Sermon: Christ the King 2015. John 18, 28-38.
I wonder if you were asked to describe yourself what you might say.
I would probably talk about the fact that I am a Lancastrian by birth, but educated in the West Country. I might refer to my academic qualifications, and the fact that I am married with two mostly wonderful children. I could talk to you about Milo – the Sound Hound – or my enjoyment of rugby, cycling and skiing. If pushed I could give you some indication about my theological, political, philosophical and educational convictions. In describing myself in these terms I would be both telling the truth and giving you some clues about my identity, or identities.
Of course, if love doesn’t sit at the heart of all of these self-descriptors all I would really be doing is telling you about the roles I play and, the functions I fulfil. Without love we are left with a pretty hollowed out form of identity, a form of identity measured solely in functional, factual or empirical terms.
Today’s Gospel reading is concerned with truth and identity. It asks us the most challenging of all religious questions: how do you define yourself and, where do your true – or truthful – allegiances lie?
The narrative is highly charged. Two parties the Jewish religious elite and the Pilate, Rome’s political representative, are faced with a man, Jesus, who challenges their very, narrowly defined identity and status. Throughout His ministry he has sought to turn their preconceived, pre-packaged, world upside down. He has tried to get them to think beyond their narrowly defined boundaries. He has encouraged them to think in Kingdom terms. He has claimed that the Kingdom of God transcends the superficiality of humanly constructed identity markers. This fact is the answer to Pilate’s final question: ‘what is truth?’
The truth is Jesus himself; truth is not ‘a what’ it transpires, but a person, or God made real in a person. Jesus is the ‘way, the truth and the life.’ Jesus is the ‘true vine.’ St. John is extremely keen to let us know that truth = Jesus. If you want to know all about truth look lovingly at Jesus. And the truth Jesus wants proclaims goes way beyond the superficial. For Jesus truth is peace, justice and joy in the Holy Spirit. For Jesus truth is found in humility, mercy, service, love and above all forgiveness. The Jewish religious elite, alongside the Roman officials, are concerned with form, function and outward appearances. Jesus says it is what it is inside you that are important and transformative.
If we are to proclaim our faith in any meaningful way we need to own our real, truthful, identity. We need to say with confidence that our real identity is ‘In Christ.’ Like Jesus we need to be more concerned with Kingdom values than with protecting any preconceived ideas we may have about how the world should function. Jesus faced with the worst that religion and politics could throw at him said this: ‘My kingdom is not from this world.’
This short sentence changes everything. In it Jesus does two things: he acknowledges that he is a King and he rejects any idea that kingship should be limited to ruling over narrowly defined spheres of influence. Just before he was sentenced to death on the cross Jesus was asked to reveal his true identity and to lift the veil on all that masquerades as truth.
And, this I suggest is our missionary challenge. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown