Saturday, December 1, 2012

November 25, 2012 - Royal News

Christ the King Sunday
John 18.33~37

[CONNECT ~ Our Fascination with Royalty]
            The British and most Americans along with them are fascinated with royalty ~ especially British Royalty.
+A year ago, the big story was Kate and Prince William’s wedding ~ the wedding of the century.
+Now, we are waiting breathlessly for the announcement that Kate is pregnant. According to The Examiner on Sept 5:
The latest out of Buckingham Palace suggests that the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William are having a baby and a royal bump may be seen soon.

Hollywood Life posted a story Wednesday about an insider's claim that Will and Kate have finally hit another milestone in their marriage by conceiving a child.

[QUOTE] The Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant with William’s baby, according to a person close to the news and happenings at Buckingham Palace. "Friends say Kate is convinced it's happened, and while she and William are keeping the news close to the vest, they're delirious with joy.” [END]

However, if Kate Middleton is really pregnant, it will likely take a royal announcement to make believers out of skeptics on baby~watch for Will and Kate. The royal couple appears to still be in the twilight of their honeymoon; all evidence suggests they are still deeply in love.
According to Body Language guru Linda Talley, "William sits in a very open position. Both Kate and her Prince have genuine smiles as they gaze at each other. Even after a year, it appears the honeymoon is still on." (1).

Can you believe that there is such a job as “Body Language Expert”? Oddly, had no more reports on the baby news since early September, so I can claim nothing further than what I just shared with you from The Examiner story.
            My guess is that your ears perked up at the mention of Will and Kate. And that is my point: even Americans, who fought one of the few wars on our own soil to throw off British rule are fascinated with all things royal.

            Well, today we come to the end of the Christian year. We have told the story of Jesus Christ from the days of anticipation in Advent 2011, through the birth of the Christ at Christmas, through his ministry, through the gathering storm of Lent leading to the cross and then Easter joy, through the day and season of Pentecost. Today, this great story is completed in a day we call “Christ the King Sunday.”
            We will read from John 18.33~37. Jesus is on trial before Pilate the Roman Governor. As Pilate examines Jesus, he asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?” This passage will not only point us to the claim that Jesus of Nazareth deserves the title: “King.” It will also teach us what the title means. I’m guessing that the popular fascination with all things Royal does not really do justice to the claim that Jesus Christ deserves the title: *King*.
            I hope you will get your Bible and turn to John 18 so you can read along with me. As you are finding your palace, let’s listen as our Parish Choir sings for us…
[FIRST SONG] “With a Voice of Singing (1:44), Parish Adult Choir

[SCRIPTURE ~ john 18.33~37 Good News Translation GNT]
            33 Pilate went back into the palace and called Jesus. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him.
            34 Jesus answered, “Does this question come from you or have others told you about me?”
            35 Pilate replied, “Do you think I am a Jew? It was your own people and the chief priests who handed you over to me. What have you done?”
            36 Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world; if my kingdom belonged to this world, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. No, my kingdom does not belong here!”
            37 So Pilate asked him, “Are you a king, then?”
            Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me.”


            In the African American Spirituals tradition, there is a great old hymn, “Ride On, King Jesus” edited by Steve Bell. The spiritual imagines Jesus riding down the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday:

**King Jesus rides to Jerusalem
Hosanna to King David's son
He rides upon a donkey small
The King of peace, the Lord of all

The children sing and they dance and shout
If they won't praise, the rocks cry out
King Jesus done just what He said
He healed the sick and He raised the dead

The light of God shines on His face
He offers all His pardoning grace
Come join the throng, your voices raise
The King of love deserves your praise

[CHORUS] Ride on King Jesus
No one can a~hinder thee
Ride on King Jesus, ride on
No one can a~hinder thee**.

