Tagged with "11/25/2018"
"Not from This World"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon - 11/25/2018
John 18:33-37
“Not from This World”
November 25, 2018
Christ the King
            If you ever use Wikipedia for research, you need to be prepared to go down the occasional rabbit hole.  Say, for instance, you are looking up the origin of the Feast of Christ the King.  You might discover this little tidbit:
Stir-up Sunday is an informal term in Anglican churches for the last Sunday before the season of Advent. It gets its name from the beginning of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer, which begins with the words, ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people’. But it has become associated with the custom of making the Christmas puddings on that day. The Christmas pudding is one of the essential British Christmas traditions and is said to have been introduced to Britain by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria (the reality is that the meat-less version was introduced from Germany by George I in 1714). Most recipes for Christmas pudding require it to be cooked well in advance of Christmas and then reheated on Christmas Day, so the collect of the day served as a useful reminder.”[1]
Only the British would make that kind of connection on a nation-wide scale.  Anyone from anywhere in the world, however, would recognize that there are times that the sacred and the secular can intertwine in close ways.
            Stephen Prothero, who teaches in the Religion Department at Boston University, wrote a book called Religious Literacy to make the point that ignorance of religion is not only unfortunate but downright dangerous for anybody who wants to know how the world works.  Some of it is as simple as knowing to say, “God bless you!” when someone sneezes, or that a gentleman takes his hat off in a church but covers his head in a synagogue.  Some of it is far more complex.  He says,
“Religion has always been a major factor in US politics and international affairs.  Neither the American Revolution nor the Civil War is comprehensible in a religious vacuum.  The same goes for social reform movements such as abolitionism, temperance, women’s rights, civil rights, and environmentalism – and, of course, for contemporary debates about abortion, stem cell research, capital punishment, animal rights, global warming, intelligent design, state lotteries, birth control, euthanasia, gay marriage, welfare policy, military policy, and foreign policy.”[2]
When Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world,” he does not mean that he has nothing to do with this world, because he does.  What he means is that his kingdom is not rooted in anything here, but in God.    
            Clearly, unless he was just plain naďve (which he was not) the choices Jesus made that landed him in front of Pontius Pilate were choices that had to do with obeying God, not following any kind of earthly expedience.  If you or I were looking to appoint someone to catch the hearts and minds of humankind and to speak words that would stir up their hearts within them, we would look for a celebrity, a hero of some sort, or maybe a songwriter or poet, somebody who would get the world’s attention.  God sent Jesus instead, who was born long before mass communication of any form, born in a scandalous way in an obscure corner of a contested part of the Roman Empire where they spoke a strange Syrian dialect. 
           There was something about Jesus that just never evens up with what we are used to or expect.  When his own followers later would look back on the scriptures they would read these words of Isaiah:
“He had no form or majesty that we should look and him,
            nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
            a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
            he was despised and we held him of no account.”
[Isaiah 53:2-3]
They would say, “That was him!  That describes him just right!”  It wasn’t just his appearance, about which we don’t know anything.  The whole way that Jesus lived brought him into conflict with the way things are done.  He taught,
“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” [Luke 14:12-14]
That is, of course, a beautiful sentiment.  But Jesus actually did that sort of thing.  People complained to his disciples, asking them (in a sort of oblivious way, since they were also hanging out with Jesus),
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
[Matthew 9:11]
Did he not understand how the world works?
            Appearances matter, and so do words.  He wasn’t always careful about that, either.  A lot of what Jesus said makes good material for inspirational posters, but Jesus might also turn off the filter when he got going. 
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”
[Matthew 23:27]
You just don’t say stuff like that, even if you think it.  And it won’t help you get things done.  If anything, it’s the way to make the authorities dig their heels in, the way that pretty much anyone else would.  It’s the way to set yourself up for trouble.
            Earlier, someone had wanted to trap Jesus and asked him:
“‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’”
[Matthew 22:17-21]
But what is Caesar’s and what is God’s?  The answer that Jesus gives is not the answer that Pilate gives.  For our part, we have to go with one of them at some point and not the other.  Which will it be?
            Jesus seems to imply that deep in the human heart, we know the difference, if we are ready to listen, and know what is right.  He said,
“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.” [John 18:37]
Remember the old RCA Victor logo?  A dog cocks his head next to the speaker and the motto is “His master’s voice”.  Jesus testifies by his very life to the ways of God.  In him we see what it is to be truly and fully the human beings that we are made to be.  By him we are freed from all that would hold us back, and thanks to him we have access to the Spirit of truth, who helps us both to know what is good and to seek it.
            Jesus stirs up the wills of God’s faithful people.  He invites us to be part of a kingdom that is broader than our understanding, to be part of a purpose that is greater than we can imagine for ourselves, to live in ways that confuse or amaze those who see them until they realize that it is God himself who is at work and that, as the Bible says,
“the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” [I John 4:4]
What are you hearing in your own heart?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stir-up_Sunday
[2] Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 4-5.
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