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Sermon for Sunday 22 November 2015

FIRST READING Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

9 As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. 10 A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. 13 As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. 14 To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.

PSALM Psalm 93

1 The LORD is king, robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength. The LORD has made the world so sure that it cannot be moved. 2 Ever since the world began, your throne has been established; you are from everlasting. 3 The waters have lifted up, O LORD, the waters have lifted up their voice; the waters have lifted up their pounding waves. 4 Mightier than the sound of many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, mightier is the LORD who dwells on high. 5 Your testimonies are very sure, and holiness befits your house, O LORD, forever and forevermore.

SECOND READING Revelation 1:4b-8

4b Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.


GOSPEL John 18:33-37

33 Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 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?” 36 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.” 37 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.”


As most of you are aware, the church calendar isn’t the same as the calendar we use in our normal lives. Rather than beginning with January 1st, the church or Liturgical calendar, begins with Advent which starts next Sunday. Advent is, of course, when we celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world at Christmas and anticipate His return at the end of time. After we celebrate Jesus’ birth, the church calendar follows His life–beginning with Epiphany–His baptism, His temptation and the beginning of His teaching ministry. We then enter the season of Lent when we begin focusing on His death, then His resurrection at Easter. That is followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
During the season of Pentecost, we, the church, seek to live out our lives following the teachings of Christ through the ordinary days of the church year until today, the last Sunday in the church year, when we reach a sort of climax with a celebration of the coming reign of Christ over all the earth. Next Sunday, we’ll begin the cycle all over again as we enter once again into Advent. It’s a bit of a long winded explanation of the church year, but it’s an important review for us today. And speaking of today, Christ the King Sunday is the day when we celebrate the reign of Christ over all humankind.
Again, as many of you are aware, the Liturgical calendar is a 3-year cycle. Each year in the cycle we focus on Christ’s ministry from a different Gospel writer’s perspective. And each year on this Sunday we look at Christ as our King in a different way. This year, we celebrate Christ’s eternal reign focusing on John’s perspective. Now truth be told, I’d rather hear Saint Matthew talk about Christ the King rather than the apostle John.
Matthew’s story of the Last Judgment is vivid. Concrete acts are laid out. “As you have done to the least of these,” Jesus says, “you have done to me.” We may disagree or cringe, but we can picture this King claiming kinship with the lowly. Luke’s story is a good one as well. Jesus hangs between two criminals and promises to the one, that “today you’ll be with me in Paradise.” We see a dying King offering kingly gifts to the dying who trust in Him. We may be puzzled, we may object, but again, we can picture it. Then there’s this year’s Gospel reading!
This year, year B of the Common Lectionary, Jesus doesn’t stand with or make kingly promises to the poor, lowly, suffering, or dying. Instead, He trades words with a Roman governor who probably wishes he were back in bed and not mulling over the death penalty for this strange Jew. We can’t make a picture from Jesus’ words. Instead of a vivid description of how Jesus acts as King, we get negatives and generalities: “As it is, my kingdom is not from this world … You say that I am a king; for this I was born … to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). But Jesus gives no details about “the truth.” Is it any wonder that Pilate responds, “What is truth?” We might add, “What sort of kingship is this? What’s truth got to do with it?”
Truth and a kingdom not from this world aren’t easy to visualize. They don’t reduce to sound bites or Kodak moments. There’s nothing to grab hold of. For concrete thinkers, like me, such words are frustrating. So for us to see how Jesus claims kingship through His testimony to the truth, here at the end of His earthly life, we need to look at what Jesus says about truth elsewhere in John’s Gospel.
In the beginning of John’s gospel, we read: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory: the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Later, Jesus tells Nicodemus: “The one who comes from heaven … testifies to what he has seen and heard … Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true” (John 3:31-33). A chapter later Jesus says this to the Samaritan woman: “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). And still later, to the Jews who had believed in Him, He said, “The one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him … If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:26, 32).
