The following is a re-post of the sermon I did on November 25th, 2012.
Christ the King Sunday was invented by the Roman Catholic church in 1925 as a celebration of Christ’s lordship. It is the very last Sunday in the liturgical year- we start fresh next week with the first Sunday of Advent. In the new paradigm of power with instead of power over, when you ask most preachers what they’re doing for Christ the King Sunday, they immediately tell you how they’re going to preach about Thanksgiving.
Christ the King Sunday is not an easy topic for preachers because a lot has changed since 1925. Congregations all over the world are put off by the topic of Christ as a King… Ruler of all our hearts… dominion over the entire world… a living, breathing, professional Christian superhero who knows all things and leads our lives in the direction he chooses fit.
Additionally, the phrase “reign of Christ” gives a lot of people the heebie jeebies. It brings up images from the past that don’t sync with our modern view of Jesus… like when the Bible was used to advocate slavery, anti-semitism, misogyny, violence against gays, and anything else that could possibly be justified having a Lord over all would imply. Because a Lord over all means that basically, we can pick one side of the story, and that side of the story is good enough for everybody.
Has the practice of anything that I just mentioned completely gone away? Especially in the United States of America in 2012, ask yourself: “Is there still slavery? Well, maybe not in the US, but certainly across the world.” “Is there still misogyny? Well, it’s all over the place, but at least in the United States, you can make the argument that it’s more polite.” “Is there still discrimination against same-sex couples? Yes, some people are fighting for their lives as we worship.”
It’s STILL. ALL. HERE.
That side of the story hasn’t changed much in 2,000 years. People are still struggling every day with fear and loss and pain and all the other emotions that encourage them to grab power where they can. In some parts of the world, the Bible is used to browbeat people into believing that the Bible provides religious leaders with a power they don’t have… the power to change what God believes into what sounds suspiciously like their side of the story. Moreover, since that story is “God’s” story, it cannot be challenged or changed in any way.
You could also make the argument that liberal Christians are also creating their side of the story. Jesus as anti-hero. Jesus serves instead of reigns. Jesus couldn’t possibly agree with the story that’s been created for him by fundamentalists, because the conservative evangelical story sounds so, at best, old fashioned, and at worst, mean spirited and petty. Liberal Christianity sounds suspiciously like our side of the story.
What about people of other religions? Whether Christians choose to persecute or welcome them is decided on a case-by-case basis. Coexist has become a convenient catch phrase for a lot of Christians, but how well we practice inclusion of other faiths is, to the people of those religions, their side of the story.
And then there are the people standing outside of Christianity, looking at all Christians as one group and lumping us all together as one body, one belief, one set of customs. What they believe about us is just as important as what we actually do. In a lot of cases, perception is reality. How we come across to the world outside of Bridgeport to people who are either unchurched or have made a conscious decision not to attend is their side of the story.
With so many sides of this one story, our human story, the question begs to be asked: whose side of the story is Jesus on, anyway?
For you, does it get more personal than that? I know it does for me. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve been in a situation where I’ve made poor decisions based on only knowing one side of the story. I, as everyone does, have a singular lens through which I see problems bigger than me. I find out later that there was a crucial piece of information I missed, and I crumble. I argue with myself that I did the best I could with the information I had, but if you’ve ever really stuck your foot in it, you know that saying is useless.
I rage like Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer, in the famous scene the day after he’s been left at the altar. His ex-fiancee is listing off everything she hates about their relationship, and Robbie, Sandler’s character, says, “Once again, things that could’ve been brought to my attention YESTERDAY!”
It is exactly that point at which we find Pontius Pilate. Theologians have argued and will argue which side he was on for millenia to come. I choose to believe this one: Pilate didn’t know the other sides of the story.
As a non-Jew, I’m not even sure that Pilate knew what was going on. He was a prefect of Judea, which meant that he had jurisdiction, but very little is known beyond that. Who knows how much he’d taken in about the Jewish faith, the laws that governed it, or the power players involved. Before Jesus was brought before Pilate, he was tried in a Jewish court by the Sanhedrin~ basically the governing body of Judaism in the region. Who knows what Pilate understood about that process, or why Jesus was in front of him in the first place. For starters, Pilate couldn’t even see a crime… at least not in the traditional sense.
