Summit Presbyterian Church
November 25, 2012
John 18: 33-38
The Lamb King
(Preface to reading: As you may know, Roman Catholic and many Protestant Churches use a lectionary, a cycle of scripture readings, for preaching and worship. The lectionary we use has three different, year-long cycles of readings from the Old and New Testament. Each year's cycle begins on the first Sunday of Advent and ends on the Sunday before Advent -- which is this Sunday. On this Sunday the scriptures always call us to reflect on the Christian claim that the Risen Christ, who ascended into heaven, now reigns over heaven and earth -- we call it Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. So, the first reading from the Book of Daniel is a vision of one like a human being coming at the end of time to rule and to judge; the choir sang an anthem on King David's last words; and I'll be reading from the trial of Jesus before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, where Jesus is sentenced to death, and where Pilate asks him if he's a King. I give you that long explanation so you won't be wondering why, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I'm reading from the trial of Jesus! Listen for the Word of God as it comes to us in the Gospel of John, Chapter 18, verses 33-38):
Chris Hedges is a journalist who covered wars in El Salvador, the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Gaza and Bosnia. After 12 years of reporting from the battlefield he wrote a book called "War is a Force That Gives us Meaning." In this book he speaks of the attraction, even the addiction, of war. "The enduring attraction of war is this," he says, "Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living." In war there's excitement, power, a chance to rise above our station. "War is a drug," he says, "one I ingested for many years." But, he also says, war is peddled by mythmakers. It can only be waged with lies, myths and more lies. Lies told us by the state, myths taught us by historians, myths dispatched by reporters and written by novelists; lies in the pictures taken by filmmakers and all other bearers of culture. There's the myth of the soldier hero, courageously rushing forward with no thought for his own safety, defending all that is noble and good; so different from the fearful, traumatic, smelly and haunting experience of most soldiers, including highly decorated ones. There's the myth of the nation - whose people are strong and good, who are only victims and never aggressors when it comes to violence. There are the lies that leaders tell us about how the war is going; the hidden coffins, the phony body counts. There are cheerful news stories of "our" soldiers, while the charred bodies of enemy soldiers and dead families remain invisible. There are the lies about the "enemy" - that they commit nothing but atrocities, and they are so, so different from us. And there are lies about the cause itself -- important lies, because as Hedges points out, "the sanctity of the cause is crucial to the war effort." And it's not just the military and the government, writers and artists, teachers and historians that peddle myths -- so does the church, and the synagogue, and the mosque - we who claim to be doing God's will. In the midst of all this lying, Hedges points out, truth tellers are silenced, dissenters are jailed or killed, and when the war is over people don't want to talk about it, in victory or defeat. Now Hedges is not a pacifist, he insists that sometimes we have to intervene, to take the less immoral side, as not all sides are morally equivalent -- but in his observation, all sides depend on myths and lies.
"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." With this answer Jesus puts Pilate, and us, on notice. We may say that Jesus is a king; we may celebrate Reign of Christ Sunday and Crown him with Many Crowns. But he's not a King like Pilate, who has little respect for the truth -- or little hope of finding it. He's not a King like all our warrior kings. He's not a king who leads soldiers to kill and be killed, based on a lie about weapons of mass destruction. He's not a King who orders the dropping of atomic bombs, based on the myth of an enemy who will always fight to the death and never surrender. He's not a King who sends troops to defend the oilfields of Kuwait, based on a myth of liberating the country. He is not a king like any earthly king, or emperor or president or prime minister or dictator that wages war to gain power. Jesus came into the world to testify to the truth. The truth that there is no glory in killing, rape, death and destruction. The truth that God does not call for violence in God's name: not the violence of the crusade or the jihad. The truth that we are all sinners, but everyone of us is also a beloved child of God, even Osama Bin Laden. The truth that our enemies are very much like us. And Jesus doesn't only testify to the truth about war, or climate change, or other planet-threatening issues. Jesus testifies to the truth about our personal lives: our drinking, our infidelities of all kinds, our finances, our fears. Jesus also testifies to the truth of God's grace and forgivness. To the truth of God's strength, God's healing comfort, God's hope. Jesus testifies to the truth of God's coming, of God's ultimate victory on that day of peace, when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the Bosnian with the Serb, the Israeli with the Palestinian, the American with the Iranian.
Jesus says that all who belong to the truth listen to his voice. So in this Christ the King Sunday, our call is to listen for his voice, to discern the truth. We may celebrate Christ the King Sunday, as long as we remember that Jesus is King only in the sense that Christ's reign of love, justice and peace is ultimately more powerful than any earthly kingdom and that to speak of a "Christian nation" is to commit blasphemy. We may crown him with many crowns, as long as we remember that we are crowning him the Lord of love, of peace, and of eternity. We may even sing "Onward Christian Soldiers" as long as we remember that we're only to be metaphorical soldiers. Soldiers in the sense that the Christian faith is a force that gives our life meaning, drawing us together in love. As long as we remember that our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (I'm quoting Paul, now, Ephesians 6:12.) And as long as we remember we're only going AS to war -- never OFF to war in the name of Christ. For Jesus came into this world not to tell lies but to testify to the truth: the truth of God's love, the truth of God's justice, the truth of God's peace.