Sermon on Christ the King

Sermon Outline

  1. Feast of Christ the King
    1. End of our liturgical year
    2. Luke’s point is fairly obvious
      1. Christ is King
      2. Different kind of king
        1. Reigns from the cross
      3. But what does this mean?
      4. What does it have to do with us?
    3. What it does NOT mean
      1. Everything that happens is Christ’s will
        1. “God’s plan”, “Everything happens for a reason”
        2. Disease, accident, natural disaster?
  • Christ’s crucifixion itself?
  1. Christ endorses the agenda of the powers-that-be
  1. What it means
    1. Everything that exists/happens is material that Christ can work with (including the crucifixion)
      1. God’s vision – “the kingdom of heaven”
        1. Less to do with what happens
        2. More to do with who we are
      2. Christ is establishing a new order, over and against the powers-that-be
    2. Was the cross God’s plan for Jesus?
        1. To say Yes is to accept the unacceptable (“cosmic child abuse”)
      1. Crucifixion was the powers’ plan for Jesus
        1. Prophets expose the sins of the powerful
          1. Injustice, hypocrisy, idolatry
        2. Jesus does this consistently
          1. Shallowness of religious elite
          2. Futility of a political system based on violence
        3. Threatens the power-base with truth
          1. God didn’t need Jesus to die, the powers did
        4. Jesus accepted crucifixion as the consequence of his ministry
          1. Continued to minister anyway
          2. Borg: “The cross is the world’s No to Jesus”
        5. Ironic injustice
          1. He is made to suffer and die because for doing the right thing
          2. They call him “king” ironically, to mock him
            1. But he really is
          3. Jesus “bears their sins” by absorbing their violent hatred without retaliation
            1. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
          4. They taunt Jesus to come down from the cross
            1. Leaders, soldiers, criminal
            2. They can only conceive of a Messiah that is like them: violent and powerful
              1. Leaders: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”
              2. Soldiers: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
  • Criminal: “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
  1. The real irony: these opposing powers are really saying the same thing
  1. But one person gets the irony: the other criminal
    1. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”
    2. Nearing death, giving up hope for survival, he sees clearly the futility of this world’s violent system
    3. Unironically addresses Jesus as king:
      1. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
    4. The hopeless loser gets it
  2. In the world today, the “hopeless losers” still get it
    1. They see clearly the futility of the violent world system
    2. But the powerful are blinded by their interests in the system
      1. We don’t want to see the truth because we still hold out hope that the system will work in our favor
      2. Poor and oppressed people see the futility more clearly
        1. Black Lives Matter, I Believe Women
        2. Powerful interests try to silence these movements
  • Jesus stands in solidarity with them
    1. If we want to stand with Jesus as our King, we must stand with them
      1. Black lives, women’s lives, queer lives, trans lives, Muslim lives, refugee lives, Mexican lives, immigrant lives, disabled lives, mentally ill lives matter… and these lives are being ended by crucifixion today
      2. Church: “Preferential option for the poor”
    2. Like Jesus, we must be prepared to be crucified with them as a consequence of our solidarity
      1. We must be ready to listen to their experiences and suffer with them, especially where we have been complicit in their suffering
        1. This is repentance
      2. Jesus, the most powerful King, stands in solidarity with those who are the least powerful
        1. And he does it without returning violence for violence
        2. This is what it looks like for Jesus to reign as King from the cross
        3. His Church must do the same
      3. Our basis for hope is that crucifixion is not the end of the story
        1. King Jesus ascends the throne on Mount Calvary, but reigns from the empty tomb
        2. In his resurrection, Jesus has conquered death and hell
          1. St. Paul (Ephesians 1:17-23): “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
        3. Filled with the hope born of this faith (this pledge of allegiance), the Church stands at the forefront of countless movements for peace, justice, and mercy
          1. We do not grow tired, even when the entire world is against us and others give up, because our hope is born of something greater than this world
            1. St. John (1 John 4:4): “Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
          2. We have even learned to take pride in the cross, the instrument of Christ’s mocking and torture:
            1. St. Paul (1 Cor 1:18-25): “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
          3. Our response
            1. “Therefore,” (Hebrews 12:1-2), “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
            2. St. Paul again (Romans 12:1-2): “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
  • Finally (Philippians 2:5-11): “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
  1. This is not liberal idealism; it is Christian hope

