Last Sunday after Pentecost (Christ the King) – Nov 22, 2015

John 18:33-37

“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” And “My kingdom is not from this world”.

So, what is truth? This is a question that Pilate asked of Jesus after these statements and shortly before his crucifixion. What is truth?

This is Christ the King Sunday and it’s why we have this reading from John today – Jesus being questioned as King of the Jews. We celebrate the Reign of Christ today. Which is to say that we realize that Jesus’ kingdom is a state of being, it is a way to live, it is a commitment to a particular way to view the world.

And in John, Jesus wants us to see that his kingdom is only about place if place indicates the profound and intimate “place” of relationship with God. Jesus’ kingdom is not about amassing additional amounts of control. Jesus’ kingdom is not about his ultimate rule over and above others. Jesus’ kingdom is about relationship. “My kingdom is not from this world” because it is from God. Pilate attempts to construe the boundaries of Jesus’ kingdom in terms of those perpetuated by the kingdom to which he is beholden. But Jesus’ kingdom is from God, just as Jesus is from God and Jesus is God’s kingdom. The concept of kingdom is radically recalculated in the Gospel of John, from kingdoms that strain and sever relationships to a kingdom that puts relationship at its core. That’s a whole different perspective on kingdom. When kingdom is construed from the truth of relationship and not rule, from the truth of incarnation and not location, from the truth of love and not law, then Jesus as truth will ring true.

I am struck by how this speaks to our present world situation with terrorism on the rise. What is truth in the face of groups like ISIS? What is God’s truth? How do we respond?

Brian McLaren writes that with each new terrorist attack, we are presented with three basic choices, and each choice has significant consequences … for ourselves and others. 1st choice – Denial: We may respond with denial: That’s far away. That’s not my problem. I don’t have time for this.

Some of us are, absolutely, already operating at the maximum of stress and suffering already, and therefore denial is the only viable option. But for others of us, pushing away an unpleasant reality is like ignoring symptoms of a disease; it will only get worse the longer we ignore it. 2nd option – Transmission: If we let the pain in, many of us will immediately find a way to pass it on, to transmit it to others.

We may choose revenge … calling for “an eye for an eye.” When we choose this popular path, we forget, as Gandhi said, that following the “eye for an eye” strategy will eventually leave everyone blind. And we also forget that the revenge strategy can easily turn us into the mirror image of those who have hurt us: they desire violence, and we imitate their desire.

If we feel we can’t transmit our pain back on those who inflicted it, we may choose blame and scapegoating as another way of transmitting our pain: it’s the President’s fault, it’s the fault of religion, it’s because of refugees and immigrants, etc. We feel pain and we don’t know what to do with it – so we turn it into aggression toward some third party. In so doing, we climb on the pain train and keep the vicious cycle going.

Remember the holocaust? Do you remember how we responded as the Jews were fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In the shadow of one world war, on the eve of another, Americans feared that European Jews might be left-wing security threats. “Jews are not Communists,” Rabbi Louis I. Newman of Manhattan noted, pleadingly, in December 1938, trying to assuage the xenophobia. “Judaism has nothing in common with Communism.”

Today, the Islamic State (the radical extremists) is trying to create a religious divide and an anti-refugee backlash so that Muslims will feel alienated and turn to their extremism. If so, American and European politicians are following the Islamic State’s script. Let’s be careful not to follow that script further and stigmatize all Muslims for ISIS terrorism.

Now, if we reject both denial and transmission, is there a third option? The 3rd option – Transformation: This is the way taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. When someone slaps you, he said, don’t slap them back and don’t run away or cringe in fear. Instead, stand tall. Refuse to back down. And refuse to mirror their violent behavior. (This is what “turning the other cheek” means. It doesn’t mean being a doormat. It means responding with creative nonviolent courage.)

What would creative nonviolent courage look like in the face of groups like ISIS, with an idealogy that we cannot comprehend? I really like what Jim Wallis of Sojourners has to say: “The best way to defeat bad religion is with good religion, and the better way to defeat religious fundamentalism is from within rather than trying to smash it from without. That means we also need a global religious coalition of Christians, Muslims, and Jews to unite together to undermine and defeat ISIS with our own religious public proclamations, demonstrations, and authority, especially with the younger generation. ISIS is not only a distortion of Islam, it is a blasphemy. And a unified and courageous assertion of our sacred scriptures, which all condemn their irreligious atrocities, would be the best spiritual weapon against ISIS.”

So perhaps choosing empathy rather than denial, refusing revenge and choosing to overcome evil with good, and seeking wisdom and associating with wise people rather than falling prey to fear and collective “stupidity” may bring about transformation … And longer term, we need our world leaders to come together, to make a unified stand, in a plan of creative and nonviolent courage. Remember ISIS thrives on creating relational division, on establishing fear, so to see world leaders coming together in unity would thwart their efforts. Can we love fiercely even in the face of fear? We pray for that day to come soon.

And after our praying, we are called to witness:
to witness to the One who demonstrated power through weakness,
who manifested strength through vulnerability,
who established justice through mercy,
and who built the kingdom of God by embracing a confused, chaotic, and violent world, taking its pain into his own body, dying the death it sought, and rising again to remind us that light is stronger than darkness, love is stronger than hate, and that with God, all good things are possible.

I close with an excerpt from Desmond Tutu’s An African Prayer Book:

Victory is Ours

Goodness is stronger than evil;

Love is stronger than hate;

Light is stronger than darkness;

Life is stronger than death;

Victory is ours through Him who loves us.