This is the text of my sermon for March 11, 2018, the Fourth Sunday of Lent and the 1st Sunday of Daylight Saving Time. The text is John 18:28-40.
Much of my thoughts on this text were influenced by David Lose's Lenten Devotions from his website ... In the Meantime, especially the devotions here and here.
The lesson we hear today is at the heart of the telling of the Passion, or Suffering, of Jesus Christ. It is a key scene in any depiction of the last day of Jesus. I think of the various movies about the life of Jesus, and all of them feature this scene.
In one of my favorite depictions, the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, the song Trial Before Pilate is one of the turning points in the play. It takes the lessons we hear today and next week, showing how Jesus is abandoned by the very people he came to. It calls back to the opening prologue in John’s Gospel, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”
Pilate who is used to fighting against the leaders of the Temple, now finds they bring him one of their own, wanting Pilate to crucify Jesus. They give no accusations, only claiming that Jesus is a criminal who needs to be put to death.
Pilate wants Jesus to explain himself, and asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews. This isn’t the charge given by the Temple authorities. It is of Pilate’s own invention. Or perhaps that is what his intelligence gathering has picked up on; that the people of Israel hope that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who will restore the Nation of Israel.
Jesus challenges Pilate right back, asking what difference it makes. Pilate says that your own people have turned you over to me, and asks Jesus, “What have you done?”
Jesus answers Pilate. “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.”
Here is where I want to focus. I’ve said previously that I prefer to think of God’s reign, not of God’s kingdom, because we tend to think of a kingdom as a place. God’s reign is when and where God’s authority and God’s rules are lived out. A reign is an attitude. A reign is a way of life.
Jesus’ kingdom is not a place. Jesus’ kingdom is wherever his followers live out the commands and demands of being his follower.
It is where love prevails, and where hatred fails.
It is where the hungry are fed, and where we trust we will wake when we are dead.
It is where the poor have provisions, and where unity ends our divisions.
It is where the sick are cared for, and where peace triumphs over war.
Jesus’ says that “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” We have heard that and understood that to be that if his arrest happened IN his kingdom, that his followers would be fighting to liberate him.
But what if he is telling Pilate that he, and his followers, reject the violent ways of this world?
It isn’t that followers from his kingdom would fight for him, but that because his kingdom is not of this world, because his reign is one of love, justice and peace, his followers will not fight.
What if he is telling Pilate, his followers and the world that he has come to reject our system of violence and retribution?
What if Christ’s surrendering himself to the Temple authorities and to the Roman Governor is his judgment on their system of violent justice?
What if the Word of God made Flesh came to show us how we treat a man with a message of love?
What if we were shown that not even putting the Son of God to death on a cross can separate us from God’s love?
What SHOULD we learn from that?
In declaring that his kingdom is not of this world, Jesus is declaring that his kingdom, his reign, will not use the tools and mechanisms of earthly kingdoms. He rejects control by terror, divide and conquer, victim blaming, the politics of shaming, we verses them, the power of fear, might makes right and the politics of division that have been used from the time of Pilate up to this very day.
Instead, he calls for the truth. It is his reason for being. It is “for this I was born, and for this I came into the world,” that he would speak, and live out, God’s love for the world. A love shown in that for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
The truth is that you cannot drive out hate by out hating your enemy or opposition. In his book, Strength to Love, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. And hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
The kingdom, the reign the Christ comes from, will return to, and will bring to earth, the kingdom and reign, we as his disciples are called to work toward is one that renounces violence, hatred, division and retribution. We are called to work toward peace, love, unity and forgiveness.
In the ongoing trial between forces of light and forces of darkness, we need to choose our side.
At the end, Pilate wants to release Jesus. In the song I referenced earlier, Pilate screams, “I need a crime!”
In the end, the crime was that Jesus is King of a Kingdom that is yet to come. A kingdom where God’s will shall be done. A kingdom that shall reign as Heaven on Earth. A kingdom where God’s power is shown in love, God’s glory is done in mercy and forgiveness, forever and ever. AMEN.
Pastor Brian's Page
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell has served at Our Savior's and Emmanuel since August 1, 2011, and began serving Nazareth on December 1, 2015.
Pastor Brian is originally from Saginaw, Michigan. He graduated from Alma College with a B.A. in Business Administration, and worked for the Saginaw Public Schools' Community Education Department for 17 years before answering the call to ministry. He graduated with a M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish is his first call.
He is the only child of Robert and Charlotte Campbell, both who have entered the Church Eternal.
He is accompanied in ministry by his faithful bulldogge Ananias, who regularly writes for our newsletter. His articles are archived here.
He is a fan of sports teams from his native Michigan, especially the Tigers and the Lions. But we tolerate him despite that.
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