On the night before he faced Pilate, Jesus spoke words of assurance to His frightened disciples. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7). In John’s Gospel, truth isn’t a fact, a scrap of data, or even a system of thought that explains the world. Truth is the life-giving power of God, graciously given to the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Truth is the love of God revealed in Jesus’ words and deeds. Truth is the disclosure of God’s heart to us. Truth is summarized in chapter 3 verse 16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus’ whole identity — His words, His works, His dying and rising, His breathing of the Spirit upon His followers, everything — was the embodiment of that simple, confounding truth. That makes Jesus’ kingship unlike any other. And as many have come to realize, Jesus doesn’t act like a regular king!
Most kings make laws and decrees, fight wars, make treaties, order ordinary people around, and act as the kingdom’s ultimate judge, jury, and executioner. But according to John’s Gospel, what Jesus does is reveal the perfect light, utter love, and endless gracious life of God to people who are blind, bound, and dead in the darkness of sin. And best of all, Jesus offers us a way to enjoy all this with Him forever. That’s it. He doesn’t judge, though He has the right. He doesn’t throw His weight around. He doesn’t offer lists of do’s and don’ts. Even His deeds of power are simply “signs” meant to bring people to a new, freeing, saving relationship with His Father. That’s the truth of what Jesus does and says and is. That’s how He “acts out” the kingship over creation that was His from before the world’s foundation. There’s nothing else and no place else we can look for it. How strange that must have seemed to Pilate!
Pilate was used to hidden agendas, mixed motives, and wheels within wheels. He knew how the world operates. He understood imperial power that dictated what subjects would do at the emperor’s pleasure. He could handle truth as a weapon or a tool. But he struggled to make heads or tails of Jesus or His claims. And at times it isn’t much easier for us.
It’s hard enough to absorb and proclaim those other images of Christ the King: the King hidden in the lives of the wretched, or the dying promiser of kingly blessings. How much harder it is for us to acclaim and adore Him as the One who sheds the holy and inextinguishable light of truth in all the dark corners of our hearts and our world! We’d rather die than reveal some parts of ourselves, wouldn’t we?
It’s natural to cover up, to gloss over or hide those things that are uncomfortable or embarrassing. Some truths are so dangerous that we’d rather deny, cover up, or run away from them. We have mixed motives, even while doing something worthwhile. The problem is, we bring “baggage” and hidden agendas to conversations and relationships. Bear testimony to God? That can be difficult, when we don’t even know our real selves!
So can we imagine a king who insists His power consists solely of bearing faithful testimony to the truth of God? Can we imagine anyone being so transparent to God’s heart that His whole identity is summed up as bearing witness to the One who sent Him? Can we imagine what might happen when that sort of kingship, that unwavering fidelity to the truth, that kind of utter transparency to God, lays claim to our lives? Because if we name Jesus as King; if we worship Him as the way and truth and life of God dwelling in our midst; if we confess that we belong to the truth because we have listened to His voice, then that’s what we’re going to get from Him.
It’s nice to talk about Christ as the King who testifies to the truth and essence of God’s heart. But it can be alarming to experience Him up close and personal. He spoke to the Samaritan woman of worshiping God in spirit and truth — but only after He had brought her heart’s secrets into His light: “You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” (John 4:18). Yet she used that searing encounter as a basis for witnessing to her whole village: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (v. 29).
Jesus asked a searching question of a man paralyzed for 38 years: “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6). When the man gave excuses for why he’d never been healed by the pool’s miraculous waters, Jesus healed him — but promptly warned him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you” (v. 14). Touched by Jesus’ truth, he then began to testify to Jesus’ healing power.
Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus was awkward: To an honest question, Jesus retorted, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10). Pierced by that truth, and by the greater truth of God’s love revealed in Jesus, Nicodemus later defended Him and helped to bury Him. When this King brings the clarity of God’s truth to some, they listen and take to heart. They testify to His truth, as He testifies to His Father’s truth. They live, forever changed, forever alive in the unsparing yet unspeakably gracious light of God. Then it was Pilate’s turn.
Would Pilate listen and take to heart? Or would he cave in to the tired old versions of kingly power and truth-spinning that he’d always known? We know how Pilate responded when confronted by Jesus’ kingly claim. The question is, how will we respond to Christ our King?
Will we listen? Will we take His voice to heart? Will we testify to the searching, liberating truth that is God’s inmost heart revealed to us in Jesus? Will we live, forever changed, forever alive in God’s unsparing yet unspeakably gracious light? What is truth — for us? The heart of God, revealed by his Son? Or something else? Who is King of our lives? The One who bears witness to the heart and will of God? Or someone who makes us feel good about ourselves and our little world? Here, today, at the end of the church year, as at the end of Jesus’ earthly life, those questions confront us. On this Sunday, when we celebrate Christ as our eternal King, may God grant that we listen to our Lord’s voice, belong to His truth, and at the end, dwell in His kingdom forever.

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