Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 22, 2009

2009.11.22 “Two Different Worlds, We Live In”

Central United Methodist Church

“Two Different Worlds, We Live In”
John 18: 33 – 37
Pastor David L. Haley
Christ the King

November 22nd, 2009

“Pilate went back into the palace and called for Jesus. He said, “Are you the ‘King of the Jews’?”

Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own, or did others tell you this about me?”

Pilate said, “Do I look like a Jew? Your people and your high priests turned you over to me. What did you do?”

“My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.”

Then Pilate said, “So, are you a king or not?”

Jesus answered, “You tell me. Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice.”  – John 18: 33 – 37, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson.

You may not be aware of it, but today we pass an endpoint.  Today – the festival of Christ The King – is the last Sunday of the Christian liturgical year.  So when you leave today, please turn out the lights and lock the door, we’re done.

Believe me, there are days in the year when I almost wish – and maybe you do too – that we were finished, done, so that we could turn out the lights and close the doors and walk away for good, like graduation or retirement.  I feel that way sometimes after the high services of Christmas or Easter, or today, after Christ the King.  It doesn’t get any better than this, let’s make like Oprah and quit while we’re ahead.

But the truth is, while there are times in life when we arrive at endpoints, like graduation, real life is rarely that way. Real life, more often, is cyclical, where we repeat seasons and cycles and calendars and days, and we keep coming around to where we were before. 

Every night we go to bed, every morning we wake up, until one day we don’t.  Or, as I used to say as a paramedic, one day we wake up dead. 

But until that day, life often seems more like a repeat, giving us opportunities to do the same thing over and again, even if we never get it “right,” at least that we might grow in knowledge, in wisdom, and in Christian discipleship.

And that indeed is what we have done over the past year, as we have finished another cycle of spiritual formation through the life of Christ.

We began our journey last Advent, waiting for and preparing for the coming of Christ. We welcomed Jesus at his birth in Bethlehem, celebrated his baptism, his ministry in Galilee and Judea, and we walked with him on the way to Calvary and the Cross.  We spoke of the empty tomb and our resurrected Lord. We experienced anew the power of the Holy Spirit as on the day of Pentecost. Now we dare celebrate the future, celebrating the now and future kingdom which Christ came to bring. 

Christ the King is that day, the culmination of a year through the Christian cycle, a day to acknowledge that while we often feel like we live in two different worlds, our basic bedrock belief as Christians is that Jesus is Lord, or to put it in ancient terms, Christ is King.

While most Christian festivals are ancient, the festival of Christ the King was not even instituted until 1925, by Pope Pius IX.  Ten years after the disaster of World War I, with Mussolini head of Italy for 3 years, and an Austrian paperhanger and rabble rouser named Adolph Hitler and his Nazi party growing in popularity, the future looked ominous.  In the face of this, Pope Pius IX believed it time to reaffirm that Christ is King, not those pretenders – whether Caesar, kings, dictators or even Presidents – who think they are. 

For us as Christian believers today, it is a time for us to acknowledge the dual worlds we live in, and at the same time –even in the face of what often appears to be contradiction – affirm our ultimate allegiance, the Kingship and the Kingdom of Christ.

Perhaps few passages in the Gospels help us become aware of the dualities and contradictions of our faith than this one portrayed in our Gospel today, of Jesus on trial for his life before Pilate.  It is the most dramatic political confrontation in all of Scripture — Pontius Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus.

 Here’s Jesus, standing before Pilate, looking like the peasant that he was; and here’s Pilate, representative of Rome, dressed in his fine robes; which one looks more worthy of allegiance and obedience to you?

“Are you the ‘King of the Jews’?” asks Pilate.

“My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.”

Despite Jesus’ denial, John’s gospel makes it clear that the passion narrative in general and the trial before Pilate in particular were political rather than religious crises. Jesus’ trial and Roman execution epitomized a clash between two kings and two kingdoms, and the allegiance that they both solicit from us.

