Work For a King – A Sermon On Allegiance To Christ

(Note: Sermons can be heard in audio format at https://millersburgmennonite.org/worship/sermon-audio/

Scripture:

John 18:33-37 (New International Version)

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Introduction:

In the liturgical calendar, today has traditionally been known as Christ the King or more recently, the Reign of Christ, Sunday. This is the final Sunday of the church year, before a new liturgical year begins with Advent next Sunday. In the Catholic Liturgical year it is a moveable feast day and is called the Feast of Christ the King.

Pope Pius XI created this feast day on December 11, 1925 out of concerns that the world was becoming more nationalistic and secular. He felt, as did others, that the governments of the day were requiring more and more allegiance from their citizens. I am sure the Pope had observed the utter horror and destruction of World War 1 caused by such allegiances and could guess that more destruction and horror would be in the future if Christ’s authority continued to be usurped, a premonition fulfilled a few years later by World War II, and continuing up to today. I wonder what would have happened if Christians of that time had resolved to set their allegiance to Christ above their allegiance to any government or nation, if they had taken the Pope’s following admonition to heart:

“If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all (people) purchased by his (Christ’s) precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his (Christ’s) dominion; if this power embraces all (people), it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his (Christ’s) empire.”

It is my hope that on this Christ the King Sunday, as we explore together the words of Jesus on trial before Pilate, we will gain a new understanding of the kind of King we serve and renew our allegiance to this King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Prayer:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen

Homily:

In our scripture text this morning, Jesus stands before Pilate charged with sedition, of inciting rebellion against the authority of the powers that be, in this instance, the power of the Roman Empire. By being accused that he is King of his people, a title that was contrary to the Roman Emperor’s authority over Judea, Jesus can be executed by Pontius Pilate, as Governor of Judea and the Emperor’s Representative, if he deems the accusations against Jesus do indeed warrant his crucifixion. So Pilate interviews Jesus to see if the charge against him is true. As usual, Jesus does not make it easy on the questioner.

Pilate: Are you a king?

Jesus: Is that your own idea? Or did others talk to you about me?

Jesus answers a question with more questions. Jesus knows this is a show trial. He knows what the end result will be. Yet Jesus is placing the responsibility firmly at Pilates feet. We both know what the people said about me, but what do think, Pilate?

The question is very similar to the one Jesus asks his disciples earlier after they told him how he is viewed by the people:

Who do you say that I am? Jesus asks.

The disciples, through their spokesperson, Peter, proclaim their belief that Jesus is the Messiah.

This is my first point.

Each and every day, we are presented, be it in the form of an encounter with a person or situation, with the question, Who do you say that I am? Who do we understand Jesus to be? Our answer to that question determines where our loyalties lie.

Beloved, may each of us answer unequivocally, You are the Messiah, my Savior, Lord AND King.

Pilate responds very differently.

Am I one of you? he scoffs. I am the Roman Governor. Don’t bring me down (or up?) to your level.

It is important to note that all four gospels have a description of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. The other three have Jesus saying very little in defense of the charges against him, much to the exasperation of Pilate. John has Jesus saying a little more, but in a way that has Pilate, quite literally washing his hands of the whole thing.

What have you done? How have you gotten your people so riled up at you? Pilate asks Jesus.

To which Jesus speaks these familiar, powerful, and somewhat disturbing words:

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Jesus is not a political king nor is he a rebel king seeking to overthrow Rome. If he was he would have asked his followers to defend him. Or “He could have called ten thousand angels” the song goes. And yet, instead when one of his followers wields a sword to defend him from being arrested, Jesus reprimands him, heals the servant’s ear that was severed, and submits to his arrest. Jesus is acknowledging some kind of kingship, but he clearly states that his kingdom is from another place.

Ha! Pilate shouts, Then you ARE a king!

According to The Jesus Walk Bible Study Series,

Jesus’ answer is difficult to translate into English with clarity:

“You are right in saying I am a king” (NIV)
“You say that I am a king” (literal: NRSV, ESV, KJV)

Jesus isn’t denying his kingship, but he is saying something like “‘King’ is your word, not mine.”[772] So, even though Jesus’ statement seems reluctant, it is unambiguously affirmative, as is rendered by the NIV (“you are right in saying I am a king”). In the Synoptics we see a similar answer:

“You say so.” (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; NRSV, KJV)

Jesus doesn’t deny, but affirms Pilate’s words in a qualified manner, meaning something like, “Yes, but those aren’t the words I would have chosen.”

Bruce Prewer in his poem King? puts it this way

King is your word, not mine;
Friend I am, and not very choosy,
pagans and prostitutes,
publicans and sinners,
grace is my kingdom.

King is your word, not mine;
Servant I am, no one beneath me,
feet washer and waiter,
serving the least,
love is my kingdom.

King is your word, not mine;
Physician I am, all free of charge,
touching the leper,
expelling the demons,
health is my kingdom.

King is your word, not mine;
A seer I am, seeing God’s word,
in mustard seed and yeast,
wildflower and ravens,
truth is my kingdom.

