The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r146.htm
s146g97 Somerton Park 23/11/97 Christ the King Sunday 23
"If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting ..." - but aren't they? John 18:36.
Firstly an apology to my Internet and email readers. I am grateful to the person who pointed out to me that I used the term "clergyman" in last weeks' offering. The sermon itself was an updated version of an existing one, which I did quick rehash, because while I wasn't going to use it, I had only just had a conversation with someone who had been refused the sacrament of Holy Communion because she had been divorced many years ago ... I note that some homosexual persons were refused the sacrament in the Catholic Cathedral in Melbourne recently. I do try to use gender inclusive terms, but sometimes I miss some. I approve of the ordination of women and have regular fellowship with women priests locally. I can but apologise and assure readers that any offence given was completely unintentional. :->
We come to the final Sunday of the liturgical year. Next year we begin year C, the year when we concentrate on the gospel of Luke. The liturgical year is broken into two halves - Advent to Trinity Sunday which is the "historical" part of the year - when we focus on how Jesus was born, what happened to him in his life, the final week, the cross, death, resurrection, ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. This culminates in the feast of Trinity. From Trinity to today we have concentrated on what Jesus taught - and we culminate this period in the Feast of Christ the King.
So as we celebrate today we look backward over that teaching period - and we realise that the ultimate lesson is that Jesus is in charge - he reigns as King. As we look forward from today towards Christmass - perhaps with anticipation, perhaps with trepidation - today reminds us that the birth we are to celebrate is no ordinary one.
In the gospel reading, we are privy to a conversation between Pilate the Roman governor and Jesus as his guest, prior to being crucified. Here was Jesus on the world stage, in as public a place as anyone could ever aspire to be, at that time. The equivalent for us would be to have a private audience with the President of the United States. If such an audience was granted me, I have no doubt I would choose my words carefully - I would make my purpose for being there clear. So if I was a campaigner against land mines or for the rights of all people - this would be my big moment to get my message across, to my own generation as well as innumerable generations after me. Perhaps the President may not agree with my views or be unable to implement them, even in the long term, but I would have done what I could.
But such considerations appear to be completely missing from Jesus thoughts. They begin with a conversation about who Jesus claimed to be, but rather peters into a philosophic discussion about "truth". This leads to Pilate's ultimate question "What is truth" - which Jesus doesn't answer, despite Jn 14.6. Jesus said very little more to Pilate - just some words absolving him of responsibility for what was to take place. (19.11) If Jesus was about getting his message across, then he seems to have missed the golden opportunity. Yet perhaps he didn't.
The conversation, as so often happens to this day, begins about authority and power. At least it was for the Jews and it was for Pilate. We need to be careful that it is not for us too. The evangelists' accounts tell us that Pilate was inveigled into allowing Jesus to be crucified because the religious authorities claimed he was setting himself up to be King. If that were indeed true then the conversation which is our gospel reading for today was either false or was completely ignored. Jesus did not claim to be a king in the ordinary sense of the term and he clearly denied any pretence at doing so. Today as we celebrate Christ the King, we too need to be clear that Jesus did not claim to be a king in the ordinary sense of the term.
What then are the marks of an ordinary king? A king has servants, rules over people, has an army to defend him, territory to defend, other territories to conquer, other people to subdue ... The Church often operates in precisely these terms. We seek the extension of God's kingdom ... We too will serve the Lord ... We fight against advancing secularism ...
God has given humanity (not just Christians) "dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." Genesis 1:28. God has delegated some dominion to us. We - all of humanity - rule in God's place. But of course if that were all, there would be no difficulty. However we want to rule over other people ... We too want to fight, conquer, subdue others - in the name of God.
I have often cause to say that God isn't sitting on the throne in heaven, like some eternal scrooge, counting and recounting his followers each day, to check that none have erred and strayed ... At the end of the day God doesn't say "Oh what a good God am I - I've got 5002,615,034 followers today - up .0121% - and the Dow Jones index is up as well! Give a tick to that successful evangelist down there! Or alternatively God doesn't go to bed grumbling - worrying that it seems the creation is off the rails as the number of disciples has dropped - zap that priest at Somerton Park!
