Healing and hope for the world begins when the followers of the Christ, ruler of the universe, follow him, stand as he does, offering themselves to others for the sake of love.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Christ the King, the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 34 B
text: John 18:33-37
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Who’s really in charge here?
A provincial governor, with the authority of a global empire, sits on a chair across from a standing, half-naked, exhausted man. Is this prisoner a revolutionary to be feared? People say he thinks he’s a king.
The prisoner does seem in charge. Jesus shows calm confidence, certain about who he is. He may not look like a king. But he has more authority than the other one.
Jesus is also strangely confident in his followers. Pilate asks if Jesus is a king; he says he isn’t like worldly kings. If he were, Jesus says, his followers would fight to defend him. “My followers know the kind of king I am. That’s why they’re letting this happen. They know my voice, and they follow me.”
Forgive us if we wince. We know what his disciples were doing, and it wasn’t because they understood Jesus’ true kingship. They were running in fear. We know ourselves, too, and we’re pretty sure Christ’s confidence is also misplaced in us. We don’t really understand Christ’s way of ruling the universe, and we aren’t very good at following Christ’s voice.
But we also know that, regardless of who’s really in charge of this world, it’s a terrible mess.
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars,” Jesus said last week. Don’t we know it.
Global political tension is unbelievably high, and no one in charge knows what to do. Few military options can contain ISIS, if any, and that’s only one horror. No corners of this world are untouched by terrorism, destruction, oppression, murder. Violence against the most vulnerable, women, children, elderly, minorities, doesn’t take a day off. Our city is in turmoil, as many have been, over another suspicious death of an unarmed black person at the hands of authorities. It’s hard to look anywhere and not see intractable, violent, and terrifying problems.
Meanwhile, in our country Christ’s followers seem just fine with fighting and violence. People seeking the U.S. presidency gain in the polls by outdoing each other in bigotry, hatred, disregard for the poor and vulnerable, suspicion of the stranger, often in Christ’s name. When one leading candidate seemed willing to call for a national registry for all Muslims, before he realized it might sound a little too like Germany and the Jews in the 1930s, we know we’re in no position to help the rest of the world. We’re an election away from real repression and increased violence and correspondingly worse terror and fear throughout the world. And Christ’s followers are leading the way.
It’s clear Pilate’s still in charge here. Rule by military might and keeping the peace by violence worked for Rome, until they couldn’t contain what they created. It’s worked for the modern world, too, if by “worked” we mean at least some could live in peace. But the terror and evil our way of life has engendered in this world is coming to birth, and likely can’t be contained. We have the world we have made, and we don’t like it.
But despairing at what’s happening in the world distracts us from this reality: we don’t follow Christ our King very well.
We focus all our attention and concern on the huge issues “out there,” perhaps because that won’t affect our own decisions too much. We decry those “other Christians” as if we aren’t also at fault, as if we hear Christ’s voice well.
Every problem on the world stage appears in our daily lives. Following Pilate’s way, or our way, or Christ’s way is a choice we make with every moment, every breath. What will you do with that person who offends you? How will you react to that one who treats you badly? Or the one who ignores you, shuns you, shames you? Or who angers you? Disappoints you? Betrays you? Or who hates you? Misunderstands you? Disagrees with you?
And how will you be to others? Will you delight to prove you’re right and they’re wrong? Will you bully people to do what you want, or passively manipulate people to do your will? Will you run over people you disregard, or shut people you don’t approve of out of your life, or ignore people that don’t meet your standards? Will you make decisions based on your preconceptions and prejudices instead of taking the time to learn and consider why you feel a certain way? Will you act immaturely because you don’t get your way? Will you act however you want to act, whatever the cost to others?
What does a follower of Christ Jesus the King choose to do in those situations that is different than a follower of Pilate and his cohorts?
Who’s really in charge here? That’s the question.
Who do we let say to us, “That’s not how you should act?” Who justifies our behavior? This matters, because the only way anything changes in Pilate’s world is when people stop following Pilate, are changed by God and start following a different way. When one person commits to nonviolence as a way of life, when one person chooses a way of peace and reconciliation with another who has harmed them, when one person says, “I’m not in charge, and the world isn’t, Christ my King is.”
The problems that plague our world have few solutions in the short-term. But if more of Christ’s followers started hearing Christ’s voice, changing their behavior, following the path of vulnerability and loss, in the long-term real change will happen.
So because it has to start with each of us, in this Eucharist we practice this hard path, we practice our following.
After we’ve heard God’s voice in the Word, and before we eat together at Christ’s table of forgiveness, we practice and learn.
First, always, Christ gives us peace.
Then, remarkably, we turn to one another, one at a time, take each other’s hand, look each other in the eye and honestly, lovingly, truthfully, offer the same blessing of Christ’s peace.
So we practice for the path of Christ our King. You can’t hold a weapon in a hand you’re placing in another’s. When we greet each other this way in this place, it’s more than convention, more than “hello.” It is a holy moment where we follow our King’s voice and say there is no animosity between us and the other, only the peace of Christ. Even those whom we might have problems with, or fear, or whom we feel dislike us. It’s a vulnerable moment where nothing is protecting us, yet the peace of Christ binds us.
Following the voice of Christ our King in the world looks the same. The peace of Christ shapes our actions, our love, our self-giving. We can’t speak of the problems of the world and ignore the person next to us. So we follow Christ’s voice, not our own, not Pilate’s, and reach out in peace.
It’s scary. That’s why we practice here, to learn how to be vulnerable and open and honest with others, as our true King is. That’s also why we need to stay next to that prisoner standing before the throne.
Christ’s confidence before Pilate is ours to claim.
We just take our other hand, the one not holding another person’s, reach up, and take Christ’s hand in ours.
See him before Pilate, knowing what was coming, unafraid. That’s the hand to hold if we’re going to follow our King in self-giving, vulnerable love in Pilate’s world. We hold each other’s hands and the hands of everyone we meet in love and peace as we walk our path together. But we also walk beside Christ our King, holding that hand with all our might.
Then Christ’s confidence and peace of mind and heart become ours. We can do this path with the strength of our King. We begin to hear Christ’s voice and follow, and the healing of this world we’ve so badly damaged begins.
And let’s keep in mind the other thing Jesus seems confident about.
Hear the pride as Christ talks about us to Pilate: “My followers know my voice, they follow me. They know my kingdom is not like this world’s. I trust them.”
It doesn’t matter if we think Christ’s confidence in us is misplaced. This is the One, the true God, whose death and resurrection have begun the transforming of the whole cosmos. The One in whom all things live and move and have their being.
Who are we to say that Christ our King is wrong about us?
In the name of Jesus. Amen