Jesus never sought power or used his authority for personal gain. Although he had all the power, he only used it to help others. He proved that through death we find life. His kingship was and is one of service, humility and truth.
In the world of consumerism Friday was known as ‘Black Friday’ when apparently there were some fantastic shopping bargains to be grabbed, perhaps you were one of the lucky ones and found a bargain The name Black Friday should certainly not be confused with Good Friday, the Friday before Easter when Jesus was crucified.
Black Friday in this context is the day after Thanksgiving Day and has been imported from the USA as a crazy shopping time where everyone is encouraged to buy goods at great prices, giving Christmas Shopping an extra boost, as if it really needed it.
So there is a secular and a liturgical calendar, in fact every religion has certain days, weeks or even months in the year which have great significance and depending on where you live there can be extra holidays to encompass all faiths. Of course, there times when religious and secular events seem to merge into one, for instance you do not have to be a Christian to celebrate, in some way, Christmas or Easter. The evidence of these important Christian festivals are seen all around us, particularly in the shops and … places.
Today in church we are coming to the end of our liturgical years, yes that’s right in November, and we mark it in what would seem a triumphant fashion as we name Christ as King. That may seem a strange way of marking this important Sunday as Christ did not see himself as a King, well certainly not as a secular King, but more of that later.
Next Sunday is the beginning of Advent, a four-week season of reflection as we prepare for bringing his light into the world. But of course, the most important aspect of our liturgical seasons is that they help us mark time with those deeper truths that matter most, and we further embrace them in our worship and private prayer.
In all our lives there are significant events that we will mark, however the real question is not whether we in church and in our private lives will mark time, but how we will do this. What events and what messages are we proclaiming in our calendaring especially at this time of the year when the pace of life seems to take on a momentum of its own? Well today we celebrate Jesus’ kingship over all creation and in our Gospel reading we are presented with an image of a young man on trial, standing powerless before a person who seems to wield the entire power of the Roman Empire. Pontius Pilate knew all about kinds and the threat they posed. In the ancient world kings weren’t like our constitutional monarchy. Our Queen is subject to the rule of law, governs through Parliament and, by protocol, exercises very few of her powers. The kings of the ancient world answered to no-one. They were dictators. They became kings either by being born the heir of a king or through violent revolution. And they held on to their crowns by wiping out all possible rival claims to their throne – usually rather brutally.
And we might just ponder on the fact that dictators, although not necessary called kings, still exist today exercising their power; making parts of the world dangerous and unhabitable…
As Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, he must have looked broken in every sense. Unarmed and whiteout even an army, because actually most of his followers were women, who thought little of in the society of his day. It is unlikely that Pilate had ever seen a more hopeless, deluded case, and we can see from the way that Pilate treated him there was no respect whatsoever. He asks, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ It’s such a silly question in the circumstances that it suggests that Pilate considered Jesus inanely deluded and he was just trying to prompt Jesus to make the ludicrous claim out loud, for their general amusement. But suddenly Pilate gets a taste of Jesu’ unique way of answering questions: by asking some rather probing questions of his own. ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me? ‘ That is downright insulting. It shows up that Pilate’s appearance of power is a facade. He is just being used as a pupped by his own subjects and will have to act in the way that they determine. No wonder Pilate was riled. He retorted (and you can almost hear the irritation in his voice): ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have hand you over to me. What have you done?’ And this is where we get to the nub of the matter. Jesus replies ‘ 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.’ Aha! Pilate pounces: ‘So you are a king? But there no way through there either: ‘You say that I am king.’
This interrogation is not going the way Pilate had planned. And Pilate, in his haste to get in back on track, misses the key phrase that Jesus speaks: ‘My kingdom is not from this world. ‘ and eventually as we know Pilate washes his hands of Jesus and he is condemned to death by the crowd. So how do we understand God’s Kingdom? So often we try to build God’s kingdom through purely worldly means, as though it were a purely human enterprise. It’s understandable of course. We’re children of this world and we find it easier to deal with the things of this world – money, buildings, institutions, events. Whereas the things of heaven may of the seem strange to us: prayer, worship, listening to God’s word. Sometimes we can get caught up in structures and organisational matters in the Church. We can so easily forget that they are all supposed to be concerned for one another and importantly working together as Kingdom people.
Jesus never sought power or used his authority for personal gain. Although he had all the power, he only used it to help others. He had no servants instead was a servant to others. He taught the truth for the betterment of the world. He led by example through giving and sharing. He showed that complete self-emptying love was the way to happiness. He taught that sacrifice was the way to grow. He proved that through death we find life. His kingship was and is one of service, humility and truth. It is true our world loves power; but in the Kingdom of God, the last are first and the first are last. And as we all know only too well the world loves wealth and profit, bit in the Kingdom of God it’s about respect and love of people and care for creation. The world thinks that we can understand everything in purely physical and material terms, but those who live in Christs kingdom know that God cares for the sparrow and makes the rain fall on good and bad alike. The values of the Kingdom of God often oppose the values by which the kingdoms of this world are governed. So, of course, there’s conflict, sometimes in our homes, certainly in our world, but sadly all too often in our churches.
Jesus allowed Pilate and the Jews [Leaders] to lead him to execution whilst confidently expressing that he was in total control. By stating that ‘my Kingdom is not of this world’ he gives us confidence to know that even those of the highest powers on earth cannot connect with the plans our Creator God and loving heavenly Father. The history-changing decision of Pontius Pilate actually served to advance the kingdom of Heaven, even though from an earthly perspective it looked like a tragic and bitter end.
And let’s not forget, even Pilate, who had an eagle eye for rival kings and kingdoms concluded, on the basis of Jesus’ words that the Kingdom of Jesu was no threat to Rome as the Jewish leaders had made it out to be – a threat of plots of physical force, and revolution. ‘I find no fault in him’ was the verdict of the representative of Rome. So whatever situation we might be facing our olds, however much we might like or fear Mr Trump in the White House, or how the UK might really look like outside the EU, we can be confident that God is neither absent nor ignoring what’s happening, because his Kingdom is right here, right now, in each and every one of us an die are in the Kingdom of Christ, together… and that is surely something to take heart in on this last worship service of the church year. So, as we enter the season of watching and waiting let us work more closely together to further that Kingdom by encouraging and affirming those around us who are treading the same path as us, so that we can be powerful as a church and a community in bringing Christ’s Kingdom right now to others.