Sermon - 25th November 2012
Christ the King
Scripture - John 18:33-38
[An audio version of this sermon is also available. Please go to Spirituality > Audio and Video]
In the gospels we can find many different ideas which are used as ways to describe Jesus. By the time these ideas have been turned into language, shared as an oral tradition for a few decades before being translated by the gospel writer into Greek, then copied and preserved as manuscripts for centuries, and ultimately translated from an ancient language into modern English, we can sometimes lose sight of the context in which those ideas first emerged.
So, when we think about the title of ‘king’ as it relates to Jesus, we need to recall that, in the context of the gospels, the idea of kingship was a very unstable concept, and the term itself carried much associated baggage.
In the Jewish tradition, the Kings of Israel - Saul, David, and Solomon - had been a failed experiment which resulted in the division of a single people into two separate kingdoms and which drove fault lines deep into the social structures of both kingdoms, weakening them and making them vulnerable to invasion by other regional powers. Each of those epic kingship stories in the sacred scripture of the Jews told of a meteoric rise to power, followed by displays of human weakness, and an eventual crash into catastrophic failure.
At the time of Jesus’s own life and ministry, the Romans had installed a puppet king - Herod - who was seen as weak, corrupt and totally self-serving. He had some small inherited claim to power, but was really just a political pawn in the Roman Empire’s wider strategy for their occupation and control of that region.
Even Pilate, as we heard in today’s reading, plays quite sneeringly with the idea of kingship in his conversation with Jesus. In my imagination, I can hear him saying to Jesus, ‘Are you really claiming such a tainted title as “King of the Jews”?’ ‘Is that the best you can do?’ ‘Are you challenging the authority of Rome as the ultimate power in this land for the sake of such a discredited title - a title that we allow that monster Herod to use just to satisfy his own self-importance?’ ‘You do know where such a claim will lead, don’t you?’ And, not surprisingly, Jesus avoids being drawn into the trap that Pilate is laying for him as he plays that verbal jousting match with Pilate over the title ‘King of the Jews.
But then Jesus makes a statement which defines authority and sovereignty in terms of truth, honesty and integrity as opposed to power, domination and control. In effect, he seems to be saying, ‘If you must ascribe some kind of royal title to me, let it be that I shared with you the truth about God’s kingdom - the one kingdom that matters.
So, when today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, perhaps there’s a sense in which we should be as reticent as Jesus seemed to be about surrounding him with what we perceive as the kingly attributes of our own world, and be as committed as he was to share God’s truth about equality, unconditional love, and justice for the poor and the weak as we work for the coming of the one kingdom that matters.
As Christians, we find our deepest insights into God’s truth by walking the way of Jesus of Nazareth, by hearing his teaching, by accepting his challenge to be a disciple of his in our time and place, and sometimes by following him to the cross if that proves to be the cost of being true to ourselves and true to God.
As Christians who come together as a worshipping community, we travel this road with Jesus on a yearly cycle, a rhythmic revisiting of prophecy, birth, upbringing, baptism, ministry, destiny, crucifixion, resurrection, spiritual awakening, and remembrance. We stand today at the end of this year’s time of remembrance: we look back on our journey with Jesus over the past year and perhaps we can recognise where we walked with him, what we were taught by him, how we were challenged by him, and even where the shadow of the cross fell across our path.
Next Sunday we begin our cycle again as we enter the season of Advent, and we prepare for new encounters, new insights, new challenges within that vision of God’s truth to which Jesus points us. As we journey through that experience, individually and together, we will try to bring God’s kingdom of justice and peace a little closer with each step.
So as we stand at this turning point of our year, as we look back on our experience of Christ as our King, and as we look forwards to starting a new journey of discovery with him, we learn to engage with the contradictions of our faith. We will encounter:
- a king born in a stable to a family where the child’s legitimacy was always suspect;
- a king who focused his gifts and energies on the weak, the sick, the poor and the powerless;
- a king who wielded no secular power in the world of his day, but who built up a following of thousands;
- a king who inspired love and loyalty by sharing the good news of God’s love and loyalty for all people;
- a king who went to his death in a soiled robe and a crown of thorns as part of a cruel mockery of the claims that others made about him.
Somewhere, in all those contradictions, we will encounter the truth of God’s kingdom to which Jesus came as a witness. Somewhere, as we walk with Jesus again, we hope to be blessed with new insights into the values which lay at the foundation of his life and teaching. And, slowly perhaps, we will grow in our understanding of what it means when Christ our King tells us that his kingdom is not of this world.