The people of Paris are not afraid. Neither is Jesus before Pilate. We don’t have to be either.
Christ the King (Year B) – November 22, 2015 – Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Fluctuat Nec Mergitur – Pastor Evan Davis
Many of you know that Brett and I were in Paris this past week on vacation. We awoke last Saturday morning to cell phones blinking and buzzing with emails and facebook notifications from our families and countless friends and relatives wondering if we were ok. Ok? Why wouldn’t we be? But quickly we pieced together what had happened, pulled up the news on our phones, and realized why there had been so many sirens outside our seventh floor window the night before. The attacks happened about 30 minutes away from where we were staying, and right after we had gone to bed so we literally slept through them. Needless to say, we felt very much surrounded by the love and prayers of so many, especially yours. Thank you, it’s wonderful to be home with all of you.
Of course, we were startled, and although not at all directly in danger, a little concerned about what might still happen. But if you know me and Brett, you know we don’t miss too many meals, so attacks or no attacks, we went out to go get some breakfast. The streets were pretty quiet that morning but, sure enough, plenty of Parisians were sipping their espresso and reading the papers at the corner cafe like I imagine they did every Saturday morning. And as we walked back to the apartment where we were staying, we came across a family, two parents walking down the street in earnest conversation while their son who looked about four ambled on ahead without a care in the world, in his own world that knew nothing at all of guns and bullets and suicide bombs.
Even though that first Saturday was more quiet and subdued than most, I knew then that Paris was not even going to slow down because of these attacks. People were beginning to simply go about their lives in one of the truly most magnificent cities in the world, no matter what any terrorists were going to do. Sure enough, by Sunday afternoon the streets were as crowded with Parisians and tourists together as they always were, going to the market, to worship, to play with the children in the park, to light candles at the many memorials which sprung up around the city.
They knew who they were. They are the people of liberté, egalité, and fraternité. They are people who, like us, have an open society where people are welcome, they are free, and they are compassionate. No terrorists could change the heart of Paris or her people.
In our story today Jesus knows who he is. He knows he is the one whom Revelation would later proclaim him to be: the one who is and who was and who is to come, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth, the Alpha and the Omega, the Almighty. He knows that he is the Son who comes from his Father, that he dwells in the bosom of the Father, that the Spirit of his Father rests upon him. He knows his destiny, that he will be lifted up and draw all the people of the world to himself.
This enables him, even as he is arrested, beaten, mocked, and dragged before Pilate the governor, to be cool, calm, and collected. Even in Pilate’s headquarters, in that seat of power where people are usually terrified and awed at the power of the one who sends people to be nailed onto crosses, Jesus is the one totally sure about himself.
It’s really an amazing and even funny scene. Very quickly Pilate becomes the one who is afraid, nervously trying to get Jesus to incriminate himself, distancing himself from the accusation, doing everything he can to wash his hands of what seems very much like the lynching of an innocent man by an angry mob. Pilate has become nothing more than the instrument wielded by the crowd, a pawn controlled by others.
And simply because Jesus does not play the usual game. He is not interested in the kind of power Pilate understands, he cannot be provoked to anger, and he is not afraid of death. All Pilate’s power evaporates, as does the crowd’s. Instead, from a position the world sees as total humiliation, as total powerlessness, Jesus is the one in control. He refuses to be afraid, he refuses to allow the system of power or its threats or whips or thorns or nails to change him.
Jesus explains it all by redefining power, redefining what it means to be a king – My kingdom is not from this world. If it were, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over, but as it is, my kingdom is not from here. It is here, but it’s not from here. Nevermind what you think a king is, here’s why I’m here – to testify to the truth. To bear witness. The word witness in Greek is martyrion – martyr. Jesus bears witness with his life.
Here’s who you are: you are the ones who hear the truth that is Jesus. You are the ones who believe and trust that Christ is your king. You are the ones he has marked with his cross in your Baptism. You are the ones who belong to the truth of Jesus, and so you listen to his voice. He has given you ears to hear.
You know, then, that his kingdom is not from this world. But you are his kingdom, and you are in this broken world until he returns. Until that day, you are free to be who you are, without fear, without terror.
I don’t normally like to just read long things to you in my sermons, but this week I have to make an exception. I want to share the words of someone who is as free as Jesus, as you, a young father in Paris named Antoine Leiris who lost his wife Helene last Friday night at the Bataclan theatre. He took the time and had the care to open his heart to the world – to show us his love and how his heart has not been conquered by the killers who took his wife. He says:
On Friday night, you stole away 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 don’t want to know – you are dead souls. If the God for whom you kill so blindly made us in His image, each bullet in my wife’s body would have been a wound in his heart. Therefore, I will not give you the gift of hating you. You have obviously sought it, but responding to it with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be afraid? To cast a mistrustful eye on my fellow citizens? To sacrifice my freedom for security? You lost. Same player. Same game. I saw her this morning, finally after nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as she was when she left on Friday evening. As beautiful as when I fell madly in love with her more than 12 years ago. Of course I’m devastated with grief, I will give you that tiny victory. But this will be a short-term grief. I know that she will join us every day and that we will find each other again in the paradise of free souls which you will never have access to. We are only two, my son and I, but we are more powerful than all the world’s armies. In any case, I have no more time to waste on you. I need to get back to Melvil, who is waking up from his afternoon nap. He’s just 17 months old. He’ll eat his snack like every day and then we’re going to play like we do every day and every day of his life this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom. Because you don’t have his hatred either.1
We could play by the rules of the kingdoms of this world, by the rules that Pilate understands, by the rules Jesus’ accusers understand, by the rules terrorists understand. We could blame and stereotype and close our doors. We could sow the seeds that yield fear, resentment, and even hatred for generations.
Or we can live into the freedom Christ gives us, gives you, to be his followers who are not fighting but rather are praying, are trusting and believing, who are playing and eating together, who are welcoming the stranger and refugee, who are planting the seeds that yield hope, and trust, and goodwill, and gratitude…for generations.
Evil can never win unless we let it. As Martin Luther wrote in his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpow’r us…Were they to take our house, good, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The kingdom’s ours forever.” We are free to be the people who can never be terrorized, free to be the people who say here you are welcome, here you can build a life.
Jesus says, my kingdom is not from this world. But it is here. Antoine and little Melvil are his kingdom. You are Christ’s kingdom, priests serving his God and Father. One day every eye will see him, even those who pierced him…even those who pierced Helene and all the others….they will see….they will see they were wrong about power, wrong about what is good, wrong about God. They will see that Christ is the king of all creation – you get to live like he is until he returns. Amen.