    1. Grounded in the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead
    2. We come to church, week after week, to fed by Word and Sacrament, then sent back out into the world to keep doing this work of standing, with Christ our King, in solidarity with the crucified peoples of the earth.
    3. We need to be reminded of these truths because the world will try to choke that faith out of us
      1. St. John (1 John 4:4): “Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
    4. The cross was this world’s No to Jesus, but the empty tomb is God’s Yes.

      1. And God’s Yes trumps the world’s No every time.

The Cross Was His Throne

By Mauricio García Vega (Mauricio García Vega) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

“This is the King of the Jews.”

That’s what the sign at the top of the cross read.  The irony was not lost on those who saw it, nor was it lost to history.  Kings were usually crowned while sitting on thrones, not hanging from crosses.  But this Jesus was a different kind of king.  For him, the cross was his throne.

In the ancient world, it would have been unthinkable for a cross to serve as a throne.  Crucifixion represented everything that was the opposite of kingship.  Kings were blessed but crucified people were cursed.  Kings were honored but crucified people were ridiculed.  Kings were dressed in flowing robes but crucified people were stripped naked.  Kings were beautiful but crucifixion was ugly.  Yet, in spite of this, unbelievably, the cross was his throne.

Crucifixion was not just any old punishment.  A criminal was not crucified for stealing bread or cheating on his taxes.  No, crucifixion was a special punishment reserved for a special kind of criminal.  The criminals crucified with Jesus were what we would now call terrorists.  They were insurrectionists, religious fanatics bent on a violent agenda to overthrow the Roman government.  If one wants to get a clear picture of just how radical it was for Jesus to forgive the sins of the criminal next to him, one should imagine that criminal as Osama bin Laden, because that’s who he most closely resembled.  It was rare for crucified people to be buried in that time because most of them were simply left there to rot: their bones picked clean by birds and eventually scattered across the landscape.  Their families were so ashamed that most would never again so much as speak the name of their crucified loved one.  Most crucified people were utterly lost to history, but not King Jesus.  No, for him, the cross was his throne.

When we look back at Jesus’ life as it is presented to us in the New Testament, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that this King of kings would reign from a cross, rather than a throne.  After all, how did he come into the world?  Did he come riding a white horse with banners unfurled and a terrible swift sword at his side?  Did he appear at Caesar’s palace in Rome saying, “Hey Caesar, I just want to let you know that your days are numbered!”?  Was he born into a wealthy family at the center of the halls of power?  No, he was born in a manger, in a stable, outside an overbooked motel, in a teeny little one-horse town, in a forgotten corner, in a troublesome province, in a distant part of the Roman Empire.  His parents were working-class peasants.  Our Christmas pageants and Nativity scenes have made the story of Jesus’ birth into a sweet, warm fairy tale, but the reality would have been quite different.  He was born in a barn.  Have you ever smelled a barn where animals are kept?  It doesn’t smell very good.  His mother placed him in a manger.  A manger is a place where pig slop went.  It probably wasn’t very sanitary either.  In today’s terms, Jesus’ mother would have given birth in a dumpster behind a Motel 6.  And the shepherds who visited him?  They weren’t very pretty either.  Shepherding was not considered an honorable profession in those days.  They would have been treated with the same indifference and contempt that truckers, janitors, garbage men, and McDonald’s drive-thru workers receive today.  So you see, from the very beginning of Jesus’ life, we can pick up hints that he would not be a king like other kings, so that we wouldn’t be surprised to discover in the end that the cross was his throne.

