Reign of Christ • 22 Nov 2015

2 Samuel 23:1-7
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

Rev. Chris Udy

Last Monday
Waleed Aly recorded an editorial
for ‘The Project’ on Channel 10.
He was pleading for a measured
and careful response
to the terrorist attacks in Paris,
and he began by saying
“Isil’s weak. I know it doesn’t look like that now,
but it’s the truth.”
Then he analysed Isil’s claims
and the way they manipulate media
to make themselves look more dangerous than they are,
and he concluded by saying
“I am angry at these terrorists.
I’m sickened by the violence
and I’m crushed for the families
that have been left behind.
But you know what, I won’t be manipulated.
We all need to come together.
It’s exactly what Isil doesn’t want.
So if you’re a member of parliament,
or a has-been member of parliament
preaching hate
at a time when what we actually need is more love,
you’re helping Isil.”

For the rest of the week
the preachers of hate in the Murdoch media
savaged what Waleed had said.
Andrew Bolt suggested
that because he is Muslim,
Waleed himself might be an apologist for terrorism
and Chris Kenny poured out his scorn
on Waleed and anyone else who might call for
love or compassion or unity
in response to Isil’s violence and hatred.
He agreed with Waleed’s “core element of truth
… that the terrorists want to foment division”
but he insisted that calls for unity or compassion
were naïve and dangerous denial.
His conclusion was
“Love … will not conquer this challenge”.
(The Australian November 17, 2015)

This morning we read from John’s gospel -
part of John’s account
of the arrest and trial of Jesus.
Jesus had been delivered to Pilate -
the local Roman governor -
the most powerful politician in Jerusalem -
by some local religious leaders
who wanted to get rid of someone
they thought might be a rival.
The religious leaders said
they were asking for Jesus to be killed
because he’d made political threats.
They said he’d challenged the emperor,
that he was an advocate for rebellion,
trying to establish a new kingdom – a new state.
But those religious leaders
were much more worried
about what Jesus was doing to their power.
They were threatened
by the way he was questioning
their use of the Bible
and the way he suggested
that God was much more interested
in love and forgiveness
than he was in their exclusive and divisive calls
for hardline purity and holiness.

So Jesus was delivered to Pilate,
and Pilate questioned him:
“Are you the king of the Jews?” he said,
and Jesus replied
“Is this your question -
or did others tell you about me?”

It looks like Jesus is more interested
in what Pilate believes himself -
his own values and deep questions and conclusions,
rather than in the political alliances
and accusations the priests were trying to use -
but Pilate is too impatient
to have that kind of conversation.
“I am not a Jew, am I?” - he exploded;
“Your own nation
and the chief priests
have handed you over to me.
What have you done?”
To which Jesus replied:
“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.
But as it is,
my kingdom is not from here.”

Politics in this world
is about lobbies and loyalties
and slogans and banners and special interests.
What we first want to know
when someone stands up to speak
is - who does she belong to?
is he one of us?
who does she work for,
where does he fit in?
We assume that what people say
will be mainly spin -
they’ll repeat the lines they’re taught;
they’ll answer questions
only in terms that suit their party’s position.
They might not blatantly lie,
and the words they say might be true -
but that doesn’t mean
that they are telling the truth.
Jesus always saw himself
as belonging with - and to - every person -
even including those who stood against him.
His authority and power
didn’t depend on contributions,
or factions, or opinion polls.
By the time he came
to be standing in Pilate’s palace
he was entirely alone -
he had no-one at his back or by his side;
all he had was his integrity in the truth.

But Pilate didn’t understand
what Jesus was saying -
so he bluntly asked the question:
“So you are a king?”
And Jesus replied
“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.”

