Christ the King Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012

November 26, 2012

Struck By Truth
John 18:33-37
33 Then 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.”

Christ the King Sunday always comes as a surprise to me. It’s the last Sunday of the liturgical year. This doesn’t mean so much to normal people, but it’s a notable thing for someone like me who preaches for a living and who follows the prescribed texts of the lectionary for preaching. Today is the last Sunday of year B in the 3 year lectionary cycle. Next Sunday will be the first Sunday of Year C. Most of this last year’s Gospel readings have come from the Book of Mark, and most of the Gospel Readings will come from Luke next year. There are these readings from the Gospel of John that come up occasionally each year, and it always feels like a big deal to me to finish one year and move in to the next.

I’m actually about to finish my 25th year in full-time ministry which is a testament to the graciousness of Arkansas United Methodists. I was first appointed to full-time ministry in January of 1987, so this is the 25th time I’ve celebrated Christ the King Sunday, and I’m still trying to figure out what it all means. I like Christ the King Sunday. It feels like a Sunday we should celebrate with extra enthusiasm. It seems like it should be a culmination type of day – or maybe I should say a coronation type of day – but it doesn’t generally generate that level of enthusiasm. This day doesn’t elicit great fanfare. It doesn’t carry with it the excitement of an election victory. Today we declare Jesus to be our King, but it doesn’t really feel like our world is profoundly changed by this declaration.

I would like to think it’s not that big of a deal because we’ve already been living like Jesus is our king every other week of the year, but I suspect that for most of us, declaring Jesus to be our king just doesn’t have that much bearing on what we will be doing tomorrow. We proclaim Jesus to be our king, but we know very well that what Jesus said to Pilate is very true – that his kingdom is not of this world. And it’s a struggle for us to know what it means to abide in the Kingdom of God while we live in Little Rock.

I claim Jesus to be my king, but I worry about the pressures of this world. I’ve been publicly declaring Jesus Christ to be my king for 25 years now, and while I’m still wrestling to discover what that means, I am, however, noticing a clue in this week’s passage. Jesus tells Pilate that whoever belongs to the truth listens to his voice. I think this means that whoever loves the truth belongs in his kingdom. This doesn’t make it any easier to abide in this other-worldly kingdom that Jesus reigns over, but it does help me understand what gets in my way – it’s those pesky illusions I like to maintain.

Now in some ways I consider myself to be a person who likes to know the truth, and one of the things I do to try to know the truth about myself is to see a psychotherapist on a monthly basis. Some people probably think I should go more often than that, and I probably would if it didn’t cost so much, but trying to take a look at myself on a monthly basis is something that helps me deal with myself and this world. Seeing a therapist may sound torturous to some people, but honestly I would rather spend an hour with my psychotherapist than to get a massage. I consider both of these activities to be 1st world luxuries, but it feels a lot safer for me to talk about what I want to talk about that to have someone else decide where they want to bear down on me.

That’s probably something I need to talk about in therapy, but I probably won’t, and that’s what I like about going to a psychotherapist. I am generally in control of what I want to talk about. And while I do have some interest in trying to figure some things out about myself, I also know that I probably only talk about things that aren’t terribly threatening and I only hear what I want to know.

It’s not easy to see ourselves clearly. I sometimes think my conversations with my therapist help me see useful things about myself, but I also know that I engage in that exercise to make myself feel better. And while I don’t often make profound discoveries about myself I think it’s probably better to rant or vent or whimper or confess or brag in the privacy of an office that is required to be confidential than it is to go screaming through the mall or doing anything else that would land me in front of the Bishop or in a court of law.

I’m inclined to think I want to see the truth about myself before I have a head-on collision with it, but the truth is that we can resist the truth even when it looks us in the eye – if it doesn’t conform to what we want to believe.

Jesus was crucified by people who were so attached to the way they wanted the world to be that they were perfectly blind to the truth. The Jewish officials who orchestrated Jesus’ crucifixion didn’t want to know the truth. They wanted to continue in their role of defining reality for everyone else, and they didn’t see Jesus as anything other than a threat to what they were doing. Pilate didn’t seem to understand why the Jewish officials were so worked up about what Jesus was doing, he went back and forth between the Jewish leaders and Jesus about seven times before he went along with their desire to have him crucified. He didn’t share their particular form of blindness, but he had his own form of resistance to the truth. He had his political standing to think about, and he certainly didn’t want his superiors to think he was soft on crime – particularly on the crime of insurrection.

We are all in touch with masters who have no regard for the truth and who are insistent that we work to promote their agenda. Sometimes these masters are actual people who sit in positions of authority over us and have the capacity to make our lives miserable if we don’t do what they say. Sometimes these masters are in the form of peers or family members who’s approval we seek to obtain at all cost. Sometimes these masters come from organizations and interest groups that define reality in oversimplified ways and offer simple solutions to complex situations. Sometimes these masters are much more subtle – we don’t really know where they come from, but they can occupy our minds and cause us to be blind to what we are doing and who we are serving.

It’s not so easy to belong to the truth. It takes great effort to break out of constraints of those various masters who want allegiance more than they want us to know what’s true and to serve the truth. Often it takes some kind of profound breakdown to open us up to the truth, and even after monumental revelations it’s easy to fall back in to serving small masters and distorted agendas. Belonging to the truth requires perpetual vigilance.

And that’s why it’s important for us to celebrate Christ the King Sunday on a yearly basis, and to remind ourselves of who it is we say we serve on a weekly basis. We need to constantly look at how differently our King navigated life on earth. Jesus had both of his feet on the same earth that we currently stand upon, but because his heart was so perfectly connected to God he didn’t react to the challenges he faced in this world in the way that we are often inclined to react. It’s hard for us to keep our hearts away from those unholy masters that have no regard for the truth.

Where our hearts lie determines where our feet take us and what we do with our hands, our minds, our mouths, and our resources. We can confess Jesus to be our king, but we are only serving him if we love the truth and seek to promote the truth. And of course the other side of this is that regardless of how people may choose to label themselves, they are connected to Christ if they belong to the truth, and want the truth to prevail.

I feel like we have a church that’s very open to the truth. We aren’t confined by many of the conventions of traditional Christianity. We have made good strides toward being a church that seeks to promote harmony between all people who love the truth regardless of their faith tradition. We recognize the legitimacy of different sexual orientations, and we seek to be a resource for our destitute neighbors. I feel that we are on the side of truth in some significant and notable ways, but there’s this other truth we need to acknowledge, and it is that we are being subsidized by other churches in the Arkansas Conference. I won’t share the details, but there are some ways in which other churches are covering some expenses that we are currently unable to pay.

I don’t say this to extract more from those of you who are here and are giving what you can to the church, but I do want us all to be more enthusiastic about who we are and what we have here. We have a good King, and we need to share the good news about who it is that we are trying to serve. We’ve got room for some new people in our church, and I can’t help but believe there are a lot of truth-loving people out there who haven’t found their way in to church.

A lot of people don’t believe that the truth is valued in church, and often it isn’t , but we’re trying to value it here. We don’t do it perfectly, but we’re trying. And I can’t help but believe that by the grace of God and some effort on our part we can become an even stronger voice of truth in this world where people like Pilate are still trying to control. We’ve got a good church, we’ve got a good king, and I invite you to share this good news.


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