We’re not too sure what to do with this “Christ the King.”

 I think that is because if we recognize the kingship of Jesus we are called to relinquish control to his authority. The trouble with identifying Jesus as the King is that such recognition makes us obedient subjects of the kingdom. And we aren’t much into obedience. We are called to submit to a higher power and we really don’t like the idea of submission.  Pilate mockingly responds to Jesus, “What is truth?” The truth is that we really like to be in charge. And calling Christ, “the King”, takes us out of the driver’s seat. 

 To recognize the authenticity of Jesus is to come face to face with who we are as well. It compels us to take seriously what Jesus taught us about how we are to live – and who we are to be.

 The spiritually original writer, Ann Lamont, has a book called, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.  She describes prayer as "our real selves trying to communicate with that which is most real". In an interview she said, "A lot of the time we don't know, when we're surrendering, that we're actually, at the same time, … establishing connection ... to a power greater than ourselves — or something in the next concentric circle out whose name is not me.”

 To call Christ, “the King”, is to acknowledge that we aren’t in complete control. If you think about it, that’s both humbling and encouraging. We aren’t wholly responsible for either our successes or our failures.  We are asked to be co-creators, with the King, in the project of making God's kingdom a better place.

 In politics and in business, a lot of energy is expended in the direction of trying to figure out whom to blame:  Who to blame because sales are down. Who to blame because the economy is faltering, or violence is heating up in some part of the globe.  A recognition of Christ the King, isn’t merely a shifting of blame or credit away from the temporal and onto the back of the Divine. It isn’t saying, “Oh, it’s all up to God anyway.” 

 Recognizing, Christ the King, is a movement away from the world of credit and blame. Christ reigns supreme in a world in which we are all one in the spirit.  In the Kingdom of God, there is no us and no them.

 Paulo Coelho, author of the Alchemist and a dozen other novels, tells this story.

 The devil was talking to his friends when they noticed a man walking along a road. They watched him pass and saw that he bent down to pick something up.

- What did he find? – asked one of the friends.

- A piece of Truth – answered the devil.

The friends were very concerned. After all, a piece of Truth might save that man’s soul – one less in Hell. But the devil remained unmoved, gazing at the view.

- Aren’t you worried? – said one of his companions.

- He found a piece of Truth!

- I’m not worried – answered the devil.

- Do you know what he’ll do with the piece? 
As usual, he’ll create a new religion. And he’ll succeed in distancing even more people from the whole Truth.

 The truth is that we are one with God - all of us.  Our religions define different paths to that expression of Oneness with Creation and in so doing, separate one from another, Muslim from Jew, Christian from Hindu. 

 Truth, as it is taught in the New Testament, isn’t a mere matter of belief. Truth is something we live into. Truth in Christ is freedom, not bondage. We are offered a truth that challenges the assumptions of contemporary society.

 Many of us are already in bondage - slaves to the trends in social media and advertising, bound to dead relationships, chained to our old ways of being in the world. The truth that Jesus offers is a truth that can free your imagination – enabling you to envision a world in which you can actually take a deep breath and live into the love of Christ – a future open to endless possibilities.

 Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth, listens to my voice.” Belonging to the truth is a very different thing than believing the truth. Subscribing to a belief system tends to divide believers into smaller and smaller categories of belief.  Jesus speaks of “belonging to the truth” – truth expressed in a voice that speaks of love, compassion, and freedom for all human kind.

 The truth, to which we belong, is not bounded by race, class, sexual orientation, politics, or religion. In his face to face encounter with Pilate, Jesus calls on him to confront the truth – just as we are called to face the truth about ourselves, our relationships, our faith, and what we value. 

 The Quaker theologian Parker Palmer writes, “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent."

 When we declare Christ as our King, we pledge to listen to a voice that speaks a deeper truth about ourselves than we could ever discover on our own.