Monday, November 26, 2018

Seeing the Truth

               At my last service at St. John of Cat Spring, I asked for prayer requests just before the prayers of the church.  One of my congregation members raised his hand and said, “I’d like to pray for Bethany Lutheran Church.”

                I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of that prayer request, so I started thinking about it. And suddenly, I put two and two together.  You see, right before church, one of our youth met me in the hall as I was heading to worship, and the little tyke said, “Pastor, I hate to see you go.  I want to make sure and get your address so that I can keep up with you because when I grow up and get a job, I’m going to send you some money.

                I was touched by this child’s comment but also a bit perplexed, so I asked the little guy why he was going to send me money.  He replied just as innocently as a child can, “Because my daddy says you are the poorest preacher he’s ever seen.”  Did I mention that my congregation member wanted me to pray for Bethany Lutheran Church?

                And maybe, just maybe history will bear it out that I am the poorest preacher that some of you have ever seen.  But if I am to be the poorest preacher that you have ever seen, let it be because I was not able to help you understand complicated theological concepts.  Let it be because I was not able to provide illustrations that brought the biblical passages to life.  Let it be because I am a sinner who falls far short of what God has called him to be.  Let it be because of these things.

                But if I am the poorest preacher that you have ever seen, let it not be because I didn’t work day after day to tell you about what God has done for you through Jesus Christ.  Let it not be because I didn’t try to convey to you how much God loves you and what He was willing to do to redeem you.  Let it not be because I failed to preach the Truth.

                Perhaps at this point there are one or two of you who are scratching your head and thinking, “Wait a minute. I was with you right until that last statement you made.  Are you somehow suggesting that you know what the Truth is?  Are you starting off your first Sunday sermon here somehow insinuating that you know the Truth and the rest of us don’t and that we are just a bunch of ignorant folks who you are here to enlighten?”

                No.  I am not suggesting that at all.  For the Truth I am here to proclaim is Truth that is readily accessible to each and every person.  The Truth that I am here to proclaim is very, very near to each and every one of us.  The Truth that I am here to proclaim is actually with us right here, right now for all to see.  How so, you might ask?

                Well, let’s turn now to our Gospel lesson for today to find the answer to that question.  This is actually quite a funny text to have before us on Christ the King Sunday, for our King, King Jesus is standing before Pontius Pilate as a criminal; bound; awaiting trial.  Jesus doesn’t look like a king at all.  And this is probably what is behind Pilate’s initial question.  It’s likely a contemptuous question.  “Are YOU the king of the Jews?”  Pilate knows the answer is a flat out “NO!”  Jesus is from the wrong part of the country.  He only has a hand-full of close followers, and they have all deserted Him.  He is poor; all alone; with seemingly no power or authority.  This is no king, but if he is harboring delusional thoughts of grandeur—of overthrowing the Roman presence in Judea, then, then this Jesus might just be a threat.  Better to be safe than sorry.  Better to make sure.

                Jesus responds to Pilate’s question with a question.  “Are you asking me this on your own or are you just believing the rumors that everyone is spreading about me?”

                Pilate isn’t too thrilled with Jesus’ question.  “Am I a Jew?” Pilate strongly responds.  You see, Pilate had nothing but contempt for the Jews.  He was assigned to keep the peace.  He had no use for Jewish customs or Jewish beliefs.  He didn’t care about their religious politics.  This is what is behind his response to Jesus.  In other words, Pilate is saying, “I am not a Jew.  I don’t care about your religious squabbles.  Your people handed you over to me for some reason that I really don’t care about.  I just want to keep the peace here in Judea.  Now, what have you done to make them angry?”

                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 Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”  This is such an important statement.  We could spend all morning unpacking it, but for now, let us be content to hear Jesus admit that He is a king. Let us hear that Jesus has a kingdom, but it is not like any kingdom of the world.  It is not founded in power or prestige or violence.  It is not tied to any geographic area.  It is not from or of the world, but it is for the world.  Let me say that again, Jesus kingdom is not of the world, but it is certainly for the world.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save it.”

                Ah, but Pilate can’t hear such a thing.  Being a politician and a puppet of the emperor, he knows he must squash rebellion.  Jesus’ words sound rebellious!  “Aha!  So, you are a king!”

                In so many words, Jesus says with some amount of reluctance, “Yes. I am a king, but hear again that my purpose is a bit different from most kings.  I am a different sort of king.  For this I was born and for this I have come into the world: to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Oh, let us hear Jesus’ words to Pilate.  Oh, let us understand them deeply, for in them is an invitation not only to Pilate, but to us as well.  Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to Jesus’ voice.  Do you hear Jesus’ voice?  Do you belong to the Truth?  We will come back to this shortly.