As he set out into his life’s work, Jesus continued to defy expectations for a respectable monarch.  He held court with tax collectors and sinners.  His royal advisors were fishermen, his treasurer was a thief, and his attendants were prostitutes.  They probably couldn’t have a royal cupbearer because the wine would have run out before the cup ever got to the king.  And they almost certainly didn’t have a court jester because, let’s face it: they were all court jesters in some way.  Based on the company he kept, it’s no surprise that the cross was his throne.

The upstanding citizens of the moral majority and the religious right in his day had nothing good to say about Jesus.  They were the self-proclaimed protectors of traditional family values and Jesus was the biggest threat to their agenda.  He called himself a rabbi, but they knew that no real rabbi would build such a rag-tag, permissive, tolerant, and inclusive community.  Jesus questioned their established theological dogmas.  He reinterpreted the Bible in ways that made them uncomfortable.  He seemed to have little respect for their traditions, so they had little respect for him.  Based on his relationship with the religious leaders of his day, we can see why the cross was his throne.

Finally, we come to the end of his life, the moment his followers had been waiting for, when all that he had been building toward came to its fulfillment.  He rode triumphantly into town on a donkey’s back in a staged fulfillment of a prophecy from the book of Zechariah.  He barged into the temple, flipping over tables, and sent the moneychangers packing.  He said he was about to clean up this town and make his Father’s house into a house of prayer for all nations once again.  His followers were understandably stoked at this new development.  They realized that this was the moment when the King of kings and Lord of lords, the long-awaited Messiah, would ascend his throne and establish the kingdom of heaven on earth.  But what they didn’t realize is that the cross was his throne.

On the day of his crucifixion, his royal robes were stained with his own blood, his crown was made of thorns, and the cross was his throne.

Above his head hung that awful, ironic sign, “This is the king of the Jews.”  From the outside, the whole scene seems like a horrible, macabre parody of kingship.  But here’s the thing: he really was a king.  For Christians, he is the King of kings.  In spite of (or perhaps because of) his unconventional life and ignominious death, Jesus has gone on to touch and inspire more people than any other single person in history.  For those of us who are his followers, who pledge our allegiance to his kingdom of heaven on earth, Jesus is our paradigm: his life provides us with the lens through which we interpret our lives.  As we make our way out into the world, we go as Christ’s ambassadors.  The way in which we represent him to the world should be consistent with the way he himself walked through the world.  And remember: the cross was his throne.

The king who reigns from the cross is fundamentally different from the king who reigns from a throne.  The kings of this world, the powers that be, force their will on others through bullets, bombs, bucks, and ballots.  Let me show you what I mean: when you dive around town, do you try to keep pretty close to the speed limit?  Do you do it because you love America?  Probably not.  Most of us drive the speed limit because we don’t want to get a ticket.  That’s the power of fear.  Private companies get you to buy their products by appealing to your sense of greed, lust, or vanity.  They promise you a better, longer, happier life, but they don’t really care about you.  They just want your money and they will tell you anything you want to hear in order to get it.  That’s advertising.  That’s the power of manipulation.  But Jesus is different.  He doesn’t depend on the power of fear or manipulation as his weapons because the cross is his throne.

Jesus rules the world from within through the power of love.  Love is amazing.  People will do things for the sake of love that they could never be forced into by law or the barrel of a gun.  Love gets new parents out of bed in the middle of the night for 3am feedings.  Love leads partners and spouses to sacrifice time, money, and energy for the sake of the relationship.  Love led Rev. Frank Schafer, a Methodist minister, to put his ordination credentials on the line when he officiated at his son’s wedding to another man, a crime for which he was tried and convicted by the United Methodist Church, just this past week.  Love led Mother Teresa to the streets of Calcutta to care for orphans.  Love led Rosa Parks to defy a racist law on a bus one evening in 1955.  Love led Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Oscar Romero to speak out against injustice at the cost of their own lives.  Love led King Jesus to the cross, and the cross was his throne.

