Christ the King/Reign of Christ
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

Today is the final Sunday in the Christian liturgical calendar. Our worship themes center around the supremacy of Christ and invoking Christ’s reign in our lives and world. What we say is that Christ’s way – the way of love, civility, and truth – not only has their place among us, but they are the way.

And you can see why we need a Sunday like this, can’t you? A specific Sunday designated for calling us into this truth, especially in our world when there are many powers vying for First Place, and what appears to be so many truths even when there is concrete and tangible evidence to prove otherwise.

We need a Sunday like this. It is a way of marking time; the passing of the Christian year and the emergence of a new year which begins next Sunday with the first Sunday of Advent.

Next Sunday, we turn our attention to the birth of a little baby born in an out of the way place; an obscure village, a small town like many of us hail from. A baby born to poor parents living below the poverty line whose stories might have been ignored, totally hidden were it not for his birth.

But today, the baby is all grown up. He is an adult man facing the worst terror and the most extreme terrorists of his day.

Just as we do at the end of the calendar year when we reflect upon the possibilities ahead for the next, the pervading questions before us are: “What kind of person am I? What kind of person do I want to be? What do I need to give up or take on in order to be my best self?”

It is just days before the crucifixion. The authorities mock and taunt Jesus trying to make him forget who he is. Pontius Pilate asks: “Are you the King of the Jewish people?”[1] Are you a king? The soldiers weave a crown of thorns and put on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They hang an inscription above his head: “This is the King of the Jews.”

They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And smearing their ugly faces and spitting on him. Don’t you know their faces were ugly? They laugh, tease, and taunt him and strike him on the face.

But Jesus responds: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish people.”[2]

They expect a bully king who will fight on their terms. One whose weaponry is combat and retaliation; your people against my people, violence and hate, toughness and war.

My goodness. Really?

But Jesus has a new world order: a different power. Even in death – perhaps most splendidly in death – Jesus claims a different kind of authority; a different truth.

Jesus said, “I came into this world to testify to the truth.” And Pilate asks one of the most profound questions of all times: “What is truth?” That’s what we want to know, isn’t it?

What is truth? What is my truth? What is true of who I am at my core, when nobody is watching? What is the truth of the Church that I love, the body of Christ and why there are so many divisions among us? What is the truth of this great nation of ours and our history, and our truth amid all that we see and hear today?

What is truth? Earlier in the gospel of John, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”[3] My way is the way to truth and life. If in doubt, ask the question: does this line up with the way of Jesus Christ? Does this action or response bear witness to Christ’s reign in my life?

We ask ourselves about that this morning: who or what reigns in our lives? Who or what do we pledge our allegiance over and over? Who has control of our thoughts and actions?  Where is the spiritual gravitation that pulls and consumes our energy? Love, grace, forgiveness, civility, reconciliation? Anger, justification, victimization, indifference? We ask so that we can lay the answers down at the feet of the One who is heading to the cross; who yearns to bear our burdens and help us on our way.

Now is the perfect time because the truth is often hard to face, difficult to admit. The truth is often raw and ugly and painful and that’s why we deflect and cast blame. It’s difficult to come to grips with who we really are.

But it seems the perfect time on the heels of Thanksgiving, where we acknowledge how blessed we are, how much we have, our many gifts and the privileges so easily taken for granted. The truth is, that the glass is far more than half full for most of us – even on our hardest day.

We have things and opportunities and we would probably have more family and friends if we gave ourselves over to that. We have goodness in our lives: shelter, job or income, health and strength or at least a fair measure of it. And it is not all a result of our hard work or because we are so smart or deserving.

Here is this opportunity standing before us just as it stood before Pilate – as we head into next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent – O Come, o come Emmanuel and be born in us anew.

“What is truth,” Pilate asks? He knows but he won’t say. The truth is that he finds no fault in Jesus but he is willing to stand by and lets an innocent be crucified. The truth is that he is caught up in a political quagmire and Jesus is a mere helpless pawn to be discarded. The truth is that Pilate has power but doesn’t know how to use it for the greater good. The truth is he is lost, lost and blind and unable to see what is before his eyes. He is afraid that this new king will change the world and scared people are often dangerous and cowardly, taking the easy way out.

What is true? The truth is that somedays, we don’t have it all together – none of us. The truth is that we are often a mess. We are tired, and angry, and wounded. And disappointed. The truth is, we are not always as brave as we want to be or want others to think we are. The truth is we don’t love everybody and certainly not all the same; and though we keep trying to make the effort, there are days.

These are excellent questions because only I can answer fully about myself and only you can answer fully about yourself. We experience others in part and that part may be true but that is not the whole truth. There are other truths that only the individual and God knows.

The witness is valid but that’s not all there is. Only I know and God knows. And so here lies this moment, this opportunity for us as for Pilate to come to grips with the truth that lies before our eyes.

You may have noticed the opening call to worship and the special litany; the hymns for today speak to the coronation of our Lord – once crowned with many thorns, blood, and shame but now adorned with royal diadem – bedecked with jewels that signify his supremacy, his sovereignty and power, authority and dignity. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty though the darkness hide thee, though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see, only thou art holy; there is none beside thee, perfect in power, perfect in love, perfect in purity.”[4]

Minister:         With God’s people in all times and all places, we join our voices in prayer. May the words of our mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable to God, our Sovereign and our Redeemer.
People:           Blessed be God for ever.
Minister:         O God of love, we pray that you would grant us love;
People:           Reign in us, Lord Christ.
Minister:         Love in our thinking, love in our speaking;
People:           Reign in us, Lord Christ.
Minister:         Love of our neighbors near and far;
People:           Reign in us, Lord Christ.
Minister:         Love of our friends, old and new;
People:           Reign in us, Lord Christ.
Minister:         Love of those whom we find hard to bear;
People:           Reign in us, Lord Christ. 
Minister:         Love of those who find it hard to bear us;
People:           Reign in us, Lord Christ.
Minister:         Love of those we have injured, and love of those who have injured us;
People:           Reign in us, Lord Christ.
Minister:         Love of those with whom we work;
People:           Reign in us, Lord Christ.
Minister:         Love of those with whom we take our ease;
People:           Reign in us, Lord Christ.
Minister:         Love in joy, love in sorrow;
People:           Reign in us, Lord Christ.
Minister:         Love in life and love in death;
People:           Reign in us, Lord Christ.
Minister:         Love and reign in us, Lord Christ, that at the end of our days we may be worthy of you, for you are eternal love and life.
People:           Amen.[5]

[1] John 18:33b
[2] John 18:36
[3] John 14:6a
[4] Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty, United Methodist Hymnal, pg. 64 Words: Reginald Heber, 1826.
[5] Author unknown