It was a clash that continued in the lives of early Christians. Pagans accused the earliest followers of Jesus of cannibalism because of their eucharistic practices, of atheism because they refused to bow to the Roman gods, but also of sedition, because of the overt political implications of their confession of a “kingdom of God” and a “citizenship in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

The historian Robert Louis Wilken, in his book The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (1984), describes how Romans thought Christians were thought to be fanatical, seditious, obstinate, and defiant. Tacitus called them “haters of mankind.” They scorned long-held Roman religious traditions. Many of their adherents came from the lower classes and seemed gullible. They refused military service, and met for clandestine rites rumored to include cannibalism, ritual murder, and incest. All of which is to say, in the words of one early critic, the Christians “do not understand their civic duty.” In his view they actively undermined society with their indifference to civic affairs. Some critics even blamed Christians for the fall of Rome.

So when Jesus insisted his kingdom was “not of this world,” he did not mean that it was merely spiritual, or relegated to a future age beyond history or in heaven.  He believed, as Pilate surmised, that the kingdom of God is a kingdom with political implications here and now.

In its simplest terms, the kingdom of God that Jesus announced and embodied is what life would be like on earth, here and now, if God were king and the rulers of this world were not. Imagine if God ruled the nations, and not Obama, Medvedev, Kim Jong-il, Mugabe, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Every aspect of personal and communal life would experience a radical reversal. The political, economic, and social subversions would be almost endless—peace-making instead of war mongering, liberation not exploitation, sacrifice rather than subjugation, mercy not vengeance, care for the vulnerable instead of privileges for the powerful, generosity instead of greed, humility rather than hubris, embrace rather than exclusion, etc. The ancient Hebrews had a marvelous word for this, shalom, or human well-being.

The Lord’s Prayer, then, just might be the most subversive of all political acts: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” People who live and pray this way have a very different agenda than Caesar’s, whether Republican or Democrat, whether capitalist, socialist or communist, whether democratic or theocratic, for they have entered a kingdom, pledged their allegiance to a ruler, and submitted to the reign of Christ the King. (Insights from the preceding paragraphs are from Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself; “Can a Good Christian Be a Good Citizen?”
Reflections By Dan Clendenin, November 16, 2009.


        If we are thoughtful Christians, it is a tension between kingdoms that we, as modern Christians still experience.

In the year I was born (1951), the American theologian H. Richard Niebuhr published what remains the best book on the subject, entitled, Christ and Culture.  Without going into detail, in that book he named five stances Christians have taken regarding their culture:

Christ against Culture (rejection)

Christ of Culture (assimilation)

Christ above Culture (synthesis)

Christ and Culture in Paradox (dualism)

Christ the Transformer of Culture (conversion)

In short, there are three broad options: the two extremes: those Christians who think that culture and government should be theocratic: “what we believe and practice, the government should believe and enforce;” and those Christians at the other extreme who believe that anything culture or government gets near it corrupts and distorts, and the church and Christians should stay as far away from each other as possible.

And then there are those Christians, which likely includes most of us, who find ourselves somewhere in the middle, in some kind of cooperation or tension with the powers that be.

Do you pay your taxes in full, or do you wish there was a line item veto, so that you could pay for things you like, and not the things you don’t like?  How do you feel about war, including the wars we’re currently waging?  Would you send your sons and daughters to kill or be killed?  How do you feel about government social programs, like Medicare, Medicaid, and soon governmental health care intervention; is the care of the elderly, poor, and ill a responsibility of government?  Do you work on Sunday, do sports on Sunday, shop on Sunday? Do you swear oaths, the pledge of allegiance?  What about prayer in schools?  Do you worship the gods of wealth and affluence: what the ads ask you to do, with their enticements of sex and power, do you mindlessly do? All these are but examples of the mingling of the two kingdoms, the mixed alliances between God and Caesar in our lives.  Likely every one of us could point to an area in our life in which we feel the tension.

[Here Pastor Haley shared a personal example]

Today, as we observe the feast of Christ the King, as Dianne Bergant, Professor of Biblical Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, says, we observe the feast of Christ the King here, at the end, because:

“it celebrates the realization of all of our theology. It is not only the goal toward which our Sunday meditations have been taking us, Christ’s enthronement is the omega point toward which all of history has been moving.”

The wise reign we look forward to, and sometimes experience in the here and now, “is a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice and peace,” and this king is one we can approach without fear, knowing that we belong to this gentle and loving shepherd king.

Today, at the end of another church year, after living through another cycle of hearing the story of Jesus’, after another year of baptizing our babies, living our lives, marrying and divorcing, struggling and thriving, and burying our dead, we bring it all to the climax of this day, and lay it back at the feet of Christ our King, giving him our thanks and offering him our lives.    Amen.


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