Christ the King Sunday
Pastor George Pejakovich
John 18:33-37

IN THIS NATION, WE HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT KINGS, OR ANY ROYALTY. WE DON’T WANT ANYONE TO LORD IT OVER US, BUT WE GET ALL SILLY OVER THE ANTICS OF THE BRITISH ROYAL FAMILY, AND ARE EASILY IMPRESSED BY CLAIMS TO NOBILITY. SO LET ME TELL YOU MY KING STORY.

WHILE VISITING THE WWI MEMORIAL A FEW YEARS AGO WITH OUR FRIENDS MAL AND MARY, WE WERE LOOKING AT THE GREAT MURAL OF ALL THE WORLD LEADERS BEFORE AND AFTER THE WAR. WITH THE DOCENT RIGHT AT MY ELBOW (I JUST COULDN’T GET RID OF THE GUY), I POINTED TO THE FIGURE OF THE LAST KING OF MOUNTENEGRO, AND TOLD OUR FRIENDS A LITTLE STORY. WHEN MY FAMILY VISITED THE ROYAL PALACE IN MOUNTENEGRO, REALLY JUST A FANCY VICTORIAN MANSION, I STEPPED UP TO WHERE TWO YOUNG WOMEN WERE SELLING TICKETS. WHEN THEY LOOKED UP, THEY BOTH KIND OF JUMPED BACK IN THEIR SEATS. THEY NERVOUSLY GAVE ME THE TICKETS, AND WE BEGAN OUR TOUR BY ENTERING THE FIRST ROOM, WHERE THERE WAS A LIFE SIZED PORTRAIT OF THE LAST KING AT ABOUT MY AGE AT THE TIME. IT COULD HAVE PASSED FOR MY PORTRAIT. WITH STUNNED FACES MY KIDS LOOKED AT ME. I RAISED ONE EYEBROW, AND SMOOTHLY SAID, “SMALL COUNTRY AND THE KING GOT AROUND.” SOME HOURS LATER, AS WE WERE LEAVING THE MUSEUM, MARY GOT INTO A CONVERSATION WITH ANOTHER DOCENT. WE WENT OUTSIDE TO WAIT, AND WHEN SHE CAME OUT SHE WAS LAUGHING WITH TEARS IN HER EYES. THE PROUD DOCENT TOLD HER THAT TODAY THE MUSEUM WAS HONORED TO HOST A DIRECT DESCENDANT OF THE LAST KING OF MOUNTENEGRO.

THROUGHOUT MOST OF HISTORY, PEOPLE LOOKED TO KINGS TO GUIDE AND PROTECT THEM. SOMETIMES THAT WORKED WELL, AND OTHER TIMES THE KINGS BECAME THE PROBLEM. WHILE WE AMERICANS DO NOT HAVE A KING, AND INSTEAD RELY ON “WE THE PEOPLE,” WE STILL HAVE THE TENDENCY TO LOOK FOR A STRONG LEADER IN TIMES OF TENSION AND STRESS. IN A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION SEASON, EACH CANDIDATE TRIES VERY HARD TO PORTRAY HIMSELF OR HERSELF AS THE STRONGEST ON ISSUES OF NATIONAL DEFENSE AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS. THERE MAY NOT BE MANY KINGS LEFT IN THIS WORLD, AND MANY OF THOSE THAT STILL WEAR A CROWN HAVE LITTLE POWER, THE ROLE AND FUNCTION OF KINGSHIP IS STILL EXERCISED BY VARIOUS KINDS OF SECULAR AUTHORITY, FOR GOOD AND FOR ILL.

AS JESUS STOOD BEFORE PILATE, THE ISSUE AT HAND WAS WHETHER OR NOT JESUS WAS A KING. ROME WOULD NOT TOLERATE ANY KING NOT CROWNED BY CAESAR. IF JESUS WERE A KING, PILATE WOULD HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. AS HE LOOKED AT THE MAN BEFORE HIM, DISHEVELED FROM A NIGHT IN PRISON AND WITH A SWOLLEN LIP WHERE THE SERVANT OF THE HIGH PRIEST HIT HIM, PILATE COULDN’T SEE ANYTHING “KINGLY” ABOUT HIM. BECAUSE PILATE UNDERSTOOD KINGSHIP SOLELY IN THE TERMS OF THE ROMAN POLITICAL SYSTEM, HE COULD NOT SEE THE DIVINE KING WHO STOOD RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM. THE TRUE KING OF ALL CAN BE SEEN ONLY BY THOSE WHO HEAR THE WORD OF TRUTH WHICH JESUS BRINGS INTO THE WORLD. THE KINGDOM OF JESUS, HOWEVER, IS NOT OF THIS WORLD, SO HIS FOLLOWERS WILL NOT FIGHT FOR HIM; TO BRING THE KINGDOM OF GOD INTO THIS WORLD BY VIOLENCE WOULD VIOLATE THE FOUNDATION ON WHICH THE KINGDOM IS BUILT AND THUS DESTROY IT.