Jesus was no help. Was he the King of the Jews, or wasn’t he? Did he blaspheme or didn’t he? And if he had, why would the Sanhedrin care so much about it that they were willing to put Jesus through what turned out to be a very public execution? Pilate made the only decision he could with the information he had. And then, venturing into fiction, I think he probably vomited into an urn. Because that’s what happens when you know you don’t know something, and you don’t even know how to put your finger on what it is… and very real consequences are riding on your mistake. Your stomach hurts. You get dizzy. You want to roll back time and do things differently… especially in Pilate’s case, where there was a very permanent solution to what seemed to him like a temporary problem. Jesus was probably just a nut job. But that didn’t mean he needed to die over it, did he?
The other side of the story that will never be known is what would have happened had Pilate really understood the concept of Jesus’ kingship. For all of Jesus’ incredible works and amazing way with words, he often did not help himself by speaking where other people could understand him. If you asked a simple question of Jesus, you were often on the receiving end of a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.
Pilate says, “what have you done?” and Jesus replies, “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.”
I’m sorry. What?
I can feel Pilate’s frustration. I can imagine him desperately trying to think of something to say that won’t upset the crazy man in front of him. “Ok, Pilate… speak softly, no sudden moves… when am I going to learn that when they say ‘take a vacation,’ I really should go…”
Pilate just didn’t get the concept of living in two worlds. I mean, what would happen in the modern day if I said I was Queen of somewhere, but you couldn’t find it on a map and I couldn’t really take you there unless you died?
Pilate didn’t get it, but Cecille Bechard did. I found this while looking for research on my sermon, and it illustrates the concept of living in two worlds perfectly:
Cecille Bechard is a Canadian who visits the United States several dozen times a day- when she goes to the refrigerator, or the back door, or to make tea, for instance. To read and sleep she stays in Canada, and she eats there too if she sits at the north end of the kitchen table. Mrs. Bechard’s home sits on the United States-Canada border. The frontier cuts through the kitchen wall and across the sink, splits the salt and pepper shakers, just misses the stove and passes through the other wall to sever the Nadeau family’s clothes line and cut off the candy counter in Alfred Sirois’s general store. Almost anywhere else in the world, Mrs. Bechard might need a passport to take a bath.
Cecille Bechard lived in two worlds without even thinking about it. Jesus lived in two worlds the entire time he was on earth, intentionally and with great care. For Cecille Bechard, the boundaries between the two were clearly drawn out on a map. For Jesus, each world weaved in and out, one from the other, to the point where his two worlds were one in his mind.
The problem came in when his two worlds clashed with everyone else’s. People were just beginning to understand his side of the story, and they didn’t always agree with him. Most of the time, understanding of Jesus’ story was through small groups of people, not large crowds. I have to believe that this was intentional as well. When I am teaching a small group of people, I find that they listen more intently. They ask better questions. I am more assured that the information I have tried to give them has actually stuck. I have heard their frustrations, and I have given them answers. I am comfortable with what I teach because computers do not have an emotional story. Logic dictates that in every if, then statement, there is a right and a wrong answer.
And yet, the condition of being human diverges sharply into several thousand right and wrong answers, all based on different answers to the same story. How can we ever get it right?
The Good News of the gospel is that no one ever does. In just about every verse in scripture, we are faced with someone making a decision without knowing the full measure of the situation.
So if there is no perfect answer, is there at least a good one?
I choose to believe that the answer comes in stopping everything you are doing. Stop making it worse! Stop making it better! Sit down. Make a pot of tea. Go to the store and get some of those little cookies you like while your Earl Grey is steeping. Take your tea and your cookies and find a big comfy chair. Don’t even think about moving until those cookies are gone and you are attempting to read your tea leaves. Spend some time alone, in the quiet, and slowly enter the river that is divine consciousness. Create a space for God to speak, because when God is speaking to you, you are listening to the one voice that has heard every side of every story. Ancient wisdom to modern slang. Every thing and every one that has ever come into being is in that divine space.
It will take time for the answers to come. It will be minutes, hours, before your mind is still enough to take in wisdom that is of you and in you and divine all at the same time.
When wisdom comes, sit in the center. Let it wash over you in only the way that peace can. This time, you have received wisdom. Next time, you might give it.
The reign of Christ is at hand, right here in our world, but it not of our world. It is every side to every story that has ever been written, or ever will be. It is a unifying thread that runs through every being on earth. All you have to do is sit still enough to find it.
The question that’s begging to be asked, “whose side of the story is Jesus on?” has a simple answer: “mine.” With that belonging, though, comes the responsibility to say- out loud- “but he’s also on everyone else’s.”