Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 22, 2015

2015.11.22 “What Kind of King?” – John 18: 33 – 37

Central United Methodist Church
What Kind of King?
Rev. David L. Haley
Christ the King/Commitment Sunday
November 22nd, 2015

ChristtheKingmosaic

Then 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.” – John 18: 33 – 37, the New Revised Standard Version

 

Do you come to church today, as I do – emotionally drained? Ten days after the Paris bombings – now being called Europe’s 9/11 – have you been through the whole range of emotions, like fear, anxiety, sadness, disgust, and even anger? As two people walking in a cartoon someone posted on Facebook expressed it, “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.”

Let’s face it, some of us are still trying to get our minds around the reality that there are people in the world who strap explosives to their bodies to blow themselves up in order to kill others, including the innocent, as happened in these attacks.

When they do, our most primal response is to go after them, to get revenge, justice. To a degree, that happened this week, when police raided an apartment in the neighborhood of St. Denis – not far from where France’s kings and queens are buried, killing the supposed mastermind of the Paris bombings, a lot swifter than we did Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Most of us would agree that with only a few exclusions (like torture) whatever can be done to prevent such attacks from happening again is justified. In our case here in America, our greatest threat is more likely an alienated young white male with easy access to automatic weapons. Why is nothing being done about that?

But then – far worse than the threat level of an actual attack – comes the waves of fear and paranoia and xenophobia (fear of the stranger) that in many ways is worse than what happened, and plays right into the script of the terrorists. What happens then is that the wrong people get blamed, and are made to suffer for crimes they never committed. Just as, after 9/11, we attacked the wrong country (Iraq) who had nothing to do with 9/11, now there are voices who would blame all Muslims and all refugees and especially Syrian refugees, who themselves have been the victims of longer and worse violence than any of us Westerners have ever known. As someone said, imagine the Paris attacks happening on your street twice a day, and you might begin to understand why Syrian refugees are fleeing their country.

Some of the most prominent voices have been the governors of about half our states, including our own, who in fact have absolutely nothing to do with the refugee resettlement process. On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill limiting Syrian resettlement that came from no research, no sub-committee, no investigations, that had absolutely nothing behind it other than political manipulation based upon fear. As a result of this, the reaction of many of us – the children of immigrants ourselves – is shame and disgust and even anger.

Like those who stereotype and blame gay people for their sexuality and black people for their attitude without actually knowing gay persons or having black friends, my guess is that most of these people making these statements and judgments do not actually know any Syrians, despite the fact that the iPhone in their hand was created by the son of a Syrian immigrant, by the name of Steve Jobs.

Here at Central, we do not have that problem. Not only are we a congregation of immigrants and refugees, we know Assyrian and Syrian Christians who have fled Iraq and Syria and worship with us, even though they do not speak English very well. If they could speak English or if we could speak their language, they could tell us what they have suffered, what led them to seek asylum here in America, as so many refugees from war and disaster have before them. We know and have heard the long process they go through, lasting 2 to 3 years, of vetting and examination and security checks. I cannot imagine – given what they have been through – hearing they have been turned away, even as Jews seeking refuge from the Holocaust were during World War II. What would you think of America if that were the case with you, to hear that there is no place for you, in the land of the free and the home of the brave?

And so we come to church on this Christ the King Sunday with all these emotions swirling around us and in us – fear and anxiety and disgust and anger – and are asked what we are to make of the idea – or is it an allegiance? – that Christ is King?

To focus our thoughts, we are conducted into a scene from the life of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of John. Jesus – now a prisoner accused of rebellion – is examined by the Roman authority with the power not only to judge but to execute him: a man by the name of Pontius Pilate. You have heard of him, no doubt?

It is an interesting dialogue they have, Jesus and Pilate. And relevant in many ways to the dialogue being played out in public discourse these days, not to mention in our heads. Which is more important: the State, or some theoretical Kingdom not of this world? Which is more important: security, or a willingess to risk – even one’s security – for the good of others? And where in all this does our allegiance lie?

You see, we may have dressed it up in Sunday School caricature such that we no longer recognize it, but those were the issues at stake that day as Jesus stood before Pilate.

