GOD wants that perfect community and we go “But that’s too hard. Give us a tyrant who can just tell us what to do. A good one, not a bad one.” And GOD says there’s no such thing.
The reign of Christ and the end of fear
Proper 29B | John 18:33-37
The Leadership of Kings
Have you ever really thought about the implications of leadership? I’m not talking about the easy criticisms from the back pew. I’m talking kings and authority.
Most of us learn in school about the American Revolution and how George Washington was almost a king. So imagine what it’s like to be one of the newly freed colonists responsible for forming our own government. And what we have is 1) experience with the monarchy and 2) some ideas. But that’s all they are. Untested ideas based on a country that abandoned them centuries earlier to become an empire.
This isn’t academic, only. We have to find a first leader. Because we don’t have the safety of England anymore.
There are a few good men from which we can choose, but there is only one consensus pick. How do we go about it then? Do we elect? Appoint? Declare? And what is he? Emperor? King? [We know about that.] Or something else?
We’ve been talking about leadership since the history of the world and we’ve been fighting over this idea of king throughout our people’s history.
It is no wonder that some of the loudest voices decrying the power of our leaders are often the ones bestowing them with so much power. We decry our kings, but we first anoint them as such.
Our brief struggle with our country’s first leader, our flirting with a new monarchy is naturally a part of the human persistence to ask for kings throughout our shared history, despite GOD’s ever-present argument to resist such an impulse.
We remember that GOD tried to convince the people they didn’t want a king at the beginning. He set up the perfect community, the perfect system of life, into which no king was necessary. A way of being that didn’t need an overseer, an overlord, or judge. A system which was just to its core.
But that system freaked people out. They wanted a ruler. So GOD gave them judges to help order, but wouldn’t rule them.
But that system didn’t do it for them either. They wanted a king. So GOD gave in.
And the people still resisted.
So GOD removed the kings and they were sent into Exile. They rethought the whole king thing and they said you know? Maybe kings aren’t all that good.
And GOD let them go home.
And when they got there, they pined for the old ways and wanted David back.
GOD realized that the trouble was not only that the people could not see how corrupt kings are but that the people seemed to embrace the corruption! So GOD sent an anti-king to show, not only that corruption of kings, but to reveal the Kingdom of GOD; to show what that perfect order looks like. So Jesus comes as the anti-king to reveal both corruption of the world and the perfection of the kingdom.
So we’ve got all this king stuff in our minds when Jesus stands before Pilate and Pilate calls him King of the Jews. We have this notion that GOD reluctantly supported the kings, that this is not the image GOD wants us to embrace. That we are called to choose the faithful protection of GOD, not the salient protection of the powerful people we like.
We know what GOD thinks of kings. Our scripture is full of it. And we know that the people rejected that: they kept wanting kings in spite of GOD. We keep wanting kings–just look at our elections. But GOD wants that perfect community and we go “But that’s too hard. Give us a tyrant who can just tell us what to do. A good one, not a bad one.” And GOD says there’s no such thing.
Of course Pilate doesn’t know what we know. For all he knows, Jesus may actually be an heir to the throne Rome handed over to Herod. For all he knows, the Jewish GOD can be bought off by wealthy kings as other gods are. This guy is being called a king, and here he is, to be tried as a rebel, a would-be king.
Pilate clearly doesn’t get it. And Jesus, standing before him, is so earnest:
If my kingdom were from here, my people would send drones to take you out and drop bombs on your bases.
And Pilate asks
So you are a king?
He still doesn’t hear it, does he? He hears this as an admission, a “yes, but”. It isn’t.
For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
Jesus came to reveal the Kingdom and everyone who gets the Kingdom, listens to Jesus.
Pilate, from this world, doesn’t.
The Kingdom is Like…
Today, we are called to celebrate the reign of Christ. Not that Jesus is a replacement king, that he in any way resembles a king, that we should elevate him as we elevated David and Henry and almost elevated George Washington. Jesus is the anti-king, the revealer and the builder of the kingdom. The worker, the servant, the lowliest.
Maybe we can think of it this way. We’re putting this deck on our house and so you and I, we go to the corner to pick up a day laborer, a guest worker without any papers, because he’s got some carpentry skills.
And as we ride with him to the work site he helps us see the world beyond this world, on the other side of the wall, where all this confusion and violence and hatred and bigotry and pure evil doesn’t go. On the other side, where he’s from there is peace. There is hope. There is love.
And we’re confused because we built this wall to protect ourselves from the evil that is out there. We’ve seen it! Our neighbors testify to experiencing it! So evil is supposed to be on the other side.
But the man insists. And he tells us stories of this place, this other kingdom, how it is like seeds of hope which grow well beyond the mass they start with, how its sons may run away from their fathers in hate and yet are brought home in mercy and love, how even the most feared and hated enemy can be the one who protects and saves the weak from danger.
And as we get closer, he asks if we’ve seen it, have we seen the other side of the wall? Have we gone there? And one of us says “Yes, of course! I’ve seen how dangerous it is!”
“Oh,” he says sadly. “That’s not the wall I’m talking about. You built that wall to divide yourself from your neighbor. Those are the walls kings use to protect their kingdoms. My king never built a wall. Here, let me show you.”
So we turn left and head west toward the wall and the river on the other side, hearing another story, this one of a lost sheep being found. As we get closer to the wall we see a discoloration, almost as if light is coming through.
We jump out and run toward the wall, pulling up short when we see the six-foot hole, bricks and rubble scattered at our feet.
“What did this?” I ask, terrified. “A mortar? Rocket propelled grenade? Or bandits with picks and shovels?”
And the laborer looks at me and shakes his head. He walks up to it and simply pushes the bricks out of the wall. One at a time. We hear their clink from the other side as they strike each other.
May the reign of Christ so bring down all of our walls. Amen.