November 21, 2021

Rev. 1:4b-8

John 18:33-38a


The Sunday before the first Sunday of the new liturgical year is always “Christ the King” Sunday.  So, that’s what today is, and it strikes me as kind of funny that despite the name of this particular “feast,” Jesus actually never says that he’s a king.  He says he has a kingdom, but when asked directly if he is a king he seems to go out of his way to not answer.

The first time Pilot asks Jesus says in essence, “Why do you ask?”  The second time he asks Jesus says, “You say that I am a king,” which is odd because Pilot didn’t say that.  But, what I think is happening is that Jesus is rejecting the kind of kingship that Pilot, or anybody else for that matter, would recognize.  I think he’s saying, “I’m not a king the way you think of a king.”  And so instead he says, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”

Another interesting tidbit is that the lectionary writers leave out Pilot’s response.  I have no idea why, so I added it back in.  After hearing Jesus’ words Pilot says, “What is truth?”, which is a question that I think we would all like him to answer.  After all, this is his whole reason for coming.   At this moment we’re all ears, but John doesn’t give us the answer.   Instead, he tells us that Pilot leaves the interview in order to go back out and address the crowd.

Honestly, I don’t know what exactly is happening here.  Is this a rhetorical device employed by John to get his readers to answer the question for themselves?  Is the narrative historically accurate and did Jesus not answer for a reason?  Or, did Pilot ask the question in a kind of throwing up of his hands as he leaves the encounter in order to tell the crowd that he’s not all that worried about Jesus’ threat to the empire anyway?

It’s hard to know what exactly is happening here, but I do know that his statement is important: “I came to testify to the truth!”  Jesus himself tells us his mission, and just like Pilot we’re left with the question, “What is truth?”

I’ll tell you where my mind went.

It went to a moment at the Freshman Forum at Trumbull High school, that very large gathering of first-years and their parents when TPAUD seeks to instill as powerfully as possible in the minds of everyone there just how dangerous the risks of underage drinking and drug use really are.

They shared a video where two young adults in their twenties spoke about the progression of their relationship with alcohol and drugs, which began for both of them in their early teens.  They spoke about how drinking eased the pressure of social interactions and made them feel fun.  And, how it snowballed to more and more use.  And how it led to more substances, and obsessive thinking, and isolation, and lying, and broken relationship, and lost time, and regret, and more.  Thankfully, both were in a much better place as they answered their interviewer’s questions.  They were sober, and healthy, and committed to helping others who facing similar challenges.  So, ultimately, their stories were positive but what I couldn’t help dwelling on was the message I got from both of them that their addictions were rooted in feelings of worthlessness, and inadequacy, and even self-loathing.

The Forum is a non-religious event, so even though I’m a member of TPAUD I don’t really see them handing the mic over to me.  However, if they were to I would have said to those young adults who bravely shared their stories and to all the freshmen and their parents in the auditorium that my wish for them is that they know the truth, and that they carry it with them everywhere they go, and that it might be their source of inner strength, and that it might inspire them to look upon others with compassion and kindness.  My wish is that they would know that they are of immeasurable value to their creator, that in all times and in all places God loves them, and it’s not just that God loves them, but that God loves to love them (as we said last week).  My wish is that they might know that truth when faced with difficult decisions about dealing with the pains of life, about coping with social pressures, about measuring up to expectations, about medicating with substances and substitutes that will only hurt them in the end.

Maybe Jesus doesn’t answer Pilot’s question because he already has on a number of occasions all throughout the gospel.  In John Jesus’ favorite words are, “I am.”  He says them over and over again.  I am the bread of life.  I am the good shepherd.  I am the light of the world.  I am the good shepherd.  I am the resurrection and the life.  And, the one that seems most pertinent today: I am the way, the truth, and the life.  Maybe Jesus doesn’t answer Pilot because Jesus’ answer is right there: I AM.  The truth is already right in front of Pilot’s face.

Truth is a person who completely embodies the absolute love of God.  Truth is God made flesh.  Truth is God entering a world that would put God on trial.  Truth is God giving God’s self to the point of death.  Truth is God’s utter nonviolence, utter faithfulness, utter and ultimate victory over anything that would keep God from us.  That is the truth, and as we are told, we shall know it and it shall make us free.

The thing to remember, however, in addition to this truth is that Christ’s kingdom is unlike other kingdoms.  God’s ways are not the ways of the world.  Unlike the powers of this world, God’s power works according to the way that Christ has modeled.  It works through giving.

If we want to keep the truth of God’s abiding love – that is, if we want to know it in an abiding way – we have to share it.  To know it we must show it.  To keep it we must serve it up to the world.

It is a strange kingdom, this kingdom of God.  It is one that always surprises us with grace beyond our limits and plans beyond our design.  It is one we practice and practice together, because it is not always easy to believe or enact.  However, what we know is that the world’s kingdoms always crumble.  In the end, only God’s will stand.