Sermon text: 2 Samuel 23:1-7 and ??John 18:33-37????????
One of the many advantages of getting chronologically older is that I have grown accustomed to my traditional blind spots.? I?m still blind for awhile when it happens.? But I?ve learned to compensate by doing a fairly good job of knowing from experience what sort of stuff or things get in my way from being able to move ahead.? This week was one of those times and I blame it all on that detestable program on WFIU called the ?Radio Reader? hosted by Dick Estelle.
When I make my annual pledge to WFIU I send it by mail with a note attached that says, ?if you will stop programming the ?Radio Reader? at 11:30 am and put it at some time that is not when I most want to hear a good world news update program, I will up my pledge, I will double it.? They are not listening to me.? I must not be giving enough, yet.
I heard a ten-minute section of Dick Estelle?s current book entitled Enemies: A History of the FBI by Tim Weiner and I raced to my computer to buy the Kindle edition.? I have been immersed in it all week.? I would rather read the book than eat.? It has saturated my being.? It is not particularly well written, but it is based on the release of J. Edgar Hoover?s private papers after he served as head of the FBI for fifty-five years.? What caught me last Monday was Estelle?s reading of the section having to do with why Hoover and the FBI so hated and mistrusted and worked against anything that Martin Luther King, Jr. favored, such as justice for black Americans.? Reading this book has been like being invited inside the mind of much of the evil that I have dedicated myself against for most of my life.? It has given me a view from the other side in stark and horrifying detail as the book wades through so many crucial behind-the-scenes characters, their actions, their motivations that have defined the last century in these United States.?
Finally, after recognizing where my brain has been focused, I was able to write and think again, and I found myself in front of that Biblical story that is so weird for this time of year.? The story is that one from John?s Gospel, which frames for us the first and final meeting between Jesus and Pontius Pilate.? It is the story that ends this year?s liturgical cycle B for us.? Next Sunday is a new year as we begin cycle C with the emphasis on stories from Luke?s Gospel.? Jesus meeting up with Pilate was an ending.
Pilate engineered the final words that resulted in Jesus? death on a cross.? Pilate did not leave us a written record of his inner thoughts and feelings, as J. Edgar Hoover did; they were probably somewhat similar, however, in their shared pragmatic concerns for the security of the empires for which they worked.
We have no writings from Pilate.? He may or may not have even been literate.? But others wrote about Pilate.? He was not happy to be given by Caesar the job that he had as the Roman governor of a province that only rarely paid enough taxes to Rome and was always in an uproar.? Jerusalem was hot and dirty, and he hated the locals who had strange ideas about God and ethics and morality.? They believed that God was active in their history and he surely wondered often out loud, ?How was that going for them, their God?s activity in their history??? He kicked Jews around like some people kick dogs.? History is replete with records of his anger, his cruelty, and his violence.
Jesus stood before him, accused of revolutionary activity and causing a problem in a city overfilled with pilgrims and enough problems already.? Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world and Pilate in his cruelty sent Jesus off to another world and used his body on a cross as a political statement to his followers that this is what happens when you cross the Roman Imperial agendas.? That was the end of Jesus, the end of his life cycle for Pilate, who moved on to greater cruelties still, and that is today the end of our cycle B lectionary texts.
Pilate didn?t like the Jewish temple authorities who brought Jesus to him for judgment.? Pilate knew that the Jews who chose to go along to get along with him hated him, that they hated Roman oppression.? Pilate stuck a sign over Jesus that said, ?KING OF THE JEWS,? probably to mock the Jewish authorities.? Pilate knew who his enemies were and Jesus was amongst the least of them. Pilate was toying with them, threatening them and telling them to stay where they were, afraid of him.
But, look who is King now?!? Liturgically, this is Christ the King Sunday.? Jesus is King and Pilate and Roman Empire are but footnotes in history.? If it is not clear, I state that sarcastically.? History reminds us that it is not over until it is over.?? The Romans have given so much to the world that is both exceedingly excellent, and so much that is cruel.? Alas, so has Christianity. I would hesitate to ask even those of you who are here today to raise your hands if you have been significantly abused in the name of Christianity.? I hesitate because I know how many of us have and we are but a tip of the so-called iceberg of abuse.? We are here not only to heal ourselves but to seek to make right many of the wrongs that we know have been done in the name of Jesus.
I remember the first time that I read Gandhi?s statement about western civilization, that it was a good idea and that we as westerners ought to try it.? I would suggest the same about Christianity and the Way of Jesus, which are often two different realities.? I?m not sure that the Way of Jesus has been adequately lived yet on a scale large enough for us to know what the Reign of Christ, or God?s Kingdom, Reigndom, if you will, would look like and be like.
In our reading this morning from the Book of Revelation we hear John standing before the throne of God and John proclaims,? ?glory and dominion forever and ever? to ?him who loves us and freed us from our sin?(1:6).? God has dominion.? God has control.? All that is evil, all that can threaten or oppress us, has lost its power at the feet of God.? Sin and judgment are washed away.? This is what it looks like to live in the reign of God.
But why?? If as the Scripture goes on to say, Jesus is truly ?the ruler of the kings of earth? (1:5), the natural question is why doesn?t Jesus or God act like any King or Queen and just establish the kingdom, the queendom, whatever reigndom on earth and just get it over with?
Every week I sort of read through the Scripture lesson and seek that which reverberates in my soul, that which sticks out and won?t let go of me. This week I kept getting stuck by Jesus saying, ?My kingdom, the reigndom, is not of this world? or otherwise stated, ?Not from here.?
Well, that could mean that Jesus was an alien, but I suspect not.? What I do think is alien is living in the real world as Jesus would have us live.? I don?t think it has ever been tried adequately and has never been known by us.? Jesus? Kingdom, God?s way or reigning, is not won with swords or armies or gavels.? It is won by a way of living and dying like Jesus did?, Jesus who was a freed child of God and who knew and respected no power other than the Sovereign of the Universe.
Power.? There is a lot of power exercised in this world of ours.? Power to do, not do, to influence or ignore, is a gift of this life, and it is by its nature absolutely neutral.? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, ?What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.? Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.?
Jesus was not seeking any throne that had ever existed in our world.? But the disciples then, and too often still today, have a tendency to define God being in control by using ideas and concepts that have traditionally defined kings and power brokers in our societies.? Too often we project what we know into God rather than allow God to fully project God?s reality into us.?
God?s Kingdom, reigndom, will only happen through us.? God is stuck with us.? But God isn?t complaining about us.? Perhaps grieving, but not complaining.? God believes in what we can and yet must do.? It is ours with God as our partner to bring the reality of Heaven more completely to our earth.
Jesus is coming.? Every time two or three gather in a spirit of loving concern, Jesus is come.? Each time that we proclaim into lives that surround us that life does not have to be one of hunger and poverty and violence and dictators and con-artists and ignorance and criminality, and that God?s dream for Creation is breaking through, Jesus is come.? Each time that we stand and proclaim the Way of Jesus and not any worldly power or principality as our Lord?, then Jesus? reigndom breaks through that much more.
The Kingdom, the Reigndom of God: the peaceable realm in which the lion and lamb lie down together, the swords and the bombs are re-made into plows, and wells and tools for building are readily available as all have what they need to thrive, the bread, the wine, the water, the power, the love and joy.
This is not the end of the world that we are pondering today.? It is the end of a cycle that does not need repeating ever again.? Be the reign of God for the people of God.