November 22, 2015
Reign of Christ Sunday
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Our liturgist emailed me to ask if the correct scripture had been sent out for today’s service. “Looks more like an Easter text than a Thanksgiving text.” And I have to admit, it is an Easter reading: Jesus on trial in front of Pilate, arguments over truth, over whether Jesus is a king. Not much of a Thanksgiving message here.
Or is there? This is Reign of Christ Sunday. At the end of a long season of Pentecost, we celebrate that Jesus is Lord as the end of the church year. Next Sunday, the church year begins anew with Advent, awaiting the birth of Jesus.
Pilate, chosen by Caesar, bearing witness to the power and might of Rome, enters the headquarters, summons Jesus, and questions him. This is the power of empire, in the palace, summoning and questioning. And he is trying to use logic to corner Jesus. But Jesus, like any good rabbi, is hard to pin down.
Pilate’s job is to sort this out and get things working again in Jerusalem. He is simply trying to find something to charge this upstart, this interloper, with so that he can get things back to business as usual. Justice for Pilate is people realizing that Rome is in charge and they all just settle down and do their jobs.
Pilate is chosen by Caesar, bearing witness to the power of Caesar and Rome. But Jesus is also a chosen witness. Chosen, anointed, blessed by God to bear witness to the realm of God. Which is why Pilate cannot figure Jesus out.
Let us back up a step. The word “king” is a loaded word; so is the phrase “King of the Jews.” Words like king and lord and ruler are used throughout history both for the ones in the headquarters who summon and question, but also for God. But there are important differences. In Isaiah the words get used, “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords.” Handel picked these up and used them in his Messiah, which is a blatant plug for the choir concert this afternoon down in Olivet at 3 pm.
The kings of this world panic. They lie, cheat, and kill to keep their power and their privilege. And that is just the ones in the Bible.
But the first witness to God that we find in the Bible is that God is calm, cool and collected when God speaks the words and the worlds come into being. There is a difference between the kings of this world and the King of Kings.
And “King of the Jews” is a loaded term in Jesus’ day. It means one who is seeking to reestablish the kingdom of Israel and Judah, defeating Rome and kicking them out. For a commoner to claim to be king is scandalous enough. Claiming to be King of the Jews was revolutionary talk. To claim the title “King of the Jews” is to put a target on your back. The revolutionaries might follow you, but Rome will surely come for you and kill you.
So when Pilate asks if Jesus is the King of the Jews, it is a charge of treason that he is leveling. But Jesus sidesteps it, “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’s kingdom has praetorian guards, and legions of soldiers, and the means of swift and terrible violence at his beck and call. Jesus has some Apostles and a bunch of people who follow him around to listen to what he is saying. And what he is talking about is a different kingdom than Pilate’s. In Jesus’ kingdom, greatness is not sitting on the chair in the headquarters, summoning and questioning, calling for violence and order. In Jesus’ kingdom, greatness is found in service to others, in loving those around us, especially those in need.
Pilate seizes upon Jesus’ words about his kingdom and asks, “So you are a king?” But that is not Jesus’ word. The concept that Pilate has for a king has nothing to do with Jesus. So Jesus tries again.
“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.”
The truth to which Jesus bears witness, one that the halls of power have so much trouble figuring out, is that love is the strongest force in the world.
It is stronger than the threat of death, stronger than the violence of Pilate’s guard and Caesar’s legions, stronger than the fear of uncertain times.
In the midst of the attacks in Paris last week, declared an act of war by the President of France, three examples of love being stronger than fear and death:
- The taxis in Paris turned off their meters. People who needed a ride to get home or to get somewhere to check on family were carried for free.
- #PorteOuverte appeared all over Twitter. It means “Open Door.” People were taking in strangers, feeding them, preparing beds for them, allowing them a place to stay until they could get home.
- People lined up at hospitals to donate blood.
The Kingdom into which little William was baptized today is not the kingdom of fear and violence and death. It is the kingdom of God’s love, which is stronger than anything we face.
And that is why this is not just an Easter text, but a text of Thanksgiving.
Thanks be to God.