Read Sermons Author: The Rev. Sandra Curtis

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Christ the King

November 22, 2015

This week, a highly anticipated package arrived at my house.  I don’t want to give you the wrong impression, I couldn't care less about what was in that box, but my husband Randall and my daughter Olivia have been waiting for weeks for the arrival of a new PS4 game console so they can play Star Wars battlefront and other Star Wars Games.   I may not be a big Star Wars fan but the prevalence of Star Wars promotion in our culture is astonishingly hard to ignore, especially where I live.   There seems to be a Star Wars themed just about everything, clothes, and toys.   Star Wars characters were the most popular costume for Halloween at my school.  I’ve seen star wars fine jewelry and even a line of Star Wars themed Cover girl makeup.   It’s everywhere.  I have to admit that even I will be at the movie theater on open night of the new Star Wars Installment.

The Star Wars characters and the drama of the light versus the dark side fills the imagination of the students at my school and my family.  It colors in our ideas of heroes and villains.   I was informed by a 4 year old student as he added star wars troopers  to a picture of the disciples with Jesus, that Jesus’ lightsaber would definitely be green not red.  In a Star Wars’ world that makes perfect sense, Jesus would definitely be a Jedi with a green lightsaber.

So given our modern expanded fantasies about the universe when we get to a passage like today’s gospel from John, I wonder how much we hear the edge to Jesus’s replies to Pilate.

“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’” (John 18:36).

"My kingdom is not from this world,” says Jesus. No kidding. That seems pretty obvious.   We've got the sensibilities of centuries of Christian belief to inform us that Jesus’s identity belongs to the kingdom of heaven, God’s kingdom.

I wonder, was Jesus trying with these words to distance his connection to this worldly kingdom of which both Pilate and Jesus’ own accusers are a part?  Is Jesus, asserting his independence, that this world and its powers ultimately cannot determine his fate, which would echo  his words in John 10: 18 “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again”.  We might hear Jesus saying that if this conflict were happening in his kingdom, then indeed his followers would fight, but since it was happening in this other kingdom, a kingdom that cannot keep hold of him, his followers do not get involved.

But I think we are on the wrong track if we hear Jesus claim to be from another place as simply placing his authority and power in another part of the universe.   I know sometimes Jesus claim to be from another kingdom is heard as a deferred claim that if Jesus really wanted to he could at any time pull out his mind blowing Jedi Skills and thrown down all those people who oppose him, angel armies and all.

But I’ve come to believe that is not what Jesus was saying at all.   When I reflect upon the tragedies unfolding in a world around us, tragedies and fear that are grounding in the claim that violence can be justified as a tool of God.  I have come to see another understanding of Jesus’s kingship as a central part of Jesus’s words,  What Jesus might be saying, is that if he and his followers of this world, then naturally they would use the primary tool this world provides for establishing and keeping power: violence. But Jesus is not of this world and so Jesus will not defend himself through violence. Jesus will not establish his claims by violence. Jesus will not usher in God’s kingdom by violence. Jesus will make no followers by violence or coercion.

Rather, Jesus has come to witness to the truth, the truth that God is love (John 3:16).  But because we have not seen God and have such a hard time imagining God, all too often our imaginations are dominated by our experience or our cultural voices. So rather than imagining that God is love, we imagine God to be violent because we live in a world of violence. Rather than recognize the cross as a symbol of sacrificial love, we assume it’s the legal mechanism of punishing Jesus in our place because we have way too much experience with punitive relationships. Rather than believe that God’s grace and acceptance are absolutely unconditional, we assume God offers love, power, and status only on the condition that we fear, obey, and praise God – and despise those who don’t – because so much of our life is lived out of habit of fear and suspicion and defensiveness.

But Jesus is not of this world. And therefore his followers will not fight for him because to bring the kingdom about by violence is to violate the very principles of this kingdom.

The truth standing in front of Pilate is that Jesus comes embodying a kingdom that he simply cannot imagine as viable in his world,  this kingdom that will not take up arms to retaliate, that is a new way of being right in the middle of a violent, corrupt world.   This king claims no land, or coercive power instead he stands in front of Pilate with a divine authority of love not law, with the truth of radically embracing relationship with a God a unlimited mercy and grace, not brutal force.

When my heart is heavy with stories of brutal and senseless violence, I can feel the pull of Pilate’s dilemma. He is caught between two opposite narratives of power.  He cannot overcome his entanglement with fear, to face the truth about himself or the limits of his power.

But Jesus’s words also confront us, they are not simply an historical account of Pilate’s encounter with Jesus.    As we face the narratives of violence and hatred in our world we must also seek  to listen deeply to the truth of Jesus’s life and death.    It is a truth that calls us to reject the temptation to react from fear and hatred rather than faith and love in God’s abiding presence and work.

In our Christian tradition there are many different understandings of the place of force, from non- violence to just war. But regardless of where you or I may fall on that spectrum, as followers of Christ, a very different kind of king, we need  to witness that there are limits to the reach and outcome of force.  I honestly believe that even in a Star Wars Universe that Jesus would not carry a light saber at all.    Why?

Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote,

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. [1]

What does this mean for us this Sunday? I wish I had a definitive answer. But I know that we gather this Sunday to pray and to witness. To pray that God will comfort those who mourn, strengthen those who seek to thwart terrorists and bring  justice to all, change the hearts of those who can see no other way forward but through violence and fear, and equip all of us to work for a peace born of equity, justice and compassion.

And after our praying, we are called to witness:
to witness to the One who demonstrated power through weakness,
who manifested strength through vulnerability,
who established justice through mercy,
and who built the kingdom of God by embracing a confused, chaotic, and violent world, taking its pain into his own body, dying the death it sought, and rising again to remind us that light is stronger than darkness, and  love is stronger than hate.

As we witness, in our action and our speech, we are called to reject the self-destructive isolating narratives of not only of open faced hatred, but also of deep suspicion of the very people we are called in compassion to love, neighbor near and far alike.  In a world that perpetuates and idolizes narrative of fear, revenge, and self preservation, we can as followers of Christ live out of habits of love.  So in the face of violence, fear, and hatred we pray:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
 where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.  Amen. [2]

And as you go into the world in peace, “May the force be with you.”

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[1] Martin Luther King, Jr. “Where Do We Go From Here?” as published in Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?  (1967), p. 62.

[2] A Prayer of St. Francis, Book of Common Prayer, p. 833.

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