2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-12; Revelations 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
November 25, 2018 –Christ the King Sunday
It is Christ the King Sunday. May our prayer today be that every eye beholds Jesus as the great source of all truth and all love and all life.
We have said it before but we need to be especially mindful of it on this one Sunday, set aside between one Christian year and the next, that we celebrate that Jesus is our King and more than that, one with God.
Everyone believes in God, but there are many gods you can choose from in this world. Not all of them are the God in the Bible.
Money is god enough for some people. To have wealth and financial security is a rare enough thing, and it can assure us that we will have a place to sleep tonight, and enough to eat tomorrow.
It might even give us the freedom to travel the world and broaden our personal understanding of geography. And it is certainly easier to attract friends if you are financially comfortable.
But money can be demanding. A man who was worth somewhere between $25M and $50M assured me one day it was a tremendous responsibility and he was always anxious he might lose it any minute.
And once you find a way to make a lot of money, how much is enough. Can you ever have too much? Then, you no longer own money. It owns you.
A wise man once said to me that being rich wasn’t when you had a lot. It was when you had enough. So money is a fickle god…not one whose love is steadfast or everlasting. This god is mortal and ravenous.
Fame might be god enough for others. To have others watch you and envy you…even to have them resent you…gives you a sense of self-worth that others will never know.
But living life in a spotlight can make it hard for a person to find any rest. They are always playing themselves in the great drama of current events. That is the role they have now been assigned. Everything they do will be interpreted in accordance with that role.
Gerry Ford was a nice guy, but they say he was clumsy. This grew into such a legend that there is a scene in the Peter Sellers/Inspector Clouseau movie, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, where The President jumps up from behind his desk in the Oval Office and trips over the couch.
The fact of the matter was that Gerald Ford was a 3-year letterman and played center and linebacker on University of Michigan’s national championship football teams in 1932 and 1933. He was voted the Wolverine’s most valuable player in 1934.
Abraham Lincoln was a backwoods lawyer, not up to the task of leading the United States in peacetime, let alone through a civil war. But he gave us half of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, the Cooper Union Speech, the Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment, and his Second Inaugural Address.
But he was assigned the role of a hick from the sticks who could not possibly hold the States together in the face of an armed insurrection. He responded with great works and very few words.
"If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how – the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what's said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference."
It was not until the last few months and weeks of his life that the full dimensions of the man could be seen by his fellow citizens. More histories and biographies have been written about him and his Presidency, perhaps, than about all our other Presidents combined.
So fame is fickle, too. There must be something more lasting, deeper, most luminescent, than fame to strive toward…to serve…to bow down to.
How about power? Sheer power? Wouldn’t it be nice to be the most powerful person in the world? In command of greater armies, navies, and air forces than any other person?
Well, David…the King David whose last words we read today… was like that. But here he is, raising his last…and most lasting…prayer:
“One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. Is not my house like this with God?”
The scholars find his question delicious. Does he mean to ask this question rhetorically? Is he really saying, in plainer words, “Who can argue that the way I have served as king was not that way?” Or, “That’s what I did.”
Or is he in doubt about the answer to this question? After all he did to protect and enlarge and unite Israel, does he die wondering whether anything he did would make any difference in the world?
He was anointed by Samuel, and rose to power on the strength of his own deeds of faith and wisdom. But then there was Bathsheba, and Uriah the Hittite, the indictment by Nathan, and the revolt of his son, Absalom.
We don’t have power. Power has us, and it is so demanding. It is not a god. It is a tyrant…a loud voice hiding behind a curtain in the Emerald City.
I am convinced that there is no God as loving, as steadfast, as encouraging, as liberating or as concerned with our good fortune as the God in the Bible. There is no God as willing to give all to love… or who revealed more truth about the world…then and now… than Jesus of Nazareth, the Promised One, the King of Kings, the Son of God.
Even before Pilate, his sovereignty is clear. Pilate asks him if he is a king, and Jesus answers the question …from a man who can put him to death for any reason or for no reason…with a question…and an impertinent one at that.
