This is Christ the King Sunday, a festival that is a little quirky to say the least.
It is sometimes hailed as kind of a collapsing down of the whole church year into a single day, a time to look at where we are pointing as people of faith.
Do we point to the world, or to faith?
Who rules us really, our own desires and passions, or God and the Kingdom?
The focus for this day is alternately a consideration of the last Judgement in Matthew, that whole Sheep and Goats episode.
Or in the year of Luke we get Jesus and thieves on the Cross, one who calls in derision and one who calls for mercy.
And in the year of Mark’s Gospel we get this story from the Gospel of John, of Pilate questioning Jesus.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” he asks.
Pilate is very much like you and me in many ways, although you may not have thought of that before.
He is a Gentile, an outsider to the Jewish faith and all this talk about Messiahs and kings and prophecies holds little interest for him.
He is in a position of authority and power, and that’s where most of us find ourselves in this society, whether we recognize it or not. You may not feel particularly powerful, but you make your own decisions most of the time, and most of us enjoy the privilege that comes from citizenship in the United States, and from our position in society.
More often than not, (like Pilate) we are also just a little skeptical about Jesus power and his presence in the world. We question God from time to time, wondering how Jesus fits in to our lives, and the assumption that we (like Pilate) make is that it was for this world that Jesus came, to fix what is wrong with it.
In the film, “Jesus of Nazareth”, when Pilate asks this question of Jesus, he points behind him into the Praetorium. There in that splendid architecture stand the statues of the Roman Gods and of Caesar, all of which are the mark of Pilate’s own position of power and authority as Governor.
Those are the gods that back him up, and they look a whole lot more powerful than the Jesus who stands before him.
The gods behind Pilate control most of the known world. They back the political power that has its thumb on Jesus’ neck!
“You say you are the Son of God, Jesus? Which God?”
There are so many gods to choose from – then and now — and most of them look a lot more powerful than this One God you claim to represent with your penchant for the poor and the outcast.
Here’s a quick exercise I may have had you do before. Look through your wallet and sift through all the things that you carry close to you, the things that you can’t go through a day without.
What do you find there?
I have Credit cards and cash, discount cards and government I.D. I trust in the Bank of the West, Visa and Mastercard. I am a resident of Missouri and authorized to drive on its highways, and if I have an accident Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota will see to my health care, Delta Dental will replacing my teeth, and if I’m emotionally wounded by the experience, Cigna Behavioral Health will provide me with mental health care.
If my injuries are fatal, American Family and Thrivent will see to caring for my survivors.
I can get discounts at Office Max, bonuses at Price Chopper, Panera, and Hy-Vee, discounts because of my age and AARP, and Guest privileges at Comfort Inn.
When I empty out my pockets, I find all kinds of things that (in other words) talk about the Kingdom of this world to which I belong.
I am very much like Pilate, pointing to the things that back him up and asking where Jesus “fits” in to these.
Is there anything in here that bears witness to Jesus being my King? Anything that I carry day in and day out, that I cannot get by without, that witnesses to my allegiance to Jesus?
You might think that you could point to the ‘In God We Trust’ found on our currency as a sign of trust in God, but then you have to remember that the value of that note is not guaranteed by God, but rather by “the Federal Reserve of the United States of America.”
This statement on the bill does not bear witness to faith in any God, but rather to faith in the government that backs the piece of paper.
Again, it’s not unlike Pilate pointing to the statues that are the sign of the Roman government behind him.
Pilate points to the things that surround him, and says, “Where do you fit into these?” These are the things in which Pilate puts his trust, the signs and symbols of how the world works in his day and age.
I could point to my wallet ask Jesus the same question. Jesus, where do you fit in to all of these gods to which I give allegiance?
That is the Pilate in us speaking, and we are sometimes just as uncomfortable with the question.
It may be that we are uncomfortable with a representative of the Living God standing before us. Really afraid that if we were to say to Jesus, “why haven’t I heard of, experienced your Kingdom in my life?” He might just respond to us by saying, “My Kingdom is not of this world…,
We are, you know, so preoccupied with the things of this world!
