Pastor Bitter

Text: John 18:33-37

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I’m just too busy.  I think that’s probably the most common response given in opting out of just about anything.  I just don’t have the time.  I would suspect that for most of us, that’s what just about every day feels like – there just isn’t time to do what needs to be done. 

You feel like you’re one of those circus performers who spins plates on the end of a stick, and you are frantically running around trying to keep all of them spinning properly.  You’ve got the needs of your family, your kids, you’ve got your work schedule, you’ve got a home to take care of, you need to find time for exercise, for cooking meals that are at least somewhat nutritious, for maintaining friendships and family relationships – and somehow, you are supposed to balance it all and still have a smile on your face!  There just isn’t enough time, isn’t enough money, isn’t enough energy, or whatever.

There are a lot of resources that claim to help with this particular problem.  A quick internet search might lead you to the 168 hours worksheet – a document that allows you to track the use of all your hours for a week and draw conclusions and make adjustments based on what you find.

Other so called experts suggest the checkbook-calendar test – look through your checkbook and your calendar, track the things that occur most often, and see if your use of your time and money match up with the things you believe should be priorities in your life. 

Both of these strategies, and others like them, are valuable exercises that can offer some insight into the way we use the things that we have, but all too often that insight is accompanied by guilt and frustration, because perhaps more often than we’d like to admit, we find that our priorities according to our use of time and money really don’t match up with the things we say are our priorities, and we see the influences of our selfish sinful nature showing through. 

And then the whole thing gets still more overwhelming when you come to church and hear, as we have the last few weeks, a series of sermons based on the way we put to use the gifts God has given us.  You might find yourself thinking – I can hardly manage my own kingdom!  How am I supposed to find time, or money, or energy to do something for Jesus’ kingdom?  Today, in the gospel, Jesus shows How His Kingdom Comes, and Where His Kingdom Is, and in the process, he shows us the role we can play, no matter how full our plates might seem to be. 

How His Kingdom Comes

Jesus taught us to pray: Your Kingdom Come.  Have you ever thought about what it looks like when God answers that prayer?  If you’re anything like me, perhaps the very first thing your mind jumps to is the end of the world – when Jesus returns in glory and takes all who believe in him to his eternal kingdom of heaven, where we will see it with our own eyes. 

But what about Jesus answering this prayer in our lives right now?  Maybe Jesus’ Kingdom comes when we succeed in making our nation more Christian, or when we pass laws that require people to do Christian things, even if they aren’t Christian themselves.  Maybe Jesus’ kingdom comes when God’s people work together to accomplish something really awesome in our life together as members of a Christian congregation.  Maybe if we were in charge of setting up a kingdom for Jesus to rule, those would be the kinds of things that we would look for.  But we aren’t setting up a kingdom for Jesus, he has already done that for himself, and today’s gospel show us how. 

Here we see things as they were, just a few hours before Jesus would be crucified.  Jesus has been handed over to the Roman regional ruler, Pontius Pilate – the man whom the Romans had entrusted with oversight of the Holy Land.  Today Pilate had to deal with a man named Jesus, whom the Jewish leaders wanted to put to death – a decision they lacked the authority to make without Roman approval.  Even the charge they were bringing seemed odd – a people who had been involved with periodic rebellion against Roman authority for years were suddenly overcome with patriotism and accused this man of claiming to be a king – open defiance of Pilate’s authority as a Roman governor. 

Not surprisingly, Pilate was somewhat skeptical, so he spoke to Jesus one-on-one to try and determine what his real motives and priorities were.  That’s where today’s sermon text begins: “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33 – NIV84).  If Jesus said yes, Pilate’s judgment would be easy and death would be the penalty.  “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”  “Am I a Jew?”  Pilate replied.  “It was your own people and your chief priests who handed you over to me.  What is it you have done?”  (John 18:34-35 – NIV84)

The first thing that strikes you about this interaction between Jesus and Pilate is what Jesus chooses to say in response to that question.  Here, he has an audience with Pilate, the most powerful man in Jerusalem, and it’s clear that Pilate is willing to hear Jesus out. 

If Jesus’ kingdom comes through social change and moralistic rules, this would be the perfect opportunity for him to defend himself and show the need for reform.  If Jesus’ kingdom comes through the activities of his followers, this would be the perfect chance for him to present his side of his case for freedom. 

