Transcribed from the sermon preached November 22, 2015
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: Revelation 1:4-8, John 18:33-39
As Protestant Americans we have a natural resistance to the claim of a king. We tend to not want to follow anyone as a king. Here in America we are supposed to make our own way, to reject submitting to anyone. So it is tougher these days to say we follow Jesus as king. But part of the reason we have this resistance is because we follow Jesus. We follow his audacious strength before the powers of this world.
W all give allegiance to something. What is the reigning power in your life today? For some it is money. For others it is our partner, or our mother, or our job. For some of us it is our own effort. We think we should be king. Today there is a lot of talk of allegiance to a certain culture, which is purported to include Christianity. There seems to be a lot of allegiance to guns and violence to solve problems. There is even talk of a war of Islam against Christianity. The problem is that if Christians invoke violence in this war, we lose, because we have to move away from Christ to do it.
Pilate serves the emperor of Rome, and the Romans are under the assumption that kingship requires wielding of power, using violence and economic clout to punish and submit others to their reign. We see this understanding of reigning in the drug lords of Mexico and Central America, where unrelenting violence and terror seek to intimidate others into submission. It is an old story.
“Are you king of the Jews,” Pilate asks Jesus. Jesus doesn’t answer directly about himself, but instead speaks of the community, the “Kingdom.” My Kingdom is not of this world, or my disciples would be fighting to prevent me from being handed over.”
The Kingdom of Jesus comes, not in an imposition of His will on people and nations, but through sacrificial love expressed in His death on the cross. While He is hanging on Calvary’s cross, Jesus’ enemies taunt Him and shout, “Show us your power and come down from the cross, and then we will believe in you” (Matthew 27:39-42). But Jesus doesn’t seek mere belief, but that we might receive the invitation to love and live into truth. He will not use power to coerce humanity, but draw humanity unto Himself through sacrificial love. This is a radically different kind of King, and a radically different kind of Kingdom.
We are not beaten into allegiance to Jesus, but loved into allegiance. Love is not a one way demand but asks for a reciprocal relationship. At first love just loves us. We cannot force someone to love us and God is no different. Jesus just loves us. And Love grants respect and responsibility for our choices. We are loved and then have the option of choosing to love back. Essentially, Jesus is saying that the means is the end: we are asked to act now as we hope the world to be. If we want a world filled with love, then we must be filled with love.
But Pilate is in too deep. He has made too many sacrifices to power, been enslaved to violence for too long. The end he seeks justifies any means. He is too cynical to turn around now. What is truth? Pilate asks. But Jesus is not altered. His truth and love are not expedient or practical.
Faith in Jesus is not about our statement of belief, or abstract philosophical principles like, “I believe there is a God.” There is not much use in such statements. It is more about trust and gratitude. Do we trust that the integrity, honesty, grace and love demonstrated by Jesus and extended to us deserves our allegiance? What or to whom do we trust our lives, our money, our family, our salvation? Will we enter into relationship with him and reflect his love in the world? Is the love demonstrated by Jesus King in our lives? When we experience fear, will we resort back to hateful propaganda, gossip, manipulation and violence? Or will we hold the line of respect and honesty, even when others are not being respectful and honest with us?
In the wake of the France terrorist attacks, there has been talk of blocking borders and registering Muslims in a database. Fear challenges what we really have faith in, to what we pledge ultimate allegiance. It sounds too familiar.
Almost immediately after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Protestant Christians faced pressure to pledge allegiance to the Nazis and Hitler. They were expected to “Aryanize” the Church, to use church doctrine once again to justify racism, to expel Jewish Christians from the ministry, and view the Nazis as the Third Reich (kingdom or empire) of the Church. Since most people go along with coercion, most German Christians went along, many enthusiastically. There is something powerful, too, in the message that we are God’s chosen race who will rise above opposing forces to build a new empire.
But a group of Christians saw the danger of pledging allegiance to the Reich and the Fuhrer Hitler and formed the Confessing Church. It was really a battle for the Church more than a battle for the nation. Christians may lose their nation, but they cannot lose Jesus as their sovereign. In this context, they rejected the sovereignty of Hitler by affirming the sovereignty of Christ over their faith. Point 3 of the Barmen Declaration, written by Karl Barth and signed by the confessing Christians reads:
- “Let us, however, speak the truth in love, and in every respect grow into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body is joined together.” Eph. 4:15-16
“The Christian Church is the community of brethren in which, in Word and sacrament, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ acts in the present as Lord. With both its faith and its obedience, with both its message and its order, it has to testify in the midst of the sinful world, as the Church of pardoned sinners, that it belongs to him alone and lives and may live by his comfort and under his direction alone, in expectation of his appearing.
We reject the false doctrine that the Church could have permission to hand over the form of its message and of its order to whatever it itself might wish or to the vicissitudes of the prevailing ideological and political convictions of the day.”
We can be grateful for the example of the Confessing Church at Barmen as we face the challenges of our life and our day. Thankful for the amazing grace and the love of God in Christ our king, we seek to embody and live that grace and love for others. This is the core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been loved, that we might love.
O God, you are the alpha and the omega, the one who is and was and who is to come, the Almighty. Grant that your spirit may tough and heal us. May the love of Christ we experience create such an attitude of gratitude within us that it grows in strength and power within us.