Meg Peery McLaughlin
Christ the King
November 21, 2021
John 18: 33-38
Prayer for Illumination
Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone
but by every word that comes from your mouth
Make us hungry for this heavenly food
that it may nourish us today
in the ways of abundant life through JC, the bread of heaven. Amen.
John 18: 33-38
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.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Today is a day I’m really grateful we have an organ.
Today is the New Year’s Eve of the Church’s liturgical calendar.
Time to pop the bubbly and pull out all the stops, Joey Fala.
It is Christ the King Sunday where the church celebrates how
in Christ all things began, and in Christ all things will be fulfilled.
In the end, Christ will triumph over the forces of evil.
Crown him with many crowns, indeed!
But the text for today doesn’t seem to match the festivities.
There’s nothing worthy of a Zimbelstern in this story.
There is a king, but he’s not the king we’d expect.
Pilate seems as surprised as we are, asking:
Are you the King of the Jews? Are you the hope of the nations? Are you the savior of the world? You? A solitary Jew, abandoned by your own followers, interrogated like a common criminal, powerless before the world’s power. You are a King?
And yet here we are, friends,
two millennia later, hitching our lives to his.
So much so that in January, a group of deacons and elders will
stand here and take ordination vows:
Do you trust in Jesus Christ your savior and acknowledge him Lord of all?
Which is another way of saying: do you trust Christ as King?
And not any other ruler or any other thing that begs for your loyalty?
Do you proclaim that ultimately sovereignty is his? even when it seems otherwise?
It’s an intense question.
We’ve been equipping our church leaders for such intensity in officer training
on Sunday afternoons of late.
This past Sunday we discussed the 6 great ends of the church.
A summation of what the church is for. We are to be about:
the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind
the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God
the maintenance of divine worship
the preservation of the truth
the promotion of social righteousness
and lastly to be an exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world
How are we doing, church? What do you think?
I’ll tell you when your incoming elders and deacons were discussing,
we got hung up on that 4th one: we are to preserve the truth.
I can’t remember who asked it, but someone said:
Whose version of truth are we preserving?
My preacher friend Joe Clifford told me about the Tom Nichols’ book
The Death of Expertise? which suggests there has been a wave of anti-rationalism
that has been accelerating for years
it manifests in the blurring of lines among fact and opinion and lies.
He writes, “Americans have reached a point where ignorance is an actual virtue.
To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy,
a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos
from ever being told they’re wrong about anything.
It is a new Declaration of Independence:
No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident,
we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true.”
A review of the book puts it this way:
“Citizens of all political persuasions increasingly live in their own news media bubbles, consuming only views similar to their own.
When confronted with hard evidence that they are wrong,
many will simply double down on their original assertions.”
Nichols concludes this unreason “kills respect for expertise, but also undermines institutions, thwarts rational debate and spreads an epidemic of misinformation.”
This is the world in which we live.
This is the world we are called to live in as if Christ is King.
But Christ says his kingdom is not from here.
Whose version of the truth are we preserving? What even is truth?
That is what Pilate asks: What is truth?
Don’t we join him in that question? Have we not been asking it:
in the wake of the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict
as we still grapple with what happened in Washington on January 6
as we navigate climate change
and consider the governance of our beloved University across the street.
What is truth? It’s the question that lies beneath every other one we ask.
Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know,
and I’ve just told you everything I know about it.
Epistemology is concerned with the academic side of that question,
and theologians since the beginning of time have wrestled with it.
Here’s what I know about that question: Jesus doesn’t answer it.
This is unusual for him, especially as the Gospel of John tells it.
See, in the Gospel of John, Jesus rarely stops talking.
He is introduced in chapter one as the Word of God
and seems to take that role quite seriously.
In fact, he answers questions about himself that no one has even asked.
“I am the light of the world,” he says, unprovoked.
“I am the good shepherd,” he says, just in case anyone was wondering.
“I am the resurrection and the life. I am the gate. I am the bread of life.”
I’m going to keep telling you who I am, just in case you forget .
And then, in a moment of high drama, when all sorts of people are paying attention, when his life hangs in the balance, when history itself is waiting to hear his answer: nothing.
“What is truth?” Pilate asks. And Jesus, the Word incarnate, just stands there.
Just stands there. He doesn’t say a mumblin’ word.
Fred Craddock will say that Pilate assumes truth is a “what.”
That truth has a definite object – a content that can be clearly stated.
But Jesus is not the great teacher who gives a list—he doesn’t hand his disciples “great truths to live by.”
Instead, he gives himself;
he is himself God’s truth. Truth is a “who,” not a “what.”
In the heaviness of that question,
Jesus stands. An invitation to encounter. An invitation to engage.
And I suppose I just want to say, watch out.
Because when you encounter him,
things don’t always go in the way you expect.
A friend told me about somebody in her church – a woman who was an executive type – with many resources. She could have made her generosity a splashy story
or could have sheltered her wealth for her family
that would be the way the world would have nudged her
but instead this woman quietly made an appointment with her pastor,
and made a choice to endow the entire property budget,
because she said, people like to give to things that make an impact,
but without this physical space, we wouldn’t be able to do that as well.
So I’ll do this, so others can feel good about that.
It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Ain’t that the truth?
Or like my friend whose grief isn’t politely packaged,
but rather mystifying in its timing and messy in its need for clumps of Kleenex.
Definitely the kind you’d want to hide away from hymns,
cause we know those make you cry harder. Y’all know that right?
But this friend is brave. He decided that in addition to the music,
he’d expose that grief to our special services here of late–
to the soft light of this sanctuary
wrapped in the gift of darkness, the kind that makes room for vulnerability.
He said: if I can’t be my whole self, here, where else?
Thank God that’s the truth.
Or what about the friend that perhaps you know,
who has been injured of body, or spirit.
Betrayed of heart. Damaged in esteem.
And the world would certainly say, her right is retaliation or revenge,
her privilege is the prison that would keep her tied tight in righteous anger.
And instead you’ve watched her to choose forgiveness against all odds.
But that forgiveness is not a lack of accountability, it is not a forgetting,
no, forgiveness is her refusal to let that injury define her. And that truth,
it sets her free.
Don’t you wonder friends…. that it was an encounter with Christ,
that led Day McLaughlin to advocate for children,
because it is to such as those that the kingdom belongs. Yes, truth.
Don’t you think that bumping into Jesus is what nudges our youth to pack up all this food because blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Encountering Christ is what enlivens the joy that was on the front yard
this morning as we get ready to welcome the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth.
Now, mind you our encounters Jesus Christ
will not always sync the with our schedules,
will rarely square with our spreadsheet,
and often goes against the grain of the world around us, and yet still……
This is the king we celebrate on this final day of the liturgical year.
This is the truth to WHOM we belong.
The one whose life, in ways we do not understand,
forces us to question every assumption devised by us and by our world,
until we, too, see truth
through the eyes of a Jewish peasant who began his life in a cold stable because they refused to make room at the inn;
the Galilean who broke bread until everyone had their fill;
the friend of the poor who upset polite company to plead their case at the tables of the rich; the peacemaker who believed that the only way to stop violence was to refuse to participate in it .
Jesus said: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Here we are
week in, week out,
listening to that voice and,
thanks be to God, belonging to the Truth.