Not From this World
A sermon by Dr. Jim Somerville, Pastor
Richmond’s First Baptist
November 25, 2012
Christ the King Sunday
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him,
"Are you the King of the Jews?"
Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about
me?" Pilate 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?" Jesus 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."
Pilate 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”
The Christian calendar is a little different than the regular calendar.
Instead of the new year starting on January 1 it starts on the First
Sunday of Advent. That Sunday is
next Sunday, which means that this Sunday is the last one on the Christian
calendar. We call it, “Christ the
King Sunday.” How do we celebrate?
We look back over the past year as if we were looking through the
pages of a photo album. We
remember the hanging the green in this sanctuary and lighting the candles on
the Advent wreath one by one as we waited for the coming of Christ.
We remember celebrating his birth at the Christmas Eve service,
holding up our lit candles and singing “Silent Night.”
We remember the story of the Wise Men, and Jesus’ baptism in the
Jordan, and his preaching, teaching, and healing in Galilee.
We remember his long, slow journey to the cross and the pain he
suffered there. But we also
remember Easter Sunday, singing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today!” at the top
of our lungs. And in the months that
follow we talk about how the ministry of the risen Lord goes on.
So when we get to this last Sunday of the Christian year it seems
only appropriate to put Jesus on a throne, to crown him with many crowns, to
sing the Hallelujah Chorus and say, “If we ever had any doubts before those
doubts have disappeared! This
really is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!”
Here, at the end of the Christian year, we
crown Christ king, which seems
entirely appropriate, and this year, more than some, entirely necessary.
You see, we've just come through the election season, which was preceded by
more than a year of intense political campaigning. As we approached
Election Day the rhetoric became more heated, the accusations more pointed.
The two candidates for president were trying to convince us that this was
the most important election ever, and that if we didn't vote for them the
country would be lost. They said so over and over again in their
television ads, in the debates, and in the unsolicited phone calls that kept
coming to my house. But theirs
weren’t the only phone calls. In
those last few weeks before the election some of our own members were
calling me at the office, begging me to say something about the election
from the pulpit. One voicemail
from a woman who didn’t identify herself was especially insistent: “Please,
Dr. Somerville! You’ve got to
say something about this election!”
People I didn’t even know were writing letters, sending email.
They were convinced that if we didn’t get out there on November 6 and
vote for the right man things the results could be disastrous.
I have a hunch some of those people were listening to “Christian radio,”
because I did some of that in the days before the election and I was shocked
by what I heard. Shocked by some of the some of the language, the
anger, but most of all I was shocked because this was Christian radio,
right? By Christians, for Christians. And yet, all I was hearing
was talk about this election and about how important it was. If I
turned it on in the morning they were talking about the election.
If I turned it on in the afternoon they were still talking about it.
In fact, one day, on my way to visit someone in the hospital I tried
to keep track of how many times I heard the names Romney, Obama, and Jesus.
By the time I got to the hospital I had lost count of how many times Romney
and Obama’s names had been mentioned, but I do remember this:
I hadn’t heard the name of Jesus even once. Which made me think
the Christians on this particular station must have given up on him.
They didn't seem to be trusting Jesus to set things right in the world, or
even in this nation. They seemed to be trusting Romney or Obama for
that. Well, actually, on this station, they were only trusting Romney.
And to me, as a Christian, it felt like a great betrayal. Please
don’t misunderstand. I believe
that Mitt Romney is a good and decent man. I believe that if he had
been elected he would have led this country to the very best of his ability.
But in the end he is Mitt Romney, and not Jesus Christ, and that's where I
felt betrayed. This was a Christian radio station, owned and operated
by people who have professed their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, and yet
here they were, all in a twitter because we were having a presidential
election, as if the outcome would mean everything.
No. The outcome would not
mean everything. The outcome
would mean something. The outcome
did mean something. But it didn't mean everything, not by a long
shot. When I spoke to our homeless neighbors at Community Missions the
next morning I said, "Here's the good news: Jesus was Lord when I went to
bed last night and Jesus was Lord when I woke up this morning." And
here on Christ the King Sunday, less than three weeks after the election,
that's an important thing to remember.
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus is on trial before Pontius Pilate.
He’s there because the religious authorities in Jerusalem have
accused him of insurrection.
They’ve told Pilate: “This man claims to be a king!”
And that’s a serious charge.
Pilate represents the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar.
Throughout the whole of the Roman Empire he is the one and only king.
If Jesus is trying to take Caesar’s place somebody needs to do
something to stop him, and that somebody is Pontius Pilate, governor of
Judea. “So, what about it?” he
says to Jesus. “Are you a king?”
And Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world.”
In her commentary on this passage New Testament scholar Gail O’Day
writes: “When Jesus says that his kingship is “not of this world,” or “not
from here,” he is referring to its origin, not its location.”
In other words, he is not saying that his kingdom doesn’t exist on
earth, but only that it didn’t come from there.
It reminds me of that old gospel song that says, “The world didn’t
give it to me and the world can’t take it away.”
That’s what Jesus might have said to Pilate: “Nobody elected me king.
I didn’t have to run for office.
The world didn’t give me my kingship.
My father in heaven gave it to me.
And no power on earth can take it away.”
But that’s not what you would have heard if you had listened to Christian
radio on the day after the election.