The case against him was so weak, surely he would succeed.  But instead, Jesus tells Pilate there’s no threat because his kingdom is not of this world, and then he says this: “For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37 – NIV84)

Truth is the key – it was the purpose of Jesus’ whole ministry up until the day he died – teaching people the truth about God’s salvation plan.  Jesus’ Kingdom comes – not when his people do the right things, or when the world works in just the right way, but when God works through the truth.  And so Jesus had come before Pilate to testify to the truth of God’s love for sinful people, and then he went out to live that truth as he suffered and died. 

At some point, God saw to it that you heard this same truth, and he worked faith in your heart to believe that all those misplaced priorities, all that wasted time, and all the rest of the things we see in our personal history that were against God’s will have been paid for at the cross.  And now you and I are part of Jesus’ kingdom, and Jesus allows us to participate in his kingdom’s growth.  Not by adding more tasks and obligations to an already full to-do list, but by doing what Jesus did before Pilate – sharing the truth, whether it’s in the things we say, the attitudes that our lives are known for, or patience and grace with which we handle our busy schedules.  Whenever we speak and live the truth, however we might have the opportunity to do that, Jesus’ Kingdom Comes

Where His Kingdom Is

So why then is it so hard to see?  Christians have been speaking and living the truth for thousands of years, and nothing in the world looks anything like a kingdom fit for Jesus.  One could easily get that very same impression by looking at Jesus in today’s gospel, standing before Pilate, clothed in rags, chained like a prisoner, at the mercy of the state. 

And yet, through this whole conversation, you get the impression that Jesus is in complete control of the situation no matter what appearances might be.  There’s no begging, there’s no bargaining, no sign of the behavior you’d expect from a person on trial for his life.  Despite what appearances might have suggested, things were proceeding exactly according to the plan.  That’s what Jesus was talking about when “[he] said, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.  But now my kingdom is from another place.”  “You are a king, then!”  said Pilate.  Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king.”  (John 18:36-37a – NIV84)

Jesus is still a king today, and his kingdom is still being built and still expanding, no matter what things might look like in our world, because Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world.  Despite what we see on the news, despite what we experience in the work place or read online, things are going according to plan, because Jesus’ Kingdom is already here – it’s just not of this world. 

Jesus started his kingdom when he died for the world, he built it when he proclaimed the truth and the Holy Spirit created faith in the hearts of God’s people.  And he has been expanding it through the ages as the good news has spread from 12 disciples to more than a billion people world-wide. 

Jesus allows you and me to participate in this kingdom, but so often, when we think of serving in Jesus’ kingdom, we think only of the obvious things, the formal things that we do together as members of a church.  The time we spend volunteering, the money we put in the offering plate or contribute online, the energy we pour into formal service.  And when we don’t see a way to increase those formal things, we think that there’s nothing we can contribute to God’s kingdom. 

But when it comes to serving in God’s kingdom, we aren’t limited to those things.  He asks us to Use What We Have to Serve in His Kingdom.  Whatever we have, whether in it seems like a lot or like a little in this world.  And that’s great to know, because it might be true that you have so many demands on your time that it just isn’t possible to add another thing without cutting out something else that is equally God-pleasing and important.  It might be the case that financial circumstances don’t allow you to support the work of the church as much as you’d like to.  It may well be that you just don’t have the energy to serve in the ways you wish you could.  But God’s only asks us to Use What We Have to Serve His Kingdom

Often we talk about percentages and numbers when we describe our service in Jesus’ kingdom.  My commitment is to give this percentage of my income, to volunteer that number of hours per month.  And those kinds of measures can be useful tools, especially when it comes to our planning together as members of a congregation. 

But there is one number that matters for all of us, rich or poor, old or young – 100%.  Everything that we do is part of our service in Jesus’ kingdom, because everything is an opportunity to serve God by reflecting the truth of God’s love in one way or another, whether it be through the words we say, the things we do, or the way we prioritize our time and money.  Use What You Have to Serve His Kingdom

Let’s remember that as we plan our formal participation in the ministry of St. John’s over these next couple of weeks.  Let’s remember that as we choose how to use what we have.  Let’s remember that whether we are frantically busy or bored silly.  Find the opportunity to show the truth.  Let’s use everything we have to serve in his kingdom.  Amen.