This sermon for Christ the King Sunday is taken from John 18:33-37.
You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
I’ve been preaching for a fair amount of time. My first time preaching was my senior year of college, shortly before graduation, so that’s going all the way back to early 2001. After that, there was a hiatus, but then I started preaching on occasion about 5 years later. Gradually it picked up and by 2008 I was preaching with a fair bit of regularity.
Now at that time, when I was preaching, it was typically at one of two places…either a small country church where I provided monthly pulpit supply…or at our old congregation in the Okoboji area. Now here’s the thing, at least at the Okoboji church…each and every time I was slated to preach, I would get hounded by the secretary to give her the title of my sermon so she could print it in the bulletin…and she liked to have the bulletins done early in the week.
Many of you have heard me talk about my writing process, and if so, you’re likely familiar with the fact that I very rarely write my sermon before Friday…so asking me for a title on Tuesday or Wednesday isn’t going to get you very far.
There were many times when I would get the message that she was looking for my sermon title and I would just tell her “Working Title.” (pause) I won’t lie…it always made me chuckle to see the irritated look on her face when she realized that I wasn’t going to give her anything substantial…and after a while she stopped asking me for it…side note…you’ll notice that there’s never a sermon title listed in our bulletins here either.
This is all for a simple reason…I can’t give a sermon a title before I know what I’m going to say…and many times, I can’t even name it then…many times it has to wait until I’ve already written it before I can assign a title…and so there are many weeks when I sit down at the computer…and at the top of the blank page I simply write out… “working title.”
I did that very thing this past Friday…and I stared at “Working Title” for quite a while before actually beginning to write anything…but the more I stared at it…the more I got to thinking that this time around…Working Title…is pretty much the perfect name to assign to this one. (pause)
Christ the King Sunday…the final week of the church year…the final week of the season of Pentecost…We started off 26 weeks ago and over the course of the past 6 or so months we have followed the ongoing theme of the life of the church, starting with the small group of disciples, moving through the past 2000 years, then looking ahead to the end times when Christ will sit on the throne of the new heaven and the new earth…and all of this existence as we know it will be different. (pause)
Now interestingly enough, today marks my third “Christ the King” Sunday here at Underwood, and with the way the lectionary works, this will cover the final base of the different gospel texts that we cover. In year A we hear Jesus words about the future judgment, as people will be divided up like sheep separated from goats…and we are given a glimpse of Jesus sitting in role of judge. Year C features Jesus hanging on the cross interacting with one of the two criminals who asks Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom…and so Jesus is presented as the king who sacrifices himself in order to overcome the sins of all people.
Today, the end of year B, we have this passage out of John…as Jesus stands trial before Pilate…and as we see in the lesson…Pilate just can’t seem to make heads or tails out of Jesus. (pause). It’s a fairly long section of scripture, stretching from about the midpoint of chapter 18 to the midpoint of chapter 19, and throughout all of this time, Pilate tries and tries and tries to make a connection…particularly considering the charges against Jesus that have brought him to Pilate in the first place. (pause)
And the funny part of all this is that no one really seems to know just what it is that Jesus has supposedly done. He’s first put on trial with the religious council before the high priest…and they seem to settle on blasphemy…because Jesus calls himself I Am, the name of God…and for them, that’s punishable by death…but in all honesty, it seems like they just want to get him out of the way because of the way that Jesus continues to defy the status quo…the very system that serves to benefit them.
And so they haul him off to Pilate, claiming that he is leading an uprising against Rome…that he is claiming to be the true king of Israel. (pause) And so, after quite a bit of arguing Pilate asks Jesus flat out…more than once…Are you the king of the Jews? And he certainly doesn’t get the answer that he’s looking for.
Rather than answering Pilate’s question with a simple yes or no…Jesus engages him in conversation…and while Jesus does make some statements about his kingdom…the kingdom of heaven…he never says one way or another if he is, in fact, a king.
And so when Pilate asks him the second time “So you are a king?” Jesus makes a pretty important statement… “YOU say…that I am king.” (pause) And with that statement…I think we need to stop and think about just what it is that Pilate is really trying to do. (pause)
Now Pilate says flat out…I’m not a Jew…I don’t understand this stuff that everyone is arguing about…and so, as he tries to make head’s or tails about the controversy surrounding Jesus…it seems like Pilate is simply trying to place Jesus into a category that he can understand.
