Today is kind of a unique day. It is the end of Lectionary year B. Next week a new Lectionary year begins as we start the Advent season. Each lectionary year starts with advent and the anticipation of and preparation for the birth of our Lord and Savior, the New Born King, Jesus. And here we end the year with Christ the King Sunday, and Pontius Pilate questioning Jesus on the night of his arrest. Pilate summoned Jesus and asked him “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus never claimed the title “King”, but he did tell Pilate that his kingdom is not from this world.
This means something different for us than it did to Pilate and the ancient Jews. We have the advantage of reading these passages and hearing these stories through what I call the “post resurrection perspective”. We know that the story continues after Jesus’ crucifixion. We know Jesus would be resurrected and appear to his disciples again. We know that Jesus would stop Saul on his way to Damascus and blind him, and that the old Saul would be replaced by the new Paul and go on and serve the Lord the rest of his life. We know that the disciples would continue to be persecuted by the Jewish leaders, but that they would persevere and spread the good news of Jesus’ love throughout the world.
But Pilate and the Jewish leaders could only look at the events unfolding before them through the “pre resurrection perspective”. The Jewish people expected a King. They expected a King who would stand up to the Romans, who would free Israel from Roman occupation and oppression. They expected a strong leader, one who would enforce the Torah. Jesus wasn’t the King they expected. From their perspective, Jesus was more of a troublemaker than a king. People were following him instead of the Jewish leaders. He was telling people he was God’s Son and telling them about God’s Kingdom. He broke bread with sinners and fellowshipped with tax collectors. He spoke to women of foreign descent. He healed people on the Sabbath and allowed his disciples to eat without first washing their hands properly. He stood with the poor and oppressed and taught that people should take care of the orphans and widows, the most vulnerable people in society. He taught that people should turn the other cheek, that people should love their neighbors and even their enemies.
The Jewish leaders had been looking for a way to have Jesus killed for some time, and were on the verge of being successful. They thought the story would end there, on the cross. But we know the truth; we know that Jesus’ crucifixion was not the end, but the beginning.
Jesus told Pilate that he came into the world to testify to the truth and that everyone who belongs to the truth listens to his voice. We know that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. We, as Christians are part of the Body of Christ and belong to the truth, but we are living in this world, with all of its problems and temptations.
This puts us Christians, and perhaps especially us American Christians in a very difficult position. For as Christians, we want to follow Jesus and live our lives as Jesus teaches us, and as Americans we want to protect and preserve our country and our way of life. The difficulty arises when our American values differ from our Christian values. It creates a tension inside us and we have to choose whether we will strive to follow our American values or our Christian values.
A little over a week ago, terrorists attacked several targets in Paris. This was one of two or three terrorist attacks within the last week or so, but the media barely mentioned the others and instead focused on the attacks in Paris. I can’t tell you why, but it seems to me that the other attacks were just as newsworthy as the one in Paris, and many of God’s children died in each attack.
As a result of the attacks in Paris, and the increased threat of attacks here in America as well as other parts of the world, the debate about whether or not to allow the Syrians, who have become refugees since fleeing Isis in their own country, into America has heated up. I see this issue primarily as a theological issue, but reading the many blogs and posts people have written, it seems most people consider it a political issue.
The truth is, there is no easy answer and I don’t think it is an either or discussion. It is more like a continuum and people fall at all different places along the continuum.
There seem to be at least three distinct groups involved in the discussion. Two of the groups are quite vocal. One of those groups absolutely do not think America should allow the Syrian refugees in this country. Another group thinks America should welcome them with outstretched arms. The third group and probably the largest group is less vocal, and is perhaps the group most of us identify with. This group believes we, as American Christians should do something to help these unfortunate people. But we are not at one extreme or the other. We recognize this is not an easy issue. We recognize it is dividing the American people, who are already divided over so many issues. We recognize there are many logistical concerns to work out,
Including, where we would house them, how we would feed them, and how we would provide medical care for them, and where all the money needed to do these things would come from.
Having these arguments seems kind of silly because the law already allows them to come here, with proper screening. I think people are just vocalizing their fears. A more important discussion may be how we will respond when they arrive. Will we welcome the stranger in our midst, or will we be fearful of them.
As a congregation, we have a history of helping people in need, of helping the most vulnerable people. We do this in part through our contributions to Deep Roots and Meeting Ground. And even though we are small in numbers, the contributions we make to those ministries are very important.
The terrorists are trying to instill fear and distrust in our lives. I recently read a Facebook post addressing this that I would like to share. It comes from Antoine Leiris, the husband of one of the 129 people killed by ISIS terrorists.
Leiris was addressing ISIS. His post is in French, but in translation, it begins, "Friday night you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred. I do not know who you are and I do not want to know; you are dead souls. If God, for which you kill blindly, made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife has been a wound in his heart."
Leiris continued, "So I will not give you the privilege of hating you. You certainly sought it, but replying to hatred with anger would be giving in to the same ignorance which made you into what you are. You want me to be frightened, that I should look into the eyes of my fellow citizens with distrust, that I sacrifice my freedom for security. You lost. I will carry on as before."
The teachings of Jesus have not changed. Through Scripture, Jesus is still telling people to follow him instead of the world’s ways. Through Scripture, He is still telling people he is God’s Son and about God’s Kingdom. Through the Holy Spirit, he still breaks bread with sinners and fellowships with tax collectors. Through Scripture, he still speaks to women of foreign descent; he still heals people on the Sabbath and allows his disciples to eat without first washing their hands properly. He stands with the poor and oppressed and teaches that people should take care of the orphans and widows, the most vulnerable people in society. He teaches that people should turn the other cheek, that people should love their neighbors and even their enemies. These lessons are as valuable today as they were in the first century.
In the final chapter of Johns Gospel, Jesus appears to his disciples for the third time. After eating breakfast with them, he turns to Simon Peter and Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.
We are called to be in this world, but not of this world. Mr Leiris’ post on Facebook isn’t filled with love for his enemies, but he does refuse to let his life be ruled by anger or fear. Sometimes there may be a tension inside us as we struggle to do what is right. I am sure he struggled to take the stand he did. Jesus gave Simon Peter instructions on the beach that morning. He started his instructions with the question “Do you love me?”
We as Christians proclaim our love for Jesus, ruler of all the world. Be still, listen for the voice of Jesus, and follow Jesus. He won’t lead you astray.