Sermon on Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 and John 18:33-37 for Christ the King Sunday, Year B, Nov. 22, 2015
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “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.”
We have been watching the PBS series called Wolf Hall. It is about Thomas Cromwell, chief adviser to King Henry VIII of England in the 16th century. It is full of court intrigue and betrayal. There are spies, informants, and factions. In the center is king Henry, a despot if there ever was one. People get imprisoned, banished, and even killed by royal decree. Cromwell himself, in the end, is a victim of Henry’s rage. It makes me so happy not to live in the time of kings.
It is all the more fascinating to think that there were people who lived through the brutality of despotic monarchies, who nevertheless, could re-imagine the whole concept of king and kingdom. There were a few spiritually insightful people who could imagine that a realm under a king could be a near heaven on earth, under the right circumstances.
The prophet Daniel had that kind of imagination. After his apocalyptic visions of a succession of empires, which he pictured as beasts, really, monsters, anti-human figures of brutality, he comes to a final, climactic vision.
This time, instead of a monstrous beast, a figure like a human, a “son of man” comes into view. In this vision, the human one rises on the clouds and goes up to the glorious fiery throne of the Ancient of Days – the King of Kings.
The Ancient of Days gives a kingdom to the human one. It is a world-encompassing kingdom; a kingdom without borders. It is a limitless kingdom that never passes away.
Soon after this scene, Daniel receives the interpretation of the vision. The human one was a representative figure. He stands to represent as he says,
“the holy ones of the Most High [who] shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.”
So it is God’s people who receive the kingdom that lasts forever. From the beginning God’s dream for the world has been a united humanity; a kingdom without borders, where no one is a refugee, and in which there is no beastly violence nor oppression to flee from.
Jesus and Kingdom
Jesus came proclaiming the gospel, which is simply the good news that the kingdom of God has arrived. So Jesus, like Daniel, was able to imagine an alternative kind of kingdom, to the brutal one he lived in. And, amazingly, his announcement used the present tense. The Kingdom of God is here.
There is nothing to wait for. The kingdom of God is present wherever “God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Is Jesus, then, the king of this kingdom of God? John’s gospel tells a story to help us understand.
In the story, Jesus stands before the representative of the powers of empire. Procurator Pilate wears the insignia of the Roman Eagle. He can call upon legions of sword-wielding soldiers to use overwhelming violence at his discretion. This is the earthly version of a kingdom.
In front of him stands Jesus with no weapon, no army, and no thought of violence. Pilate asks him if he is a king. John tells the story this way:
“Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting”
Not fighting is the proof that the kingdom Jesus represents is not of this world.
Spiritual Kingdom: Earthly Effects
This is where it gets tricky. Many have stumbled here and gotten Jesus wrong. Does this mean that the Kingdom of God is an other-worldly matter for mystics and spiritualists without practical implications?
Resoundingly no! The spiritual kingdom of God has enormous this-world effects. This spiritual kingdom transforms lives. It makes people live and act differently than they would have, since their allegiance is to God’s will on earth.
Instead of imagining that life consists in the abundance of possessions, they share their bread with the hungry. Instead of returning violence with violence, they turn the other cheek, they stop the cycle of violence, they practice forgiveness of enemies.
This is the kingdom we gather together to celebrate and to affirm. We rehearse the stories of the one we are able to proclaim our king, the one whose life maps out the path that we believe is God’s will on earth: the Jesus path.
Because of all the discussions on the news this past week, I was reminded of the story Jesus told of the good Samaritan. I remember the first time someone drew my attention to the danger that the Samaritan put himself in, as he stopped to help the victim on the side of the road. There had been one robbery, one severe beating there that day; what was to stop a second? Who could have known if the criminals were nearby awaiting a second victim or not?
But in spite of the danger, the Samaritan did the right thing. He stopped and helped. He risked his own safety to show mercy, to be compassionate.
That is the story our king tells. That is the kind of kingdom we have given our allegiance to. That is what informs our conversations about welcoming strangers from Syria, and not just the Christians from Syria! This spiritual kingdom has enormous this-world effects; it calls for us to be a community that means it, when we call Christ the King.
Being the Alternative Community
But this is not the consensus view. This is an alternative perspective. And this is why we need the encouragement of this community so much. It is here, as we gather, that we are renewed in our hope, renewed in our passion to live as those on the Jesus path. It is here that we are spiritually re-calibrated towards goodness, truth and beauty. It here that we encounter God’s presence, a light in the darkness.
Someone told me that a person said something this past week that made me so proud to be a part of this community. She had been hearing so much about people wanting to block refugees from Syria settling among us, but said that she came here, to this community, because she knew we embraced an alternative vision. We do, it is called risk-taking compassion; the kind our King showed us by his life, and taught us by his words.
We need each other. We benefit from this place in which we gather. We benefit from these people and these services and classes and programs.
Affirmation of Faith
Let us affirm our faith in the words of the Iona Community of Scotland:
(source: Iona Abbey Worship Book, p. 179)
We believe that God is present,
in the darkness before the dawn;
in the waiting and uncertainty
where fear and courage join hands,
conflict and caring link arms,
and the sun rises over barbed wire.
We believe in a with-us God
who sits down in our midst
to share our humanity.
We affirm a faith
that takes us beyond the safe place:
into action, into vulnerability
and in the streets.
We commit ourselves to work for change
and put ourselves on the line;
to bear responsibility, take risks,
live powerfully and face humiliation
to stand with those on the edge
to choose life
and be used by the Spirit
for God’s new community of hope.