<No singing in this one, but probably still worth the listen. You can do so here.>
Are you ready?
33Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate 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?” 36Jesus 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.” 37Pilate 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.”
Just Don’t Fit In
We name you king, Lord, sovereign.
We trust you, except
Sometimes we do not.
We take matters into our own hands.
We fashion power and authority and sovereignty;
Enforced by law and bureaucracy and weapons,
We think to make ourselves safe.
And then learn, staggeringly,
How insufficient is our product,
How thin is our law,
How ineffective is our bureaucracy,
How impotent our weapons.
We are driven back to you—your will,
Care for land, care for neighbor, care for future.
We name you king, Lord, sovereign—
And in naming become aware of our status
Before you…loved, sent, summoned.
We pray in the name of the loved, sent, summoned Jesus. Amen.
(from Walter Brueggemann’s “Prayers for a Privileged People“)
There is this ceremonial part of the Thanksgiving dinner that I always look forward to, though I don’t tell anyone that I am looking forward to it because that would surely stop it from happening.
It usually comes just at the end of the meal, where we’re starting to clean up the dinner dishes and set out the dessert plates, and then it starts to happen: people begin to unbutton that top button of their pants, or sometimes even just change into sweat pants, because, well, they just don’t fit quite right anymore.
It’s like things are a little uncomfortable now, and so they have to make some room.
I look forward to it not because it’s like bad, or shameful or anything. If there’s one day to indulge a bit, Thanksgiving is certainly it. We can take what both the prophet Isaiah and St. David of the Matthews say seriously on that day as we “eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die…” That’s both Isaiah 22 and the song Tripping Billies, for those keeping notes.
It’s uncomfortable when things don’t quite fit.
Like, I have to admit, I don’t really like it when we call Christ a king. You can ask Pr. Marsha and John; I really dislike the title of today. Because today is, of course, the Sunday of the church year that we call “Christ the King Sunday,” because it’s the last Sunday of the church calendar year, and the church calendar really wants to ensure that you know that at the end of everything, God in Jesus wins the day. God keeps the promises of salvation.
At the end of the world it’s Jesus and creation winning over the powers of sin and death.
Next Sunday we reverse back to before Jesus is born, but today we fast forward to long after any of us are alive anymore to speak the truth that God in Christ saves the day.
But the title of Christ as a king just doesn’t seem to fit very well, at least not to me, because the traditional idea of a king is either a petulant dictator like the kings and queens of history who threw fits and slaughtered innocents, or a benign figure-head like the European kings and queens of today, who mostly open shopping malls and dress fancy.
And neither of those are what we see in Christ, Beloved. That idea doesn’t quite fit.
And it doesn’t quite seem to fit to Jesus, either, because as he’s standing before Pontius Pilate in today’s reading, a reading traditionally saved for Good Friday, Pilate traps Jesus into saying, “So you are a king!” and Jesus retorts back, “You’re calling me a king! I’m not saying that, you’re saying that. I was born for one thing, and one thing only, to testify to the truth!”
And Pilate asks the best question in the scriptures at that point, and our reading cuts it off, but I’m sure you know it: what’s truth?
The word “truth” in Greek is aletheia, by the way. Part of that word, “lethe” in Greek literally means, “forgetful,” and so aletheia in Greek literally means, “does not forget.”
To speak truth is to practice not forgetting.
Not forgetting who and whose you are.
Not forgetting who God is.
I have people come into my office all the time and say things. They say things to me, about themselves, or about other people, about life, and I just want to ask them, “Who are you? Have you forgotten yourself? Because what you’re saying doesn’t fit in with who I knew you to be…”
Or sometimes I look in the mirror and I think to myself, “Who are you?” After I’ve said, done, or believed something totally out of character with who I am, or who I know God to be…
Depression, for me, felt like a forgetting. A forgetting who I am, whose I am. A feeling like I didn’t fit into myself, or the world quite right anymore.
Forgetfulness can lead to all sorts of things.
You know, when Pontius Pilate asks, “What is truth?” the philosophy major in me wants to think he’s asking a deep philosophical question about meaning. But the theologian in me wonders if maybe he’s been so corrupted by a system of politics and patriarchy and rules that he just can’t remember what it’s like to be connected to something greater than himself, or his job, or the worth that he thinks that all puts on him.
What about us? Have we forgotten? Have you?
When Jesus says that his kingdom is not “from this world,” so many people think he’s talking about heaven. But here, again, the Greek tells a different story. Because Jesus isn’t saying that he’s from heaven, the Greek actually indicates that he’s saying that people who belong to his kingdom don’t act like people who belong to the kingdom of the world.
In other words, they do not solve their problems and disagreements by violence, as attested to when Jesus tells Peter to put away his sword in the Garden. He goes further to say, “If my kingdom did behave like this kingdom, my people would be killing you to get me, but they’re not, so obviously they don’t act like any kingdom from around here…”
They do not lord over one another, as the scribes and politicians do, which we heard Jesus talk about just a few weeks ago.
God’s kingdom doesn’t look or behave like any kingdom you know, Jesus tells Pilate.
And they don’t because they haven’t forgotten. They haven’t forgotten that power and prestige and money and protection and politics and violence aren’t the ways we get ahead in life, by God.
They’ve remembered the covenants of old, where God professed care to be given to the outcast and the widow and the orphan and, well, those who feel like they just don’t fit in.
Jesus, in his whole ministry, reached out to people who felt like they just don’t fit in. Churches, by their very definition, should be places where people who just don’t fit in feel included. Loved. Accepted.
Because if Jesus is any sort of king, he’s not the kind who keeps people out of his banquet halls, but intentionally goes to the street to invite them in. And if he’s any sort of king, he’s not the benign figurehead who opens shopping malls and dresses nicely, but the radical rebel who sits with those begging on the steps, asking people to remember. To not forget.
To not forget whose they are. Who created them. Who gave them the responsibility to look out for others who just don’t fit in.
That is the truth Jesus testified to.
Because, in Jesus, God shows that God just doesn’t fit in, in order to be with us who don’t always fit in.
See, that’s not the kind of king the ancient people wanted. And honestly, it’s probably not the kind of king you want, either. So many want God to reign and rule and have the 10 commandments plastered on courthouses, as if that would make any of us follow them better (spoiler alert: it wouldn’t). And so many want God to reign and rule and get rid of poverty and make everyone equal, but that would take away our responsibility to work on that ourselves, and we’d just find something else to fight about.
And because Jesus isn’t the kind of king that anyone wants, he just doesn’t fit in, they’ll stick him in the one place where he will fit in: between a criminal on the left, and a criminal on the right, on a cross. And they’ll do what we all do with inconvenient truth: they’ll kill it. And try to forget about him.
But, see, if Jesus didn’t fit in with the social systems of humanity well, you want to know where Jesus doesn’t fit even more: in death.
Because the final act of mercy and love that God will do is to take away the power of death and sin once and for all for all of us who so easily forget. To tell humanity that our ways of hate and war, the ways of our kingdoms, won’t end up ruling day, and we can go ahead and stop practicing them anytime.
And some day we’ll get there, Beloved. Some day. This Sunday is a glimpse into our future that reminds us that someday tears will be wiped away and war will cease.
And in those moments when we just don’t fit in, or in those moments when we, like Pilate, forget who we are, or who God is, Beloved, do not fret.
God does not forget. In Jesus we see that God would rather die than forget about us, or about who God is, or what God is about.
And on Christ the King Sunday, that’s the truth.