Who is this king: King Jesus? I understand that the people around the world and 250 years ago had experience with kings and queens and such. These were people and positions that had a direct impact on people. The metaphor of the King worked in the past because all the hopes and authority of government were invested in one person who was imagined to be set aside by birth and place to hold this special authority in the life of the nation.
            In our time the king has been replaced by a President and two houses of Congress who are elected by the people. At some point in our lives, we will each know these people whom we elect. And, while they are respected and given great responsibility, they come from the same places from which we come. They are like us; they are us. Thus, royalty is a curiosity for us but not a necessity as it was for many nations until 250 years ago and the ancients. For all of those, kings ruled in almost every nation on earth.
            For us, however, the idea of “king” is foreign. The British institution of constitutional monarchy is no help; the role of the King in Britain is far more circumscribed than the people of the Bible imagined. Biblical kings passed their kingship down from generation to generation and ruled absolutely much like the several dictators of North Africa who have been driven out as a result of the Arab Spring. Further, Biblical kings knew that violent overthrow was always a possibility, so Pilate’s effort to stamp out rebellion, if that is what Jesus intended, was well placed. Pilate knows what kings are, what kingdoms are, where they come from, and how they behave. And he knows that it’s his job to allow no such thing on his watch. So, he asks the direct question: “Are you the King of the Jews?”
            Having little idea of kingship, we do not have many misleading impressions to correct. Perhaps in this narrow sense, we are better off than Pilate was on the day the Jewish leaders brought Jesus before him for trial.
I. 33 **Pilate went back into the palace and called Jesus. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him. 34 Jesus answered, “Does this question come from you or have others told you about me?**”

            A formal trial begins with an arraignment: the charges are read out in open court; the defendant is present to hear and to respond with a plea: *guilty as charged* OR *not guilty*. The leaders of the Temple arrested Jesus and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor, with the charge that he claimed to be “King of the Jews.” Pilate wants to know: is he guilty of this charge or not? For Jesus to claim that he is indeed King of the Jews is the crime of sedition. The common definition of sedition is “*conduct or language inciting rebellion against the authority of the government*.” If Pilate concludes that Jesus is indeed guilty of this charge, the trial will quickly reach its conclusion, and Jesus will be executed.
            But, Jesus does not bite; instead, he answers Pilate’s question with a question. **34 “Jesus answered, ‘Does this question come from you or have others told you about me?’”** Jesus wants to know if this is something Pilate himself believes about him or if he is only quoting the Jewish leaders who filed the complaint against him.             Clearly, Pilate is asking about a political king. Are you, Jesus, king of the Jews in rebellion against Roman rule and against Pilate’s authority as the representative of Rome? As Christians, we know that Jesus has something different and something greater in mind. But, let’s allow the drama to play itself out.

B. 35 **Pilate replied, “Do you think I am a Jew? It was your own people and the chief priests who handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world; if my kingdom belonged to this world, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. No, my kingdom does not belong here!”**

            Pilate confirms that the charges come from the Temple leaders ~ those John calls “the Jews.” But, he still wants to understand what Jesus has done to deserve their anger. “What have you done?
            Jesus begins to explain that his kingdom is not a political kingdom: “My kingdom is not of this world.” The evidence that his kingdom is not of this world should be evident to Pilate: Jesus’ followers have not begun a violent rebellion to keep Jesus out of the hands of those who arrested him. Pilate can confirm this for himself. This kingdom of Jesus is not a political threat to Rome. (I almost said, “This kingdom of Jesus is no threat to Rome” but that would not be correct.) Certainly, it is not a threat with tanks and guns; it is, however, a threat to the foundations of Rome and every government which claims the authority to give or take the life of those living under its authority.
            Jesus finishes by saying: No, my kingdom does not belong here!” “Here” in this palace, here with these soldiers, here with all the trappings of political power. All this leads us to the question: So where does Jesus’ kingdom belong? And how does anyone belong to his kingdom? We are working our way to the question: What sort of king is Jesus?

C.  37 **So Pilate asked him, “Are you a king, then?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me.**”

If Jesus is a king on this Christ the King Sunday, he is a king who has come into the world to speak the truth, and we join His kingdom by listening to him.
            We live in a kingdom that imposes very different rules for citizenship. Growing up in the South, I understood that citizenship comes mainly through birth. Those who are born in the USA are citizens of this nation. That was simple enough when there was little immigration to consider.
            Five years ago, when I came to this church, we at Church Street hosted the district Latino ministry office. Jeanet Berrecos kept the problem of Latinos before us constantly: the difficulty of the route to become US citizens, how hard it is to get the papers to work legally ~ a Green Card, the constant threat of deportation. Immigration laws are designed to mark the boundary between citizens and non~citizens as clearly as possible. As you can see, if the only requirement for citizen in His kingdom is that we listen to Jesus, then his requirements are very different.

