Really, we have got to be the strangest people on earth. We proclaim, believe and follow an executed Jew as our king, and the King over all creation. Certainly Jesus had a compelling message, but without an army or government to enforce it, he just seemed like a failure. Did you hear the Gospel? Pilate calls the shots. Pilate wins. Jesus dies. That’s a king in a world where you’d better have more might than your enemies and use it. Love and forgiveness, Jesus’ weapons, don’t work well at running this world.
In Pilate’s world, we bomb enemies. Take them out before they get us. Try to sing Kum Ba Yah with them, and they’ll take you out. Rulers come and go. Nations rise and fall. Does it help you feel better and safer to know that in the midst of violence, terror and fear, Christ is our King? Who do we really trust? What is truth? That’s the question Pilate follows up with – and an important one. For some reason the lectionary wizards omit it today.
Jesus tells Pilate: “My kingdom is not from this world. If it were, my followers would raise an army to protect me from you and the Jews.” In other words, in Jesus’ kingdom, nonviolence has no place. “So, you are a king after all?” Jesus: “You said it. All I say is I testify to truth. People of truth listen to my voice.” Pilate fails to get it, “So what is truth?”
Pilate, Herod and Caesar keep their jobs by force and violence. That’s how the world operates. That’s truth for them. Yet not all are that way. Some political leaders and rulers exercise justice for all – the common good. They are not despots.
In Caesar’s world, to proclaim Christ is Lord is an act of treason. Caesar’s remedy for treason: Repent now or kiss your life goodbye. Jesus opens another kingdom to his followers, one with a different operating system. It’s here and beyond here. It was from the beginning, and is yet to come. Those who get it, enter.
Pilate’s not the only one who doesn’t “get” Jesus and his other world. Researchers over the past few decades say the church is declining. That’s not new news. The church no longer “gets” its mission to help people understand their lives in light of what God does in Jesus. We have lost what is startling and odd about the other kingdom. We act more like a civic or social club, trying to be relevant in this world, rather than an assembly of people who live differently, transformed by a world sent from God knows where.
People seeking meaning, purpose, and truth talk with me sometimes. Some of them are interested in Jesus – nice fellow, loved the poor and sinners, fed the hungry, did good deeds. For others, Jesus is okay, but they prefer the “religion of the month” club, to see if their flavor of choice meets their wants at least for the moment. One person who came to church some and talked with me grew nervous as Easter approached. Resurrection was beyond him. He thought it’s impossible. He didn’t “get it.” In his world God is smaller than truth he believes. So he walks away.
Jesus never says religion, his teachings, a Bible-believing church, whatever that is, or joining the correct church are Truth. He says he is Truth. He reveals what is ultimately true, not CNN or Fox News. We either believe Jesus or we don’t. We follow his lordship or we don’t. It is no partial matter – nor something we do if we feel like it when we get up the next morning.
As Christians under Jesus’ reign, we live in two worlds simultaneously. In this world we struggle with terrorists, fear, wars, suffering, violence, the hungry, refugees. Civil authorities and good government are important. I am for them. Living from the other world we seek where God is working in this world and join God there. We are a strange people who believe life is more than survival. Don’t get me wrong – survival is a priority, but not as important as following Jesus – discerning prayerfully as Dr. Fred Schmidt says – not a God who will tell me his will for what to eat for dinner, or gives me what I want if I ask correctly. God works with us communally, not individually. His will is for us as his people together to join the divine life in unexpected people and places – outside the wall of this church. Loyalty to Jesus supersedes loyalties to this world. When Jesus is Lord, nothing else can be, including nation, family, or my wants. We proclaim Christ as King by how we treat those who disagree with us. Truth is revealed by quality of lives we produce – our transformation from this world’s reign to God’s. We are truly an odd people. Jesus is our King who says serve others first, show strength through compassion, justice through mercy, and gratitude by scattering seeds of God’s blessing and love freely – everywhere, even upon enemies and those who malign us.
One day the Caesars and Pilates of this world will have their truth exposed. We’ll see that violence is a never-ending spiral downward until someone stops it. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that murder destroys the hater, but not hate. Violence, anger and hatred only increase violence, anger and hatred. The ultimate answer is the Spirit infused courage to love, forgive, and call forth God’s image in others – like Jesus lived. By living that answer, we proclaim him King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Believe it – then you’ll begin to see it, and then live as if that world matters most.
What is truth? We hear lots of voices, have lots of choices. This week we hear a voice that calls us back to gratitude, thanksgiving. This week we hear a voice calling us again to prepare for the Lord’s coming. If you haven’t figured what voice to listen to, see me. First I’ll apologize to you. I don’t have the truth. Jesus does. And that’s why he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords…even without us. He is truth who rules and shapes our lives, drives our actions and forms our words. And even with the messes we make of this world and creation, this King eternally loves us. I point you to Jesus – now, listen to him.