This is a sermon that I presented at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, on Christ The King Sunday (26 November 2000). The Scriptures for this Sunday were 2 Samuel: 23: 1 – 7, Revelation 1: 4 – 8, and John 18: 33 – 37.
When I started teaching several years ago, I showed a movie about how we kept and marked time. The story of the movie was that a country was trying to determine what time it was. Since no one knew what a clock or calendars were, it was necessary to study the history of time keeping and calendar making.
The setting of time, both in terms of the clock and the calendar, has always been an arbitrary decision. Until railroads spanned the country and there was a need for a universal time system, every town and country in this country set its own time. While we can say for sure that it is 1030 a.m. on Sunday, November 26th, the telling of time has not always been so precise. In John Wesley’s time, clocks were bulky and highly unreliable. For the people of Jesus’ time, time was measured by the hourglass and by noting certain events. By noting the events around them and the passing of the seasons, calendars could be developed.
Certain events tend to dominate the calendar, both the yearly calendar of daily life and the church calendar. The reason we celebrate the beginning of the New Year on January 1st is our celebration of Easter. When problems arose about the timing of Easter and the coming of spring, Pope Gregory changed the existing Julian Calendar. The resulting calendar, known as the Gregorian calendar, is essentially the calendar we used today. With the new calendar, several countries decided that it was better to celebrate the New Year on January 1st rather than with the changing of the seasons around April 1st as has been the custom under the Julian Calendar.
Even the schedule for Easter, perhaps the single most important celebration in history, is tied to guidelines that tend to confuse most people. Easter changes each year because it is dependent on the phases of the moon and the vernal equinox. As a result, the seasons of Lent and Easter, and the celebration of Pentecost Sunday change from year to year.
Fortunately, Christmas and Advent are a different situation. Because Christmas is fixed to December 25th, the four Sundays of Advent are easy to anticipate and that makes the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent, today, very easy to determine.
Today, in the Christian year, is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the yearly cycle that begins with Advent and the celebration of Christmas. In a system of time keeping subject to mankind’s own whims and desires, it is nice to know that some things are fixed and certain.
That is what John wrote to the seven churches when he began the Book of Revelation. God is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and Omega, one who was, is, and always will be. In a time when that which is made by man crumbles and disappears, God is always present.
Jesus expressed the same idea when He told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world. In that way, Jesus was showing that His kingdom went beyond the time frame of any earthly kingdom.
But Jesus was put to trial because the Jewish leaders saw Him as a threat to their earthly kingdoms. Even Pilate may have first thought the same thing. That is the reason why Jesus asked Pilate if he was asking about the kingdom or if the Jewish leaders put the question to Pilate.
If Pilate was asking the question, then Jesus could be considered a threat to Pilate’s own rule; but if the question was given to Pilate by the Jewish leaders, then it could be considered a matter of theology and thus no threat to Roman power.
Pilate knew that Jesus had done no wrong and was more that willing to let him go. In the Greek text, when Pilate asked Jesus if he were the "King of the Jews?" the emphasis placed on the word "you" indicates that Pilate did not see Jesus as was the defiant rebel to the Roman throne that the Jewish leaders made Him out to be. Much as been done to make Pilate the villain in this trial but he was trapped between the need to keep the Emperor in Rome happy and the need to keep peace among the Jews and Romans in Israel. There is no doubt that Pilate could have chosen his own path but when you are tied to earthly rules and constraints, as he was, it is very difficult to do so. But because the Jewish leaders saw Jesus as a threat to their earthly power, Pilate’s hand was forced.
As he was dying, David expressed God’s expectations for rulers. Bringing blessing like the light dawn after the rain, like a clear morning, like tender grass — each of these similes spoke of new life, purity, and refreshment. The function of the king was not to impoverish a nation but rather to ennoble them as he presented them the refreshing will of the God.
We might contrast this with how the rulers of Israel reacted to Jesus. It is probable that those who had Jesus arrested and brought before Pilate knew exactly what the message of the Gospel that Jesus had been preaching meant. But, to them, it was not a promise of hope but a promise to end that which they had developed over the years. Jesus was not a threat to Pilate, as the Gospel reading points out, but he was a threat to those who were empowered to served as God’s servants and had sought to misuse that power.
David’s concern (as we read in the Old Testament reading today) was that God’s covenant with his people would continue. In Verse 5, David speaks of the covenant that God made with him and asks if it will not increase. This somewhat rhetorical question expresses David’s faith that God would carry out His promise, a covenant based on God’s sovereign, unchangeable will.
What makes God’s Kingdom special is that despite its timelessness, it is opened to us through Christ. No longer is our relationship with God one of a religious relationship to a Supreme Being, absolute in power and goodness, but rather one of new life for others, through participation in the Being of God.
The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote that there was a time for every season. Seasons come and things change but the timelessness of God remains. Because God never changes, because there is no beginning or end, the message of hope and salvation remains the same. The Gospel and its message of hope go beyond all that we know and can ever hope for. The Gospel is a road beyond, a path that transcends all cultures, all human constructs, all civilizations and conventions. When we accept Christ as our Savior, it changes our relationship from one of time that ends to one that never ends.
As this day ends and we complete another year in the life of the church, we have to realize that it is not the end. Rather another year, one of hope and promise, begins.