Keep in mind who Pilate is…he’s a Roman governor. Fairly high up in the whole Roman government system…and as such he gets government…he’s familiar with it…he knows how to deal with other people in that realm…and so by identifying Jesus as a king…Pilate would know what to do…and that’s really the issue here…Pilate has no idea what to do with Jesus. But if Jesus admits to being the so-called “king of the Jews” well then I guess there would have been some truth to what everyone is saying about him…I guess he is trying to rise up against Rome…he is leading a revolt…and as such…we crucify him…plain and simple…open and shut. (pause)
But here’s the important thing…Jesus…he’s not going to accept a title…because he’s not going to accept the limitations placed upon a role that humanity has created and defined. We hear king…and we know what means…the leader of a nation…sovereign…holding power over those that they lead…as long as they continue to follow that is.
But Jesus…God…reigning over the kingdom of heaven, which exists both right now as well as becoming something new out there in the unknown future…what we need to realize in the here and now is that we cannot define that…we cannot label it…we cannot limit Jesus’ lordship with any sort of title or definition that exists here in our reality.
We can try…but it will always pale in comparison. Is Jesus a king? Yes…but he’s so much more than that. Is Jesus a servant? Yes….but he’s so much more than that. (pause) No matter what image we try to use in order to help us better understand God…the truth of the matter is that it goes so far beyond what we are capable of…capable of understanding…and capable of replicating. (pause) The take away…about this whole Christ the King thing is that whatever we picture…whatever we assign…its way bigger…its way better…and its WAY beyond us. (pause)
Now as I think about that…and I wonder just what the kingdom of Jesus will be like one day…I’m reminded of just how far we are from the mark in today’s world…something that Jesus points out to Pilate… “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” (pause) Think about that statement…Jesus is revealing a pretty major thing here. If the kingdom of Heaven were of our world today, in the face of violence, Jesus’ followers would respond with more violence…but the kingdom of heaven…and the one who sits on that throne…are NOT like that. (pause)
I’ve been thinking a lot about that in the past week…in light of terrorist attacks in various places around the world…and the anger I feel towards those who hate enough to set a bomb or pull a trigger…when news broke that France had retaliated and started bombing ISIS targets, my first response was “Good.” But then my wife, who is much smarter than I am, looked at me and asked “Really?”
And I thought about that…and I realized that my gut reaction was to repay hate with hate…violence with violence…and to jump off a theme here in John’s gospel…to repay darkness with darkness…but you know what…that can never work.
As I thought more about it, I came across the words of Maya Angelou that “Hate has caused a lot of problems in this world. But it hasn’t solved one yet.” And so we ask the question of what then can defeat the darkness that we see in this world…and the words of another great leader shed some light. Martin Luther King Jr once said “Darkness can never drive out darkness…only light can do that. And hate can never drive out hate…only love can do that.” Wise words from a wise man…one who witnessed first-hand some of the worst darkness that one individual can commit against another…and a man who would soon be struck down by that very darkness.
Perhaps its fitting that today we discuss Christ as King…here in John’s gospel…because it is John’s gospel that tells us that Jesus is the Light…and that light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it…many of you have heard me discuss that very passage before…I do hold it in high regard…and interestingly enough…a slightly different translation seems quite fitting today. Rather than saying that the darkness has not OVERCOME the light…we can also say that the darkness has not UNDERSTOOD the light. (pause)
And that is precisely what we see in today’s passage. Pilate cannot understand Jesus…he cannot place him in a role or assign a title that will adequately encompass who or what he is and what it is that he is doing. Because God WILL NOT be contained. And the wonderful thing about all of this is that the light of Christ IS here in the darkness of this world…and no matter how hard it tries the darkness cannot and will not win. That is the promise of the gospel…the hope that we cling to in the midst of difficult news…of the difficult events that we witness and those that we experience within our lives…in the end the darkness WILL not win…and the love of God expressed in Christ Jesus is present…here and now…for each and every one of us…it always has been…and it always will be…but most importantly…right now…right here…in this very moment…the love of God is present…and it is far greater than anything we can describe…and God is at work in ways that we cannot begin to recognize, much less to understand…but one day we will…and so in the meantime don’t try to limit God by our understanding…just recognize and accept that Christ as King…well…for the moment, it’s a pretty decent working title. Amen.