It is a heroic question because it questions a power that could end the sensory intake of the most sensitive human being that has ever walked the face of the earth. It could take away the gift he was given to bring into the world.
But the gift…his life…even if it means his death…has not been accepted yet. So he offers it again …to Pilate.
Are you asking this because it is your question, or are you asking because this is what you were told to ask? Pilate is shocked.
“I am not a Jew, am I?” he shoots back. He tells Jesus at that moment that his own people who have handed him over...but it is the whole world who asks…who wants to know: “What have you done?”
So Pilate does not answer Jesus’ question. He replies with a question the whole world waits to hear the answer to. Jesus is no longer speaking to Pilate, but to the world.
Jesus answers Pilate, and the world: “My kingdom is not from this world.” Pilate snaps back, “So you are a king?”
Pilate is the Emperor’s representative in Israel. He is there to defend Caesar against anyone who claims independence from Rome’s king…like another king.
Jesus does two things at once now. He repeats that his kingdom is from beyond, and he says that there are powers over…and in…and under this world that are beyond any mortal…not matter how great…even Caesar.
He kind of answers this worldly man, Pilate, but he really and truly answers the world: “I was born to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Jesus is asking us…and asking Pilate …who is your God? Is it Caesar…a man? Was it David…a man? You say I am a king…but all I do is speak the truth…and hear the yearnings of humankind…and do what I can to open their eyes…their minds…their hearts…their strength …to the truth…which will only let them see more clearly…think more deeply…love more completely… serve more faithfully…the greatest of forces in the universe…the One True God.
I came into the world, he is saying, to testify to the truth, which is obscured from mortals who are still tethered to their mortality. I came that you might know the truth…the truth that will set you free…to love…to live…to become the gift God your creator, and the Creator of all things, sent into the world.
I am not a king who opposes Caesar, he is saying. Neither is Caesar a king who opposes me. No matter what we say…Caesar and/or Jesus…no matter what we do…the truth is still the truth.
Just beyond our reading, Pilate asks, “What is truth?” and there is no account of Jesus’ answer to this question in our Bible. It’s like Louis Armstrong trying to explain jazz: “Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.”
This takes us back to Revelations and how we are to read it. It is apocalyptic literature. It asks us to look with our minds and hearts, to filter how we see what is before us through all that we have known.
We have seen many things and they have a cumulative effect on our understanding. How could we understand what we were taught in high school if we had not started in kindergarten?
How could John have written this testament to us if he had not seen Jesus Christ, a great disrupter in the world’s way of thinking?
“My kingdom is not of this world.” “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
So John tries to open our hearts and minds to that other world that is made only of truth and love and grace…that lives beyond our mortal lives…in both directions…by telling us, first, that what we see with our eyes is disappearing even as the light reaches our eyes.
Then he casts an image that has to be beyond the range of human experience…in his day and ours. Let every eye behold him, he prays.
The eyes that passed away before he arrived…and all the eyes that have arrived since he ascended….all the eyes that saw him walk the face of the earth…and all the eyes that missed him while he was here.
“For 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.” Woe be to all who turn from him.
It is Christ the King Sunday. A year has past since we last celebrated it. It seems much shorter, but it also seems as if it was much longer ago.
Christ is so far away, but he is also here. David was an ancient event in history, but the rulers of our day could ask the same question he breathed with his last. “Is not my house like this with God?”
Are those God’s words in our hearts and on our lips? Or are we still earth-bound, unable to see over the horizon?
“Is not America like this with God?”
Do we want the John of these Revelations to come to our rescue in the midst of the mess we have made of our lives in this world? Or do we want to stand on John’s shoulders and see beyond this world...and see into what this world is really about…really could be about?
How…at the end of one year and the beginning of the next…do we let go of our fears and claim a king whose kingdom is not in this world? How do we become children of God so that in seeing into our hearts, every eye in every nation in every age might behold him?
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in this world, through me, this day? Amen.