It’s impossible to condense the truth
down into a headline or a slogan.
It’s impossible to say
that any form of words -
any creed, any manifesto,
any theory or theology,
even any book of science or scripture
is finally and entirely the truth.
The truth isn’t something someone says,
or something someone thinks or believes -
it’s much, much bigger than one person,
and much, much more complex and surprising
than any one person can see or understand.
Ultimately the truth is God,
and God is the truth,
and while all of us can testify to the truth -
and all of us can listen for the truth -
the truth will always be
a little more clear, a little more deep,
a little more elegant and intricate and connected
than any one of us can ever know.

So, instead of grasping, or owning,
or controlling the truth,
every one of us lives in a relationship with truth -
sometimes that relationship
is positive and affirming -
sometimes it’s fearful and angry,
or cynical and denying -
but from the moment we’re born
to the day we die - and beyond -
we live in that relationship -
that constant conversation -
between ourselves
and those who see the world in different ways,
and ultimately with God.

“For this I was born,
and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.” Jesus said.
Everyone who belongs to the truth
listens to my voice.”
But Pilate had had enough.
He came back
with his most famous line:
“What is truth?”
and then he walked out on the conversation,
without giving Jesus time to give a response.

It’s not surprising that politicians
and media figures who define themselves
by their political colours
don’t often try to get involved
in conversations about truth.
Nor do they much like suggestions
that love might be more needed –
and perhaps more powerful -
than bombs and guns and armies on the ground.
They seem think of love as fuzzy and weak;
they don’t make the connection
between love and sacrifice.
They might quote the golden rule
but they don’t understand
that the love that lies behind it
is why Jesus ended up debating truth with Pilate,
and why Jesus went to the cross.
As Waleed Aly discovered
it can be a dangerous thing
to suggest that love - a bit like truth -
is bigger than politics, or family,
or race, or nation - or even religion -
but that’s what had Jesus always said,
and that’s why he was arrested.
The greatest commandments, Jesus taught,
and all the Law and the prophets
came down to this:
“Love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
and all your soul and mind,
and ... love your neighbour
as you love yourself”. (Mtt 22:37-40)

Jesus said that
because on the day that he was baptised -
before he could say anything, or do anything,
before he could affirm what he believed
or confess his faith in anyone or anything,
he heard a voice from heaven say
“You are my child, my son,
and you I love,
and I am delighted in you.”
That’s where Jesus found
the courage to go to the cross.
That’s what gave him his gospel to preach
and his power to heal;
that’s what gave him a kingdom -
not from this world’s games of power
but from a place beyond this world,
beyond all national borders
and above the boundaries
of party and race and religion.

The reign of Christ is political.
That’s why he was arrested and killed,
because he was a threat
to the corrupt and brutal rulers of his day.
And ever since Christians -
along with followers of many other religions -
who seek to testify to the truth
have found themselves attacked and vilified
by people who have an interest
in keeping other people fearful and compliant.
But the reign of Christ can never be
allied with one political party,
or identified with one ruler
or government system.
Jesus will always stand up for and beside
those who are being exploited,
or those being pushed to the edges and forgotten.
Jesus will always stand with those
whose suffering is invisible – or convenient -
to people of wealth and power.
That’s when he testifies to the truth.
He doesn’t recruit an army;
he doesn’t drum up a party;
he doesn’t do deals to win himself a throne:
he gives a voice to people who’d been silenced;
he makes their stories part of his own,
and he takes them wherever he can
to speak truth to power.

Those who like things just as they are
don’t like that very much –
and they respond with vitriol and reprisals.
For Jesus, that meant crucifixion;
for those who follow his example,
whether they call themselves Christian or not,
witnessing to the truth will also mean sacrifice –
but because truth is an aspect of God,
it can’t be destroyed or buried,
it keeps rising up into life again and again.
And because love is also an aspect of God,
and because love has the power to bring life,
love, and love’s expression
in compassion, forgiveness and grace
will always be stronger than hatred and death,
and when the wars and atrocities end,
only love can bring healing to damaged people
and only love will rebuild community –
and as Waleed Aly suggests,
the crucial time to begin that work
of rebuilding and healing is now.