This is a sermon that I presented at Alexander Chapel United Methodist Church, Mason, TN, on Christ The King Sunday (23 November 1997). The Scriptures for this Sunday were 2 Samuel: 23: 1 – 7, Revelation 1: 4 – 8, and John 18: 33 – 37.
Alexander Chapel was part of a two-point charge (with Pleasant Grove UMC the other church) that I and three others helped cover. When Robert Clark, the assigned pastor, was at one of the churches, one of the four of us was at the other church. This Sunday it was my turn to be at Alexander Chapel.
At the entrance to CIA Headquarters in Washington, D. C., there is a sign with a quote “Seek the truth and the truth will set you free.” Now, considering the object of the CIA is to gather intelligence and determine the truth from those facts, I find this to be a very appropriate quote for them to having, even if it seems a little unreal for a spy agency to quote from the Bible.
The gathering of knowledge so that we may better understand who we are has always been the nature of mankind. But the truth that is determined from this study and knowledge is of this world and often does little to help us to understand who we are. There will come a time though when, even with all the information at our disposal and with all the modern methods of information gathering, we will be faced with the question that Pilate could not answer.
In the next verse after the Gospel reading, John 18: 38, Pilate asks “What is the truth?” Sooner or later, we must answer this question. For even as we gather more information about the world around us, we find that we cannot use that information to help us understand our place in this world or what our relationship with God is or could be.
David, as he lay dying, spoke of his relationship with God. In 2 Samuel 23, verse 2, he said “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me, his word was on my tongue.” Later, in verse 5, “Is not my house right with God? Has he not made with me an everlasting covenant arranged and secured in every part?” As he lay dying, David understood what it had been that guided his life. Yes, David had strayed from the path that God wished he would have followed, but he always came back. To some extent, it is that way for us. As we gather more knowledge and power in whatever we do and seek, will we remember from which we came?
Consider Francis of Assisi.
When I, Francis, heard the call of the Gospel, I did not set about organizing a political pressure-group in Assisi. What I did, I remember very well, I did for love, without expecting anything in return; I did it for the Gospel, without placing myself at odds with the rich, without squabbling with those who preferred to remain rich. And I certainly did it without any class hatred.
I did not challenge the poor people who came with me to fight for their rights, or win salary increases. I only told them that we would be blessed — if also battered, persecuted, or killed. The Gospel taught me to place the emphasis on the mystery of the human being more than on the duty of the human being.
I did not understand duty very well. But how well I understood — precisely because I had come from a life of pleasure — that when a poor person, a suffering person, a sick person, could smile, that was the perfect sign that God existed, and that he was helping the poor person in his or her difficulties.
The social struggle in my day was very lively and intense, almost, I should say, as much so as in your own times. Everywhere there arose groups of men and women professing poverty and preaching poverty in the Church and the renewal of society. But nothing changed, because these people did not change hearts. . .
No, brothers and sisters, it is not enough to change laws. You have to change hearts. Otherwise, when you have completed the journey of your social labors you shall yourselves right back at the beginning – only this time it is you who will be the arrogant, the rich, and the exploiters of the poor.
This is why I took the Gospel path. For me the Gospel was the sign of liberation, yes, but of true liberation, the liberation of hearts. This was the thrust that lifted me out of the middle-class spirit, which is present to every age, and is known as selfishness, arrogance, pride, sensuality, idolatry, and slavery.
I knew something about all this.
I knew what it meant be rich, I knew the danger flowing from a life of easy pleasure, and when I heard the text in Luke, “Alas for you, who are rich” my flesh crept. I understood, I had run a mortal risk, by according a value to the idols that filled my house, for they would have cast me in irons had I not fled.
It is not that I did not understand the importance of the various tasks that keep a city running. I understood but I sought to go beyond.
You can reproach me, go ahead. But I saw, in the Gospel, a road beyond, a path that beyond, a path that transcended all cultures, all human constructs, all civilization and conventions.
I felt the Gospel to be eternal. I felt politics and culture, including Christian culture, to be in time.
I was made always to go beyond time.
Are we not like that? Has the accumulation of power, knowledge, and other worldly goods taken us away from God? And yet, isn’t it the Gospel that provides the means for us to come back.
In Revelation, John saw Christ coming again, saying “I am the Alpha and the Omega, that who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Go back to Pilate question to Jesus in the Gospel reading for today, “Are you the king of the Jews?” This question had two meanings. Pilate could have been asking Jesus if he was a rebel, intent on establishing an earthly kingdom and overthrowing Pilate.
If this was the case, Pilate knew what he could and would have to do.
But, as Jesus noted, his kingdom was not of this world. The difficult thing for us is that we must understand this answer;’ that we must go beyond a worldly kingdom and see God’s kingdom and Jesus’ ministry as it really is.
On this day that we call Christ the King Sunday, when we celebrate Christ’s presence in this Kingdom, we must also consider Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul wrote
But if is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is utile; you are still in yours sins.
To Paul, the truth was very simple. Christ died and was resurrected, all to save us from our sins. To St. Francis, the Gospel had no meaning until it was in his heart. To John Wesley, the power of the Gospel was useless until he accepted Christ wholly and unconditionally.
For us today, the same is true. Christ is and will be King forever as long as our hearts are open. Christ told his followers to seek the truth; Christ told Pilate what the truth was.
When we know and understand this truth, we will be free from the shackles of sin. If we cannot accept this, if we are not willing to accept this, then the only kingdom we can have is an earthly one and we will have no freedom.
But if we accept Christ, if we understand the truth of Christ’s kingdom, than freedom is truly ours. Today He asks you “What is the truth in your hearts?”