"Listening to Jesus’ Voice"

Date Sunday November 25, 2018
Service Christ the King Sunday
Text Text: John 18:33-37
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Previous Sermon "Giving Thanks TO, not FOR"
Next Sermon "Bring Out the Candles!"

     Our journey is ending … again … just as is the case every year. It’s the end of the church year – Christ the King Sunday. This, today, is what we’ve been moving toward during the past 12 months. It’s funny how I’ve never thought of it quite that way.

     All of it - preparing for the birth of Jesus in Advent; celebrating his birth at Christmas; beginning to see Jesus’ light shine in Epiphany leads us toward this day. In Lent, Jesus turns his face toward Jerusalem and we are challenged to grow in faith as Jesus prepares for the suffering, betrayal and death of Holy Week. But, then, death is conquered in the miracle of the resurrection at Easter and for 50 days we celebrate, until finally the Holy Spirit arrives. We then enter the long season of Pentecost when we learn what in means to be Jesus’ disciples. All of it is moving us toward TODAY – Christ the King Sunday.

     Christ is the King, or as the hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns” proclaims, he is the potentate of time (which is one of my favorite phrases in all hymnody). Why, then, is today’s Gospel lesson from the trial of Jesus? That seems to be the least king-like time of his life.

     In today’s reading Jesus is bound for crucifixion as far as the Jewish religious leaders are concerned, but only Rome has the authority to impose the death penalty. Pilate, the Roman procurator, does not want to get involved in this religious conflict, especially with Passover at hand. Many scholars say his interactions with Jesus was an attempt to give him a way out. All Jesus had to say to the question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” was, “Me? King of the Jews? Of course not!”

     Instead Jesus answers, “My kingdom is not of 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.” Then, Pilate asks, “So you are a king?” and Jesus responds, “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.” His fate is sealed.

     So, why are we reading this on the day which is culmination of the church year? It’s because this account reminds us who Jesus is, and by extension, who we are too. Jesus is a King who serves and who sacrifices. Yet, this portion of the passion story often is viewed as Jesus’ assertion of his individuality and power – his fate is not in human hands. That sounds very “other worldly.” But, there also is a very “this world” implication to what Jesus said.

     Jesus words indicate, according to commentator David Lose, a way of life. What Jesus is saying in his response to Pilate is that were he and his followers of this world, then naturally they would use the primary tool this world provides for establishing and keeping power: violence. (It's extensions are bullying, manipulating and controlling, but it boils down to violence.) But Jesus is not of this world and so Jesus will not defend himself through violence. He will not establish his claims by violence or usher in God’s kingdom with violence. Instead, Jesus has come to witness to the truth, and that truth is that God is love. (1)

     That’s the truth we strive for, we ask for, when we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.” It’s a state of being, a way to live, a commitment to a particular way of viewing the world. As followers of Jesus, it's our mission, our vision, and that which shapes our values.  

     Quoting Dr. Lose, “We are called to witness to the One who demonstrated power through weakness, who manifested strength through vulnerability, who established justice through mercy, and who built the kingdom of God by embracing a confused, chaotic and violent world, taking it pain into his own body, dying the death it sought and rising again to remind us that light is stronger than darkness, love is stronger than hate, and that with God, all good things are possible.” (2)

     It’s a beautiful message, one that the world needs now, perhaps more than ever. We live in a world marked by violence, a world where, as one newspaper columnist noted, people bring a bone saw to a kidnapping, or so the crown prince of Saudi Arabia would have us believe.

     I would not bring up this politically charged situation except that it is such an extreme example of what Jesus is against, on many levels. A journalist living in Northern Virginia was lured to what should have been a diplomatic sanctuary where he was abused, assassinated, dismembered and his body disposed of in a gruesome way. He had had the audacity to criticize the government of his home country, Saudi Arabia, an American ally. Our country’s CIA’s investigation indicates that the head of that country knew about this brutality, and perahps even ordered that it occur.

     Every follower of Jesus around the world should be appalled at the motivation behind this murder, at the violence and the lies. I personally am also upset by our government’s hesitancy to speak out against it for the sake of financial gain. It happens that this situation is so extreme that it captures our attention, but there are many other events that happen in our world, our country, our own lives each day that challenge followers of Jesus to witness to the truth that Jesus proclaimed and lived.

     In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, author Philip Yancey points out that the Sermon on the Mount could be titled a Sermon of Offense. It’s found in Matthew, chapters 5-7;  in it Jesus says things like, “You have heard it that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders is liable to judgement,’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement….” (Matthew 5:21) He’s kidding, right?

     It seems that Philip Yancey had a friend who assigned the Sermon on the Mount to her composition class at Texas A&M University, asking the students to write a short essay on it. Many of her students’ reactions surprised her. “There’s a saying that you shouldn’t believe everything you read, and it applies in this case,” wrote one. Another called the sermon absurd, extreme and the stupidest statement the student had ever heard.

     We might find it surprising that a student called Jesus’ words stupid, but the professor writes that the response was “the real thing, a pristine response to the Gospel.” Many of those students had never heard these words of Jesus and found them to be offensive, extreme and, no doubt, impractical. As more and more people in the world have little or no faith connections, this response is bound to be prevalent and also revealed in their lives.  And, yet, these are the words of Jesus, God’s ideal toward which we strive, thankful for the grace that saves us since we cannot achieve the ideal.

     That striving is vital in our world where living the truth of Jesus is blocked by obstacles. Remember, though, that as Pilate questioned him, Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” On this Christ the King Sunday, the culmination of the past months and days of being Jesus’ disciples, do we identify ourselves at those who belong to the truth? If so, the question is, “Are we listening to Jesus?” and more importantly, “Are we living what we’ve heard?” AMEN


(1)   “Christ the King B: Not of this World” by David Lose, “In the Meantime…”, November 16, 2015, www.davidlose.net

(2)   Same as #1

(3)   The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey, Zondervan, 1995, pgs. 127-144