Presented to University Baptist Church, Starkville, MS on Nov. 25, 2012

SCRIPTURE TEXT: John 18:33-37

Thanksgiving has come and gone and the Christmas shopping rush is in full swing. It's the time for asking hard questions:

  • Why do good people trample upon each other to buy more stuff just hours after expressing thanks for already having enough?

  • And, why does the Lectionary give us a Gospel text about Jesus before Pilate just prior to the crucifixion just one week before the start of Advent and the anticipation of Christ's birth?

I know that second question has been keeping you up all night, as it has me. It IS a tough one …

For those of us who grew up Baptist in the South – Advent is still a relatively new thing, despite the fact that it's been a fairly established Christian tradition since as  early as the Fourth  Century. Advent traditionally involves a four-week period leading up to Jesus' birth in which we focus on preparing our hearts and lives in anticipation of Christ coming. Typically the four weeks build one-upon-the-other with themes of hope, peace, joy and love … as expectation for these things to become manifest in human experience grows week after week.

And whereas over the past several weeks the Revised Common Lectionary, which guides the Christian calendar and our reading through Scriptures throughout the year, has focused the gospel stories on on Mark's presentation of Jesus and his increasing confrontations with religious authorities,  this one week – one Sunday before our focus shifts toward prophecies intended to create Messianic expectation in our lives – this one week the Lectionary jumps right into the Passion of the Christ. Well, not the movie, of course, but those several hours of suffering and trials that Jesus endured bet ween the Last Supper with his disciples and his death on the cross.

By the way, as a side note, the whole origin of the term “Passion” – which usually conjures up very different images in our minds – apparently comes simply from a King James translation of Acts 1:3 --- yep, just one word in one verse in all of the Bible as it was “officially” translated in the early 1600s – in which the Greek word usually translated as “suffering” is actually translated as “passion.”

So here we are. In the full swing of the cultural holiday season, with everyone doing what we can to boost our economy, and Christians all over the US girding for battle to defend our right to commercially market and financially profit from the birth of a peasant in a feeding trough, and we are given a text from the end of Jesus' life.

Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate and answers (or, actually, doesn't answer) Pilate's questions.

Pilate was a ruthless Roman ruler, known for his brutality and slaughter, and for his out-right hatred of Jews. In addition to horrific violence, he also enjoyed mocking the Jews and desecrating sacred images for the sheer enjoyment of upsetting them.

So here's the Roman governor of Judea having to question this small-time Jewish religious leader who has upset the big-whig Jewish religious leaders. He's put out with the Jews for not taking care of their own business in the first place, let alone acting as though it's so important as to bother him and waste his time with such miniscule tribal issues.

Despite what Jewish leaders have been saying, Pilate neither saw nor felt any political or military threat emanating from Jesus.

During my years of juvenile probation work, I sat in many court hearings in which the presiding judge clearly viewed the case at hand as being a waste of his time, and he let his disapproval toward the prosecution show. I imagine Pilate casting a look of disdain upon the Jewish leaders, then looking over at Jesus, then back over to the leaders with a glare that screams “you've got to be kidding me!”

Rubbing his forehead, knowing there's nothing to do but get on with it, he asks Jesus “are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answers the question with a question. Pilate continues:

“ Do I look like a Jew to you? Why do you think I'd care one bit whether you are or you aren't? But these people (there's an angry tone in his voice as he glances at the religious leaders) have brought you to me.  Obviously, you are a grave threat to them, and they, being the good Roman citizens that they are, looking out for Rome's best interests, of course, they feel you are therefore a grave threat to me …. So, tell me, what in the world have you done?”

And Jesus answers as he tends to do, vaguely, mysteriously, abstractly …

“ My kingdom is not your kind of kingdom or their kind of kingdom or any kind of kingdom in this world. I'm no political, economic or military king. I'm just here living out the Eternal Truth in flesh and blood and bone.”

And of course, you know where all of this leads – to a cross, upon which Pilate arrogantly and sarcastically tacked the sign (placed solely to spite the Jewish leaders), “hey, Jews, here is your 'king'.”

So …  why this story …

why this scene from the Passion Play …

why during the Christmas season?

Why the Sunday before we start preparing our hearts and lives in anticipation of the coming Christ?

Maybe, we need to be reminded.

Maybe, we need to have brought into our view what is to come in the long run as we prepare for our part in the more immediate story.

Maybe, as we mutter and complain or outright scream and yell and stomp around like spoiled little brats over our right to rule over our culture with the word “Christmas”... 

maybe, we need to have in our view the bigger picture, that Jesus' kingdom is not one of material nor political power.

Maybe, we need to have in our view the larger framework – that Jesus' kingdom is not a geographical area (such as political boundaries, national boundaries, or even physical structures like the Temple, or a House of Worship).

Maybe, we need to have in our view that the Kingdom of God – which Jesus does tell us to “seek ye first” –  is about the reign of God both in the midst of time and beyond all time.

The reign of God continues regardless of “principalities and powers” and laws and who is making the laws and who is enforcing the laws.

The reign of God – though very difficult to see at times – was still very much alive during the rule of man we call slavery.

The reign of God – though very difficult to see at times – was still very much alive during those years of Hitler's merciless Holocaust.

The reign of God – though very difficult to see at times – was still very much alive during the reign of oppressive communist regimes after World War II.

The reign of God – though very difficult to see at times – was still very much alive even during the oppressive rule of “the Church” in the middle ages.

The reign of God exists and thrives and continues wherever a person's heart is transformed with grace and forgiveness and mercy and patience and above all, love.

The reign of God exists and thrives and continues:

wherever a person or a people  respond to temporal violence with deeper, more lasting peace;

wherever a person or a people  respond to fear with courage;

wherever a person or a people  respond to despair with hope;

wherever a person or a people  respond to hurt with healing;

 ...  to being wronged with forgiveness;

 ...  to anger with grace;

 ...  to hatred with love.

The reign of God flourishes anywhere and anytime anybody resembles the sacrificial Christ more than the successful champion.

The reign of God flourishes anywhere and anytime anybody resembles the sacrificial Christ more than the successful champion.

Over the next four weeks we will walk together through the season of Advent.

Over the next four weeks we will celebrate hope, peace, joy, and love.

Over the next four weeks we will train our minds to focus on the coming of the baby Jesus …

the coming of the Messiah …

the coming of God-in-the-flesh …

but our Scripture today firmly reminds us of what that really looks like in our world which values might and power and dominance.

What kind of kingdom are you expecting?

What kind of kingdom are you wanting to participate in?

What kind of glory are you hoping to find in the baby Jesus?

Be forewarned – this coming baby whom we will crown king of kings will tell us,

My kingdom is not from this world. ‘You say that I am a king. 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.’

 

Photo Credit

Comment