King is your word, not mine;
Tradesman I am, honing my craft,
familiar with wood,
hammer and nails,
grace is my kingdom.

This is my second point.

Jesus is indeed a King, but he is a king like no other, and we would do well to remember that he does not operate like the kings of this world.

Beloved, may we remember that our allegiance is to a Servant King, the Prince of Peace, whose kingdom is indeed “not of this place.”

Some of you may have heard this story or read it in my MLI essay, but I share it here now because it reflects one incident in my life where I had to make a rather public choice as to where my allegiance lay.

In high school, on one particular occasion, I made the difficult decision to walk out of our school assembly because I was offended by the militaristic vitriol being spewed forth by an Army Ranger, our featured speaker that day. I was a rule follower, usually sat in the front row, and to skip an assembly let alone walk out of one in the middle of a speech was a difficult decision for me to make. I was discovered AWOL by a teacher who took me to the office where I sat in misery, close to tears as I imagined the interrogation and punishment that awaited me. The teacher who caught me then confronted me with the question as to why I skipped the assembly. I tried to explain and when she questioned me further, I suddenly burst into tears, and blurted out, “Jesus.” She, somewhat mollified by my response I believe, sent me back to class sans punishment.

At this stage in my life, I can look back on that incident and think about all of the things I could have said to explain why I did what I did. But to be honest, sometimes the simplest reply is the best. Maybe that scared Mennonite boy long ago had it right. When we’re asked to whom do we give our allegiance, there really is only one answer, and that is, “Jesus.”

The primary way Jesus has chosen to operate in the world is through the church. We are the Body of Christ. Communion is our pledge of allegiance to Christ. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” By proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes, we proclaim the Good News of Christ’s kingdom and give witness to Christ’s reign, now and in the age to come.

Article 23 in our Mennonite Confession of Faith has this to say:

We believe that the church is God’s “holy nation,”1 called to give full allegiance to Christ its head and to witness to all nations about God’s saving love.

The church is the spiritual, social, and political body that gives its allegiance to God alone. As citizens of God’s kingdom,2 we trust in the power of God’s love for our defense. The church knows no geographical boundaries and needs no violence for its protection. The only Christian nation is the church of Jesus Christ, made up of people from every tribe and nation,3 called to witness to God’s glory.

This is my third point.

When we give our allegiance to Christ, we proclaim our commitment to the Body of Christ, which at its best is the closest representation here on Earth of what the Kingdom of God is to look like.

Beloved, let us be a community whose relationships with each other give witness to the Reign of Christ in our individual lives.

When Rachelle and I first moved here I learned rather quickly to avoid the tourist traffic in Berlin if at all possible. And for the most part I try to do so. However, this past week I needed to go to Walnut Hills and so I had to go through Berlin. I don’t know if you have noticed recently but the Burger King in Berlin like most places around here is hiring. On their big sign out front they have the words: Work for a King. As I read the words, I couldn’t help but think, Why thank you, but I already do. If we claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior, then we already work for a King. And God always has job openings ….

The job advertisement is found in Matthew 9:

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

If you haven’t signed up yet, the invitation is open. Come join our growing team. Come work for a King.

It’s a hard job. There really is no time off. It’s full time all the time. There will be challenges and you may have to make some sacrifices. There may be travel involved.

But there are no minimum requirements. Just an open heart and a willingness to submit to the authority of Christ.

And the benefits long term and short term are pretty good. Family atmosphere. Positive work environment. Steady employment. An excellent training manual. Growth. Fulfillment. Life insurance. A life end bonus. A company with a strong proven track record. Our boss has been in this business a LONG time.

Maybe you like me answered the invitation of the Lord of the harvest a long time ago, and you feel that perhaps your work is not up to par or maybe you’ve found yourself laboring for another boss or king, wasting your time on frivolous endeavors, distracted by so-called benefits that have left you dissatisfied.

Well, the Good News is that in this job, you can never be fired. Life is hard, but grace abounds. Our King works right along side us and is ready to provide us with whatever we need to keep on keeping on.

So Beloved, let us make sure we are always open to the Job Opening written by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Let us always check our hearts to make sure that our primary allegiance is to the King of hearts.

As I was preparing this sermon I remembered a song (of course) that I wrote a long time ago. I thought I recorded it but I could not find a recording and the lyrics are buried in one of my journals somewhere. I do remember the chorus and it goes like this,

King of hearts be king of my heart, King of hearts be king of my heart, the Joker has come and he’s stealing my heart away. King of hearts be king of my heart….

May that be our prayer on this Christ the King Sunday and every day henceforth.

To close our time together please join with me in a time of prayer and reflection based on the Christ the King Novena Prayers from the Catholic Liturgy:

Let us pray to Jesus the King of all nations, he is Christ the King!

Christ, our Savior and our King, renew in us allegiance to Your Kingship.

(silence)

We pray for the grace to place You above the powers of this world in all things.

(silence)

O Prince of Peace, may Your reign be complete in my life and in the life of the world.

(silence)

Christ the King, Your Kingdom come! Amen

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