What’s the point?
On November 21, we’ll celebrate here at church my favorite holiday of the year: Thanksgiving. I love it more than Christmas, more than Easter, more than my birthday; more than any other holiday. The warmth, the reminder to be grateful, the gathering around dinner tables with loved ones, the cooler weather; I love all of it.
Which means that, on November 21, we will not celebrate another occasion; a holiday known as Christ the King Sunday.
On Christ the King Sunday, the Christian year will come to an end. Our new year always begins with the first Sunday of Advent, which this year is November 28. Then the Christian calendar runs: birth of Christ through resurrection to the arrival of the Holy Spirit usually in late May or early June.
Then, after twenty some weeks of an interlude called Ordinary Time, we arrive at that last Sunday of the year, November 21 this year; a Sunday known as Christ the King. On that Sunday, we’re called to remember that Christ is King of the Kingdom of God, an already but not yet reality. Already in that we know something about it, we know that it is here among us because it is here through us, the church. But not yet in that we haven’t yet experienced the fullness of the Kingdom of God. When that comes, peace will reign over all and evil will be fully defeated. The Kingdom of God is, as the Taize community sings, “justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
While today is not Christ the King Sunday, during Ordinary Time we remember the Kingdom, we’re mindful of the role we play in it already and that it has not yet fully arrived; a kingdom of justice and peace.
But what’s the point?
We look around us and we see a world that doesn’t much look like the Kingdom of God; a world decidedly not marked by justice and peace. Undoubtedly, we could come up with many reasons why this is so. Whether from the news or in strife within our families or conflict within our personal lives, we can all come up with reasons to wonder how in the world we can say the Kingdom of God is already a reality. It feels much more like it’s not yet. Which leads us back to our original question this morning:
What’s the point? What’s the point of believing the Kingdom of God is here and now?
In our scripture this morning, Pilate, too, asks “what’s the point?” He can’t figure out what he needs to figure out, and so, in despair, he asks “what is truth?” Let’s hear the scripture of a very famous exchange between Pilate and Jesus, while Jesus is on trial for his life. Our reading comes from John 18:33-38a.
What’s the point?
Pilate has been tasked with figuring out if Jesus is a king. The Jewish courts have already found Jesus guilty of saying he’s the King of the Jews, something they consider blasphemy. They believe he is worthy of the death penalty, but since Jewish law in the Torah, that’s the first five books of the Bible, forbids the death penalty during Passover, the religious authorities turn him over to Pilate. Their word to Pilate: he says he’s a king, that’s a threat to the emperor, you’d better take care of this insurrectionist.
The words of the Jewish authorities carry a threat of their own. In the time Pilate’s been governor of Judea, he’s not had a good relationship with the Jews. Each side has angered the other, each side has resentments they carry around. The last time there was an incident, in which Pilate erected in Jerusalem what Jews considered to be an idol, Pilate moved brutally to crush their dissent. The Jews appealed to the emperor, Tiberius, who ordered Pilate to remove the images. In a classic move common to any of us who have bosses, the Jewish authorities went over Pilate’s head, resulting in a black mark for Pilate as the boss overruled him and reprimanded his actions.
Point being: Pilate is not in the emperor’s good graces at this moment and in need of an opportunity to restore himself in the eyes of Tiberius.
In the religious authorities handing Jesus to him, Pilate has such an opportunity. The easiest thing to do, the politically expedient thing to do, and the best move for his career, is to simply accept the verdict of the Jewish court and agree to have Jesus executed. He’ll have dealt decisively with an insurrectionist and curried favor with the locals; two things Tiberius would certainly appreciate.
So it’s incredible that Pilate doesn’t act that way. He’s too concerned to see justice done, apparently. He wants to decide for himself if Jesus really is guilty as the religious leaders say.
Thus Pilate’s first question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” It’s a simple question. But this is Jesus. The answer isn’t simple. Jesus says, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” To Pilate, this feels like a non-answer, a dodge. I can feel his frustration mounting. So Pilate tries again, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Pilate’s trying another avenue to get at his question of whether or not Jesus claims to be a king and whether or not such a claim is truly a threat, worthy of the death penalty.
But, once again, Jesus comes across to Pilate as coy, “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.” So, Jesus is kind of admitting to be a king, for only kings have kingdoms, and Pilate senses opportunity. “So you are a king?” Pilate says. I can hear a hint of triumphalism in his voice. He’s got Jesus in a corner.
But this is Jesus, who answers, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” What is Jesus really saying? His answer is, again, coy.
And so Pilate gives up, eventually turning Jesus over to the angry mob outside to be executed. He’s trapped between that angry mob that could turn rebellious and a man who’s potentially an insurrectionist and threat to stability. So he does the politically expedient thing; he turns Jesus over to be executed.
As Pilate gives up, he says, and I hear despair and frustration in his voice, “What is truth?”
Jesus won’t give him straight answers. Jesus won’t help himself. Jesus won’t help Pilate figure out the truth he’s seeking. And so Pilate gives up. In his frustration with Jesus, we can hear him saying our same question we’ve been asking:
What’s the point?
We might be able to relate to Pilate, standing here in frustration in front of Jesus. We’ve all had moments in our lives where we’ve wondered what the point of it all was. Times where life seems meaningless or fraught with way more difficulty than we can manage. There are family conflicts, there are financial downturns, there are challenges that feel insurmountable, and there are difficult and mean people; there are a whole host of difficulties that can make us want to throw our hands up in despair and say like Pilate, “what’s the point?”
Then there are the things we referenced earlier: all the ways we look around our community and our world and see reason for despair, reason to think that this Kingdom Jesus references is not here and now but some far away reality. Perhaps it’s more akin to the Kingdom in the Shrek movies in that it’s far, far, away.
What is the truth of our situation? Is there hope? When confronted with these stark realities, here at home and in the news, what’s the point of our worship, our labors, and our faith?
What’s the point?
The point is found in the deep irony of this story. Consider that, as Pilate asks “what is truth?” he’s staring Truth with a capital T in the face.
The gospel of John opens with a declaration that Jesus is Truth: “In the beginning was the Word.” The word Word, with a capital W, is the English equivalent of the Greek word Logos, which could just as easily be translated as Truth. That verse would then read, “In the beginning was the Truth, and the Truth was with God, and the Truth was God.” Pilate is staring Truth in the face, but he can’t see it.
Such is the case for us. We are staring Truth in the face, but sometimes, we can’t see it.
Jesus actually answers Pilate’s questions. He tells Pilate exactly who he is. He is a king, but a king of a different kind of Kingdom. And his first response is the most telling. When Pilate asks if he’s a king, Jesus asks Pilate if Pilate says he’s a king or if others have told him that. It’s a different form of the classic question of the gospels and the question that Jesus asks every human being on this planet, “Who do you say that I am?”
If Pilate had answered that question, even if he’d said, “I don’t know who you are,” there would be a gateway to Pilate’s heart. In that moment of confession, of admitting his confusion, of admitting that he didn’t understand Jesus, he could have received understanding.
Had Pilate confessed, had he answered Jesus’s question by saying he didn’t know who Jesus was and wanted to find out, Jesus would have told him. It would have been a moment of conversion for Pilate. But Pilate had to be the one to initiate; Jesus won’t force himself on anyone. There’s a tragedy at the center of this climactic story; the tragedy that Pilate couldn’t see what was staring him in the face and be converted by it.
Unlike Pilate, we in this room have confessed Jesus in our lives. To the question, “who do you say that I am?” We have confessed that Jesus is who he says he is: the Son of God, the salvation of our souls; the Truth made flesh. And yet, we can still be left like Pilate, despairing because of trouble in our lives and around the world. Truth still stares us in the face; Jesus is all around us. We, like Pilate, are daily looking Truth in the face.
And yet, when trouble strikes, when fear is present, when life goes wrong, when we find ourselves despairing instead of hopeful, when hate seems to be winning, when strife and conflict are the answer, we, like Pilate, can find ourselves still asking:
What’s the point?
We’ve likely been asking that question as individuals and families since the pandemic began. All around us there are shifts in the way we work, live, and play. More workers work from home, a trend that will continue even as offices reopen. People are relocating as a result to places where life is easier, or cheaper, or more convenient. Some have quit jobs or changed jobs to less stressful things as the pandemic has brought into focus what really matters in life. Some, convinced that family and close relationships matter more than career, have relocated to be near family. In all these cases, workers have asked what’s the point when it comes to their jobs and careers and increasingly found their answers wanting.
