Sometimes People Want..., Christ the King (C) - 2010

November 21, 2010

Sometimes, people want to know why, in the Gloria, we use the phrase “sin of the world,” singular, rather than “sins of the world,” plural.

Good question. But first let’s start with today’s gospel reading.

Jesus is mocked. He is on the cross, suffering the additional abuse of soldiers and criminals. “Some King you are! Save yourself,” they all taunt.

Save himself. Jesus could have saved himself, only hours before, through Pontius Pilate; but he chose not to.

Pilate would rather have been anyplace but there at the governor’s palace, deciding legal matters. But that was his job; he had no choice. And on this unfortunate morning, the Jewish leaders appeared and thrust Jesus at him. “This man claims to be a king,” they said, implying that Jesus claimed to rival Caesar. They brought this charge to Pilate because they knew he would have to respond. A charge of sedition is serious.

Pilate asked them, “What has he done?” The men had no real proof, so they become indignant. “If he weren’t a criminal, we wouldn’t have brought him to you.”

Ah. Jesus is guilty by arrest, not necessarily by crime. Jesus is guilty just because he is in custody. Sound familiar? The police wouldn’t have arrested him if he weren’t guilty.

“Try him yourselves,” said Pilate, suddenly feeling old, tired of his job, and tired of living in this foreign land.

“But we can’t put him to death,” they said. Not true. They could have stoned Jesus, but that’s not what they wanted. They wanted Jesus crucified, to be treated like a common criminal.

Pilate took Jesus aside and interviewed him privately, asking, “Are you the king of the Jews?” This is where Jesus could have saved himself. He could have said no, and that would have been that. But he didn’t. Instead, Pilate was irritated by Jesus’ response: “My kingdom cannot be seen.”

“What have you done?” Pilate now demanded, echoing the Jewish leaders, presuming Jesus had done something wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t have arrested him.

And that is how this innocent man, Jesus, did not save himself. That is how he died at the hands of a lazy, short-tempered Roman governor.

One more innocent man killed. Completely innocent, yet adjudged completely guilty.

Did you know that the words “innocent until proven guilty” are not found in the United States Constitution? The phrase is not even true. If you actually commit a crime, you are guilty, regardless of your standing with the law. The criminal is not innocent until proven guilty any more than the innocent man wrongly convicted, like Jesus, is actually guilty just because he is convicted. A man convicted of murder years ago and now freed because of exonerating DNA evidence was always innocent.

Jesus, though innocent, chose instead to endure death alongside thousands, even millions, of innocents throughout the ages. The death of these innocents tarnishes society with a deep sense of injustice. Justice has not been served.

This pervasive sense of injustice is why we use the singular word “sin” and not the plural, “sins,” in the Gloria. Injustice is a darkness, a shroud over us. It exists because the human race somehow dances with darkness, is complicit with evil, and from that, we need a savior. We need someone who can take away the sin – the darkness – of the world.

Have you heard the story about the painter? A farmer hired him to paint a barn. The painter scrimped by thinning the paint too much. That night, after finishing the barn, the painter had a dream. A fierce storm blew through, and all the thinned paint ran down the side of the barn, exposing his shady dealings. The painter woke with a start, fell onto his knees, and sought forgiveness. Just then, an angel appeared, and said, “I have a message from heaven. Repaint! And thin no more.”

But that “thin” is “sins,” small “s”, plural, not big “S,” singular, “Sin.”

Darkness is the inability of the human race to do what it ought, and it continues to find itself doing what it ought not.

Long before the big prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, ancient Israel had God as king. God was their monarch. The system worked just fine, but the people started noticing their neighboring nations, all of which had kings. They became jealous and demanded a king of their own. God heard them and gave them kings, first Saul, and then David.

Monarchy is appealing, you see. For what a quaint concept it is to have someone in charge, someone making the tough decisions, someone taking care of you, and guiding you when life is especially complex.

You may think to yourself, we Americans don’t want kings. After all, our constitutional democracy intrinsically eschews any monarchy, and we explicitly rejected King George III almost 235 years ago.

But maybe our society still longs for a king. We are drawn to strong leaders. We want someone who will keep the innocents from dying, who will protect us from the pall of darkness, the Sin of the world. We want justice.

Of course, there is no such thing, no hero, no infallible king – not in this world shrouded by darkness. And yet ...

Today is Christ the King Sunday. The day that reminds us that there is a monarch who is just.

Christ the King Sunday is new to the church. Pope Pius XI introduced it in 1925, a time when despotic rulers and systems began to take hold in Europe: Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin. The Pope wanted to advance a message of security through the rule of Christ over the chaos of tyranny.

And this is what Christ’s rule means: no earthly system, monarchical or otherwise, is infallible. The shroud of darkness covers them all, covers us all. Injustice – innocents dying – will continue in this world. And yet, there is a kingdom that transcends this darkness. Jesus himself said it: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

This kingdom of God stands in stark contrast to the systems of this world. In this kingdom, there is justice. In this kingdom, the justice stands alongside mercy. In this kingdom, the innocents do not die. Or – dare one say it? – the painter thins no more.

The kingdom of God is real. It exists, here and now, just not in what you see. It is the kingdom that exists in the heart of men and women who give themselves over to the King of Kings. It exists in the hearts of men and women who give themselves over to peace.

It is because of the peace of that kingdom that we – who live both there and here, at once – can promote justice here. It is because of that peace that we stand against genocide in Sudan and elsewhere. It is because of that peace that we feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

Justice, like a river, flows from that kingdom into this world, through you.

Surely you have heard the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran scholar who left Germany to escape Hitler. He moved to New York, but then he wrestled with himself. What good is his faith if he can live safely in New York while his parishioners could be killed at home in Germany for theirs? So he returned to Germany to fight Hitler’s evil. He was arrested and murdered. But they could not kill the ray of light that Bonhoeffer introduced into the darkness.

That is what the Kingdom of Christ means. It is otherworldly, and yet it is quite this-worldly. It is quite the here and now, light against darkness.

The light shone, and the darkness could not comprehend it, could not extinguish it.

And so, O Lord, please take away the Sin of the world. Through us.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Christopher Sikkema