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One Creation, Under God: Sermon on John 18:33-37

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What does it mean to claim Jesus as supreme ruler of the Universe over all? How does that affect our allegiances and how we respond to threats around us as well as fulfill our calling?  And just what do we mean by "God and Country"?

 Please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The text is included for your convenience, but it is not entirely like the delivered version, which includes nuances that can't be read.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

November 22, 2015  -  Christ the King Sunday / 26th Sunday after Pentecost

"One Creation, Under God".  Text is from John 18:33-37

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.  

There are many different ways to end the year.  Most of the western world commonly celebrate it on December 31, where our calendar ends and the date will move from 2015 to 2016. I know that many of us will have fond memories of 2015, while others will be of the attitude that they couldn't wait for this year to end. I myself have had some great joys, becoming pastor of this congregation being one of them, as well as moving into a new house, as of yesterday.  But I also lost my grandmother in January and one other very good friend only last month.

Many people in East Asia also celebrate a lunar new year in January or February, commonly known as Chinese New Year, although it is observed in Japan, Vietnam, Korea and some other parts of Asia, as well as any city in the united states with a significant and concentrated immigrant population from any of those areas, such as San Francisco, where they celebrate a huge and joyous parade.

Rosh Hashanah in the Jewish world is the name of the generally observed date that the year starts, and we find it in the fall, while the Islamic New Year is entirely based on the moon cycles and because of that, falls back in the calendar every Western year, until once in a while there's two Islamic New Years celebrated between Western New Years. 

But here in the church, we have a liturgical calendar, which defines what Sundays we are in and what season of the church we are celebrating. It takes place in a three-year cycle where we read primarily from Matthew, Mark or Luke, from the time prior to the birth narratives in Advent to the passion in Easter and what follows, and the time after Pentecost where we may read from any part of the gospel and while we look forward to the days to come. And it all comes together today, on Christ the King Sunday. 

purple and crown of thorns.jpg from https://www.flickr.com/photos/riggwelter/5398802887 available by license cc-by-sa 2.0

Since Mark is somewhat limited in its scope, we often use this year in the three-year cycle, known as year "B", to pull selected passages from John as well. And while our first and second readings from Daniel and the Revelations respectively are very clearly pointing us to the new kingdom, this reading from John, with which people may be familiar as being right in the heart of the passion narrative, seems to be of a somewhat different direction entirely.

Jesus has been betrayed in the garden by Judas to the High Priest and turned over to the Roman authorities by no other accusations than that Jesus is a criminal. Pilate can find nothing to charge him with. Indeed, he finds it odd that Jesus has been brought before him at all. Of course, he is aware of the rumors surrounding Jesus, but here in John, there is very little to declare Jesus as being King. 

We read it early on in chapter 1 as Jesus calls Nathaniel and little other afterwards, yet for the gospel writer John's audience, there is little doubt about Jesus kingship.  In Matthew and Luke, Jesus is born as king by virtue of the lineage passages used to prove it. But here in Mark and John, our Jesus of Year B, where there is no obvious hereditary kingship, it only fully happens at the cross. 

Here, now, Pilate, who here, i asking Jesus if he is King of the Jews. And Jesus is not claiming the title of King of the Jews, one we can see has been expected of him by the number of people who have been following him and his glorious entry into Jerusalem. Jesus instead responds back about what it would have been like had he been king in the world, that nothing would have stopped his followers from storming the governor's house and saving him. Instead we're left with a man alone on trial for capital offenses. 

Pilate asks again about Jesus kingship. Jesus responds that he was born to testify to the truth and that those who follow him are born to the truth as well. Are passage ends here, right before Pilate's philosophical response, "what ie s truth."

Because Pilate, is a politician, and understands truth to be something that may be manufactured. In mockery of the people of Jerusalem and their desire to put down a man with whom he cannot find fault. He clothes Jesus in a purple robe and crown of thorns. On his crucifixion he hangs a sign.  This was the King of the Jews. 

And so Jesus is symbolically made a king by Pilate on the cross. But his kingdom is not and has never been limited to a location on earth. His kingdom, is not of this world, and is not limited to a place or even a time.  The question thereof is raised is not about an earthly realm but about the power that Jesus has on earth, even after death on the cross. 

Why do we place ourselves in this moment in the passion narrative when we celebrate God's power over the universe and all creation? Because Jesus is revealing his true power in front of a figure who has earthly power over a large number of people. Pilate believes it is all a joke but we who know the gospel and have faith to believe in God know that in Jesus acknowledging his kingdom not of earth is letting us know where the real power exists.

God's kingdom is his very presence. The acknowledgement of his kingdom is the recognition of God's power in the world. And while, in John's passion, it seems the empire has won the day, for the people of Jerusalem declare, "We have no king but Caesar". We know that the truth endures and the empire itself, even years later eventually declare Jesus as Lord of all. 

When I say "Lord" here, I am using a word that many people find difficult, and I want to uphold the value of it. Our translation often uses Lord to describe God, particularly in the Hebrew Bible and Jesus as Lord in the new, and yet the words are somewhat different. And so when we might shy away from Lord sometimes when talking about God, the Father and Mother of us all, when It refers to Jesus, it is a direct translation of the Greek Kyrie, and when we say Jesus is Lord we are declaring Jesus as sovereign over us and our lives. It may be useful to some to instead say "Jesus is Sovereign" to fully understand the meaning. Because once again, we are putting Jesus as the King of all.

And the moment you say "Jesus is Lord", whether it be the disciples after his death or Emperor Constantine, who converted the Roman Empire to Christianity, or here in the 21st century, you are saying something political. When you say Jesus is Lord, you are saying that no matter what the consequences of the law, you are doing the work of God. 

There was a pastor in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, very recenlty, who was preparing food for people from the street, because Jesus says to him, "when I was hungry, you fed me."  Because it made some people uncomfortable, the city passed a law banning those practices, but this pastor continued to do so.  And was subsequently arrested for it. By helping people and he was lifting his fellow human up from the gutters, he was responding to who he knew as the sovereign over him, Jesus, Lord, and the laws of man, which were in opposition to that needed to be defied. 

When we say "Jesus is Lord," we pledge our allegiance not to One Nation under God but one creation under God, beyond borders. We pledge ourselves to protect that creation that others might live. We pledge to give ourselves in service that others might benefit from our work. We pledge to honor our God and give God glory that God's rule may be more apparent on earth. When we say "Jesus is Lord," we say that refugees are welcome here. We say that no matter the differences in religion or philosophy, your families escaping violence have a home among us. We say that we are not subject to the politicizing of the media or our countries candidates for office, that we engage in the work that God calls us to do and we ask those who represent us in government to enable us to more firmly do God's work. That while we do not live in theocracy we can live in a world where we can create laws based on love of God and of God's creation and of one another.  

When we say "Jesus is Lord" we are pointing to the kingdom that we wish to live in, one shall not pass away, and one that while we await, we hope to model here on earth, for one another, as he rules over us from heaven even now.  

And that is the good news of our Sovereign Mother-Father God, Lord Jesus, and guiding Holy Spirit who rules over us and helps us live in goodness and joy today. 


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on November 25, 2015 11:12 AM.

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