The people all around Jesus at Calvary kept shouting, “Save yourself!  Save yourself!” but Jesus chose to save others instead.  Jesus could have ordered his followers to rise up and kill, but Jesus chose to die instead.  That’s the power of love.  It was love, not nails, that kept Jesus on the cross.  And that’s why the cross, which once signified shame and death, has become for us the symbol of faith, hope, and undying love.  From the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ reigns in our hearts by the power of love and so it is that the cross is his throne.

A New Way of Being: Redefining Power

Ecce Homo, Antonio Ciseri (1871).

There are lots of ways to feel or be powerless:

You can be trapped in the McDonald’s drive thru at rush hour, with a long line of cars in front of and behind you, and then realize after you order that you left your wallet at home.   You can start telling an off-color joke to a friend or sibling, only to have your boss or your mom enter the conversation and ask you to continue with what you were just saying.  You can propose to your significant other on the jumbo-tron at an NBA game, only to have that person say “no” in front of 10,000 people.

On a more serious note (not that rejected marriage proposals aren’t serious):

You can walk the hallways of your school in fear, watching your back for that bully who somehow always manages to find you anyway.  You can cut every luxury and non-essential expense from your budget, only to realize that you still have to choose between paying rent and buying groceries for a week, because you’re hourly-wage job won’t allow you to do both.  You can struggle for years to break a bad habit or overcome an addiction without much success.

There are lots of ways to feel or be powerless.

There is no such thing as absolute power.  Every single person on this planet, up to and including the president of the United States, experiences powerlessness in some way or another.  Officially or unofficially, everyone answers to someone.

In spite of this fact, or perhaps because of it, people everywhere are constantly trying to step over one another in an attempt to be top dog of whatever hill they happen to be climbing at the moment.  In a social system where power comes in limited quantities, people try to take whatever they can for themselves, believing (rightly or wrongly) that with power comes security.  So they grab whatever power they can get and use it to their own advantage.  Powerful people fight one another for more power.  People with this mentality tend to use phrases like, “It’s a dog eat dog world out there.  It’s survival of the fittest.  Kill or be killed, eat or be eaten.  No one is looking out for you.  You’re on your own.”

Compassionate and kind-hearted folks tend to wince at this kind of cynical talk.  We don’t want to believe the world really works that way, but when we look at the facts, we have to admit that the world often does seem to work that way.  What makes cynicism so enticing as a philosophy of life is its apparent realism in the face of difficult circumstances.  Is this who we really are?  Is this all we are?  Or is there another way of being, of being of being alive, and of being human?

This morning’s gospel reading sets us down right into the middle of a particularly intense competition for power in the ancient Middle East.  The religious authorities of Judea were engaged in an ongoing cold war with the occupying Roman government.  Each side, through their official representatives, vied for the loyalty and obedience of the people.  On the particular day in question, their conflict revolved around a common nuisance: Jesus of Nazareth, the latest in a series of so-called Messiahs who promised peace, liberation, and yes: power to the people of Judea.  Each one would rise up, gather an army of zealous insurgents, try to overthrow the Roman occupation by terrorist campaign, and eventually fail.  The religious authorities, on the other hand, had learned different ways of dealing with the occupation.  Some, like the Pharisees, sought to empower Judean society by a return to traditional morals and values.  In time, so they thought, God would intervene on their behalf to free them from foreign rule.  Other groups, like the Sadducees, learned how to manipulate the strings of the political system from the inside.

Members of these last two groups saw Jesus as “just another self-appointed Messiah with his army of zealots.”  As such, he was just another temporary nuisance and a threat to their power that had to be dealt with.  So they brought him to Pontius Pilate, Rome’s appointed governor over the perpetually unstable and troublesome province of Judea.

Pilate, for his part, didn’t care about who Jesus was or the content of his message, nor did he care about the Pharisees and Sadducees with their incessant squabbling and competing strategies for survival.  The only thing Pontius Pilate cared about was maintaining order and loyalty to the Empire.  If this Jesus really was claiming to be the anointed one who would liberate the Judean people from Roman rule by military force, then Pilate would have to deal with him swiftly, in the name of maintaining civil order.

