It's hard to believe
that here we are at the end of the church's year. Next Sunday is
the beginning of the liturgical calendar, the church calendar, the first
Sunday of Advent. Always seems to come earlier and earlier, right?
And that is one way
to remind ourselves that the seasons of the church are not synonymous
with the seasons of society. And so we have the liturgical
calendar with its own little particularities. And one of those is that
the last weekend of the liturgical calendar of the church's year, today,
is known as Christ the King Sunday. It's a time when we reflect on
the nature of the kingship of Jesus.
And so our text for
this morning, to help us reflect on that, is taken from the 18th chapter
of John's gospel, and it is the story of the arrest of Jesus. Much
of that story is familiar to you, and we're going to look at just one
little part of it. It's of course a much larger story, a gripping
drama, a chess-match of wits between two powerful figures.
The part we want to
look at are verses 33 through 38, and if you follow along in your own
Bible (or use the pew Bible, which is the same version that I read from
-- the New Revised Standard Version), you'll note that I'm going to make
one small change in the text. A change that is made in the
contemporary English version, to remove to inherent anti-Semitism that
traditionally has been used to falsely blame the Jews for the death of
Jesus. I've spoken on that topic many times before so I will not
address it further today, other than simply to note that it is
historically, theologically, and morally wrong to blame the Jews for the
death of Jesus. And therefore, we must change the way we read the
text, and hence this small word change that is just one small step in a
much larger effort to that end.
So, reading from
Then Pilate 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 our leaders. 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.’
38Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’
To fully appreciate
this text, we need to look at two other texts. First of all, John
14, after Jesus washed his disciples feet, he engaged in a long dialogue
with the disciples on the meaning of discipleship before his arrest.
In that dialogue (chapter 14, verse 6) he said "I am the way, the truth,
and the life". So we who have read the gospel story, who know that
story, know that when Pilate asked that question "What is truth?", the
answer is standing there right before him and he fails to recognize it.
And then the second
text that aids in our reading, is the prologue to John's gospel, in
chapter 1, where we read: "In the beginning was the Word, the Word
was with God, the Word was God, He was in the beginning with God, He was
in the world, the world came into being through Him, yet the world did
not know Him, and the Word became flesh and lived among us".
Thus, when Jesus says
to Pilate that his kingdom is not from this world, it is clear that
Jesus is not speaking about location but rather about origin.
Speaking of out of
this world, how 'bout those Ducks (beat Arizona in overtime the night
So when we read this
text, to read it in such a way as if Jesus is only talking about heaven,
the afterlife, or that he's talking about a purely spiritual kingdom, is
to mis-read the text. Yes, Jesus is talking about a
spiritual reality but it's about living according to that reality in
this world. To bring heaven to earth, so to speak. Giving
that reality flesh and blood, as did Jesus. The Word of God that
lives among us.
I like the way that
LeRoy put it in his Heart-to-Heart column about a month ago, writing
for the Register Guard in that Saturday column, LeRoy (a retired
Minister, an Elder in our church) asks:
How in the world,
literally, can the prayer many of us Christians pray regularly, ever
come to be — ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is
So, for me, “kingdom”
goes far beyond place or
thing. It has to do with
all of us, and God’s
will in our lives.
When I think of
“heaven” I do not think of a place and all of the trappings one
usually envisions, but as an essential presence with God. So when I
pray for that perfect relationship with God “on earth as it is in
heaven,” I am praying for all of God’s creation — land, sea and air,
birds, animals and people. All people are equal there, all have
responsibilities and all have the opportunity to experience that
essential presence with God.
As John 1 makes
abundantly clear, that presence with God is most fully manifested and
made evident to us through Jesus, through the life of Jesus. So if
we look at the whole scope of Jesus, what do we see?
We see Jesus healing
the blind, healing the sick. We see Jesus feeding the crowds of
hungry people. We see Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
We see Jesus challenging the authority of the rulers and bankers.
We hear Jesus questioning the values of the rich and powerful. We
hear Jesus praising the values of that widow who puts in her last 2
cents in the treasury of the Temple.
We hear Jesus
blessing the poor and meek. We hear Jesus telling us to turn the
other cheek. To love our enemies. To forgive those who have
And we watch Jesus
risk it all, putting his life on the line and on the cross, showing the
extent and the power of God's love that cannot be defeated by the powers
of this world. Not even by death.
And so we see what
Jesus is doing -- bringing heaven on earth. Living according to
those values of the kingdom of God.
Confronted with the
representative of Rome's power, in Pilate, Jesus makes very clear the
difference between the way of Rome and the way of God. The way of
the world, and the way of heaven. 'If my followers were of this
world', says Jesus, 'they would be fighting to keep me from being handed
over to our leaders, and to you, Pilate'. In other words, that's
the way you do things, Pilate, that's the way Caesar does things, that's
the way Washington does things, that's the way empire is.
But the way of God,
the way of Jesus, is not like that. It's an entirely different way
of being in the world. To live according to a different set of
values. And so we remember Peter taking out the sword and striking
off the ear one of the soldiers and Jesus said 'Put away the sword'.
In the chapter of
Marcus Borg's book that we are reading in our Tuesday night class, The
Heart of Christianity, this week in our reading Borg notes that you
cannot speak about the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven without
addressing political dimensions of the gospel. Now, we can get all
worked up about politics and church. But we really shouldn't, if
we understand what that means.
Borg notes that the
word "politics" comes from the Greek word for the city, "polis".
And it simply means the shape that we give to life in the city.
Politics is about the shape and the shaping of human community.
How we go about organizing human society, and all of the systems that
govern our lives. Not only the systems of government and the rules
of law, but also economic systems and the rules of finance, belief
systems and the rules of ethics and morality. All those systems
that make up human society and determine whether or not that society is
fundamentally just. Whether every person has the opportunity to
fulfill their God-given potential.
Or whether it is
basically 'injust', where one class of citizens benefits at the expense
of another. And at the core of the Biblical message, from the
Exodus of the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt to the proclamation of Jesus,
who says the 'spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the
poor, to release the captives, to proclaim recovery of sight to the
blind, to let the oppressed go free', how we go about shaping human
community is central to God's desire for our world.
"God cares about
justice", writes Borg, "because the God of the Bible cares about
suffering". And see, you cannot be serious about relieving that
suffering unless you are serious about addressing the sources of
So, pick your issue,
I don't care which -- healthcare, immigration, poverty, hunger, war,
environment, whatever -- the fundamental issue is the same; though
we may differ on the specifics of how we get there, the basic question
is this: which direction moves us toward the kingdom of God.
That is, closer to a just world where all have that possibility and
opportunity to fulfill their potential as one created in the image of
How do we then
continue what Jesus began? Putting shape to this community to be
more like God's community?
As Dominic Crossan
likes to say, "Heaven is in great shape. It's on earth where the
I want to bring this
home, and get very personal, and talk about our own attitudes,
specifically about our attitudes about the homeless, those people we see
on the streets, those people who come and worship with us, those people
who are part of our community.
At City Club on
Friday, David Robertson (who has just been hired by St. Vincent DePaul
to be the coordinator for the Egan Warming Center, in which we are going
to be one of the host churches when it is 28 degrees or below) shared in
a very powerful way, helping us to re-think the way in which we see the
homeless by thinking about their stories. And I just want to share
that with you as we listen to David share with us:
Well, Thursday of course is Thanksgiving. As we think about those
on the street, otherwise others not as fortunate as ourselves, and their
story. I would encourage you not to feel shame or guilt because of
what you have and they may not. But to feel satisfaction that what
you have is enough.
The Reverend Tim Score, who wrote the workbook that we're using on
Tuesday nights in our class, writes:
"We live in a culture that
depends on our living with a perpetual dis-satisfaction with what we
have and who we are. In all kinds of ways we are told 'you
don't have enough, you don't know enough, you don't drive the right
car or have the right clothes or the right body' and so on and so
forth. To act in a way that denies that cultural message is a
powerfully subversive public act. To say "Thank you, I have
enough, and I am enough" is both spiritually, and politically,
So what if, as a community of God, we lived in such a way that says 'we
have enough'? That we don't need faster cars or bigger homes.
That we don't have to buy expensive gifts to show our love for someone.
Happiness is not found in all that 'stuff' we accumulate.
What if we lived not by the values of this world, but by the values of
that world to come? By the values we learned from Jesus, from the
kingdom of God.
What if we see and treat and every person as a child of God?
What if we shape the structures of our society according to that
community of God?
What if we lived self-lessly, sharing the abundance of God's goodness
and grace with all?
Well then, I suppose it could be said here dwells a community that saw
the truth and loved that truth in the way they lived.
May it be.