John 18:33-37 Pastor Laura Ramsey
2 Samuel 23:1-7 November 25, 2018
“One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”
Prayer: Grace and peace be unto you. From the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.
It is truly a joy for me to be preaching today for the first time as a called pastor here at Christ church! This Thanksgiving weekend I have been very reflective of all of the blessings in my life and being here is certainly one of the things I am most grateful for.
So we are just coming out of this Thanksgiving weekend where we take time to be thankful for the relationships and blessings in our lives, but before we can catch our breath, things are already in full swing to be celebrating Christmas. Christmas carols have been on the radio for weeks now and we are fully into the flurry of buying gifts, decorating our homes and getting ready for the many December activities and get-togethers.
But wait, in our church calendar it’s not quite Advent yet. We still have today – this one Sunday yet before Advent. Today is the last day of our church year and it is called Reign of Christ Sunday.
I like to think of this Sunday as a moment to actually stop, catch our breath, and be reflective on what it means to have a coming king before we really jump full force into the season of Advent, a new church year and preparing for the birth of this king.
We get two Bible passages today to reflect on the coming Reign of Christ: the last words of David and the exchange between Pilate and Jesus.
In the Old Testament we read that the people wanted a king. They were warned that a king would be partial and corrupt. But they persisted and got Saul, who was indeed partial and corrupt.
David succeeded him, and despite his human flaws, became for the Jews of his time and thereafter the example of a good, wise and heroic king – anointed by God. It is no accident that Jesus was from the House of David.
As David nears the end of his life, he is thinking back over his life and time as king. Today’s passage highlights some of his last words. I want to be clear that even though this passage is called David’s last words, they aren’t his final words. David still speaks a few times after these words, but I think these words are lifted up as, let’s call them, – David’s last important words that he would actually want to share publicly.
His words are a metaphor for what it means to be a good ruler. He says, “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”
He is basically saying that a just ruler is a great blessing to their people. In the semi- arid land of Israel, a good soaking rain that would leave the sun gleaming off of the grass in the morning, would have been a life-giving blessing. Another way to interpret David’s words would be to say that a just ruler is one that enables life to flourish.
Let that sink in for a moment. A good ruler enables life to flourish. In other words, a good leader doesn’t turn away the vulnerable, the weak or the powerless.
A good ruler is just.
OK David. So what does it mean to be a good king that rules justly? What is justice? I think this is a relevant question for us today. What is justice?
We talk about it all the time. We are working toward social justice or environmental justice. We talk about criminal justice.
We talk about justice, but different people can understand justice differently. So what exactly is justice?
I’d like to take a moment and go back to one of the ancient philosophers. In the book, Plato’s Republic, Socrates is asking another philosopher, Polymarcus, questions about what justice is. The questioning has already gone on for a few lines when Polymarcus responds, “If we are to follow the previous answers, Socrates, it [justice] gives benefit to friends and harm to enemies.” (Plato’s Republic. Stanza 332D5. pg. 7).
If we are honest, isn’t that what we think of when we say justice? At least some of the time?
If someone wrongs us, don’t we expect justice?
So in following with this logic, to rule justly must mean to give benefit to friends or allies and harm to enemies?
Hold that thought for a minute.
The other text we have for today is the exchange between Pilate and Jesus.
Pilate is questioning Jesus about whether he is the “King of the Jews” and Jesus doesn’t give him a straight answer. Jesus responds, “my Kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
I love this exchange. It can seem when reading this like Jesus is just evading the questions, but that isn’t really the case at all.
In reality, Pilate’s questions aren’t the right questions.
When Pilate asks, “are you the king of the Jews”, what choices does Jesus have in answering?
If Jesus’ kingdom were a typical kingdom, Jesus might be tempted to fight back against those handing him over. There might be an uprising against the current powers that Jesus would be leading. But instead, Jesus’s kingdom operates off of different norms of what power looks like.
By not answering Pilate’s questions directly, Jesus is basically saying, yes I’m a King, but you wouldn’t understand my kingdom or the type of king that I am. Jesus is essentially redefining everything.
Jesus’ kingdom contradicts Herod’s or really any other kingdom we can think of.
Jesus even redefines justice. The people in Jesus’ day would have had the understanding of justice that Socrates had: that justice gives benefit to friends and harm to enemies.