D. Someone pointed out that if Jesus is no threat to political Pilate, and if Jesus’ kingdom is open to everyone who listens to him, then Jesus’ kingdom was open to Pilate as it was to the common people of Israel, to the Jewish leaders, and absolutely everyone else. As a result, Pilate was as much on trial in this encounter as Jesus was supposed to be.
            [APPLIC:] And, if the truth be told, we come to church hanging on to our sense of control as well. We do not embrace the sort of faith that gives up control of our lives and our life~styles ~ even if Jesus is the king.
            1. Over the past 20 years, we Americans have allowed the Christian faith to be claimed for political purposes by both parties.
+If we claim the Christian concern for creation, then we are liberals and we must be Democrats.
+If we claim the Christian concern for the unborn, then we must be conservatives and that makes us Republicans.
+In an era of US vs. THEM, those who agree with me are God’s children; those who disagree with me are sinners.
Thus, what should be a searching conversation among people of faith is transformed into a political football to be kicked around looking for an advantage and for votes.
            [APPLIC:] We must remember that every conversation between Christians is a conversation among brothers and sisters in Christ. We will remain brothers and sisters in Christ when the voting is completed, just as we were before the vote was taken.
           [APPLIC:] We must remember that Jesus wants disciples brought to faith through the wooing of the heart and challenge to the mind ~ not through intimidation and power.
+Jesus is not about a crown but a cross.
+Jesus will not ride in on a warrior’s stallion but on the donkey of the humble.
+Jesus does not come looking for servants but to offer service.
+Does does not bring war but the peace of God.

III. The high point of Jesus’ trial before Pilate comes at the end of this passage. Pilate has spent the trial commuting between the Temple leaders who refuse to enter Pilate’s hall and Jesus who being held in that very hall. It is time for judgment. Pilate asks Jesus: “So, you are a king?” From the way he asks, Pilate expects Jesus to confirm the charge. Jesus turns the question aside: “You say that I am a king.” Then, Jesus goes on to answer Pilate with the greatest clarity he can:
“**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.**”

What does this mean? It sounds like Jesus is talking in riddles. But, he is not talking in riddles; he is recalling the great themes of his entire ministry. Jesus would not have made a particularly good politician in America: he was not very good at hatching sound bites. To understand Jesus, we have to hear everything he says; it all fits together closely.
            In John 10, Jesus gives the Good Shepherd discourse. As you remember, one of the great images of kingship in the Bible is the *good shepherd*. Beginning in v. 11, Jesus says to the Pharisees:
            11 "**I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away~and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and THEY WILL LISTEN TO MY VOICE**. (John 10:11~16 NRSV) 

+ To know Jesus as our king is to know him as our shepherd (our king, our watchful leader, our loving guide).
+ To know Jesus as our king is to listen to his voice as the sheep listen FOR THE VOICE of their shepherd.
+ To know Jesus as our king is to be drawn to the kind of reign he brings ~ not a place or an address, but a quality of life and a way of life that brings peace.
+Because Jesus has come from the Heavenly Father and speaks for the Father, we are judged, not by Jesus sitting in judgment as Pilate did, but judged by our response to Jesus. Those who come in faith to Jesus thus indicate that they get and commit themselves to all he stands for and all that he is doing. Those who reject Jesus, as Pilate did, thus indicate that they reject what he stands for and all that he is doing.

            So, today the trial continues. Like Pilate, we have questions to ask of this Jesus. Like Pilate, we have to decide: What will we do with Jesus? That is the core question of life. What Pilate did not understand but we must understand is that we do not sit in judgment on Jesus. That power is not in our hands. Instead, we are judged by our  response to Jesus; the power is in his hands.
            Come now, Governor, the Pharisees standing outside have charged this Jesus with claiming kingship. He has claimed a lot of other titles, too: Good Shepherd, the Door, the Light, and the *Word of God now taken flesh*. What will you say? What do you say about Jesus?

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