Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 22, 2009

If I were to take a guess, I would suspect that most of us here have played the game 20 questions. In an effort to discover the identity of some person, place or thing, one asks a series of questions to help us on our quest. One of the strategies of the game is to move as quickly as possible to questions of a more specific nature because the broader questions at the beginning attempts to rule out as many wrong answers as they can. The closer one gets to the answer the more specific the questions tend to become.

This morning’s Gospel doesn’t deal with 20 questions, but it does deal with some of the most critical questions that have ever been posed in all of human history.

Our Gospel from St. John sits squarely within the context of the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as Jesus has already been questioned by Annas and Caiaphas, and is now in the presence of the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate. If we look at the few verses which precede what we just heard, we know that Pilate actually tried to have nothing to do with Jesus’ trial. He told the religious authorities that led Jesus to him to go and judge him according to their laws. He wasn’t interested in getting into what he perceived to be a religious squabble between different factions of Judaism. In Matthew’s Gospel we even have Pilate’s wife sending him word not to have anything to do with this righteous man because she had suffered much on his account in dreams just that night before. However, the religious authorities forced Pilate’s hand when they said to him that it was not lawful for them to put someone to death.

At this point in time Pilate was in a dilemma, he’s obviously dealing with someone who has done something serious enough to warrant the death penalty, and the last thing he wanted on his hand was a riot amongst the people. Talk about your untenable positions, Pilate was walking the tightrope between the Jewish people who despised the fact that they were under the occupation of Rome, and having to live under the rule of these pagans, and the Roman government who did not want to hear about their territories being problem areas and causing trouble. Pilate’s job was to keep the peace, and the last thing he wanted was this kind of a problem taking place around the Passover and Jerusalem packed with pilgrims from all over the country.

Pilate begins the interrogation with a series of questions, and unlike 20 questions, he starts off with a very specific question right off the bat. He asks Jesus directly if He is the King of the Jews. Interesting that Pilate goes right to that question from the very beginning as that might tell him who or what he’s dealing with here. An affirmative answer to Pilate’s question would lead him to want to know what this does for Herod’s authority. If he answers no, then Pilate would want to know why the religious folks are even attempting to put Jesus to death. In typical Jesus fashion He answers Pilate’s question with another question, “are you saying this on your own behalf or did others say that about me?” If we notice in Jesus’ answer, he never denies the accusation, and never shuns the title of King of the Jews. He simply turns the question on top of itself.

Pilate then replies in an almost sarcastic fashion following Jesus’ response when he says to him, “Am I a Jew?” Even in his answer it seems like Pilate is doing all he can to find get this case dismissed. He tells Jesus that it is his own people who have turned him over to him for judgment and Pilate wants to know what Jesus has done to warrant death. Jesus then gives a most interesting response when he says, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; buy my kingship if not from the world.” Twice in Jesus’ answer he uses the phrase, “my kingship is not of this world.” The word that is translated as kingship also means kingdom, so not only is Jesus saying that his authority comes from outside this world, his kingdom is from another realm as well.

Pilate then asks a follow-up question – one that I see as a bit more broad than the first one he asked. In our game of 20 questions, it appears that Pilate is moving in the wrong direction. He asks Jesus the more general question, “So, you are a king?” Based upon Jesus’ reply, Pilate merely wants to know more about this kingdom which comes from outside the cosmos in which he claims to have attendants and servants who will fight on his behalf. Who is this person who is standing before him? What is he up to, and what is he going to do?

Again, to this question Jesus answers in an almost sarcastic and short fashion when he simply replies, “You say that I am a king.” There is no direct affirmation, and yet there is no denial either. However, Jesus doesn’t stop there, but continues his answer in one of the most incredible statements ever uttered by our Lord. The Incarnation is defined in the following terms, “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” Jesus declares that his kingdom and kingship is beyond this world, beyond this cosmos. Yet, it is for this very world that Jesus was born and came here. He did it for us in order that we might be able to experience the kingdom that lies beyond this life.

I know I said it a couple of weeks ago, but I’m certainly going to say it again now. Why does our lesson for today stop with verse 37?

I ask that question because of the question that Pilate asks of Jesus following his last statement. Personally, I believe that Pontius Pilate asked the most pertinent, most honest, and most important question anyone has ever asked. Verse 38 continues with Pilate asking Jesus, “What is truth?”

His questions of our Lord are the exact opposite of what one might expect in a game of 20 questions. He starts with the specific, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He continues with a more general question, “Are you a king then?” Finally, he ends with an incredibly broad question, “What is truth?”

It’s Pilate’s third question that is by far the most critical because it actually would have led him to the answer. His only problem was he didn’t wait around to hear Jesus’ answer. The Truth was standing right in front of his eyes, and yet, he didn’t know it or comprehend it. I often wonder what Jesus would have said if Pilate had not gone right out of the room after asking that question and tell the crowds that he found no crime in Jesus, and sought again to release him. Would he have listened to Jesus’ answer? Could he even comprehend what Jesus might have said?

How many times are we confronted with the truth, when it’s right in front of our eyes and don’t’ do anything about it? Sometimes our eyes are blinded and we can’t see. More often though, I think we turn a blind eye to the truth that confronts us. In our efforts to accommodate, and not offend, and be inclusive, the truth seemingly becomes optional.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he exhorts his hearers to “speak the truth in love.” He believed the loving thing to do is to speak the truth no matter what. The worst thing that we could ever do is temper or lessen the truth in order for the person to like what we have to say.

Pilate had the truth standing right in front of him, and he never knew it. He never knew that the King of kings, and Lord of lords was looking him squarely in the eyes with the eyes of love and compassion. The Truth does just that. He looks each of us in the eye with that same love and compassion and bids us to come and follow Him, to come and listen to His voice. The Good Shepherd is bidding us to listen to His voice, the voice of truth.

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