Christ The King Sunday- Belonging
Scripture: John 18: 33-37
It was just another day, and our kids were young and playing out in the yard as always. And then we realized the ‘middle’ one was nowhere to be seen. He had a habit of finding his way out of our sight, which meant he was up to something! So, we looked…and looked, and then started to panic. And looked some more….and just about when we were seriously about to call 911 for help, we got a phone call from a friend. This friend lived a neighbourhood over and a few streets away. “Hey,” he said…”you guys missin’ a little fella about so-high, who looks an awful lot like Sam?” Yep. Sam had decided it was time to try things out on his own. He forgot to pack a lunch or bring his favourite stuffy….but he did decide to start on his way, with not real clear intentions of where he would end up.
Our friend knew in an instant, where this child belonged. And it wasn’t walking down the street alone. It was with us. Back home with his own family. Where do you belong? Or do you, like Sam, wonder if maybe it’s somewhere else, other than right where you are. Maybe you tried to run away from home once yourself?
Today is Christ the King Sunday. This is where the preacher gets to explain what it means for us to have a God who is a King, but not like the King we know. This is also usually the Sunday where I recruit my theologian husband to preach and explain it to you. But, he’s away this Sunday!
There are many words we use to describe our Lord. Christ, the Savior, Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, Holy One, Christ-child, Messiah. In the book of Revelation, we get three other titles for Christ. In the first chapter of Revelation, Jesus is referred to as “the faithful witness,” “the firsborn of the dead” and the “ruler of the kings of the earth.” These aren’t the typical words we tend to use for Jesus. But Revelation is given to the church so that we might continue to understand the significance of Jesus after his death and resurrection. Not just while he lived on earth. John’s gospel says Jesus came to “testify to the truth.” Eugene Boring writes that “Christian faith is more than just who Jesus was, but rather who he still is.” On this Christ the King Sunday, we are learning who Christ is as our King.
We are at the very end of our church year. I remember showing you this my first year serving here. If you’ve stopped by my office, you’ll notice I have a calendar that may not seem quite ‘normal.’ It’s because it follows the Christian liturgical year, not the calendar year. So, next week, when we begin Advent….I’ll hang up my new calendar, and I won’t change it again until Christmas! See (show calendar) It’ll mess you up organizationally—but theologically—I love it!
The question of belonging is at the heart of the conversation between Pilate and Jesus. Pilate only knows one aspect of kingship—and he can’t figure out Jesus. He knows that the only way one can be King is through lineage—passed from father to son---or else, through violence. History showed this with Herod the Great and Caesar, and others before that. But Pilate knows that’s not what Jesus is doing.
We belong to a lot of things in this world. Some of us belong to memberships in our professions, others of us belong to country clubs, others sports clubs. Maybe you belong to a bridge club, or a garden club. I remember when our boys were little and we took them to get their haircuts at “Great Clips” which is the cheapest place we could find. One day our oldest said, “we come here so often….are we members?” As members of the church, we belong to this church, North Lonsdale. Belonging is something that is innate in us. We yearn to belong.
Jesus ends his conversation with Pilate in the Scripture we heard today with the words “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
How do you belong to the truth? It seems that Jesus is giving words new meanings here! He is redefining words—beginning with King and Kingdom! Our meanings of the words are what we know from the worlds terms—Pilate only knows King and Kingship on earthly terms. Jesus is coming at it from a whole ‘nother sphere. In truth, Jesus is the judge and the king.
As Pilate enters the headquarters, he summons and asks Jesus “Are you the King of the Jews?” It’s not that he thought the answer was yes, but he wanted to hear how Jesus would answer the very question that Jesus claims to be. The passage makes some pivots and turns and as we keep reading, we begin to wonder who’s on trial—Jesus…or Pilate?
Pilate supposedly has absolute control & power---he’s the most ‘in-control’ person in Jerusalem. Theologians remark that Pilate is the local representative of the greatest world power of that time. If Pilate doesn’t give the people what they want, will he stay in control? He’s appearing to be concerned for Jesus’s sentence, when in reality, it’s his own downfall he’s considerably concerned about. Pilate asks the question of Jesus—mostly to figure out whether he himself is free or bound in his own effort to stay in power.
I love at the end of this passage how Pilate finally says “So, you are a king” and Jesus says, “well, you say so, don’t you.” Todd Wiebe, awhile back gave me a term when he posted an observation of a conversation between two folks: one cleverly kept dishing out the gospel truth, and the other, probably less sure he believed it at all, ended up agreeing and restating “Yes…God did come for this.” Todd called the one sharing the gospel news an evangelical whisperer. Pilot reminds me of this. He’s asking the question, trying to ring his hands, maybe not particularly listening carefully to all that Jesus says, but finds himself nodding and answering the question himself. “So…you are a king,” as the whisper of God’s truth seeps in.
For this I was born, Jesus says. For this I came into the world…to testify to the truth. NT Wright points out a very important distinction that some translations miss—there’s a tendency to hear this referred to as Jesus says he is not of this world. But that’s not true, that would indicate that the kingdom has nothing to do with this world. Rather, Jesus, instead, the translation is that Jesus does not come from this world, his kingdom has come into this world to save. It is ‘for’ this world. Jesus taught his disciples after all, to pray that God’s kingdom would come ‘on earth as in heaven.’ His kingdom doesn’t come from this world, but it is for this world.
This kingdom, God’s kingdom—is ever so different than our earthly definitions of the word. And Jesus can turn a phrase and make us think in ways that causes us to think about the word from the Word in an entirely new way. Truth isn’t something we own. Truth is a gift.
Truth is what Jesus is, and it’s everything Jesus is dying for, when he dies for Barabbus, and for Israel, and for the world, and for you and for me.
Here’s the deal—Pilate was only thinking about truth as the world thought about truth. But scholar Prince Raney Rivers reminds us that there was more!
Truth was not a principal but a person.
Truth is our good shepherd.
Truth fed a multitude.
Truth raised Lazarus from the grave,
and healed a man’s son long distance.
Truth gave his life so we could have more abundant life.
Truth gave himself to be arrested so we could be set free.
And Truth will also go to the cross, so that we might have hope.
This was way beyond anything Pilate could have ever imagined. The reign of God—this Kingdom—was larger than any individual—even Jesus himself. Our belonging to this Truth is actually not up to us at all, our belonging is up to God.
Jesus offers truth to Pilate….saying “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” This is always Jesus’ offer. But to receive it means facing the truth about our lives; and Pilate refuses to face it.
How are we going to face truth when it’s right before us? Will we accept the offer to belong to the truth? Will we recognize it on this earth, as it is in heaven?
Sometimes we get lost. Sometimes we set out on that lost journey, intentionally….walking down the road away from God or anyone else. But, we don’t have to stray far, before God reminds us…we have always belonged, always had a place, always been loved. There is no clearer truth than the love of God for us. Come home. Amen.
 Lamar Williamson via FOW Commentary