THERE IS PROBABLY NO MORE FITTING TIME TO HEAR THIS GOSPEL PASSAGE THAN IN THE WAKE OF THE HORRORS IN PARIS LAST WEEKEND. THE PURPOSE OF TERROR IS TERROR; TO INCAPACITATE OUR ABILITY TO FUNCTION NORMALLY AND TO MAKE US SO AFRAID THAT WE WILL PREFER TO SUBMIT RATHER THAN BE KILLED. HOW, THEN, ARE WE AS MEMBERS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THE KINGDOM OF THE WORLD TO RESPOND? SOME TRADITIONS, LIKE THE MENNONITES, QUAKERS, AND CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN, HAVE GIVEN GREAT TESTIMONY TO THE POWER OF CHRISTIAN NON-VIOLENCE, AND HAVE, AT TIMES, SHAKEN THE POWERS THAT BE IN THIS WORLD. YET JESUS DOES NOT DENY THE LEGITIMACY OF PILATE’S SECULAR POWER; AS HE SAID LATER, “YOU WOULD HAVE NO POWER OVER ME IF IT WERE NOT GIVEN TO YOU FROM ABOVE.”

MY OWN TRADITION, INFLUENCED BY LUTHER’S EXAMPLE OF THE TWO HANDS OF GOD, OR THE KINGDOM OF THE RIGHT AND THE KINGDOM OF THE LEFT, RECOGNIZES THAT THE TEMPORAL AUTHORITIES, THE POLICE AND THE MILITARY, HAVE A LEGITIMATE ROLE TO PLAY IN PROTECTING THE HELPLESS AND CREATING A MORE PEACEFUL AND JUST SOCIETY. WHAT THE FRENCH POLICE DID THIS WEEK IN HUNTING DOWN THE MASTERMIND OF THE HORRIFIC ATTACKS LAST WEEKEND WAS NOT ONLY JUSTIFIED BUT ESSENTIAL. THESE KINDS OF TERROR ATTACKERS MUST BE RESISTED, THWARTED, OPPOSED VIGOROUSLY, FOUGHT TIRELESSLY, AND BROUGHT TO JUSTICE WHEN POSSIBLE. YET THIS IS THE KINGDOM OF THE LEFT, THE KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD, IN WHICH WE LIVE, AND, WHILE WE SHOULD AND MUST ACT IN THE SECULAR SOCIETY, WE MUST RECOGNIZE THAT THERE IS A HIGHER KINGDOM TO WHICH WE BELONG; THE KINGDOM OF THE LOVE OF GOD.

THUS, WHILE WE MUST ACT IN THIS WORLD TO RESIST THOSE WHO WOULD RULE OVER US BY MEANS OF TERROR AND THREATS, WE MUST RESIST WITHOUT HATRED. WHILE WE MUST RESIST VIOLENCE AGAINST THE INNOCENT, OFTEN BY MEANS OF FORCE, WE CAN NOT FALL INTO THE DESCENDING SPIRAL OF HATRED; BECAUSE THAT IS THE WAY OF THE EVIL WE FACE. WE MUST LOVE THOSE WHO HATE US, EVEN AS WE RESIST THEIR ATTEMPTS TO HARM US. THIS IS NO EASY THING TO DO, YET IT IS THE WAY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. IT IS THE WAY OF THE KINGDOM WHICH IS NOT YET, BUT IS NOW PRESENT; THE KINGDOM TO WHICH WE ASPIRE, AND OF WHICH WE ARE ALREADY CITIZENS. IT IS THE WAY OF OUR KING, WHO LOVED AND FORGAVE EVEN THOSE WHO HAMMERED THE NAILS IN HIS HANDS AND FEET.
AMEN

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