If we actually mean what we say and sing on this day - the feast of Christ the King - then we can assume that God is actually in charge. In the words of the "Desiderata": "whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should ..."
So we can assume that we don't have to fight. We don't have to argue with those who believe in different ways to us - Christians of other traditions to ourselves. I often recall a senior priest once declining to join a society for the "defence of the Catholic faith" saying that if the Catholic faith needed defending by him it wasn't worth defending ... I wouldn't worship a God that needed defending - especially by me.
So if we as the "Church" are seen to be fighting, either amongst ourselves, or against other people, we are promoting a kingdom "from this world" - not the kingdom of God.
When Jesus says that his kingdom is not "from this world" we can also assume that we are expected to be and act in a discernibly different way to what is usual. Are not those words of David wonderful: "But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away; for they cannot be picked up with the hand". (2 Sam 23:6). Last week in the Bible Study, where we are looking at 1 Corinthians, we considered the passage in chapter 6: "Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?" (1 Co 6:7). These are the marks of Jesus' reign as King - where we are prepared to be wronged or defrauded ... rather than fighting.
But Jesus words go on: "my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to ..." How often do we want to keep Jesus for ourselves? It is a quite normal and natural thing to do. Mary Magdalene clung to the risen Jesus to make sure he wasn't taken from her again. How often do we assume that Jesus is ours in a special way, which Jesus is not to others - unbelievers, atheists, agnostics or skeptics, or with those who believe different things - Jews, Buddhists, followers of Islam, or other faiths? Do we not fight lest Jesus be handed over to these people?
Jesus' words do say: "My kingdom is not from this world". It is clear that Jesus could well have said "my kingdom is for this world" and that would be indeed true.
Jesus' kingship is not as a rival to Pilate, Herod, the Queen of England or the President of the United States, but is a kingship of the whole universe - for all people, whether they believe or not, whatever they believe or don't believe ... Jesus' reign is for all people - of every culture and language, believers or not, saint and sinner alike - as they and we are.
For Jesus moves the conversation on to say: "For this I came into the world ..." Today as we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, we recognise that Jesus is not just our King (because we are good Christians) but that we too have to hand Jesus over to others - to the world - even it seems they might want to crucify him ... To allow the possibility of Jesus in the lives of other people. Indeed we might even pray to be able to see Jesus there.
We see in this, the most public stage that Jesus could have asked for, Jesus doing again, what he had done from the beginning of his ministry, accepting such hospitality as the Roman governor was offering. As he had travelled the land, accepting the hospitality of the tax collector and sinner, of Simon the Pharisee and Simon the leper, Jesus ends up at the headquarters of the head of the occupying forces. From beginning to end it is all about Jesus "coming into the world". Jesus does not argue with Pilate (go back to Rome where you belong!), or argue his case (can't you see they're jealous?). Indeed, as I say, if anything Jesus absolves Pilate of responsibility for what happens ...
There are three other references to Jesus coming to the world to which I want to refer, which show how central this coming - to one and to all - is to the Christian faith. The first is Christmass itself - the coming of Emmanuel - God with us! The second is the second to last verse of the Bible: "Come Lord Jesus!"
The third is in the petition of the Lord's Prayer: "Your kingdom come". How blithely we can say these words and assume they mean: "God - make everyone else believe like me!" when in fact they are a petition to get us to do something about our own faith. For Jesus the King is come, he is already out there in the world, in the lives and aspirations of all sorts of people. Jesus the King is come, he is already in here, in the lives and aspirations of all who are here. There is no need to fight, there is no need to clutch onto Jesus - Jesus is already come and he is King.
Links to other sites on the Web:
About the author and links.
To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.
To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.
Back to a sermon for next Sunday.