We often caricature and malign Pontius Pilatos, the Roman prefect (governor) of Judea from AD 26 to 36, but he had jurisdiction over one of the most difficult jurisdictions in the Roman Empire. Then – as now – the Middle East and especially Jerusalem was always breaking out into riots and insurrections and rebellions, disturbing the pax Romana. It was Pilate’s job to do whatever was necessary to keep that from happening; he was the front line in the Roman “War on Terror.” Given that he held the power of life and death, given that he often used his authority without hesitation, it’s significant that Pilate is even portrayed as trying to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt. “Are you the King of the Jews?” “What have you done?”

You would thing that Jesus would have given a better answer. You would think Jesus would have said: “What have I done?” “I’ve given sight to the blind, healing to the sick, bread to the hungry, shown love to the outcast, even given life to the dead.” “For that, you would put me to death?”

But Jesus did not say that. Trickster that he was, according to the Gospel of John, what he said was:

“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.”

Jesus is saying his kingdom is not like any kingdom we have seen, not like any worldly kingdom, especially the one represented by the man standing before him, whose security depended upon force and upon weapons and execution. If all worldly kingdoms by nature must divide and conquer, Jesus’ kingdom is one which unites, not by the power of force, but by the power of love, especially sacrificial love. And so even this King is willing to give his life, to rule from a cross in demonstration of that love, rather than by domination.

The kingdom Jesus was talking about – the Kingdom of God – remains difficult for us to talk about today, even more so for us to pledge allegiance. How do we live in the Kingdom of God, but also this worldly kingdom of the United States, not unlike that ancient kingdom of Rome? How do we seek security, without letting those who would do us harm do so? How do we practice mutual understanding and acceptance, when others do not want to understand nor accept us? How do we practice inclusion and compassion, when the loudest voices – both motivated by and manipulating fear – cry out for exclusion and hate?

Truth is, if we’re honest, there’s a part of us — maybe a large part of us — that would like Jesus to be a different kind of king. Truth is, you and I might be just as disappointed at a king like this as any of those who scoffed at him were. Truth is, we too are often confounded by this kind of kingship, because we too are often enamored with domination, impressed with our religiosity, seduced by power, deluded by self-importance, smitten by our wisdom, infatuated with our strength. Do we really want this kind of king?

Wondering these things – puzzled by these things – we lean in further to hear Pilate ask, “So you are a king?” And even closer to hear Jesus’ answer: “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.”

Today, on this Christ the King Sunday, we who claim to follow Jesus have to ask ourselves, “Are we still listening to Jesus’ voice?” After 20 centuries, do we still know the truth when we hear it? Or do we say with Pilate, who in response to Jesus said, “What is the truth?” For all Rome’s might, they would have envied a society such as ours, where truth can be what you make it, by media manipulation. Just say it loud enough and often enough, and pretty thanks to the media echo chamber, everybody else will be saying it too, whether it is actually true or not.

On the other hand, those who know the truth still listen to Jesus’ voice. Because even after twenty centuries, at least some of us still know the truth when we hear it. Pilate may have thought that Jesus was the one on trial, others look back in retrospect and say that it was Pilate who was on trial. Both are  right and both are wrong, because really when we hear these words of Jesus and the Kingdom so obviously NOT of this world -really – in regard to the challenges of our time, we are the ones on trial. Because if Jesus is this kind of king, it says something about what kind of people we who are his followers ought to be, and what we need to be about in the world. Even if that includes sheltering and welcoming those who flee from violence, even if it may include a small degree of risk to ourselves. After all, the symbol of our religion is a man nailed to a cross.

As I wrote my weekly “Sunday at Central” email this week, I realized that almost every church I have pastored has sponsored refugees. At Berry Memorial in Chicago we sponsored refugees from Ethiopia. I remember helping them find adequate clothes for Chicago’s winter, and I remember being invited their apartment in Uptown for a family dinner.

In West Chicago, before I arrived, the congregation sponsored refugees from Vietnam. While I was there, we sponsored refugees from Bosnia. I remember their names and faces, and can hardly describe what a joy it was to assist them, people who have come to our country from countries torn by war and disaster, and watch not only them but their children become grateful American citizens. Maybe it is time we tell our Governor that we at Central United Methodist Church are going to continue this tradition. Why? Because this is the King we follow, his is the kingdom we seek, and this is the kind of people we desire to be.

Listen! Can you still hear Jesus’ voice?

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