                Pilate responds with the most ironic question in the whole Bible—at least it is ironic if you are a Christian.  If you are not a Christian, the question makes perfect sense.  I mean, indeed, what is Truth?  Does anyone really know what the Truth is?  You have your truth.  I have my truth.  Democrats have their truth.  Republicans have their truth.  If I don’t like what you say, I’ll just go find someone else who has a different understanding; a different insight; a different thought.  No one really knows the truth.  Pilate’s question ultimately is a rejection of what Jesus said.  Pilate cannot hear Jesus’ voice.  Pilate does not belong to the Truth.

                Ah, but what is Truth?  I said it was an ironic question if you are a Christian, because the answer is this: the Truth is standing right in front of Pilate.  For you see, my brothers and sisters, the Truth is not an idea; it is not a concept; it is not a philosophy; the Truth is a person—the God made flesh.  The Truth is Jesus.  Remember the story of when Jesus and His disciples were gathered in the room and Jesus told them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God.  Believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

                Jesus is the Truth.  Do you belong to the Truth?  Do you hear His voice?  Pilate could not. Pilate was blinded because He believed that truth was found in power, in prestige, in wealth, in privilege.  Pilate’s heart was captured by these things, so he could not see Jesus for who he was: the one who had come into the world to save it.

                And it is so easy to be blinded to Jesus.  It is so easy to have our hearts captured by other things.  It is so easy to miss the Truth and become enslaved to the cares and worries of the world.  You may ask how?  Well, let me offer up this little illustration.  You see, my previous home was pretty close to that other NFL team in Texas.  Sorry, life-long Cowboy’s fan here.  But that’s not the point.  What is the point is this: there were a few folks in the community who would comment that it was too difficult to drive 10 minutes to church; it was too much of a problem to sit for an hour in worship; it cost too much to put $20 in the offering plate.  And yet, and yet, these same folks would drive an hour and a half and fight Houston traffic to attend a Texan’s game.  They’d spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a ticket for themselves and their families.  They would spend hundreds of dollars on food and souvenir items.  They’d devote three hours to watching the game, and then fight traffic to get out of the stadium and drive back home.  Their hearts were captured by their team.  Their king was athletics.

                And do you see how demanding that king was?  Do you see how much their king too of their time and energy and money?  Do you see how much their king took from them?  And what did they receive in return?  Momentary pleasure in a win.  Disgust in a loss.  The hope of another season.  A souvenir jersey that will fall apart.  A few memories to hold in their heads. Things that will all pass away and fade and leave them with absolutely nothing.  Such is the case with all false kings.  Such is the case with anything that your heart is captured by that is not Jesus.  And…here is the kicker…even though we essentially get nothing from those kings, what do they continue to do?  What do they continue to demand?  More time, more energy, more money.  They continue to make demands of you while giving you nothing in return.  Keep serving these kings, and you end up empty, restless, joyless, angry and frustrated.

                And so, let me now ask, about Jesus.  What does it mean when Jesus is your king?  What does it mean when your heart is captured by Him as the Truth?  How demanding is Jesus?  In one way, He is absolutely much more demanding than any other king.  For Jesus demands total allegiance.  He demands our entire life.  He demands that we honor and love Him with our heart, our mind, our soul, and our strength.  He demands that we love our neighbors as ourselves.  His demands are above and beyond what any other king would ever demand.  They are so great that we can never fulfill them.  And while most other kings would look upon us as failures and dismiss us for not being loyal enough; not being good enough; not being the subjects that we should be.  While most kings would cast us out of their kingdoms or punish us for our failure, our King, the Way, the Truth, the Life, instead lays down His life for us.  Our King, King Jesus redeems us with His holy and precious blood.  Our King sacrifices Himself for us to show us mercy and love.  Our King pours Himself out for us and then pours Himself into us so that we can become children of God and inheritors of eternal life.  Our King, in spite of our failures, loves us with a love beyond measure, and He shows us this sheer grace so that He may establish His kingdom in our hearts. For He longs to capture our hearts and reign in our hearts each and every day.  And once we see that; once we see the Truth standing there before us; once we see Jesus in our hearts as the Lord and King who loved us while we were still sinners; we become full of peace, love, joy, and hope.  What is Truth?  It is Jesus; King Jesus.  May He be king of your  heart this day and everyday.  Amen.