Today Jesus stands before us all, and takes our questions as he did Pilate’s, and all of our accusations, and all of our indifference toward God and this world.
They are to him, I suppose, still like hammer blows on nails, like thorns pressed down into flesh.
Our questions of “where do you fit in, Jesus?” makes him to suffer, because it betrays our fundamental misunderstanding of God’s Kingdom.
We assume that what God sent Jesus to do was to tinker and to make this world a little better.
But Jesus knows that what he’s really here to do is something quite different.
He’s here to call the whole human endeavor that we put into place into question, because the Kingdom that Jesus comes to proclaim is one ruled by relationship, and not by things.
That’s our fundamental misunderstanding.
We keep wondering where Jesus fits into all the “things.”
The “things” we have meticulously built, our ideologies, philosophies, beliefs and systems.
The “things” that happen, tragic and senseless.
The “things” that we call important.
The “things” that make up our government, our commerce, our security and sense of worth.
All these “things” that we point to as being of most importance to us.
Jesus takes our “Pilate-like” questions about God and where God is and what God is doing in this world.
He takes our questions born of our arrogance and our own self-centeredness.
He came and endured it all, so that he could remind us that what he does is what God always does.
God always stands before us, looking at us in love — offering us another way, and it is not a way of this world.
Where is your Kingdom, Jesus?
Well, it’s not of this world, but it’s about truth, and the truth is, God loves you, even when you are acting like Pilate, pointing to the “things” instead of paying attention to the relationships.
This is the Kingdom Jesus comes to bring, one that is less centered on “things” and more upon relationships.
When “things” happen that are tragic and senseless, Jesus does not come to change the “things”, he comes to console those affected by those “things.”
When we call “things” important, Jesus points us instead to the relationships.
“And who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asks. Jesus redirects the conversation from things to people, and to relationships, and to actions taken to care, to comfort, to heal.
“What you have done for the least of these my brothers and sisters..” Jesus says, changing the conversation from worry about judgment to a matter of relationship.
“Is there no one left to condemn you? Then neither do I.” Jesus changes the conversation from what “thing” should be done to this woman caught in adultery to a matter of relationship shared by all.
This is the Kingdom where Jesus reigns. It is not made up of things, but of people, real people with real names and real concerns.
They are not “things.”
They are not migrants, or immigrants, or “those kind” of people.
They are children, and fathers and mothers and husbands and wives seeking compassion, asylum, freedom from the violence and oppression of their land, much of which is often our doing by meddling in the political structures or imposing beliefs, systems and ideologies.
The Kingdom of God is not made up of titles and factions, it is not comprised of Pharisees and Sadducees or Publicans, nor Americans, Republicans, Democrats or Libertarians.
The Kingdom of God, (the one Jesus reigns over as King) is made up of people who have names, and some who are sometimes nameless to us but never faceless and never unknown to Jesus.
It is made up of the woman at the well, (who is not a thing, or thing that she has done,) but rather is someone in relationship with Jesus because they share a common conversation and need.. water.
She is not a thing. Not a Samaritan. Not divorced. Not having five husbands and living with a man who is not her husband. She is someone. She is in conversation with Jesus and learning of the Kingdom where you never thirst.
The Kingdom of God is made up of the older brother, and the younger son, and the character who own the pigs, and the Father who welcomes and loves and who insists on treating his sons on the basis of his relationship with them, not on the things they do or the decisions they make.
I name you all as Pilates this day, as I rightly name myself.
We all spend far too much time trying to decide what to do with all these “things” as they present themselves to us.
But maybe, just maybe the way to glimpse the Kingdom that Jesus promises is to be less in concerned or upset about things, and to pay more attention to the people.
It is in the hearts of people that Jesus rules, and when Jesus rules in the human heart, then the “things” that we are usually so preoccupied with don’t seem to matter as much.
Things like borders and walls.
Things like papers and status.
Things like security and comfort.
Things like skin color and ethnic ties.
None of those “things” to which Pilate, or we would point seem to matter much in the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom Jesus comes to proclaim.
Maybe on Christ the King Sunday, it’s not a bad thing to ask where we are pointing, and what is Jesus reminding us about.
“My Kingdom is not of this world…”