Message—Episcopal Church of the Cross
Sunday, November 25, 2018
Christ the King Sunday
Text: John 18:33-37
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.’
Good morning, friends. Peace be with you.
Last Sunday, Bernadette and I were traveling back from Virginia where we had been visiting our children and grandchildren…who, if you’re wonderings, are perfect in every way. On the way back we had a layover in Charlotte.
Now, y’all know how it is with travel and connecting flights…you race off the plan and rust to the gate, and see if you can find a seat, and sit down and finally take a breath.
So we got to the connecting gate, and settled in, and Bernadette went off to get a cup of coffee or something, and a young women sat down in the seat across from me. She looked like she might be in her early- to mid-twenties. She had her travel bag, and some food court Chinese food, and took out her phone to make a call.,
Now, I know it’s not polite to listen in on other people’s phone conversations. And I want you to know…I really tried not to. I really tried. But she was an exuberantly loud talker, and was sitting only six feet away from me, and though the book I was reading was quite good, I couldn’t put my head deep enough into it to block out what she was saying.
And here’s what became apparent: she was talking with her dad; her parents are divorced; she’s on her way to spend Thanksgiving with her mother and step-father.
Between bites of her food court Chinese food, she shared her anxieties about making this trip; and did so in an emotionally and verbally vibrant manner…you know, it’s just all coming out; unfiltered.
And I could easily imagine this father on the other end of the line…maybe while he’s watching the game…letting her go on; and then saying something like “You’ll do great, and you know it will be okay;” and then, saying something funny…some little joke between the two of them…because she smiled, and laughed, and rolled her eyes a little.
And that was that. She said “I know it will be okay.” And then she said “Well, I’m going to eat my food now. I love you.” And the call ended.
Any fly on the wall would have seen she was better after the call than she was before it. He had listened; and loved on her; and said some kind of dad thing that lightened her load and made her laugh.
Today is a beautiful day…
And I told you this story because it’s beautiful story. In the middle of the Charlotte airport, with the craziness of the holidays and holiday travel…and we all know that the holidays can be challenging, and sometimes families can be challenging…I felt I had been witness to grace and hope in the midst of the mess of life. And that some kind of healing and restoration had taken place in that healthy and life-giving conversation…which might need to take place again in a day or two, but that’s okay.
All is well.
It’s all right.
God’s grace, and mercy, and abundance, and joy, and hope, and truth shall prevail. I have no idea if the man and his daughter were Christian or not. That is inconsequential to their ministry to me. They just showed me…in a small way, like some beautiful miniature painting…what the Lord desires for everyone; the Lord’s vision for us, and all humanity.
Today is a Feast Day in the life of the Church. It’s called Christ the King Sunday, and it always happens the Sunday before Advent begins…and Advent begins next Sunday.
Now for a long time…as in for centuries…Christians have spent a lot of time talking about, and thinking about, and praying about, and hoping for heaven. Which is good. Heaven’s gonna be beautiful, y’all. We’ll have a good time there.
But curiously, Jesus spent a whole lot more time talking about the Kingdom of God than he did about “up there” heaven.
So here’s a little Bible: In Matthew, Jesus announces his ministry with these words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And “kingdom of heaven” is the way Matthew, with his Jewish background, refers to the Kingdom of God. In Mark, Jesus begins his ministry with these words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” In Luke, when Gabriel goes to Mary, the angel says that the one she will bear “…will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And in John, who uses the phrase less, when Nicodemus comes to him at the beginning of the story Jesus says to him “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
By my count…and I may be off by one or two…there are 104 references to the Kingdom of God in the four gospels, every one coming from the lips of Jesus.
Now that’s a lot; which means it’s a big idea; and which means that it matters to Jesus. And if it matters to Jesus, it matters to us; and we ought to know what it means.
So a while back, I was spending some time with a real smart theologian, and the topic wandered to the Kingdom of God. And I said to this smart theologian, “Explain to me the Kingdom of God. Tell me what it is.” Because I figured this guy would know…
“I can’t,” he said.
Now he could tell by my silence that I was a little bit disappointed in that answer. I was looking for a little bit more than that.
And then he said, “It’s just not something that can be explained. Go back and take a look at the gospels. Jesus doesn’t ‘explain’ the Kingdom. He doesn’t give a lecture on it. He says ‘the Kingdom of God is like…’”
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, that grows into a bush large enough to hold all the birds of the air.
The Kingdom of God is like a pearl, so valuable that whoever finds it will sell everything to have it…
The Kingdom of God is like a sower who spreads seed all over the place, hoping that some of it will take root…
The Kingdom of God is like a net filled with fish—some good, some bad—which the fisherman will sort out in his own time…
The Kingdom of God is like a field that just grows, and the farmer has no idea how that happens. It just does.
The Kingdom of God is like a man having a wedding who invites all the passers-by—especially those no one else is inviting—to the feast…
The Kingdom of God, Jesus seems to teach us, is revealed more through poetry than prose; more through story than systematic theology.
And the reason I told that story at the beginning of the message is because as I was pondering Christ the King Sunday on the flight from Charlotte to Austin, it was as if Jesus nudged me and said “The Kingdom of God is like a parent, gently walking his child back to her true self…
“That’s one kind of picture of the Kingdom of God. And if you open your eyes, Paul, you’ll see signs of the kingdom of God everywhere. You don’t have to wait for heaven.”
So Jesus stands before Pilate, and tells him that his Kingdom is not of this world. The kingdoms of this world, like Pilate’s kingdom, are built on coercion, deceit, cynicism, manipulation, violence; and use force…like nailing someone to a cross…to achieve their objectives. Those kingdoms come and go.
The Kingdom of God is wherever the Truth, and Beauty, and Justice, and Peace, and Hope, and Agape Love are revealed; and is filled with followers who, like their King, go to their crosses, revealing to the world “this is the Way…”
And that Kingdom is eternal.
I cannot tell us what the Kingdom of God is in any kind of sermon, or teaching, or lecture. Jesus told us it’s both something given to us, and that we are to seek; that it is already within us, but that we need to pray for its coming daily; that it is already here, if we’ll look for it, and also still on its way.
But maybe he mostly chose to tell stories about it…plain stories about things like seeds, and fishing, and parties…so we would keep our ears, and eyes, and hearts open to the Kingdom stories we witness every day. For there will come moments, as apparently inconsequential as sitting at gate in the airport, where we may receive a glimpse of the Kingdom, and Kingdom-Life.
Jesus is our King. He is the one we seek, and follow, and love. Loving Jesus; Serving Others. And as we all get back to it this week, I invite us to slow down, be patient, pay attention, and keep our ears, and eyes, and hearts open. Jesus is real; and his Kingdom is real; and somehow, someway, probably in something very small…he is going to show the truth of his Kingdom to you this week…probably more than once.
Be blessed by that revealing; and I bid you a fruitful and joyous Feast of Christ our King.