Here locally, we’re also asking what’s the point of various activities, even church. What’s the point of going to church? Was it doing me much good before? Those of us gathered in this room perhaps have asked that question and decided it’s worth it, or haven’t asked it at all because it’s irrelevant: church is worth it for us. But across our region in churches of all denominations and across the country, church attendance is down significantly. There are many reasons for that but for some, they’ve asked the question what’s the point and decided there is no point.
The pandemic has made us ask in various ways about various things, “what’s the point?” and across the country, we’re finding different answers.
But for us Christians, one answer remains. And again, it’s found in the deep irony of this story.
Pilate is staring the truth he seeks in the face. Jesus is the answer to the question, “what’s the point?”
Around us today, we’re also staring Jesus in the face. Jesus is all around us, if we have eyes to see him.
For example, consider these ways we can see Jesus daily in the life of our church and community:
Jesus is in our children’s ministry that inspires our kids to live lives of faith.
Jesus is in our children themselves, who come to us with the big questions, who demonstrate a depth of love and compassion that reminds me all the time to be more loving and compassionate myself.
Jesus is in the leadership of this church who work to make this a wonderful place of worship and a bastion of service to this community. I came here over four years ago asking the question, “if the church disappeared tomorrow, would the community notice?” Increasingly, the answer is yes because of their labors and all of us working together.
Jesus is in my experiences with our hospital and doctors, who go out of their way to serve me and my family, often above and beyond what they are called to do.
Jesus is in the work of nonprofits and government agencies in our community such as the Christian Life Center, CASA, the food bank, and The Club; who labor to provide for a better world for our children and those who struggle under the weight of poverty.
Jesus is in the Meals on Wheels program that some of you help with, ensuring that our seniors are well-fed.
Jesus is in our backpacks that address childhood hunger and the faces of those volunteers who help make it so.
Jesus is in small acts of kindness, like when the store manager at Harveys believed me when I said I’d left tide pods I’d purchased and allowed me to simply take a new one off the shelf.
These are just some of the ways I encounter Jesus daily in my life. And when I do, when I have eyes to see, I find the Truth I need for my life.
What’s the point?
Jesus is staring us in the face every day. The point is to learn to see Jesus all around us so that we can give ourselves to building the Kingdom of God, one brick at a time.
Consider your life: where are there small acts of kindness? Where are there people who are serving, giving, doing things to make our community a better place, helping those who are in need? Where are people treating you with kindness and generosity, showing you love? Wherever you find those things, you find Jesus.
That’s what it means to be a part of the Kingdom of God. Those small actions here in our lives and community may not seem like much, but one brick at a time, we are laboring to bring about that Kingdom, of which Jesus is King. And we see those bricks whenever we look around us and see Jesus in the small acts of kindness, of service, of generosity, that are all around us on a daily basis.
When we see those bricks, we find reason for hope, we find reason to believe that love is triumphing over hate, we find reason to trust that peace will rule over personal strife and international war, and we find joy that can transcend the suffering we know. That’s the truth we need for this life. That’s the truth we find when we learn to see Jesus in our daily lives.
In short, when we see those bricks, when we see Jesus in our daily lives, we find the Truth we need for this life.
Just like Pilate in our scripture this morning, Jesus is staring us in the face with the Truth we need for our lives. The question is whether or not we can see Jesus.
And the best way to learn to see Jesus is to come to church on a regular basis. Here, gathered together for worship and fellowship, we are given eyes to see Jesus among us, to see the Kingdom of God being built one brick at a time. We gain that vision by being with each other, learning what we’re doing for the Kingdom, being inspired to give and serve ourselves. We gain that vision by worshipping, feeling our hearts moved and our minds encouraged. We gain that vision, too, by being reminded that we are a people on mission, called into the world to address the things that others would rather leave unmentioned or undone. We gain that vision by experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit when we come together, as one, to worship God and give our lives, once again, to him.
What’s the point?
In all of this, the point is to learn to see Jesus in the world so that we can give ourselves to building the Kingdom of God, one brick at a time.
Can you see Jesus this morning? Can you see the kingdom of God all around you? If you can’t, keep coming to church and keep seeking to grow in your faith. If the vision is hazy, keep coming to church and keep seeking to grow in your faith. If you can see the Kingdom, keep coming to church and keep seeking to grow in your faith. For that’s how we learn to see past the distractions to see Jesus, who is staring us in the face; to see Jesus, who is our hope.
The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.