33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jewish people?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not Jewish, am I? Your own people and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But as it is, my kingdom is not of here.” 37 Pilate asked Jesus, “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.” 38 Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
On the cross you opened your arms to all.
And from the cross you reign over all.
Give us eyes to see where your reign
Of love, mercy, and justice is being established
In our world and in our midst.
Give us hearts, hands, and feet that yearn
To join in that work with you.
Some of the clearest moments I can remember of feeling really close to God were at summer camp, both as a camper and as a counselor. In fact, a lot of my memories of experiencing the wonder and majesty and awe of feeling like I was deeply in God’s presence happened when I was outside, in nature. Perhaps you can relate. There’s something about being away from buildings and cars and lights and noises…something about gazing out on an expansive landscape, something about beholding a towering mountain or a plunging waterfall that just kind of does it for you, right?
It does for me, too. Truly.
But then I also had this experience a number of years ago…a group of us were going to community meeting with one of our seminary professors, and as we were getting in his car and just as we were about to pull out, someone approached his window and asked him earnestly for money. Now, we were in a hurry, we were already going to be late, but my professor rolled down his window, talked to this woman, asked her name, asked her what she needed, and said, “You know, I don’t have much, but here’s $20 if that will help.”
The rest of us students in the car were astounded, honestly. “Professor Pickett…$20 bucks…?! That’s kind of a lot, isn’t it?”
“Well,” he said, “That won’t make a dent in someone’s rent bill, but it might buy a couple of meals, plus I didn’t need it tonight anyway. And we’re already going to be late anyway, so we might as well take advantage of the moments to encounter Jesus in someone when we can, right?”
I’m not sure who was being Jesus to whom that evening. All I know is that I very definitely saw Jesus. Maybe a couple of times.
I often trot out one of my favorite Lillian Daniel quotes when I talk about how often we say we see God in beautiful nature vs. how often we see God in the gritty and messy parts of life. She says something like, “Well anyone can see God in a sunrise or hiking trail or snowy peaks from 30,000 feet…it takes a completely different kind of vision to see God in concrete jungles, the unwashed masses, and the ones asking for a handout.”
She’s being a bit cheeky, but I take her point. How often do we claim to see God in one another? Or in the moments that make us late for that thing we were on our way to? How often do we say we see God in that jerk who cuts us off in traffic or the inconvenience of when they’re out of your brand of toothpaste yet again?
Being able to see and experience God in one another…that’s something that feels like we’ve forgotten how to do over the past couple of years. We’ve dialed up our discourse so much, I wonder if we’ll ever be able to bring it back down. We see people as issues or arguments or votes for their candidate…instead of as beloved creations and children of God. I wonder if we need to learn how to talk to each other again. People are so much more than who they vote for, you know?
Besides, if Christ is King, then the rulers of this world are not.
Reign of Christ Sunday is a relatively new addition to the liturgical calendar…well, relatively new in terms of church time. Instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, the Feast of Christ the King or Reign of Christ was begun in order to combat, in his words, rising secularism and nationalism. Rising secularism…and nationalism. A fight against elevating worldliness and national identity over an individual’s identity as follower of Christ, disciple of Jesus, beloved child of God…and the collective Christian identity as children of God, instead of as one’s race or gender or country of origin. “My kingdom, my dominion, my reign…is not of this world…” Reign of Christ is an attempt to overcome and to counter the myriad false powers and principalities, rulers and empires that demand our allegiance and loyalty…allegiances to anything other than God in Christ.
At the time, divisions were deepening into chasms, not just between the church and society, not just between the people and those charged with leading them, but also among the people themselves, within society and the institution itself, even within families.
And if that sounds familiar, you’re catching my drift. Fundamentally the Feast of the Reign of Christ was, and still is, a question of trust.
What do you place your trust in, church?
“What is truth?” Pilate asks Jesus.
It’s why I included verse 38 in our reading this morning. That, and it’s one of my favorite lines in, like, all of scripture. Such a vulnerable question…
In what do you place your trust, church? To what, and to whom, do you declare your allegiance?
What is true for you? In what and in whom do you place your faith?
What do you truly believe will save you?
The truth is, we place our trust in all kinds of things. And I think at some level we actually believe they will save us. And a good number of them that have nothing to do with God.
We place our trust in our bank accounts, in wealth, in our homes, and in our stuff. We place our trust in things like security, the judicial system, our leaders, elected officials, our friends and our family…
We have a tendency to place our ultimate trust in these human-constructed systems of power and empire, and ultimately, all these fall short. They all fail us. They all fail to save us, fail to deliver on their promises, fail to bring peace, fail to bring unity, fail to bring justice.
They all fail.
The Reign of Christ recognizes the failings of all these systems and asserts that they were never intended to save you anyway.
The Reign of Christ promises that the One who sits far above all earthly power and authority, the One who sits above all peoples, and nations, and languages is actively bringing about God’s justice. The Reign of Christ means that if love and peace aren’t ruling the world, if the sweet fragrance of merciful compassion isn’t infusing the entire universe we inhabit, then we aren’t yet living in the realm of God. It means that God hasn’t yet finished God’s work.
But the good news is that dominion, that realm is accessible. We catch glimpses of it, right? There are moments in your life where you experience grace, moments when love and peace win out, moments when compassion and justice are shown…the reign of Christ is among you, it’s just there, accessible. And you have a thousand choices every single day to live into that reality…or not.
The good news of Reign of Christ Sunday is that you are not the object of your worship.
It’s not about my preferences. It’s not about what I want. We worship God.
Our worship is directed toward the crucified and risen Christ—a God who chose death, rather than to allow us to continually try and prove our worthiness to God. A worthiness we could never measure up to anyway.
Your role, your call, Christian…is to continually be pointing others to Christ. Continually be embodying the self-giving love and sacrificial living of Jesus. Through your words, your actions, your thoughts…everything you do, is to be a reflection of Jesus in the world.
And when we continually show up in love and service in the world…when you continually strive to embody the compassionate love of Christ…those moments when the dominion of God are actualized in our world become more and more frequent, more and more lasting, more and more present.
How will you show up as Jesus to someone today, church?
How will you point someone to Jesus this week?
How will you be the hands and feet and heart of Christ in a world that is desperately longing for a measure of that good news?
The Reign of Christ is here. It’s among you.
Live into it.
Let the world see God reflected through you.