The Holy Gospel according to John, the 18th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" 35 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?" 36 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." 37 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.”
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from the God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is Christ the King Sunday. This is a festival that only dates back to 1925. You might remember that this was the decade known as the roaring 20’s. Pope Pius felt that the followers of Christ were being lured away by the increasing secularism of the world. He saw that they were choosing to live in the “kingdom” of this world rather than in the reign of God. So he set aside the last Sunday of the church year as the time to remember and reflect on who Jesus is in our lives. It seems that this is a reminder we still need nearly 100 years later.
We just heard the gospel story that is familiar to us as the Good Friday reading. It sounds a little strange to hear that today. But it is the place where Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews.
The crowd who were following Jesus had been trying to crown him King of the Jews. Calling him that was treason. Caesar was king. Calling anyone else the king meant you were talking about overthrowing the government.
Pilate was in a difficult political predicament. He doesn’t want to be accused of treason. He doesn’t want to upset the crowds either. The penalty for treason was death on a cross.
Let’s look at the scene. We have an encounter between Jesus and Pilate. The entire passage is two chapters long but we only have one scene here.
Try to imagine you are watching it as a play. The stage is set in two parts. One half is Pilate’s headquarters. The other side is the portico or patio, just outside of the headquarters.
Standing on the patio at the beginning of the scene we have the religious leaders who have brought Jesus to Pilate. They know they have brought him to stand trial for his life. They know what the outcome will be.
The play begins when Pilate comes out to greet Jesus and takes him into the headquarters. The gospel writer gives us lots of stage directions. He tells us that Pilate moves between the patio and the headquarters several times - seven times, in fact.
Pilate wavers between Jesus and his accusers. He keeps going back and forth. He knows the right thing to do. He knows the easy thing to do. The easy thing is the thing that is best for him politically. He is torn between the right thing and the easy thing.
We know what he decided and we know how things turned out. We confess it in the creed every week. Pilate chooses the easy way out. He caves to the political pressure. He denies the truth that is right in front of him.
Here’s the question for us today - must Pilate’s fate be our fate? Jesus says to Pilate, “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 doesn’t listen, but we can listen. If we do listen, we hear Jesus say that he loves us enough to die for us. He loves us already, the way we are right now. There is nothing we need to do to earn his love.
This year, and most years, the festival of Christ the King comes right after the secular festival of Black Friday. In worship we hear the story about a very different kind of Black Friday.
The secular festival of Black Friday has a very clear message: Shop til you drop. Help the economy by spending money on stuff for people that they don’t need and won’t remember three months from now.
Most of us don’t believe the myths that our lives will be enriched by fighting the traffic and crowds to get that bargain. Most of us are disgusted by the commercialization of Christmas, yet many of us participate in it anyway. Why?
Like Pilate, I think many of us are wavering between the truth, which is the right thing to do, and the easy way out. We wander back and forth several times as he does. We wander between the compulsion to spend more than we have and feelings of guilt that tell us the easy answer isn’t helpful to us, those around us, or the planet.
Like Pilate, many of us waver between the easy choice of ignoring the problems that don’t affect us personally and the truth that there are so many people who need our help and attention. We busy ourselves then soothe our consciences by doing something small that “gives back” rather that look for solutions to systemic problems.
Pilate’s fate does not have to be ours. Hear what Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Jesus is the truth. We belong to him. We can hear his voice.
Jesus is telling us that we are loved already. We don’t need more things. We don’t need more good works. We are saved by his gracious love.
We are free to celebrate his birth among us. We are free to give out of generosity rather than obligation. We are free to buy out of love rather than insecurity. We are blessed to focus on who we are, rather than what we lack.
We are free not to buy people things they don’t need or want and won’t remember. We are free to give to those who really do need our gifts. We are free to help our neighbors who are hungry or homeless. We are free to help people all over the globe who are less fortunate than we are. We are free to work together and seek political solutions that will provide for the homeless, the hungry, those in any need.
We are already loved. Jesus will never love us any more than he loves us right now. Jesus will never love us any less.
Every day you hear voices in the commercials telling you that you are inadequate. They say you need to buy stuff to be more popular, smell better, and be more beautiful. Those messages are lies. You are already worthy in God’s eyes. God opinion is the only one that really matters.
It is not that God wants you to have less. It isn’t really about the gifts, or the stuff you have, or the things that you buy. God wants you to have an abundant life.
An abundant life is a life where God wants you to have more - more love, more peace, more joy, more contentment, a greater sense of security, a profound sense of belonging, and a very clear idea that you are precious to God, the giver of all good things.
We belong to Jesus. Pilate knew that Jesus was a king, but he didn’t really understand the full implications when Jesus said he was the truth. Pilate made the easy choice, not the right choice.
But God turned things upside down. Our King Jesus wore a crown of thorns. A cross was his throne. That’s how much he loves you.
Thanks be to Christ our King. Amen.