Last Sunday after Pentecost
November 23, 2003
The Gospel: John 18: 33-37
Sermon: "Jesus: The King of kings and Lord of lords, What do we Believe?"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "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."
Jesus: The King of kings and Lord of lords, What do we Believe?
Last Sunday after Pentecost - November 23, 2003
I recently saw the movie "Bruce Almighty". Now, whether or not you are a Jim Carrie fan I highly recommend you see the movie. There are some theological concepts that are well portrayed in this movie. Probably one of the best concerns free will, the ability to choose. Jim Carrie does not like his life as Bruce very much. He wants more out of life and so he prays to God. He is mad at God for his position and wants to know why God made it so. As a result God answers his prayer by giving Bruce God's power for a short time. He can do anything he wants except mess with free will. People have to be willing to choose. They have to be free to choose what they will do, good or bad. They are free to choose what they will express of their feelings, anger or love. They have to be free to choose what they will believe, God is alive or there is no God.
As the movie unfolds Bruce turns out to be pretty self-centered. All of his decisions deal with changing his life to the way he wants it regardless of the consequences. In order to impress his girlfriend, he pulls the moon closer to the earth. The result is a massive tidal wave in the Far East. He doesn't want to take the time to answer people's prayers appropriately. He just gives everybody what they want. As a result everybody in a four block radius wins the lottery. The result is a riot.
Most of all he gives himself the job he wants and desires. The result is he loses his girlfriend. Now, he stands with God and asks the question how do you make somebody love you if you can not mess with their free will? God, who is played by Morgan Freeman, responds, "If you figure out the answer to that one please let me know."
Next to life itself, free will is the greatest gift God ever gave humanity. By granting us this ability, God makes us truly free. We are not puppets who follow the movements of the puppet master. We are not pets fully dependent on the good graces of our owner. We are stewards, free creations. We are free to choose how we will respond to those around us. We are free to choose how we will live our lives. We are even free to choose if we will believe in God or not.
If we pay attention to the readings this morning they are all about who Jesus is. Today is commonly called Christ the King Sunday. All of the lessons are about the kingship of Jesus Christ. The collect proclaims him King of kings and Lord of lords. The prophecy of Daniel speaks of one like a human being who comes before the Ancient One and is made the king of all creation. Revelation's reading proclaims Jesus as ruler of the kings of the earth. This prayer and these prophecies are clear about Jesus' kingship.
How about Pilate in the Gospel reading? Is he clear about Jesus' identity? In this Gospel we see a man faced with the decision to believe or not to believe that Jesus is indeed the King of kings. Before we get to Pilate's decision we want to look at Pilate, the man. Pontius Pilate was a soldier and governor. He was wealthy. He had worked his way up the ladder and into positions of authority and power. He had proved himself on the battlefield as well. He was, in short, very worldly.
Pilate was not just any Roman leader in Jerusalem. Pilate was the governor and he was known for being a hard governor. He was loyal to Rome. His allegiance was to the Roman way of life. Finally, he had a strong dislike for the Jewish leadership. Pilate is the caricature of the typical leader who has made it in this world. He has wealth. He has authority. He believes in the ways of the world. He has used the ways of the world to get him what he wants and desires, power. He represents every person in the world in this Gospel who has the free will to choose.
In front of this man, this representative of the ways of the world, Jesus is brought for trial. Pilate asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews. The question is a trap. The members of the Sanhedrin told Pilate this was what Jesus was proclaiming. Pilate could put Jesus to death for treason. Therefore, if Jesus says yes to the question, he is either crazy or a danger to Roman authority.
Yet, Jesus does not answer this question with a simple yes or no. Jesus asks Pilate a question in return. The question is designed not to be cute or smart. The question asks Pilate to decide for himself who Jesus is. Pilate has to choose for his own self what he believes about Jesus. As the conversation unfolds, we see that Pilate does not even know what Jesus has done. He is being asked to judge a man with no evidence. He really does not know anything about Jesus. For all he knows Jesus is simply a Jewish carpenter and teacher.
However, Pilate must choose. Jesus tries to tell him who he is. Jesus explains that his kingdom is not of this world. But Pilate can not grasp what Jesus is saying. He does not understand that Jesus' kingship is not like the world's concepts. Jesus' kingdom is not about material wealth or personal comforts. Jesus' kingdom is not about authority to govern people and tell them what to do. Jesus' kingdom is not about power over when someone will physically live or die.
Jesus' kingdom is about the power of love. True love has great power. True love has the power to heal great hurts in people's lives. True love has the power to cross all boundaries and offer a place of acceptance to those who feel different or alone. True love has the power to sacrifice one's own needs for those of someone else, even one's own life. Nothing is greater than the power of true love.
Pilate is faced with this decision. He is standing in front of true love in human form. He must choose between the power of true love and the power of the world. We all know that Pilate chooses the power of the world. Pilate chooses to turn away from the very essence of true love standing before him.
Pilate represents each one of us. We too are faced with this decision. Do we recognize Jesus as the King of kings or do we recognize the powers of the world as our Lord of lords? We have been given the ability through free will to choose for ourselves. We have been given the ability to choose to live with Jesus in true love or live in the falseness of the world around us. Free will is the greatest gift we have been given. It is the symbol of a truly loving God for God's creation. True love can not be coerced. True love can only be true when it is given and received freely. Bruce, in the movie, asked the question how do you make somebody love you without messing with free will. The answer is no one can be made to love. People can only choose to love. Today, we still have the question before us. Do we recognize Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords who loves us freely? Each of us has to answer that question for ourselves.