Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Reign of Christ the King

It was such great theatre. Jesus in shackles, a crown of thorns on head. Pilate in fancy robes sitting on his governor’s throne with Caesar’s face watching over his shoulder. The crowd listening to every word. They could smell blood. After all, it was running down Jesus’ face.

It was quite the spectacle.

Jesus is brought before Pilate for both political and religious reasons. As the story says, some religious leaders are charging him with blasphemy. Pilate couldn’t care less about his blasphemy; it’s only the sedition charges that interest him.

Pilate was no fool. He knew how to put on a good show. He interrogated Jesus, asking if he thinks he’s some sort of king. He needed to know if Jesus is making a grab for Caesar’s authority.

“Are you a king?” Pilate asks.

“Did someone tell you to ask me, or did you figure this out on your own?” Jesus responded.

“Why this uppity little nobody…who’s he to question ME?” Pilate probably thought to himself. “I’m not a Jew, I don’t care what the others say about you, but some folks seem to think that you’ve done something wrong that they want to kill you for, now what might that be?”

“You say I’m a king. And if I am a king then my kingdom is not from this world,” Jesus says, “If it were, then those guys out there would be all over you, and you’d have a riot on your hands.”

The matter should have been shut. Clearly, he’s no threat. Just another religious nut. Lord knows Jerusalem was full of them. So Pilate tried to release him.

This morning’s passage stops short of the really juicy part, the part where the religious leaders try to paint Pilate into a political corner.

“If you release this man then you are no friend of the emperor,” they caution him. “Everyone who claims to be king sets himself against Caesar.”

Okay. Whatever. Kill him if you want to, it’s no skin off my nose.

Maybe they were right. Maybe Jesus was a threat. Maybe Jesus was challenging Caesar’s power, but not in the way that Pilate thought. Pilate could only think about earthly kingdoms; military might, earthly wealth, human status. So Pilate didn’t see Jesus as a danger.

But Jesus was talking about something entirely different. Jesus was saying that his act of dying was more powerful than any army Pilate could muster. His dying was more powerful than anything money could buy. His death would be more victorious than Caesar’s empire.

It made absolutely no sense. Dying as power. Strength as weakness. Servanthood as empire. It’s no wonder that Pilate couldn’t wrap his head around what Jesus was saying. Actually, he didn’t even try to. It wasn’t even on his radar screen. Caesar’s empire was strength, power, glamour, and wealth. God’s kingdom is servanthood, suffering, humility, and death.

I wonder whose kingdom we connect with. I wonder where Christian allegiances lie.

A catalogue recently came across my desk offering Good Shepherd a deal for our multi-media ministry. “What Multi-Media ministry? Have they seen our sanctuary?” I thought to myself. These folks obviously didn’t do their homework. They were shooting at anything that moved.

The catalogue said that we could spend as little as $50 000 or as much as $500 000 on PowerPoint, a projector and screens, computer console, theatre lighting, the whole she-bang. All of this so our worship can become “relevant.”

After tossing the catalogue in the recycle bin I felt like I had to go wash my hands.

When the Passion of the Christ movie came out a few years ago, I was amazed by how many Christians gushed over it. “Finally, Hollywood is telling OUR story,” many Christian pundits celebrated. One prominent pastor said that Mel’s movie was “the best evangelistic tool in 2000 years.” A movie is the best evangelism tool? What about changed lives? Have these folks never thought about whether the medium is the message?

I received an invitation, recently, from a local clergy group to a breakfast meeting with local politicians and other community leaders. After detailing who was going to be at the breakfast, the invitation concluded by saying: Come out and influence your community for Christ. Last year, after this same meeting, the same pastor sent out a notice saying that the city was on the cusp of a great move of God because of this gathering of community leaders.

H’uh? Exchanging niceties with local leaders over scrambled eggs and coffee signals the beginning of a great revival?

It seems that we have trouble telling the difference between Pilate’s kingdom and the kingdom Jesus was talking about.

When the world speaks of technology being the medicine of all that ails us, the tool to help the church grow, do we buy into it and spend ungodly amounts of money trying to be like the rest of the world? Is embracing what the world calls “relevant” going to make us so?

When Hollywood comes out with a blockbuster movie telling our story, is it a coup for Christians, a triumph for Jesus, or are people simply making money at Jesus’ expense?

When Christians meet with community leaders, does our proximity to power make us more influential, does it further Christ’s agenda, or do we simply need to get over ourselves?

Cozying up to Pilate is one of the greatest temptations that Christians face.

So what do we do then? Maintain an adversarial stance toward those in power? Shun technological advances? Refuse to participate in popular culture?

Maybe. Maybe not.

I think that Jesus asks us to love the world, not to shun it. He wants us to serve the world, not to be used by it. He knew what the world was like; where the landmines were buried. And while he served the world through healings, through preaching good news, through loving and forgiving sinners, he refused to be submissive to the world. That’s what got him standing before Pilate. That’s what got him killed.

His life was a condemnation of those who valued power over love; or money over people; or religious rules and regulations over flesh and blood human beings.

His life was a rebuke to all those who built walls instead of bridges; who felt righteously superior to the unrighteous; who demanded rights for themselves while denying rights to others.

“If you want to see what real power looks like,” Jesus seems to be saying, “Then look at the little old lady who still tithes, even though she’s on a pension. Look at the young man who hands out blankets to homeless people in -35C degree nights. Look at the woman who sits by the hospital bed of her dying neighbour; she sits there because no one else will. That’s what a real kingdom looks like. That where true power hides.”

It’s no wonder Pilate could ignore him. It’s no wonder why we find it easier to follow Caesar’s view of the world rather than God’s.

It’s easier to buy expensive technological equipment to be “relevant” rather than engaging real, insufferably human, flesh-and-blood people.

It’s easier to demand that Hollywood tell our story rather than go face-to-face with someone who might reject us.

It’s easier to cozy up to power, demanding that the government adopt our agenda, rather than to do the real work of the church: loving unlovable people, and bringing Jesus’ message of new life and salvation to a broken, hurting, and sin-stained world.

But who ever said that following Jesus would be easy?

Jesus said that his kingdom is not from this world. But he failed to mention that his kingdom is IN this world. But you might need a flashlight to find it. It’s hidden in the dark corners, places where you might have forgotten to look.

Christ reigns as king when his followers reach out to those who suffer, when broken lives are pieced back together; when a gentle touch of the hand makes the difference between loneliness and friendship, when tears are shed with those in pain, when death arrives while we are whispering words of resurrection.

That’s where Christ reigns as king. May this be so among us


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