“Living There Here” John 18:33-37
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, November 25, 2012 Christ the King Sunday
Have you seen any of the new movies out from this past week? It seems when it rains it pours with good new movies coming out. There are some that are thrillers–Flight, Red Dawn, Skyfall–playing off current issues and conceivable plots (although James Bond’s special weapons are always over the top). There are, however, several movies either out now or coming out next month, that seem to all have a common theme: they are about kingdoms. The Life of Pi takes us into the kingdom of animals. The Twilight Saga is, well, is just more vampires jumping through the woods and biting each other. Lincoln, which came out last week, reminds us of one nation that had become two very different kingdoms, with a leader who gave his all to bring them back together. Then there is the Hobbit, which comes out on December 16. It leads us on a journey into a very different kingdom, one that begins with a hole in the ground and introduces us to dwarves and hobbits. What any person outside of our culture would conclude about us is that we are fascinated with a world outside our own. We are people living in one kingdom while fantasizing about another. We are able to dream and even believe that other kingdoms exist beyond our own, one’s where there are incredible risks but where great things can happen. These kingdoms of our dreams are shaped by the words and visions of our favorite authors and film studios.
The idea of kingdoms and realms co-existing with each other is not a new one. And the stories that shape our awareness of them are not new. One of the greatest storytellers of all time is hard at work in our text for today–John 18:33-37. It is in this text that Jesus mentioned in Pilate’s courtroom that, though he was living here, he was from there. And what was there was here because he was here. His arrival was its arrival. And, beginning with his first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, he would never quit talking about what this kingdom was like. He would never grow weary of telling the good news of this other kingdom, of how it was for everyone, for anyone who was willing to enter it. To understand his words about the kingdom, we first need to know what other kingdoms existed, and why they weren’t enough for the world.
As Jesus spoke about the kingdom, he did so to a people who knew that there were several that existed in their time and that were often at war with one another for recognition. Jesus’ own people–the Jews–certainly understood that there was the kingdom of God, but also the kingdom of Rome. Most every one of them knew that there were smaller kingdoms within each kingdom. There were Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and Zealots. There were Caesars, kings, gods, generals, judges, priests and prophets. Everyone was vying for their own kingdom, hoping for their’s to reign. As the arrests, crucifixions, and martyrs show, allegiance to the reigning kingdom and its king was a serious matter. You could pledge to its king or you could die a traitor’s death.
And then comes along Jesus, who spoke of another kingdom, one not of this world, yet at the same time here in this world. As he said to Pilate, . . .my kingdom is not from here. It was one where God was in charge. It was one not of accumulation but dissipation, one not of constant strife but eternal life, one not of domination but subordination. The rise and fall of kingdoms was certainly something Jesus had been exposed to as one born into poverty and as one who belonged to a people whose history was marked by constant periods of captivity by one kingdom or another. But Jesus knew of another kingdom that his people dreamed of rising one day, one he came to serve and expand. He couldn’t quit talking about it as he traveled from city to city. He not only talked about it, he demonstrated it. He personified this kingdom, the kingdom of God. And he taught with his words and his life that it was to be treasured above all other kingdoms.
Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister, shared in his 2010 memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, the following story about a kingdom:
A friend of mine whose parents were immigrants, Jews from Europe who came to America in search of safety, told me this story. His parents lived and worked in New York. They were not well off. His father died when he was young. His mother lived on, and in time my friend succeeded and became wealthy. He often used to offer his mother the chance to travel outside America. She never did. When eventually she died, they went back to recover the safety box where she kept her jewelry. They found there another box. There was no key. So they had to drill it open. They wondered what precious jewel must be in it. They lifted the lid. There was wrapping and more wrapping and finally an envelope. Intrigued, they opened it. In the envelope were her U.S. citizenship papers. Nothing more. That was the jewel, more precious to her than any other possession. That was what she treasured most.
Jesus leaves no question about what kingdom mattered the most. The people who heard him then were left with some citizenship choices to make. They could belong to Rome and live with Caesar as king. They could belong to their religion and live with rules or the Law as their king. Or, they could belong to God and live with Him as their king. The same thing is true for the people who hear Jesus today. We, too, are left with some citizenship decisions to make. We can belong to a nation and worship at its national altar. We can belong to our religion and live with its rules and restrictions as our king. We can even create our own kingdoms, crowning ourselves king and finding freedom to rule our lives as we see fit. Or, we can belong to God, and live with Him as our King. What have you decided about your kingdom allegiance?
The answer to such a question can be answered without much thought. “Well, my allegiance is to God’s kingdom, of course.” But, is it? Could it be that while we are pledging allegiance to God, we are showing something very different in our actions? How can we, like Jesus, know that we truly belong to another kingdom? I believe our answer comes in a healthy exercise of looking beyond the reality of things as we see them to the nature of things as God intends them. Like a writer or movie producer who enables us to enter another world with our imagination, so Jesus alerts us to encounter–even how to enter–another world without limitation. This was a kingdom where the King never stopped loving His people. It was a kingdom where sins were forgiven, where debts were erased, where sorrows turn to dancing, where the tumultuous sea is easily stilled, where the least are the greatest, where the old is the new, where the poor are the rich, where the blind see, where the naked are clothed, the hungry are full, and where the oppressed are free. It is a kingdom that turns good from bad, recovery from loss, impossible to possible, and life from death. It is the kind of kingdom that God has always envisioned for our planet. It is one God has begun but has also left undone, one that is greatly expanded with people as ordinary as you and as me. This kingdom is there but also here, right here, in Highland, waiting on someone like you to spread it.
So how does someone like you get to be a part of something like that? It all begins with your pledge of allegiance. Unlike Caesar, King Herod, or religious law, Jesus doesn’t demand your allegiance. He merely opens your eyes to its presence, invites you to join it, and stirs your imagination to expand it. On this Christ the King Sunday, we are reminded that Jesus is the king of this kingdom, one who has provided a place for us in his court. Does this kingdom look like the one to which you belong?
I believe we are all posed Pilate’s question on various ways and in various days. Which kingdom do you represent? Mother Theresa had an answer to this question: By blood and origin, I am all Albanian. My citizenship is Indian. I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the whole world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to Jesus.
What about you?
Audio of Sermon is here:
 ( Mother Teresa, quoted by Ruth A. Tucker in Guardians of the Great Commission. Christianity Today, Vol. 33 http://www.preachingtoday.com/search/?type=scripture&query=John%2018:33-37)