Jesus, for his part, was powerless: caught between multiple groups who were competing for power on a national stage.  To the outside observer, he appeared to be a failed revolutionary: his closest followers had denied, betrayed, and abandoned him at the moment of truth.  His own people had arrested him and handed him over for crucifixion, a punishment reserved for terrorists.  Pilate’s job, in this situation, was to figure out whether Jesus really was a terrorist or not.

This morning’s gospel reading opens as Pilate begins his examination of Jesus.  By all accounts, Jesus is helpless, powerless.  He has been reduced to the status of a pawn in chess game between multiple powerful parties.  The scene plays out as one would expect: Jesus is examined, cross-examined, tossed back and forth, and eventually executed, not because he was found guilty, but because Pilate could find no other way to regain control of a volatile situation.

But, when we look at the conversation between Jesus and Pilate in detail, a different picture emerges.  The author of John’s gospel tells this story through the eyes of a Christian, writing decades after the events of Jesus’ crucifixion took place.  As John tells this story, the positions of power are actually reversed.  It is not Pilate who is interrogating Jesus, but Jesus who is questioning Pilate.  Jesus makes no apology, confesses no crime, and concedes no ground.  Reading this story is actually confusing to the modern reader because it seems like Jesus and Pilate are talking about two different things.  In fact, they are.  They’re not so much talking to each other as much as talking past each other.  Pontius Pilate obviously doesn’t understand what this Jesus guy is all about and Jesus obviously doesn’t care about Pilate’s need to maintain order.  Their conversation goes around and around but never really gets anywhere.

At one point Jesus says to Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world.”  Pilate, thinking he’s finally found his opportunity, pounces and says, “So you are a king?”  But Jesus wriggles away from his trap and returns the proverbial tennis ball back into Pilate’s court.  “You say that I am a king.”  Jesus says, “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.”  Their bizarre dialogue ends with an unanswered question in Pilate’s witty retort, “What is truth?”

Pilate never gets an answer to his question, presumably because he would never be able to understand any answer that Jesus gave him.  In the language of John’s gospel, Pilate exists in “darkness”, quite apart from the “light” that Jesus offers.  Pilate is an “unenlightened” being.  The 21st century spiritual teacher and Catholic priest Richard Rohr would say that Pilate was “operating at earlier stage of consciousness” than Jesus was.  Pilate was operating out of what Rohr would call a “tribal consciousness” wherein an individual is preoccupied by identifying with a particular group in conflict with all other groups.  Competition and power are primary concerns for those who see the world through an “us vs. them” ideology like Pilate had.  Jesus on the other hand, according to Richard Rohr, was operating out of a much higher, non-dualistic consciousness.  He was not caught up in the petty us/them struggles of the world as Pilate knew it.  In the eyes of Jesus, all people and all things are one in God.  This is why Jesus was able to say to Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world.”  I don’t think Jesus ever meant for us to think that he came from some far-off, magical kingdom in the sky where everyone is happy and sits around on clouds, playing harps all day.  That is the stuff of fairy tales and story books.  Nevertheless, Jesus’ kingdom is a reality and it truly is “not from this world” in the sense that it includes all people, all creation, and all other kingdoms in its wide, wide embrace.

As a king, the “king of kings” in fact, Jesus redefines power.  In place of domination, Jesus holds up service as the ideal.  He said to his disciples, “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as this human being came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  At the Last Supper, we see Jesus leading by example in this regard as the Servant King.  He gets up from the table, wraps a towel around his waist, and proceeds to wash his disciples’ feet.  This was a task typically assigned to the lowest, most despicable slave.  No one in his or her right mind would volunteer for this job, but Jesus told his disciples that this is what being a king, a leader was all about.  Humble service, for Jesus, is one of the marks of true power.

In a similar vein, Jesus’ kingdom is “not of this world” because he rules by compassion and mercy rather than by violence and judgment.  Forgiveness, according to Jesus, is the most powerful act any person can ever commit, whether king or peasant.  Victory is not achieved when your enemy is defeated.  Victory is won, according to Jesus, when your enemy becomes your friend.