I did, and there wasn’t any of that good news I shared with the men
and women at Community missions.
Nobody said, “It’s OK, friends!
Jesus was Lord when we went to bed last night and Jesus was Lord when we
woke up this morning.” At least,
not on the station I was listening to.
It didn’t sound like Easter Sunday; it sounded like Good Friday.
You would have thought they had just nailed Jesus to the cross.
In yesterday’s newspaper guest columnist Jim Wright said, “On
November 7 many Christians woke up to a disaster.
As Al Mohler, head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, put
it, it was a ‘catastrophe,’ especially for evangelical Christians.
With the rejection of a candidate backed by evangelical leaders…this
election may be seen as the first time a conservative Christian influence
not only failed to help, but actually became a political liability.
For many Christians, then, Wednesday morning’s wakeup call came with
a new and unpleasant sensation: powerlessness.
And this is a good thing.”
Jim Wright is a physician and theologian who lives in Richmond and works in
the area of long-term care. He
goes on to say,
There’s nothing wrong with
Christians being interested in politics, of course. Where we can go wrong,
though, is when politics becomes our main focus, the means to an end and the
business of Christianity. Instead of trying to legislate our religion,
Christians are better engaged in the business of telling the story, of
promoting a personal encounter with Christ and of living in response to this
encounter. Granted, this is kind of messy, because it’s not the kind of
thing that brings with it the tangibility of law and enforcement, but it
possesses a power that is inexorable and irresistible all the same, and most
importantly, it possesses a power that is out of human control. This could
be an exciting new time for Christianity, because in losing political power,
we lose faith in our political parties, our candidates and ourselves. Giving
up political power brings Christians around to a realization that they are
not the saviors after all, that someone else already took care of that.[i]
That’s what I was wishing for in those weeks before the election, when
everybody was calling me in a state of panic, asking me to say something
about the election. I was
wishing that more Christians had faith in a God who “made the world, called
it good, and has everything in his hands, despite changing demographics,
declining church attendance and election outcomes.” A God who might say to
them, as Jim Wright suggests: “I’ve got this thing people, so everyone just
chill out.” I was wishing that
we could put all of this in perspective, to remember that we serve a God who
has watched over the rise and fall of empires for millennia.
And finally, I was wishing that those people talking on Christian
radio would stop talking so much about Romney and Obama, as if the election
were the most important thing in the world, and instead start talking about
Jesus, who, in fact, is.
Have I told you about living in Washington during the election in 2000?
Three weeks after we had voted, we still didn’t know if Al Gore or
George W. Bush had been elected.
The Supreme Court was trying to figure it out, and the plaza in front of the
building had become a zoo. I
can’t remember if there were any elephants there but I did see at least one
donkey on the premises. People
from both parties were dressed in costumes, holding signs, chanting
slogans—half of them wanting Bush to win, the other half pulling for Gore.
The Gospel lesson on Christ the King Sunday was the same one we’ve
looked at today, where Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem on the back of a
donkey and most of the city has hailed him as the Messiah, pulling the
branches off palm trees, throwing their coats in the road, and shouting,
‘Hosanna to the King!’ But here
is the problem: Israel already
has a king. Caesar, who is king
of the whole Roman Empire, is also king over Israel.
In my sermon on that day I said, “Jerusalem was in an uproar.
Half the city was shouting for Jesus, the other half was shouting for
Caesar, and Pilate—like some Supreme Court judge—had to figure out what to
do when there are two people who want to be king of the same nation.
A few weeks earlier I had been invited to a Washington Redskins game on
Halloween night. There were
people there at FedEx Field who had come in costume, so that when I looked
around I saw not only all those people wearing official Redskins jackets,
but some wearing brightly colored wigs, and Halloween masks, and wild
costumes. Even before the
opening kickoff there were fireworks and skydivers parachuting into the
stadium. When the game started I
got into it. When the Redskins
scored I yelled. When the fight
song was played over the loudspeakers I sang along.
And when they said, “Who let the dogs out?” I . . . well, I did what
everyone else was doing at that stadium:
I acted like an idiot. I
got caught up in the event to the point that I lost touch with all other
reality. For me there was
nothing but that football game, those players, that crowd, that band, those
crazy costumes, and then one of our boys went left when he should have gone
right and got dragged down behind the line of scrimmage and the guy behind
me said, “Jesus Christ!” And
those two words brought me crashing back to reality.
I thought, “Oh, right…Jesus Christ.
What would he think of all this?”
I tilted my head back and looked up at the night sky above the
stadium. There was so much
ambient light you couldn’t see much of it, but there, right at the zenith,
was a single, bright star. For a
full minute I looked at it and remembered that above all the noise we were
making in that stadium, above the spectacle of a football game on Halloween
night, Jesus Christ was king.
Can we remember that the next time an election rolls around?
Can we hear Jesus say, “My kingdom is not from this world”?
Can we be reminded that it is not only from a different place, but of
a different kind? It is a
kingdom which makes so many of our fears seem foolish and futile.
And yet it has a king who cares about each of our concerns.
This king was never worried about how the election would turn out.
The world didn’t give him his kingdom and the world couldn’t take it
away. God himself put the crown
on Christ’s head, and he shall reign forever and ever.
—Jim Somerville, © 2012