Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “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.” 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “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.” – John 18
11-25-2012 NBW Sermon <—–click here to listen along, so much of the meaning comes through in how sermons are spoken aloud.
I know this is a little weird but I spent a lot of this week wondering what Thanksgiving dinner at Pontius Pilate’s mom’s house would be like. I mean, Pilate was a fairly powerful guy being the Roman governor over Judea and all. He was a big fish in a small pond as we say and he acted like a big deal in front of Jesus, but I started thinking about what he’d act like at his mom’s house at Thanksgiving. Would he be relegated to the kid’s table in the kitchen, in a chair too small for his status in the world? Would he irritate his siblings by starting all his sentences with “well, as the Governor….” would he stay as briefly as possible waiting until he could get away to his friend’s house to drink beer and watch the game? How would Pilate’s identity change in the context of his family of origin? Now of course that’s a thoroughly modern and mostly American question, but, I’d argue, it’s still ours to ask.
The point being, that identity comes from a sense of belonging.
See, we all have to know where we belong in order to know who we are.
And if there were a time of year that we are faced with this it’s definitely during The Holidays – capital T capital H….a time when issues of belonging and identity and family come up for so many of us.
Like, maybe you still feel obliged to spend holidays with your family because you are supposed to belong with them but belonging is never what you feel because your family can’t love you well the way your friends can and it’s painful to realize that.
Or maybe you lost your parents too soon and you quietly fume this time of year when your friends complain about not belonging with their family because their mom is a chain-smoking neat freak and their dad watches too much football because, well, you’d do anything to have one more Thanksgiving with your parents despite their shortcomings.
Or maybe you are the parent of a young adult who has decided they don’t belong to you and with you in the way you wish they still did.
Regardless, the reason I started thinking about belonging and identity this week as we entered The Holidays is that in our Gospel reading Jesus says this weird thing to Pilate…he says his kingdom is not of this world and that those who belong to the truth listen to his voice.
I just don’t hear that phrase being used all that often: belonging to the truth. Our relationship to truth usually doesn’t take that form.
Usually our relationship to the truth often takes 2 pretty problematic forms.
On the one hand we live in an age when all truth is subjective – meaning truth is whatever you think it is or whatever works for you in the moment. We are all makers of meaning and captains of determination and agents of truth. Everything is so relative that the word truth is now entirely bled of any real meaning. Since everyone has their own truth like they have their own fingerprints.
And I’m no philosopher and so am treading in some perilous territory for a theologian, but I wonder if the other side of total relativity is basically fundamentalism. Where truth is not only knowable, but is clear and simple and I can possess it. I can own the truth… and in no way does my own social location, personality or place in history effect This.Yet in our text for today Jesus doesn’t say that truth is relative nor does he imply that truth is something we can posses.….Jesus says hiskingdom is not of this world and those who belong to the truth listen to his voice.
So once again Jesus goes and threatens our identity and autonomy by messing with the categories we are so comfortable using. For truth is finally not something we can possess and it’s not some flimsy idea narrated by personal preference, nor is truth simply the most legitimate idea, concept or doctrine. Truth isn’t something that belongs to you. Truth is something you belong to … or more accurately someone you belong to. What is revealed in the Gospel of John is that finally Truth is a person … the way the truth the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
And you don’t have to hang out with Jesus for very long before you realize that, like with Pilate, he never seems to be having the same conversation as you are. We may want to know the truth, understand the truth, possess the truth but then Jesus says that he is the truth. Which makes me want to ask him if we could just go back to truth being an idea instead of a person because then I know what to do with that. But Jesus just never listens to me so instead we are left with truth being a person and with us belonging to the truth which means we belong to Jesus.
But we belong to Jesus and to his kingdom in a different way than we belong to our family or our church or our gym. Because our belongingness to the truth is not contingent on time or location or human limitation. And every other kind of belonging is “of this world” every other kind of belonging both good and bad is contingent on time and location and the limits of humanity.
Which is why Jesus said to Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world. It’s not that he is King of some heavenly realm in the after life. Like a big decadent post-death dessert buffet waiting for all those who have endured the suffering of good Christian diet foods their whole life. His reign is here, his kingship is here and his kingdom is here. It’s right here. Not in some other far off other place. The Kingdom of God shares space with the kingdoms of this world. The kingdom of God shares space with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Kingdoms of Microsoft and Kmart and KLOVE radio ….Christ’s kingdom shares space with these other kingdoms …it just doesn’t share categories with these other kingdoms. Being citizens of the Kingdom of God means belonging to a truth. It allows us to construct identity for ourselves and for the whole world based on something other than practical concerns and families of origin and political categories. If we have been moved by the Spirit to call this Jesus the King of the Jews, then we will find in him the freedom to base our identities on Him and not on the typical categories of nuclear families or empire, or late-stage capitalism.
So Jesus says to Pilate that the Kingdom of God is not of this world, and that those who belong to the truth listen to his voice.
And 2,000 years later here you are. Listening to Jesus’ voice in Psalm and song and sermon and liturgy all of which tells you of the truth to which you belong. And this is hard for us Americans who are raised in a context of self-determination and Western individualism and Mastercards to wrap our brains around,…but what this all means is that you did not choose to follow Christ. Just like you did not choose your family. But unlike your family, your identity in God is simply unaffected by the limitations of human beings to love each other well, and unlike your family, your identity in God is simply unaffected by people who can actually love you well, but who then go and die on you.
Your belongingness to the Truth is determined by a God who has called you out of the darkness into light. Your belongingness to the truth, to the person of Jesus Christ is simply not determined by family of origin or economic status or friend groups. It is not determined by religiosity, moral purity or political category. Your belongingness to the truth is determined by the voice of the Christ who calls you by name in the mystery of the Eucharist and in the clumsiness of community and in every stranger who bears Christ’s face. And I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: nothing else actually gets to tell you who you are. AMEN.