A sermon for the
A sermon for the twenty-seventh sunday after the Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday, John 18:33-37
What have you done?
This is the question that Pilate puts before Christ. This is the question that lays at our feet, in more ways than one.
Pilate stands before Jesus a bit incredulous. “Your own nation and chief priests have handed you over,” he says, “What kind of king are you, really?” he seems to be saying.
Jesus is, was, is to come. Jesus, through God, is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. Jesus, God, Holy Spirit, are fully present, here and now, are our past, our future, our king, our lord and savior, but what does that mean, really? As Christ ascends to take his place at the right hand of God, given dominion and glory and kingship, what does that mean for us, today? What have we done in this knowledge?
The king imagery is a lasting piece of our tradition when we consider the role that Christ plays in our lives and our understanding of relationship between Christ, between God, and ourselves. This imagery of a king, yet unlike any king, permeates the biblical tradition, prophesied from Old Testament times through the crowning achievements of Revelation at the end of the New Testament. And, this imagery of king has continued beyond biblical times throughout our tradition. Religious art and depictions of God, of Christ, with a literal king’s crown atop their head. The image of a kingly hero, full of manly vigor, machismo, riding a white (THE symbol of purity and justice) stallion, brandishing a flaming sword, coming to vanquish evil and establish the kingdom of heaven here on earth, is an image we know. It is an image that has been allowed to permeate our culture and create an understanding that men in particular are the reflection of this image. That men are closer to God in a way because they can emulate this vigor and machismo, because we (men) are made in God’s image, and that image is glorious and powerful. That men are glorious and powerful. That men are our saviors. And, men have used this image to prop themselves up time and time again in positions of power and privilege. Have used this image to justify our exercising of power and control over others. Have used this image to justify anything and everything really.
But, this image is not accurate, at least not in how we’ve morphed and visualized this image in our minds into a type of superhero. That is not Christ. That is not God. That is not the king that has been promised to us, and it’s best we realize that now before we repeat our sins and sacrifice the unexpected king in our midst once more.
The king that is promised us is Christ. And, Christ is the furthest thing from the image we’ve come to hold.
Given the chance to claim his rightful place, to assert his kingship in his present time, Jesus instead falls back on his message, a message that he has put forward time and time again, Jesus reiterates that “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” It is the truth that has come to reign. It is to this truth that we are called to follow. It is this truth to which we must cling. The exercising of kingly power and authority by Christ is simple, understated, it is his voice, and only his voice. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” says Christ, and this is his kingly power, his kingly might. We listen to Christ because he is the king and yet, unlike any king, unlike any image we may have attributed throughout our tradition.
And, thank God for that.
We do not need the king of popular imagery and cultural understanding. Jesus established a way that is antithetical to those things. A way of love. A way centered around the truth that is evident in the message and call that Christ has left for us to follow in. A king that is completely and utterly unconcerned with holding a place of privilege and power, a king that calls us into a life of ministry and discipleship. A life of service with the least among us. A life where we divest ourselves of all that we have to make the truth known, to spread the Good News, to practice self-sacrifice at the ultimate level, to enter into a new, eternal life with our king, who is like no king.
So, what has Jesus done to deserve these charges that have brought him before Pilate? What is Pilate supposed to do with a man that claims a different kind of authority beyond the grasp of the here and now, beyond the grasp of what can be seen, realized, known?
Jesus refuses to live into the understanding of kingship that has brought him before Pilate.
“So you are a king?” He is asked.
“You say that I am a king.” He answers.
Jesus has just explained his kingdom, a different kingdom, another kingdom separate from this place, and still Pilate wants to label him with an earth-bound title “King of the Jews.” It’s semantics and yet it is so much more. It’s redefining the reality for what is about to occur. It is opening the path for those of us who will come to follow. It is supplanting the common understanding of what it means to be the savior, to be the messiah, to be our Lord, our king. It is the cementing of the truth, and that is likely what has brought him to this point, this is the answer to “what have you done?”
“What have you done?” lays before us today, the words echoing out of Pilate’s mouth centuries, millennia, later.
It’s a good question.
What have we done to tear down the man-made power structures of society that allowed the Christ, our king, to be crucified? What have we done to supplant the societal and cultural expectations of what it means to be king? What have we done to listen to the voice of truth and spread that truth to the world?
If we are to stand before our king, Jesus, sitting at the right hand of the Father, God, what will be our answer to these questions? Will we be able to point to our lives and say: this is where Pilate questioned me for challenging the structures of the world, where my own people turned me over to a foreign power for not fitting their mold of understanding, where I came to fully understand what it means to be a king, to be a leader, when that role is the furthest from what others expect it to be.
If we listen to the voice of Christ, also echoing out to us, then we listen to the truth. If we listen to the truth then we can’t help but live into the understanding of the world, the countercultural, subversive, non-traditional understanding of what it means to follow a king unlike any other king, what it means to follow a way of love that knows no boundaries, that calls us to let go of our preconceived notions and trust in the truth that is laid before us.
And we are well placed, here and now, to listen once more. We end our church year today (well, Saturday), next Sunday marking the beginnings of a new year with a season of anticipation, waiting, of listening for the truth that is to be born, that is to live among us, to teach us this truth, to show us the way, and to leave us with a path to follow. We enter into this next season with a question posed before us today, “What have you done?”
To answer this question we must once again focus our lives on Jesus. To take advantage of a chance to really, truly live into the countercultural challenge that is following Christ during a secular season that pushes and pulls and challenges and stresses when the religious season calls us to anticipation of a great joy. Prepare yourself for this coming new year. Prepare to follow the truth. And, prepare to follow a king that couldn’t be recognized in his own time, and we often fail to recognize even in our time.