On giving thanks
Passage: Philippians 4:4-7; John 18:33-37
Date: November 26, 2006
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
Having trouble playing the audio? download the mp3
Carol Kent tells this story of her sister Joy and her four-year-old son, K.C. One day when they were eating lunch, Joy decided to see what K.C.'s mind would conjure up in response to a series of what she thought were theological questions about authority. So, in between bites, she simply asked, "K.C., who is your boss?"
His voice confidently replied, "You, mommy."
So far, so good. Next, she asked, "And who is the boss of Mommy?" After some pondering, K.C. hesitantly replied, "Daddy?" "And who," she questioned, "is the boss of Daddy?" These were pretty traditional church people, and what Joy was fishing for was some beginning understanding that God was the final authority. K.C. was struggling hard to come up with an answer. Finally, he replied, "Grandma and Grandpa?" They talked a while, until Joy thought K.C. got the point that we look to God as our authority. But, she couldn't let well enough alone. One last question: "When you grow up, who will be your boss?"
This question produced the greatest anxiety of all in that four-year-old. He took a long time to ponder. Then, with great apprehension, he looked up with a furrowed brow and responded, "My wife?" (Adapted from Little Wonders, p. 1-2)
I do not know how many of you watch "Crossfire" on CNN. For people politically minded, it is always a Thanksgiving feast. On the show, people representing diametrically opposing views argue, sometimes heatedly. It often mirrors our political, cultural, and even religious landscape. The setup is simple. One political party or perspective, summoning all of its authority, shoots all of its ammunition. Then it ducks behind a wall while the other fires back with all of the authority it can muster. The message about who the boss is, is clear. The one with the most authority, the most powerful position, wins. The loser obviously is not the boss.
Today's gospel narrative resembles a crossfire. In the beginning, it appears there may be three sides: the religious authorities who bring Jesus to the governor; the governor; and Jesus. By its conclusion, there are only two sides. We need to understand the position of the religious leaders. They despise their Roman overlords. In the best sense, they would be free, able to control their own destiny, to be the theocratic kingdom of their dreams, like King David once ruled. On the other hand, they are beholden to Pontius Pilate and the Roman army for their lofty religious and therefore economic position. In a sense, they serve because Rome permits them to. In this crossfire, they walk a tightrope, attempting to force the secular empire to do something they themselves seem unable to do. They challenge their boss, even try to threaten their boss with their own authority. They know that Pilate knows that Rome will not tolerate a rebellion in this renegade province. If one were to occur, Pilate would be out of a job. So they fire their salvo: "This Jesus declares that he is king. This is a national security issue, a threat against the state. We cannot execute him for this treason. You can." Our narrative picks up where Pilate becomes judge and jury. (Read John 18:33-37)
In that stone palace, with armed guards all around, Pilate asks Jesus if he is the boss. Pilate would be so happy to toy with this rabbi from the tiny town of Nazareth, and to show everyone who is boss. But, in these halls representing immense Roman authority, the bottom falls out. "My position does not come from here," says Jesus. Instead of engaging in the expected deadly crossfire, Jesus announces to Pilate a different sort of power: a power of self-giving love; a power that is used to set people free, to make people whole, to bring justice; a power far beyond that of the accusing threatened religious leaders or of Pilate himself. Pilate misses it: "But, are you the king of the Judeans?"
"Pilate," Jesus responds, "you do not get it. I am who I am. I am what I embody. The truth I know and tell. My authority is not from here. My followers get it. I will not answer your question directly. So, deal with it."
"So deal with it." Today marks the last Sunday of the Christian year on the litgurgical calendar. Named "Christ the King," or "the Reign of Christ," this day we say to all of the Pilates of the world, to the nations and institutions which would persuade us otherwise: we believe true power belongs to God. This day, we are confronted again with the fact that as Christians we never pledge ultimate "allegiance to the flag, and to the country for which it stands." This day we claim that in the midst of all of the world's economic systems, in the variety of its governing powers, Jesus Christ is the steadfast and true authority for our lives and for this earth.
Ponder with me a second. Isn't it fabulous that there is more, that there is life-giving authority, in contrast with all that is debilitating, dehumanizing, degrading, or just plain boring? Isn't it fabulous that there is Someone beyond the power of our political parties and leaders, beyond our private and public institutions, beyond our greed based consumerism? Isn't it fabulous that we are invited into a life that is so much richer and deeper and broader than merely getting, getting whatever I want? By the way,"Getting whatever I want" is the motivation behind the burgeoning gift card industry. Give a loved one a card, so he/she can get what she/he really wants.
We are here because we know or want to know that God intends more. That there is authority not from here. That there is so much more to life than meets the eye. And, we can be part of it as Christ's people.
Walter Bruggemann writes, ‘The affirmation of Yahweh (God) always contains a polemic against someone else.' Expanding on this, John Witvliet says, "It is important to remember that every act of praise is a strong act of negation as well as affirmation. Every time we sing praise to the triune God, we are asserting our opposition to anything that would attempt to stand in God's place. Every hymn of praise is a little anti-idolatry campaign. When we sing, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow,' we are also saying, ‘Down with the gods from whom no blessings flow.' (Context, Oct, 06, part 1, p. 5)
Do you hear how subversive this is, this authority in our lives? In a few moments, we will celebrate that holy authority as we baptize three wonderful infants. The sacrament witnesses publicly to our faith in Christ's rule over all of life. It focuses on the One whose kingship is not of this world, the one who blesses life with hope and newness. It's heart is found in the One who calls us by name, and who invites us into everlasting relationship. How wonderful is that?!
Friends, we have so much for which to be grateful in Christ Jesus, so much. We just passed Thanksgiving. Some of us paused briefly to consider that for which we are grateful. About a year ago, when my father was pretty down, I bought him a little spiral-bound notebook. I suggested that he take time every day to write in it, to write at least one thing for which he was grateful. Then, each day, he could review his whole list, as a reminder. I did not suggest great theological truths or profound biblical understandings for his list. Instead, things like the wondrous red leaves of "his" liquid amber trees just off his balcony, or enjoying his grandchildren from birth to adulthood, or the evening star that he called "his" which appeared out his sliding glass door every night, or an opportunity he has had to make life a little better for someone (and there were many), or his almost daily enjoyment of ice cream, or writing a letter about an environmental issue that bugged him, or the deep love he continued to have for my mom even nine years after her death, or the congregation which had been his faith home since 1947, or the fact that he knew God loved him even though he had questions about it.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, this Reign of Christ Sunday, remember, remember and give thanks. Give thanks that true power belongs to the God we know in him, crucified and risen. Give thanks that the one who calls us is fashioning a new realm, a realm of wholeness, of justice, of steadfast love. Give thanks for the wondrous privilege we have to be part of it. O people of Christ, give thanks. Amen.