Preached October 31st, 2010
St. John 18:33–37
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Here we are at the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity, and all of a sudden, the smooth, regular flow of the Trinity season is shattered by several liturgical events that seem altogether out of place. Life gets very complicated all at once! Let me begin by observing that tomorrow, November 1st, is All Saint’s Day, and naturally that is followed by All Soul’s Day on November 2nd. That much, of course, happens every year. What is really rather irregular is having the day before All Saints fall on a Sunday, so that the Vigil of All Saints was pushed back to yesterday, Saturday. The last Sunday in October is the traditional date for the Feast of Christ the King, as we observe today. Thus we have four days, from the Vigil of All Saints extending through All Soul’s Day intruding upon the usually even order of Trinity season, but we shall just have to cope!
Completely contrary to my usual practice, I would like to direct your attention first to the Gospel lesson for the day. As the lesson opens, we find Pilate questioning Jesus about whether He is a king or not. Jesus turns the questions back on Pilate by asking if they are sincere, or if he has been put up to this by the Jews. Eventually we get to the point where, John 18:36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Thus Jesus declares to Pilate and to all the world (1) that He is a King, and (2) that His is not an earthly Kingdom. It is implied in the statement that He is a very powerful Person when He says that if His servants had resisted, He would not have been handed over to the Jews. There is a hint of invincibility in that statement, which of course it true, but we have to wonder what Pilate heard in those words?
To the Roman authority, Pilate, the words, “yes, I am a King” on the one hand and on the other hand, “but my kingdom is not of this world” must have sounded like straight nonsense. In his thinking, what is a king without a tangible, earthly kingdom? And bring those thoughts forward to the modern day. How many people, if they are honest, will be inclined to say, “I think I will choose the tangible advantages of the world instead of the “pie in the sky” benefits of the Christian faith?” True Christian faith, lived in action, requires us to put aside many things that the world says are just fine and quite desirable. The Christian faith says, no, they are not fine, they are contrary to what my Savior has said, contrary to what the Lord of my life expects of me. If I want to enjoy Christ’s Kingdom that is not of this world with Him, I must follow His commandments in this world.
In their continuing conversation, Jesus reinforces the point I have just been making in the following dialog: John 18:37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Christ has come to bear witness to the truth, and only those that are of the truth will hear His voice. The world at large is deaf to the truth and it hears not words of Christ. Think about that for a moment: Just how popular is the raw, unvarnished truth in our day? How well do people hear the direct truth, without any sweetener, any words to make it seem less harsh than it often is? Do our politicians tell us the truth, ever? Do the newscasters tell us the truth and let us make up our own minds about what it means? Does the boss at the office tell us the truth about the new assignment? Does our neighbor tell us the truth about things that happen in the neighborhood? How often do we hear the truth today? This is why countless numbers refuse to hear His message, despite the fact that He is in fact the great King of the universe.
In the Epistle lesson for today, we find St. Paul writing to the Church at Colossae, writing to correct various doctrinal error that have crept into the congregation. Our Epistle lesson is particularly what St. Paul has to say about the Person and work of Jesus Christ. He begins by saying, Colossians 1:12-14 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: St. Paul is giving thanks, as we should also, for all those who have been saved, those who are prepared to receive the inheritance of the saints in light, as he puts it, having been delivered from darkness. Notice that this is not a future state, but rather this is here and now, the present time. Thus all who have been saved, St. Paul is telling us, are even now in the Kingdom of the Son of the Father, a state in which we are redeemed by the blood of Christ Himself.
Before Christ came to earth, no man had ever seen God. Men had talked with God on several occasions, but no man had ever seen God. In the Incarnation, God became man, God became visible to us, for a period of 33 years, so that men could both see and talk with God Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:15-17 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. This was the same Christ active in the creation of the universe and all creatures, Christ who is One with the Father and before all things. Sadly, most men had no idea at all who was in their midst; it was simply beyond their comprehension. They were looking for a Messiah that would be a nationalistic military leader, and instead they received the Lord of the universe in a humble form they totally failed to recognize, whose existence they never really considered. That was all their loss, but it remained a fact. The Lord of the universe, Jesus Christ, Second Person of the Holy Trinity, did come to mankind. He is, as St. Paul recites, the firstborn of every creature, by Him were all things created that are in Heaven, in the earth, both visible and invisible, He is before all things and by Him all things consist.
Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. The relationship of Christ to the Church is simple. Without Christ, this is no Church because Christ is the Head of the Church. The Church exists because of the death and resurrection of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and no one can possibly challenge His headership. In all time, no one has ever done what Jesus Christ did in rising from the dead, and He did it in order to give eternal life to us all. Nothing even faintly comparable has ever been done before or since by anyone else. Jesus is the center of everything; there is nothing in Heaven or on earth that is comparable to Him by the design of the Father. This is what attracts all people too Him as the Truth.
As Christ told Pilate, so we can attest as well, His is not an earthly kingdom, but it is the Kingdom of Heaven nevertheless. It is not a military threat to the kingdoms of this world, but it is definitely a threat to them even so. Just as with any worldly kingdom, the Kingdom of God demands our loyalty and obedience if we want to remain citizens. We cannot expect to live as citizens of the world while claiming citizenship in the Kingdom of God. We might fool a few people in attempting to do so, we might even fool ourselves, but God is not fooled at all. It is completely absurd to think that we can deceive the King of Heaven, the One who truly knows what is in our hearts. We must either accept Jesus Christ fully and without hesitation, or we should stop pretending. I do not mean to discourage those that are struggling to find the Christian faith when I say this, but I am speaking to those who have long known the elements of the faith and think that they have arrived at a suitable compromise with it. There is no compromise at all. It is all or nothing.
Let us consider the words of the Collect for this Day. In the Collect, we recognize the will of God that all people might be brought under the lordship of His Son, Jesus Christ. Our Father has gone to extraordinary lengths to restore the world to Himself, even to sending His only Son to be sacrificed for our sins. We pray that this effort will in fact lead to fruition, with all the world converted and brought into the Church where sins will be forgiven and the world made right. Let us offer again the Collect for the Day:
Almighty and everlasting God, who didst will to restore all things in thy well beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: mercifully grant that all the kindreds of the earth, set free from the calamity of sin, may be brought under His most gracious dominion. Who with thee in the unity of the Holy Trinity, livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.