Obviously, Jesus’ ideas seem “out of this world”.  They were incomprehensible to Pontius Pilate.  They were foreign to the Judean religious authorities.  They still sound bizarre to our ears in the 21st century.  We’re still operating out of a lower level of consciousness where our competitive, tribal concerns keep us from seeing the big picture, the whole of reality in which we live, move, and have our being.

When it comes to Jesus’ kingdom, we’re simply not there yet.  We might not ever get there in this lifetime.  But we, as those who claim to be Christians, who claim to follow Jesus, have an obligation and a responsibility to take Jesus’ words and Jesus’ life seriously.  What Jesus is offering Pilate (and us, by extension) in today’s gospel reading is a new of being, of being alive, and of being human in this world.

Something inside each of us cries out for this.  Even though we tend to give in to the temptation toward cynicism, even though we tend to trust in the power of warfare, weapons, and bombs to make a better world, even though we tend to seek power rather than service, there is nevertheless a deep longing within our souls for a world and a life where we will not have to live in fear and mistrust.  Something inside each of us knows that this is not how the world was meant to be.

Something about Jesus awoke this longing within people.  In some way that we still don’t fully understand, he embodied, even incarnated this alternative way of being in the world.  In Jesus, the longing took on flesh and showed us what it could do if it was given the chance to run free over the face of the earth.

I have seen moments and known people in whom the Spirit of Christ does run free and raises them up above that immature, ego-centric tribal consciousness.  I remember one such person who made an impact on my life when I was in high school.  His name is Phil.  He was a grad student and one of the leaders of a youth group I attended.  Through him, I discovered another way of being, of being alive, and of being human in the world.

Phil was the first person I ever knew outside of my family who made me feel accepted for who I am.  He spent time with me, mostly just goofing off and hanging around.  He didn’t care that I wasn’t popular or influential in school.  He didn’t preach to me.  He didn’t have any kind of religious sales pitch for getting me to sign on the dotted line as a Christian.  He just seemed to care.  During my freshman year, when I was going through a hard time and even contemplating suicide, Phil was the one I trusted enough to open up to.  He wasn’t a pastor or a therapist, but he knew how to love people like Jesus did and that’s what made the biggest impact on me.

Over time, I gradually came to see something in Phil.  Looking back, I think I would call it the Spirit of Christ.  And that, more than any sermon I’ve ever heard in my life, is what made me want to live as a Christian.  I had been going to church ever since I was a baby, but I never had any desire to make that spiritual path my own.  After my experience of seeing Christ in Phil, I wanted to follow Jesus too.  Since that time, almost seventeen ago, I’ve been through several crises of faith and endured many seasons of doubt, but I keep on going back to the Christ I saw in Phil: Jesus who is the friend of the friendless, the one who welcomes the outcasts, the one who “eats with tax collectors and sinners”, the one who lives above and beyond this world’s sick systems driven by competition and lust for power, the one who offers me an alternative way of being, of being alive, and of being human in the world.

Each and every one of us is called to be a ‘Phil’ to someone, somewhere, at sometime.  None of us is perfect, so we’ll each do it in our own small, temporary, imperfect, and partial way.  But when the moment comes and the Spirit moves us, will we have the faith to set aside our twisted hunger for power and competition?  Will we take up the mantle of compassion, humility, mercy, and service when it is needed?  Will we allow Christ live again in us, so that someone else might hear and respond to the call of that same Spirit in his or her own way?  If that hunger in our hearts for a different world, a better world, is true and not just an illusion, if this world’s sick system of power-hungry competition is not finally an expression of all that we truly are, if there is another way of being, of being alive, and of being human in the world, then it is absolutely imperative that we open our hearts and minds to this Jesus, so that Christ can live again in us, continuing in our community today the same ministry he started in Palestine two thousand years ago.  May it be so, even here, even now.