The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s146g15  Sunday 34  Christ the King  22/11/2015

‘Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’  John 18:37

I reflect that so often in the church, we cannot be ourselves.   I spoke on All Saints about coming to our home for dinner and having to confess your sins, listen to a 10 minute exposition of scripture and affirm you call God by the same name as me, before we could shake hands and sit down for a meal.  (1)    This is what we do each and every Sunday in the name of a god of unconditional love.   There seems to be a good deal of dissembling here.   I have observed that bishops, once they have retired, being able to say what they really believe, and this is most often less legalistic. (2)  It causes me to reflect what ‘ordination’ is all about - ordering just what may be permitted, or initiating and encouraging compassion towards others.

I note that recently in England the Crown Nominations Committee have been directed to consider ‘The relevance of a candidate’s previous public statements on human sexuality’  for a position as a bishop: ‘It is possible that a further issue may arise in the course of the CNC’s deliberations which is distinct from the possible imposition of a requirement.   That is whether, when considering whether the candidate can fulfil the fundamental calling of a bishop to be a ‘focus of unity’, the CNC can nonetheless lawfully take into account the content and manner of any public statements previously made by him or her about the Church’s traditional teaching on same-sex relations ..’  (3)   For me this ‘fundamental calling’ of a bishop is not getting the Pharisees and the Sadducees to agree, a wild-goose-chase and a fool’s errand if ever there was one - but to widen the unity to all people, including those who express their intimacy towards those we find strange.

What is the biblical truth: that we are all unworthy sinners, redeemed by a long past event, our acknowledgement of which makes us so acceptable in the eyes of the Almighty that everyone else is condemned to everlasting damnation?   Or is the biblical truth that God looks at each and every one of us, male and female, and considers all sacred.   Will our happiness and the happiness of others come through our being friendly with all of God’s other creatures or by imposing on each and every other person just another way of possibly placating an irritable and resentful god?

I note that traditionally it has been the church that has divided up people into believers and unbelievers, those who are being saved and those who aren’t, those who can receive the Holy Communion and those who can’t, those whose lives matter and those whose lives really don’t .. actually the list is endless.   It is modern secular society that teaches most clearly that all people are sacred; that past colonialism has actually been unjust to indigenous people, that everyone has a right to live in freedom and dignity.   The evidence suggests that it has been as modern secular society has divested itself of its ‘christian’ roots, we see greater sensitivity to the plight of others around us, the need to treat all people with respect and that actually there is no reason whatsoever that we can’t all sit around the same table.  

Three times Pilate, the representative of secular power testifies to those who supposedly hold spiritual power: ‘I find no case against him’ (4), ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him’ (5) and ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.’ (6)  Three times the secular power testifies to Jesus, as opposed to the representative of Jesus’ disciples who had just three times denied even knowing him. (7)

This drama of Jesus’ trial is all about the seemingly eternal propensity of religion to divide and exclude people, reflected again in Paul’s opening words of his letter to the Romans: ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.   For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.’  (8)  ‘For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions.   Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.   Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.’  (9)  These degrading passions are all about division and exclusion, of which Paul was only too painfully aware in his earlier life of zealous devotion - persecuting others.

So, in fact, Jesus’ is here not on trial at all.   Nor is it a trial of secular power.   It is a trial of religion - does it divide people one from another - does it kill those who question their own personal precepts?

So the account of Jesus before Pilate is a trial of our religion: is it divisive and exclusive, or is it incarnational and inclusive?   Does our religion demand us to pass by on the other side or are we heretical enough to get our hands dirty and lend a hand?  (10)

It is incarnation into the whole of society that brings life and therefore by contrast it is retreat into holy huddles that brings death - to ourselves and therefore to society as a whole.   This is the truth that Jesus’ proclaims, to which Pilate testifies, and to which we are called to listen.

In the Huffington Post, Diana Butler Bass, the author of the .. book Grounded asks: ‘Is Religiosity Declining Or Simply Transforming?’ (11)  Of course religiosity is declining - and life and truth are replacing it!

And so I am not at all surprised to find that a recent study has concluded that: ‘Religion Makes Children More Selfish’.  (12)   When sanctified selfishness is the unspoken aim of the Church, why wouldn’t children see this as acceptable?

Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, yet our gospel focusses on a defeated King about to be killed by those whose religion is essentially self-serving.   We are no different to those who had him killed if we praise Jesus as our King hoping that this will benefit us personally in preference to others.   Even our own children will see and emulate us and will be punished ‘for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me’. (13)

As we are horrified at the carnage in Paris this week, there is little point accusing ISIS terrorists or the Muslim religion if our own expression of faith is actually not much less self-serving.

2.  e.g.
4.  John 18:38
5.  John 19:4
6.  John 19:6
7.  John 18:17,25,27
8.  Romans 1:18-19
9.  Romans 1:26-27
10.  Luke 10:29-37
13.  Exodus 20:5