Posts Tagged ‘John 18:33-37’

This I Know 11-25-18

In this sermon, based on John 18:33-37, I explore the odd encounter between Jesus and Pilate, as Pilate tries to wrap his head around Jesus. Its a mystery…and that’s okay.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

The grace and peace of our Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

Thursday afternoon, I was lounging around at my parent’s house, enjoying that low-key feeling post Thanksgiving-feast, when my brother grabbed me and hauled me downstairs into the basement to shoot a game or two of pool on our dad’s pool table.

We weren’t very far into our first game, when we noticed something strange happening. An odd tendency for a slow moving ball to begin curving towards the side pockets…and one of them in particular. We weren’t quite sure what was going on…only that this behavior was unexpected…but as confusing as it initially was to witness…we went into some investigation mode…and we came up with the following insight…

The temperature in my parent’s basement fluctuates pretty dramatically…and as it’s a wet basement, there are times when the air is quite damp and times when its quite dry.  We also realized that the pool table has been down there for several years now…and our final observation is that the table itself is wood, and not slate.  Perhaps you’ve already begun to realize what ultimately dawned on us…the table top has warped, creating slight downward angles towards the two side pockets…which itself results in a slow moving billiard ball curving in towards the pocket…which is great in every way, except if it happens to be the 8-ball…and so, once we figured this all out, we kept on playing, and simply adjusted our shots accordingly…in the end, this mystery was something we were able to figure out.

But thinking along those lines reminds me of an important bit of self-awareness that I have reached in my life…an awareness that there are some things I understand…some things I can figure out…and then there are things that will remain a mystery.

For example…I understand that anything that has mass will create a gravitational pull…however some things, like each of us for instance…is small enough that that gravitational pull our mass generates is so infinitely small, that it might as well be non-existent…but on the flip side…I also know that the earth is large enough and contains enough mass that it creates a gravitational force strong enough to keep us all firmly planted…and we don’t need to worry about floating off into space…I get all that…but what I don’t get, is how it works…that is, as they say…above my paygrade. (pause)

Now interestingly enough…this same sort of sense seems to be on display in today’s gospel. Christ the King Sunday…the final Sunday of another church year…and we wrap things up by acknowledging the kingship…or the reign of Christ in the kingdom of Heaven.

Now this year…our scripture lesson features an odd little back and forth between Jesus and Pilate…a setting found in the larger story of his betrayal and arrest at the hands of the religious leaders…just before his torture and eventual execution on the cross…an event commonly understood as his trial before the Roman authority. (pause)

Out of the 4 gospels…I do have to say that I appreciate John’s take on this whole deal…because when compared with the other three, John really does a good job of revealing the sneakiness of this whole situation.  Jesus is arrested for blasphemy…for daring to claim that he is God…and yet, the religious big-wigs know that they can’t order his execution on these grounds…the Romans may have cut them a lot of religious leeway…and they did…but that leeway didn’t extend to the point of allowing them to pick up a bunch of rocks and stone someone to death for claiming to be a god.

And so, if they want Jesus dead…and its seems that they do…they’ve got to ship him off to the political authorities…Pilate.  Now at this point, Pilate’s already asked them what he did…and he doesn’t really get much of an answer beyond Jesus being called a criminal…and with that…he’s got to try and figure things out.

Are you the king of the Jews? (pause) Now logic probably tells us the same thing that Pilate was thinking…this is a pretty simple question…yes or no answer.  If he says yes…that he is the Jewish king…well that means he’s in the midst of a political uprising…and crucifixion is the answer…if he says no…well then this whole deal is pointless.

But it seems like Jesus never gives a straight answer does he?  Are you king?  Why do you ask, are you curious or did someone say something?  And then we go back and forth…several questions countered with more questions…until Pilate seems to arrive at the conclusion “So you are the king.”  Only to get an equally confusing answer “You have called me king.” (pause)

I can only think that Jesus is revealing something important here…that whatever it is that God is up to through the Christ event…through the life and the death and the resurrection of the one who is the living Word of God made flesh…the one who existed with God and is God…the light which shines in the darkness…whatever God is up to in bringing about this whole kingdom of heaven which has already come near to us and at the same time is not yet fully realized…whatever it is…we just can’t grasp can we?

Pilate was a political dude…that’s what he knew…that’s what he understood…and so he was trying to apply this knowledge…this understanding on Jesus and whatever it was he was up to.  The religious leaders…his own people…they’re cranky with him…so clearly something is going on right?  And Pilate tries to put in terms that he can comprehend and deal with.

God bless him, he’s trying isn’t he? But clearly…he’s failing.  Just like my inability to understand what makes gravity…the kingdom of heaven, whatever that means…well that’s above Pilate’s pay grade isn’t it?  Honestly its above everyone’s pay grade…because God is just so much bigger than we can wrap our heads around…and that’s okay.

But if that’s the case…and we’re gonna leave things ambiguous and I guess we can say unanswered…then what do we do with this passage?  And as I ponder on that question I’m drawn to the very last thing that Jesus says today. 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.

I thought about this idea of truth…and it’s a concept that’s scattered all over John’s gospel…but perhaps no more importantly then when Jesus himself declares “I AM…the way…and the truth…and the life.”

Jesus himself is the truth…and he reveals so much about this life…a new way to live…a new way to be in the world…a new way to live in harmony with God and with our neighbors…not a perfect life, for Jesus knows that none of us are capable of that…but rather a life where confession and repentance and forgiveness is also a possibility. A life in which we live as if the kingdom is already here…because…it is…Jesus told us that.

And maybe, just maybe as we live our lives in a way that reflects the reality of this kingdom of heaven…and whatever that will ultimately look like…maybe that’s how we participate in God’s ongoing action of bringing that kingdom into existence.

And we do this because this is what Jesus has told us to do. He has shown us a new way…he has illuminated a new way for us…and through the ongoing action of the Holy Spirit which Jesus has sent upon us all…he continues to reveal more and more and more about what life in the kingdom looks like.

And one of the commands that he has given us also serves as signs for us…and that is the sacraments. When we receive the bread and the wine, we are reminded that his body and blood were broken and shed for all people to make forgiveness possible…and in the waters of baptism, we are washed both literally and figuratively as we hear the promise of God’s claim upon each of us.

That’s the amazing thing about this whole deal…its always about what God has said about you…the action is accomplished by God through Christ…and while we respond to it…our salvation…our acceptance…our invitation to the party is never dependent upon us…something that I think is revealed when we consider that age old parable of the prodigal son.  The father goes searching for both brothers…and brings them in…doing so with an assurance that you’re already at the party.

Isn’t the joyful thing we realize through the gospel…that whatever it is that this kingdom looks like…that whatever this heavenly party is…we’re already at the party…and God’s ongoing action within this world seems to be aimed at reminded us of that.

But that doesn’t really fit into our rigid, rule laden reality does it?  And those who so strictly adhere to “the rules,” well they have a really hard time accepting this reality of Christ don’t they? And so they try and put Jesus in a box…that’s what Pilate was up to…and I can’t help but think that’s what the religious leaders were ultimately up to as well.

But the good news remains…that God will not be limited to a box…and God’s love and grace for each one of us will not be limited either.  The gospel tells us, we’re already welcome…we’re already accepted…we’re already at the party…some of us just haven’t realized it yet.

And that right there…that’s why God invites us to join in this ongoing work of reconciling the world…to be the hands and feet, carrying this good news…that you’re already at the party…not because of anything that we do…that’s not the way…He is the way…and his way reveals the truth…and this truth to hold onto is not who you are or what you have done…its who’s you are through what he has done. Amen.

Working Title 11-22-15

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.