The Last Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 29, Year B)

“Trust in God’s Kingdom”

A sermon by Dinushka De Silva, our Diaconal Intern

John 18:33-37

A tricky question is asked of Jesus today in John’s gospel.

Pontius Pilot asks Jesus if he is “King of the Jews” which Jesus basically ignores as his kingdom is not here on earth. Then Pilot asks “So you are a king?” since Jesus mentions that he does have a kingdom. Jesus says, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came in the world, to testify to the truth.”

So Jesus is the King of Truth.

Actually, Jesus is more than simply a king. If Jesus said, “I am not just a human King, I am the King of Kings, I am the Son of God, I am one with God” it would cause even further chaos and misunderstanding.

Jesus knows that these people, and this one, Pontius Pilot, can’t possibly understand what the Kingdom of Heaven is or what the Messiah will do to open the Kingdom of Heaven for everyone.

Jesus will go on to sacrifice himself on the cross so that the Kingdom he talks about will belong to all of us.

Pilot finds Jesus puzzling and confusing.

Pilot lives in a culture and a kingdom where children are sacrificed and abused, where money and worldly material is the sign of success, where government is the highest power, where vanity is real beauty…he can’t possibly understand of a world where children are equal to adults, where the richest are those who are rich in heart.

In fact, Pilot is blind to what truth is, what a kingdom of love and truth looks like. There is no doubt that Pilot’s kingdom in Roman times still exists today. How many Pilots have you met in this day and age? Don’t we still consider money and material possessions as signs of success? Don’t we still think that children are somehow lesser in their role in society than adults? Don’t we still feel that if we look good on the outside that everything will be good on the inside?

It seems we are still learning about Jesus’s kingdom of truth, of Jesus’s kingdom of love, of Jesus’s kingdom of compassion, of Jesus’s kingdom of humility, of Jesus’s kingdom of equality.

Most of us read this story and shake our heads in judgement of Pilot for not being aware of the truth, for not seeing the King of Kings standing in front of him and for eventually allowing Jesus to be persecuted and nailed to the cross.

But the truth is that we each have been Pilot at some point in our lives. We have succumbed to the idea of material wealth as success. We uphold the laws of our society more so than God’s laws. We have looked at our nation, our own government, our “kingdom” as more important that God Himself, as God Herself.

So, when we reread this passage, think about the Pontius Pilot moments in our own lives because we’ve all had them. How are we separating ourselves from all other kingdoms but God’s? Today our modern day “kingdoms” are still problematic. And we still struggle to accept God’s kingdom over our own.

I can recall a very important conversation I had with a colleague of mine connected to this very topic. Tony is a devout Catholic. He is known for making meals for everyone in need. He is known for caring for his ailing elderly mother who refuses to leave her house. Tony finds himself sleeping at her house at least 4 days out of the week. He cares deeply for his family and talks proudly about his Italian American culture and upbringing. I have much respect for Tony and was there for him when his mother was struggling in the hospital.

One day when news spread that Christopher Columbus statues were coming down due to Columbus’s connection to slavery, he got angry. He stated that Columbus was an important figure in Italian history and culture and in the world. He stated Columbus was a great explorer and pioneer who discovered the Americas so that the United States of America could exist today.

As Tony was sharing his passionate opinions with me, his passion turned into anger. He lurched his face and body closer to me. At one point he was almost a half an inch away from my face, raising his voice loudly, breathing heavily on me, and telling me that his “people” were the immigrants who actually made a difference in this society. Tony knew I was an immigrant too yet he felt the need to assert a level of unconscious superiority over me.

I felt hurt. Tony and I had a good collegial relationship. His feelings over this Christopher Columbus statue brought out some deep rooted prejudices and biases that he couldn’t see. I had to remain calm. I literally asked God, internally, to give me the strength to communicate in a way Tony could hear. Tony didn’t even realize how disrespectful he was being towards me.

“Tony” I said, “I can hear anger in your voice. I can hear the frustration of feeling like the value of your people has not been seen or heard. The Native Americans and other Indigenous people, who experienced colonization and slavery, also do not feel seen or heard. And your people are not the only people that have brought goodness and positive change into our society and nation.” “Remind me Tony, how does God see all these ‘other’ people, who are not ‘your people’?”

Tony was quiet. When bringing God into the equation, Tony began to step back and think a little more. As he didn’t respond I decided to continue, “According to your Catholic faith, to OUR CHRISTIAN faith, Tony, there is no ‘Little Italy’ in the Kingdom Heaven. There is no “Little China” or “Little India” or as they say in my country of birth “Little Jaffna” in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Because of our faith in Jesus Christ, we know that all peoples of varied nations, languages, ethnicities, tribes are united together as one family in the Kingdom of Heaven. And I very much doubt that there are any statues erected there other than perhaps the cross.” Tony seemed stunned.

Revelations 7:9 describes the Kingdom of Heaven saying, “…there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”

Tony and I went on to talk about praying for those who we can’t understand or asking God to guide us compassionately in issues that might seem complicated politically and socially. Christ, the King asks us to boldly see past our small, finite kingdoms…and trust in His kingdom.

Look at this world we live in through God’s eyes first, think about how God wishes us to treat all of creation, all peoples.

Work on making this earth a closer example of Jesus Christ’s Kingdom.

For we believe, trust, and follow the greatest of kings, the King of Kings.