Feast of Christ the King
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
21 November 2021
[ video ]
The truth that matters
Our Gospel today has the dramatic scene where Pilate and Jesus engage in a private conversation inside the private residence of the Procurator, and away from prying ears.
More about that in a moment.
This passage was chosen for the feast of Christ the King this year as it teases out what Jesus being some kind of a king might actually mean in the real world of power and privilege.
As the storyteller creates this fictional scene, we are invited to imagine the representative of imperial Rome engaging with a peasant preacher from Nazareth about the meaning of life. The man who seems to have all the power, actually has no power at all. The man who seems powerless and is soon to be executed, holds all the cards.
It is a wonderful piece of ironic fiction.
Powerful imperial representatives do not spend time in conversation with people who have no status and pose no threat their own privilege. The messy details of executions and state violence against the population are left in the hands of lower ranks, as we also see in other parts of this story.
Such a scene never happened, but we have learned not to mortgage truth to historicity.
We are not reading a transcript of the trial, but listening to John’s narrative which seeks to explain what these events mean. Not what happened, but what it all means that when God came among us in human form the response from human power systems was lethal violence? In what sense is the cross that point in time where sacred love meets human power in all its ugliness?
And who wins—in the end?
As our selection ends, we hear Jesus saying to Pilate, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to me.”
What we strangely do not hear in the excerpt chosen for today is Pilate’s response in the very next sentence: “What is truth?”
As we come to the end of another year of mission and ministry, I find myself asking once more: what have we learned about Jesus? What is the deep truth about Jesus, ourselves and our community to which we have been exposed week after week in this second year of the COVID pandemic?
To paraphrase another voice from the Johannine community:
“what (have) we heard, what (have) we seen with our eyes, what (have) we looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 John 1:1) this past year, and indeed these past four years?
Upwards, inwards and outwards
It may be helpful this morning to think about this deep truth from three angles: upwards, inwards and outwards
I use this spatial metaphor with some hesitancy, but truth to tell we have very few human words to describe our sense of the deep reality which pervades yet exceeds everything we experience, observe and imagine. Rather than speaking about looking upwards for God, we might just as well speak of delving deep within ourselves or far below the surface in search the depth dimension to reality.
Whatever form of words you find most helpful, the point is that the great truth at the heart of our identity and our mission is the reality of God. The sacred Other. The Holy beyond all that is familiar. The Name beyond all names. The Truth beyond all creeds. The Still-Point we can so easily overlook in our busy schedules.
Christ Church has been in the heart of Grafton since 1842, but the deep truth at the heart of Christ Church is an awareness that it is not all about us.
We have learned to call that ‘something more’ “God,” and we have come to appreciate Jesus as Emmanuel, “God with us.”
If we ever lose sight of that deep truth we lose our reason for being here.
As a Cathedral community we are a community that points to something more, something deeper, something beyond.
Just as “upwards” may not be the best term to describe our sense of the Sacred beyond us, so we may need a better term than “inwards” to identify another key dimension of truth: the quality of our life together as a community of faith.
The dynamics of our life together as a community of local people also matter.
They matter first of all because we need to walk the talk.
How we live—individually as collectively—matters.
How does our sense of God impact the way we live? Is it reflected in the way we do business? Are we a safe community?
I came across one very down-to-earth way to express this some years ago, and I have always found it a powerful question: If people went through our garbage bins would they find any evidence that we are people of faith, or would our trash look just the same as everyone else’s?
So take care of each other and the live the truth we have come to know.
Be there for each other, but also remain open to the new people who wish to join us.
As I was preparing this sermon I came across a message left on our website in January this year. It was sent by someone who had started to attend the Cathedral and was so grateful to find a community which was welcoming, friendly and safe.
That message left on the web page is a reminder that we must also be people who look beyond our own comfort zones and past the people we already know so well.
We have a mission to the wider community and they look to the Cathedral for practical advice grounded in spiritual wisdom.
This is all about compassion.
We claim no monopoly on truth, holiness, virtue or wisdom. But we are committed to the common good, and we seek the welfare of the towns and villages in this valley.
When the prophet Jeremiah was writing to the Jewish exiles in Babylon he offered them this advice, which also good advice for us:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. [Jeremiah 29:5–7]
We are not preppers, forming a sect while we wait for the end of the world. We are not selling fire insurance for the next life. We are not waiting to be beamed up to a better world away from here.
We are grateful for this world, which is the tangible expression of God’s love for us. We promote harmony and goodwill among our communities. And we seek always to act as people of compassion.
As I step aside from my role as Dean of Grafton, I am grateful for the privilege of these past four years.
I am confident that we can keep looking beyond the obvious to the deeper reality which really matters, persist in building an authentic faith community centred on Jesus, and continue to be engaged compassionately with our wider community.
Like our Cathedral building, as members of this Cathedral community each of us also points people to deeper reality, we invite them into community centred around Christ, and we respond their needs with compassion and care.
As we do that, then Christ will indeed be the king and his prayer will come true: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven …”