|22 November, 2015||John 18:33-37||Christ the King||By Rev Dr Christopher Page|
It does seem strange that this passage falls on this particular Sunday. It should be part of the Lenten season as we read the story of Jesus’ trial before Pilate and the condemnation of the religious and political leaders. But it is here today, because Church history and our esteemed lectionary writers have named this day “Christ the King Sunday.” It is the last Sunday in the Church calendar. Next Sunday is Advent 1, the beginning of the Church year and the journey of four Sundays to Christmas Day. (That is December 25 in case you had forgotten.)
So today we remember and celebrate the “Reign of Christ.” Umm!! and that is problematic! As we look around our world today we see few signs that the Prince of Peace has control. Our advanced technology, through TV, radio, cell phones and the internet, brings images of war, evil and suffering into our living rooms every day. Are the peacemakers inheriting the earth? These are difficult questions to answer because there are places in our world where peace has broken out and even conquered the darkness.
Interestingly, once a person discovers I am a clergyman, a fact that from time to time I try to hide, one of the first questions they will ask is, “Why is there suffering in the world?” My response is often, “I don’t know, but I do know that you and I have a responsibility to lessen it!”
The Inner Truthfulness
Pilate asks Jesus the simple question, “Are you King of the Jews?” In usual fashion Jesus does not give a straightforward answer. Jesus the man standing before him does not look much like a king. He has no robes or finery; no military honours. Just a humble religious teacher. And yet he is someone who has captivated the imaginations of many. Perhaps the most effective and dangerous ruler there is.
But unlike most Kings, Presidents, Heads of State and Rulers, his command comes not by force, violence and coercion but from the simple power of truth, love and justice – but is there really anything that is simple about these three virtues?!
Jesus replies with these oft-quoted words:
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."
“My kingdom is not of this world….” What does that mean? First, it does not mean that there is a heaven out there that Jesus rules over. Nor does it mean that it is a secret undiscoverable realm that is accessible to an elite few. For me it is found in the last verse of Jesus’ reply: Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
I am not sure what others have experienced, but I have never heard the voice of God or the voice of Jesus in an audible way. It has always been an inner conviction – a clarity that this is the way forward. I believe it is formed and shaped by reflecting on life’s experiences (the unexamined life is not worth living); by family, friends and community; by wisdom from the ancient traditions and contemporary thought and by the Biblical narrative which sets a framework of personal discovery. All these contribute to the inner voice of truth and conviction. Do I always get it right? Of course not. But it is a kind of cycle that I can learn from and next time I have a greater understanding of truth and the voice within.
Speak Out your Truth and have it Prized or Criticised
And then comes the final and most difficult part. That is, how we act on that inner conviction. How we speak out of what we see as the reality of the world. Because that really is what truth is. Truth is the is-ness of life. To live and speak and act truthfully is to be in harmony with reality. And here comes the crunch. What we often perceive as reality is in fact an illusion. And that’s the point Jesus was making to Pilate. Jesus said the real king rules from the heart of love, justice, non-violence and compassion. The false king rules by war and brutality. That, friends, is a bitter pill to swallow because your own eyes will tell you differently.
If fact it is only the eyes of the “redeemed” heart that can see the truth and hear the inner voice. And that takes time and inner reflection. To paraphrase the Russian writer Dostoyevsky, who was a great believer in being truthful to oneself:
Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The person who lies to him or herself listens to their own lies and they become that lie.
Speak out your truth and have it prized or criticised. I suspect from my experience that it will be criticised more often than prized. Particularly when it does not conform to the cultural or political norms of the day.
And never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth… said the American author William Faulkner.
I tend to agree with GK Chesterton, that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
Jesus spoke his truth and paid the price for it. But his death and sacrifice did not silence a message still lurking in the background of cultural and political discourse. Perhaps there is another way to resolve the human will to violence and it is found in the recesses of the human heart and that is the ruler who can find love where there appears to be only hate; and light that appears to have been smothered by darkness. Let’s not pretend that is an easy place. It may take more effort than war to bring in the reign of the peaceable kingdom.
I finish with the poem from which I took the title of this sermon:
That Place of Dangerous Clarity
when you pass through a gate of quiet
and enter into a place of stillness.
Know you are at risk,
that you never re-emerge unscathed. Never!
You may return fierce and hungry for justice,
a passionate lover, a surprise to yourself,
a risk taker, seen as a trouble maker.
You may emerge a seeker
seeking ever to be open to each moment’s invitation.
You may be invited to be generous with what you most cling to,
bold in ways you have never been;
dare to take that step you have feared the most,
speak out your truth and have it prized or criticised,
live your life the way you have always wanted to
and never dared,
say yes to being you.
Know that in that place of stillness grows an inner trust
and becomes in time a place of dangerous clarity.
By Noel Davis
A Postscript for those reading this sermon
“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island