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Christ the King, November 22, 2015

I am trying to learn the Office 10 programs of Word, Power Point and Excel. I use Word in the office, but from what I have read in my “Office 2010 for Dummies”, I have only begun to scratch the surface. I took a class in Excel, and I have to keep calling the teacher when something doesn’t work. I haven’t tried Power Point yet. A friend tells me I am worrying too much about it,

that it is all based on Word and that I shouldn’t have any trouble. NOVA offers a boot camp in which you learn all the programs in a week and do a final project to get a certificate. My mind can’t grasp the technology that fast. I am not sure I’ll ever get it. It is a language that right now I don’t understand.

Pilate does not understand Jesus either. Jesus’ questions and answers fly right over his head. He is frustrated because he hears the Jews say Jesus is causing a real problem, but he can’t see any reason to put Jesus to death. The Jewish authorities are upset about a religious problem, not a political one. They say Jesus has blasphemed because he claims to be the Son of God, a capital crime in their book. This is something the Jewish authorities ought to handle among themselves. Pilate sees no reason he should have a part in it. So he has, to say the least, a bad attitude about questioning Jesus.

As a representative of the Roman Empire, Pilate’s interest is determining whether Jesus is a threat to its rule. And a threat to its rule would be another king who could amass troops and fight the Romans. So Pilate’s obvious question is, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Even though the Jews don’t count for much, a rebellion could be a real annoyance and Pilate could be blamed because he could not control this bunch of religious dissenters. He doesn’t want that at all. He wants to keep his power (Pete Perry).

Jesus, as is so common, doesn’t answer the question, but wants to know where Pilate heard this “King of the Jews” business or if he thought of it himself. It really doesn’t matter in the long run. Pilate just reminds Jesus his own people have handed him over, so surely he has done something that has really made them angry. And Jesus has. His healings and teaching and exorcisms and other signs, especially the raising of Lazarus, have given people hope that Jesus can do something about their oppressed state, something their religious leaders have been unable to do. The religious leaders are just like Pilate. They want to keep the power they have and not have people turn from listening to them to listening to Jesus (Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman).

Jesus doesn’t ever directly say he is a king, but he talks about his kingdom, which is not from this world. Ah, Pilate thinks, this is some spiritual or religious thing that I need not bother with. This kingdom cannot hurt us. But Pilate is wrong. This spiritual kingdom of Jesus’ can overcome the kingdoms of this world as it is now present on earth and is coming in its fullness in the future.

So what exactly is Jesus’ spiritual kingdom anyway? His spiritual kingdom is not a place. It is not geographically bound. It has no borders, no armies, no domination and oppression. Jesus’ spiritual kingdom is a way of life. It is about how we live. And we can live that life now and pray that God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus’ kingdom is about what God wants, not what we want (Emilie Townes). In the kingdom, we do not want to save our own power as the religious authorities and Pilate do; we seek to give the power of our lives over to God for God’s purposes. The spiritual kingdom requires obedience to God’s will, which is overwhelming love for the world. An earthly kingdom cannot provide love. It is set up to protect territory, to exert influence in the world, to dominate others.

This spiritual kingdom is one that witnesses to the truth as Jesus does. He knows that his purpose is to testify to God’s truth, to God’s abundant love for humanity and God’s desire to draw humanity closer to God and to one another. God’s spiritual kingdom is about relationships (Karoline Lewis), not rules and regulations. It is not supposed to be frightening; it is supposed to offer an invitation to all the people to come and bask in the light of God’s healing love.

Jesus’ spiritual kingdom is not violent. Jesus says that his followers are not trying to save him because they understand what Jesus is about. Jesus came from God to testify to the truth and is going back to God, and the way back leads through the sacrificial love of crucifixion to show that God loves us no matter what. Needless to say, the kingdoms of the earth are violent. Even if they do not want to be, they are trapped in a cycle where violence meets violence. The terrorist killings in Paris have drawn strong statements from France and other countries about eliminating the terrorists of ISIS, and terrorists need to be eliminated to keep people safe, which is what countries promise to do in return for people’s faithful allegiance to that country. God promises love, the truth above all truths, for allegiance to God’s kingdom. God promises entrance to that heavenly kingdom to anyone who follows and listens to Jesus’ voice.

It is hard to live in the world and keep touch with God’s spiritual kingdom. The systems of the world weigh heavily on us, and it is difficult to shake them off to listen to God’s truth. They are all around us, and their siren songs are strong. We can easily come to value security, power and money above the kingdom that Jesus proclaims because that is what this world values.

But wherever there is love, God’s kingdom is prevailing. Wherever there is justice, God’s kingdom is making itself evident. Even though we belong to a spiritual kingdom first and foremost, we are not called to disengage with the world – only with the values it espouses. We pray for God’s kingdom to come – and it will because it is God’s – but we also work for it here on earth.

For example, there is a plan called “housing first” designed to give homeless people a home to live in before addressing the issues that keep them homeless, according to the Washington Post. Kortney Parkey has an apartment of her own for the first time in 22 years, where she feels safe from a crooked boss, a dishonest landlord and an abusive man. She says she can sleep well for the first time in many years. People living in God’s kingdom first have made that possible working through the political system.

Anila Butt, whose strict Pakistani family came to the United States when she was 13, has gotten out of an abusive, sexist situation due to an organization called Homestretch, which also helps people with housing. From someone whose family wouldn’t let her read English books to her children and told her when her husband left her that she should move back to Pakistan, she has moved into a condo, gotten her GED, learned to drive and is now studying to be a teacher. That is love in action. That is the kingdom way of life.

Jesus is king of a spiritual kingdom, and his life and ministry, as well as his death and resurrection, demonstrated the truth of that kingdom, the power of God’s love to triumph over death, and the abundance of God’s grace for all who follow Jesus’ voice. Living in Jesus’ spiritual kingdom should be a way of life for us and our allegiance should be to God and God’s will alone. To show our allegiance, we are called to seek the love and justice God values in our work in the world and in the church. Does our allegiance to God come first? Always? Since we are saved by Jesus, we can work for this. Since we are sinners, we probably won’t achieve it all the time. We must detach from the world and its values, and that is difficult. But we belong to a God who can help us, who loves us so much that Jesus gave his life for us. We have a king who continually reminds us of the truth for us in the power of the Spirit – a voice that can draw us to who we are meant to be and what we are meant to do. Live the heavenly kingdom life in the midst of earthly kingdoms. Witness to the truth as Jesus did in the middle of lies. Hope, love and new life are what we are offering, and that is a message we all need to hear.

AMEN

     - Rev. Ann Barker

Works Cited
Pete Perry, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 335
Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Feasting on the Gospels, John, Volume 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), p. 271
Emilie Townes, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 336
Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, “Kings of Relationship”, Blog Post, November 15, 2015