Today is ‘Christ the King’ Sunday, the last Sunday after Pentecost, the last Sunday in the church year. Next week our new year begins, at least as far as the church calendar is concerned, with Advent I. Our lessons today are aimed at the pivot point – on the one hand looking back at the story of David’s line, at the story of Jesus in the moment before everything changes, and on the other hand, looking forward to the day when we will all see Christ the King and all the tribes of the earth will wail, according to Revelation. Looking back, looking forward. What do we learn from these lessons? What hope can we find?
I’m struck by Pilate’s question to Jesus: What have you done? The question is a challenge to Jesus – he wouldn’t be standing before Pilate if he hadn’t done something to make someone very angry. Yet, it’s an honest question – Pilate really doesn’t know what Jesus has done because Jesus hadn’t done anything wrong that any of his accusers could agree upon. What have you done?
The disciples thought they knew what Jesus was doing. The disciples thought that God was reestablishing the throne of David through Jesus. They expected to see Jesus assert his authority, overthrow the Romans and take his place on David’s throne in the Holy City Jerusalem. They expected to reign with him, serving their King in places of honor, fulfilling the promises David claimed in our reading from Second Samuel.
What God had planned was larger than the Holy City of Jerusalem, larger than the throne of David in the Kingdom of Israel. What God had planned was bigger than the disciples, bigger than Pilate, larger than the Roman Empire. God’s plan called for Jesus to give his life, every last breath, so that the whole world would know, so that you and I would know that nothing can separate us from God’s love. God’s plan allowed Jesus to die so that God could raise him up again, proving that nothing – not our sin, not our power, not even the power of death, nothing – can withstand God’s power of life and love.
There’s no way that Jesus could truly answer Pilate’s question, ‘What have you done?’ Jesus could only say that he had come to testify to the truth and that everyone who belongs to the truth listens to his words. What have you done? I’ve come to bring abundant life, Jesus said in another place. What have you done? I’ve come to be the bread of life, the great shepherd, the vine that brings life to the branches. What have you done? I have come to be Emmanuel, God with humans, on the side of us humans.
How could Pilate understand what Jesus had done, what Jesus was about to do? Not even his closest companions understood what Jesus had done and was about to do. Jesus was facing his death. He was about to be buried for three days. And then he was about to be resurrected, spending 50 more days explaining to his disciples what had just happened to him, happened to them. He was about to return to his Father and take his place at God’s right hand. He was about to become King of all those who willingly follow and the King of all at the end of time.
God’s kingdom is unlike any of our own, unlike any kingdom on Earth. We have the choice to join the kingdom of God or not. We have the choice to follow the King or not follow. So the question comes to us, ‘What have we done?’ What choice have we made? Have we chosen to be followers? Are we living up to our calling?
As disciples, as followers of Christ the King, we are called to spread the good news that God loves us all and wants relationship with us. I expect that, like me, you are always both following and not following our King. On our best days, our actions, our words show God’s love to the world. And yet…
These days we seem to be faltering – it’s a struggle to live a life of love when there is so much going on that we disagree with and so many people shouting at us and at each other. Folks on both sides of almost any issue claim to be Christian, claim to be followers of Jesus. Where is God in this mess? What does God want us to do?
God’s love calls us to live in love. Regardless of what others might think of us, we’re called to be loving. Regardless of whether we agree or disagree with someone, we’re called to be loving towards them. Regardless of how we’re treated, we’re called to be loving. Regardless of the issue, we are called to stand on the side of love. The question to ask about every issue is, “What would be the most loving thing to do?” Immigration – what would be the most loving thing to do? The war in Yemen – what would be the most loving thing to do? Poverty – what would be the most loving thing to do? If the position we take on any issue isn’t loving, we ought not claim that it is God’s position… As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry always says, “if it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”
God’s love is the mirror that shows us who and what we are, the mirror that convicts us when we fail. And God’s love forgives our failures and empowers us to love again. As we give ourselves to God and God’s love, God works in and through us more and more to make God’s love known. We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t have to be perfect. And we don’t have to fear for our futures – we are Easter People, after all. We believe that our loving God will hold on to us no matter what the future brings. What is required of us is that we love each other as God loves each of us.
At the end of time, when we’re asked, ‘What have you done?’ may we be able to answer that we’ve loved as best we could. At this pivot point between the old year and the new, let us recommit ourselves to Christ’s kingdom. May we live this new year fearlessly in God’s love. Amen.