Do We Live Out The Reign of God? Christ The King Sunday

Do We Live Out The Reign of God? Christ The King Sunday

Christ The King: November 21, 2021
The Last Sunday After Pentecost

Year B: 2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-13; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 13:33-37

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Today we celebrate the end of the Church’s Liturgical Year with Christ the King Sunday, also known as the Reign of Christ Sunday.

Our Gospel passage from John depicts an exchange between Jesus and Pontius Pilate. Pilate was an overachiever, even by today’s standards. The New Testament records Pilate as having two Roman titles, Governor of and Prefect of Judea.

As Governor, his administrative title, he oversaw the collection of taxes for Rome, although much like today’s revenue and tax collectors, he did not set their rates. His headquarters was in Caesarea, but he visited every part of Judea at least once a year, hearing cases and complaints to enact justice.

As Prefect, his military title, Pilate supervised 3,000 Roman troops, all of whom were ready to respond to any hint of rebellion, and Rome considered Judea to be a difficult, problematic province. Therefore, Pilate was always present in Jerusalem during Passover.  Because of large gatherings for Passover, it was a potentially explosive time. It always is when thousands gather for any occasion.

I’ll put that in some context. The City of Harrisonburg has a population of just more than 52,000. Between the two major universities in Harrisonburg, the student population is 45%, more than 23,000 students. A few years ago, an off-campus block party of more than 8,000 turned unruly. That’s the kind of problem Pilate might have faced in Jerusalem, and his job was to make sure that there weren’t problems in Jerusalem. So, he always brought in extra military power to handle the large crowds of Passover pilgrims coming to the temple. The presence of Roman legions, along with his no-nonsense reputation, had generally done the job.

And here, amid this Passover celebration, comes Jesus. And Jesus, Pilate has been told is a troublemaker. So much a troublemaker that the preceding verses of the gospel that we don’t hear make it very clear. When Jesus was handed over to Pilate, he told the Jewish authorities to “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.”[1]

Jesus knows that to fulfill his earthly mission, he must be put to death on the cross. Pilate, on the other hand, has no idea as to why Jesus is in his presence and what he should do with him. So, in trying to understand, he questions Jesus. Thus, we hear this extraordinary scene between Pilate and Jesus. If you’ve ever been in a courtroom listening to lawyers and judges parse words, it sounds a bit like their banter.

Pilate asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Pilate is trying to find out if Jesus is going to be making trouble in Jerusalem during the Passover. But, most importantly, he’s trying to find out if Jesus is leading a rebel faction against the existing Jewish authorities, which could lead to civil unrest. If so, Pilate had to be ready to act.

And we have the part of the passage that I think if we acted it out, you would probably hear a fair bit of sarcasm.

 Pilate:  “Are you the King of the Jews?

Jesus:    “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

Jesus then basically admits to being a king but says somewhat obliquely, “my kingdom is not from this world.”[2]

Pilate asks again directly, “So you are a king?” It’s put forth as a question, perhaps even insultingly. And Jesus continues with, “you say that I am a king”.[3]

We know where this ends, but could Jesus not have answered differently? Could he have not parsed his words even more carefully with Pilate?

Of course not. For any number of reasons. First, Jesus knew what kind of death he was to die.[4]

Second, Jesus is a king. We have a long arc of biblical history through which to trace Jesus’ kingship. In the days of Abraham through Joshua, God spoke directly to his chosen delegates. After Joshua died, God appointed twelve (12) Judges, one for each tribal territory. They were primarily military leaders charged to defend their lands against outside threats. In time, the people became dissatisfied with the system of Judges and told the Prophet Samuel that they wanted what every other surrounding nation had, a king.

God disagreed that being ruled by a king would be in their best interest but yielded to the peoples’ request as he told Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being King over them. Now then, listen to their voice; only – you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the King who shall reign over them.”[5]

For thousands of years, people were looking for a ruler to conquer their enemies. And then we have Jesus come on to the scene; Jesus who is a king.

We hear the genealogy. In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we read the generations between King David and Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father.[6]

With the birth of Jesus, God’s promise that the house of David would continue forever was fulfilled, not as an earthly king, but as our eternal King.

The Kingdom of God was the primary focus of Jesus’ theology. And part of what that theology shows us is that God’s time is not our time. Jesus Christ is the King of a realm with no geographical or time limitations. His Kingdom is past, present, and future. It was there 2,000 years ago and t is here right now within our grasp.

The Kingdom’s growth is inevitable, like the parables of the mustard seed that grows into a huge bush and the yeast that causes bread to rise.

Therefore, each of us must be prepared for the kingdom’s fulfillment like the parables of the people invited to the wedding feast and the maids who had to have enough oil in their lamp to greet the master when he arrived home late evening.

Jesus Christ wants everyone to be a part of the Kingdom. He will search no matter how long it takes and finds the lost, like the woman looking for her lost coin, the shepherd looking for his lost sheep, and the father welcoming back his lost or prodigal son.

We have a choice. We can follow the priorities of the kings of the world, which ultimately results in delusion and disappointment. Indeed, we are often distracted by the powers of death—the angry, the hateful, those who seek to intimidate and frighten people and get them to focus on fear, anger, and hate. Understandably, they get our attention, but that is not the gospel of Jesus.

How do we live in the Kingdom of God? First, we must use all of the gifts that God gives us to their fullest. We are to feed, clothe, and have compassion for poor and marginalized people. Third, we are to treat every person with love and respect, fulfilling Jesus’ commandment of loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Jesus is a leader, a king, who never rose so high that he couldn’t see those who weren’t leaders and kings. Today, we see Jesus throughout the world in places and with people, others don’t want to see. He is with those who are helpless and powerless. We see Jesus in places where kings seldom go.

Do we live out the reign of God as Christ did, seeking to serve the least and the lost? Do we seek to serve rather than be served? Do we live in the Kingdom of God, serving our King, Jesus Christ, the alpha and omega?

If we do, we live as God intended us, a shining light of peace and joy.

At the end of today’s passage, Jesus said, “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.”

Pontius Pilate did not understand what Jesus meant, but we do. Amen.

[1] John 18:31, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[2] John 18:36, NRSV

[3] John 18:37, NRSV

[4] Cf. John 18:32, NRSV

[5] 1 Samuel 8:6b,7-9, NRSV

[6] In Matthew, written by a Jewish convert to Christianity, the lineage starts with Abraham who is considered to be the first Jew.  In Luke, written by a Greek convert to Christianity, the lineage begins with Adam, the first created person.

 


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