I love this excerpt from Pastor Nadia Boltz Weber’s blog on Reign of Christ Sunday:
“Well, no kidding Jesus. I mean, nothing personal, but you’re a joke of a king.
I mean, if we are going to celebrate a king here today at least it could be one who will wipe out all the racists and those who do violence to women and those who hurt children and everyone who is more interested in protecting the wealth of the rich than protecting the wellbeing of the poor. If Christ is my king he’s doing a lousy job of smiting my enemies.” (Nadia Bolz–Weber. Sarcastic Lutheran Blog post from December 1, 2015. Accessed November 21, 2018.)
But the problem is that when that vengeance seeking and violent part of me calls out to have a king who would destroy my enemies, I inevitably would be the one that same king would have to destroy. Since God is the God of all and I too am someone’s enemy. And where does that leave us? So, given the way I benefit from violence, given the fact that I too want my enemies to be destroyed, what I need, what we need, what this broken world needs is not a king with the greatest arsenal – we don’t need a czar who knows how to keep everyone under control and doing his bidding. We don’t need a Kaiser who wins the violence and retribution cycle, or a CEO who can protect our wealth.
We need a Lord who saves us by refusing to play that game at all.
So by Jesus refusing to play the game by answering Pilate, he redefines everything – even what justice means.
You see, in Jesus’ kingdom, justice isn’t about smiting enemies or about giving benefit to friends and harm to enemies. Justice is about loving everyone unconditionally.
I recently saw a bumper sticker that made my eyes pop – it read: ”if Jesus had had a gun, he wouldn’t have died.”
My, oh my. There is so much wrong with that statement.
Obviously, the person who wrote that twisted something from the Bible to make it fit today.
As we’ve heard today, Jesus would not have taken up arms, or even led a rebellion, but he wasn’t simply a passivist either. Jesus was redefining everything and refusing to make it an either/ or choice.
There is a different way in the kingdom of God.
Jesus loves unconditionally and there is no need for gun holding.
I’d like to propose a new bumper sticker…”it’s not about power, but the power of love.”
Jesus isn’t focused on revenge and smiting enemies. There is no need for guns or violence. There is no need for power, control or aggression in the kingdom of Jesus.
When we find ourselves tempted by power, greed or need for revenge, we are not living in the loving realm of God.
When any leader whether it is a king from the Bible, Donald Trump, or any other leader today leads in a way that tears down the lowly, targets the vulnerable, or harms another out of revenge, they are not leading in the kingdom of God.
Jesus’s kingdom is one of love and relationships.
Jesus is the type of king that will die on a cross out of the love for his people and not send them into battle on his behalf.
Jesus is the kind of king David was describing as a just ruler. Jesus is the king that allows life to flourish – not tear down.
In Jesus’ kingdom, work is done for the common good – not for selfish gain.
We can see glimpses of Jesus’ kingdom here on earth when we see true, unconditional love in action. There is power in that kind of love.
We are called to work toward establishing Jesus’ kingdom here on earth.
God reigns in the midst of pain, death, chaos, and when things feel out of control. God exercises God’s rule in unlikely and unexpected places.
God’s reign is not about power. God rules through weakness, vulnerability and mercy.
Christ even rules despite of and amidst corrupt leaders and human brokenness.
In Christ’s kingdom, it’s not about the love of power, but the power of love!
Christ’s reign is all about redefining our existing understandings of what it means to have just rule and a good leader.
In the Bible, the ending of David’s reign literally makes way for fulfilling of the future promise in coming Jesus.
Today, we celebrate our endings in order to make way for Christ’s coming.
We are about to enter into the memorial portion of our worship where we remember those who have died this past year in our congregation. In what ways can we celebrate their lives and thank them for teaching us the things that they did? In what ways did they bring about God’s kingdom and justice?
It’s also the ending of our church year. What lies ahead for us?
What decisions and actions would you hold up as examples of hope and love in ministry? What mistakes would you want to learn from, but not repeat?
In what ways are we stuck in our notion of human justice and wanting revenge and not God’s justice?
As we enter into Advent, we are called to work toward establishing God’s kingdom here on earth. This means loving unconditionally and harnessing the power of love and not the love of power.