The first question we explored during the Religion and Science Symposium was, “What is truth?” I argued, the issue between science and religion is that they both claim to understand or delineate what “the truth” is but fail to realize they each seek very different understandings of the truth. In my conversation on the issues between the Bible and science, I demonstrated that the goal of biblical writers was to explain the relationship between creation and God. And, how the Bible was never intended to explain how creation was constructed. The scientists demonstrated, with great ability, how different aspects of creation are designed, but not how these different aspects related back to the Creator. At the end of the symposium, the Rev. Dr. Coyne confirmed the guiding hypothesis of our journey that when kept with in their respective limits, science and religion explore two complimentary truths.
This morning we are faced with what appears to be two conflicting truths when Pilot asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews. To this Jesus answers in a bit of a riddle, neither admitting nor denying the allegation and then hinting at a royal reality that is beyond the realm of the Roman Empire. Again, let us listen to this famous exchange:
Pilate asks him, . . . . Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus 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.’ Pilate 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.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’
Despite this exchange, Pilate is left scratching his head and asking if Jesus admitted to being the King of the Jews. On the one hand the answer is no, Jesus never admits to being or claiming to be the rightful King of the Jews and therefore all of Palestine. But on the other hand, Jesus does. But he does so in a way that separates the temporal question that Pilate asks from the celestial reality that Jesus so nimbly refers. Jesus, as the Son of God is the king of all the heavens and the earth and is therefore the King of the Jews, the Gentiles and all who inhabit creation as well.
The issue between Jesus and Pilate has little do with sovereignty however, but more to do with authority. “What is truth?” Pilate asks in the end. What, he is asking, defines authority. For Pilate, authority is derived from power. In his case, from power that is granted by Caesar and supported by legions of soldiers. For Jesus, authority is granted by God and has nothing to do with power, earthly soldiers, or even the amassing of great wealth. In fact, as we look at the life of Jesus, his authority is more about the giving away of power. When the disciples essentially argue over who should be second to Jesus. Jesus instructs, the first shall be last, and any who wish to follow him must be willing to pick up their cross. At the beginning of the Last Supper, Jesus provides final instruction by taking on the lowliest job among them and washes the feet of the disciples. In the end, Christ’s ultimate lesson to the world on sovereignty takes place on the cross when he offers his forgiveness as he giving his last ounce of life to the world and to each of us.
The juxtaposition between Pilate and Jesus is a a study of contrast and truth. For Pilate, power and authority came with large palaces, robes of state, a crown of gold and a throne, the seat of temporal power. For Jesus, power and authority came with no abode, bloodied robes, a crown of thorns and the cross as his throne and seat of authority. Pilate’s truth was about courtiers and the justice of the Roman Empire. Christ’s truth is about compassion for the poor, Godly justice, and the offering of a right and whole relationship with God.
Today, we celebrate the kingdom in which Christ is King, acknowledging that we live somewhere between the kingdom of Jesus and the kingdom in which Pilate ruled Palestine. The dichotomy between the kingdoms of God and Caesar continues to exist. In the weeks to come, the reality in which we live is never more obvious. As we sat at table this past week to give thanks for all the blessings we share as an American people, the world of commerce and that of Black Friday were fast at work to distract us from the focus of the day. Many battled between the choice of spending time with family and seeking the now early bird specials stores such as Wal Mart, Target, and Sears beckoned us to in an effort to make the upcoming Christmas more “special.”
In the days to come where ever we go we will be inundated with images of the jolly elf from the North Pole and music that celebrates gift giving, self-indulgence, and the fulfilling to some degree or another of selfish desire. This week the Rectory stands in sharp contrast to most of our neighbors. Our home continues to be dark, while others have lit up their homes with lights, and images of reindeer to let us know that Santa is on his way.
Here at St. Luke’s we too stand in sharp contrast to most of our neighbors. There are no special lights, our music does not speak of boxes and bows or the giving and receiving of things, but of waiting and lying in hope for the world to come. The only thing that is the same between this world and the one beyond these walls is that we too anticipate the visit of someone small. While the one we wait for does not come with reindeer or toys, he does bring gifts for all. The gifts he offers are, hope, peace, and good will for all. The holiday he offers us is the celebration of birth, new life. We celebrate a child born in a barn because his parents were too lowly to be offered a room. The child we will celebrate is the king we celebrate today, the world we wait for is the kingdom that Jesus speaks of as truth before Pilate.
In many ways, you and I are the Pilates’ of this world, constantly confronted by parallel truths. Whether it is the truths of science and religion, or who has authority over our lives, or even which holiday we will celebrate in a few short weeks, we like Pilate find ourselves asking “what is truth?” as we find ourselves torn between the reign of Caesar and the reign of Christ. The first offers us a moment of satisfaction, the other offers us an eternity of peace.
In the book of Deuteronomy, the writer ends God’s giving of the Law with the words, “On this day I give you blessing and curse, life and death, choose life.” When we choose the truth that Jesus speaks of, we choose blessing and life. So I invite you to choose life, and the truth of God, the kingdom for which we wait and celebrate today.