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Christ has the last word!
John 18:33-37
by Sue In Cuba, KS

Today is the last Sunday of the Church Year-next Sunday we begin Advent, a new church year. This Sunday is also called Christ the King Sunday.

On the one hand we have perhaps a memory of Handel's Messiah Oratorio, and its magnificent Alleluia chorus: "King of Kings, Lord of Lords, And He shall reign for ever and ever!!"

On the other hand, Christ the King Sunday seems to be another example of the church being out of touch. If there is any image that seems out of touch with our modern, democratic world, with its emphasis on individual rights and freedoms, it is the image of a king. Kings and royalty seem medieval, oppressive, authoritarian. It doesn't seem like a very effective way to communicate to the world of the 21st century.

On the third hand, democracy, as expressed in this current presidential non-election, doesn't seem automatically attractive, with rules made up by the hour by people with an agenda, and with only a few hundred or thousand citizens who failed to properly mark their ballots in Florida essentially determining the outcome for the other 270 million citizens of the country.

But perhaps the image of a king may not be as problematic as we think. In fact, there may be a way to recapture the image of king and use it in such a way that is a blessing in our current world.

Have you ever been in a heated argument with someone and couldn't let the matter drop? You just had to continue making your point. Why? Because you had to have the last word.

If you have ever watched Ted Koppel on Nightline, you will see him struggle with trying to be fair in dealing with two or more opposing points of view. It is also obvious how important it is to have the last word on that show. The last one to speak always seems to have the most lasting impact.

To have the last word is to be the final authority. Ask any coach, teacher, manager, politician, or parent and they will tell you that having the last word is necessary.

Perhaps "King" isn't a helpful way to talk about Jesus in this day and age, but if we think of a king as someone who has the last word, who is the final authority and power in life, then celebrating Christ as King might begin to make more sense.

That is ultimately what this day is all about. When the church declares that Christ is King, we are declaring that Christ has the last word. He is the final authority and power in the universe. Christ is King!

In today's Gospel we see two kings locked in combat, each competing with the other to have the last word. Jesus claims to be a king. Pontius Pilate is a king, or at least a viceroy, in the mightiest empire on earth. But Jesus is unwilling to let Pilate have the last word.

Jesus and Pilate represent two very different ways of looking at power and authority in this world. Jesus represents one kind of kingdom. Pilate represents another. In today's Gospel we see these two kings and their kingdoms colliding. In the last analysis, only one can be king. Only one can have the last word.

Two kingdoms, two ways of life, two kinds of power, two kinds of authority, continually pushing and tugging against one another, each trying to have the last word. One lives by the power of the sword. The other lives by the power of love.

One is driven to accumulate wealth. And there can never be enough. Scarcity is always looming over the horizon. The other announces, "Blessed are the poor." Everyone is wealthy. There is no need to accumulate more. There is unlimited abundance. Scarcity is only an unfounded rumor. There is always enough.

One can never have enough money. The other loves to give it away.

One believes that the weak must serve the strong. The biggest guns and the most bucks do matter. The other believes that the strong get to serve the weak. That the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

One demands that everyone must get what he deserves. Justice is all that matters. The other dares to give people what they don't deserve. Mercy and forgiveness and refusing to "get back" and "get even" are all that matter.

One believes that everyone has got to prove himself. There are no shortcuts. There are always strings attached, obligations to be fulfilled, conditions to be met. The other dares to believe that everyone is the apple of God's eye, that everyone is a child of God and can dare to call him "Papa," that we don't have to prove anything to anyone just because God says so.

Two different kings, two different kingdoms, two different ways of life, two different perspectives on what really matters, two different voices each claiming to have the last word. Who was right? Who was wrong? Only one could finally lay claim to be king. The other would eventually be exposed as a pretender.

When this scene in the praetorium came to an end, the answer seemed clear. Pilate was king. He sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion. He would have the last word. And because Pilate had the last word, everything that Jesus represented, his claims for himself and for God, would be exposed as an illusion. It was just not true -- this talk of love, mercy, and forgiveness. If God was to have a last word, it was to be spoken by kings like Pilate. And that last word certainly was not mercy!

And as Jesus hung there on the cross, Pilate added further insult to injury by posting over Jesus' head a sign of mockery: Jesus of Nazareth, King of Jews. Ha! What a king! What a pretender, this Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate and all that he represented in this world had the last word.

But we know that the story didn't end there. Three days later Jesus was raised from the dead. Pilate did not have the last word. That sign posted over his head on the cross in mockery was actually right. Jesus is indeed King. Jesus does have the last word. Jesus is God's last word to the world. And it is a word of mercy and forgiveness.

Because Christ is King, because Jesus does indeed have the last word, everything that Jesus claimed concerning God and human life and truth and good and evil was true! God can be trusted. Sinners are forgiven. The meek and the poor and the persecuted for Jesus' sake receive blessings. Eternal life is now already ours because Jesus is King.

Because Jesus has the last word, life changes. It can no longer be business as usual.

And so, in the remainder of chapter 18 and Jesus' trial before Pilate, the trial takes on an unusual shape. Even though officially Jesus is on trial before Pilate, in John's way of telling, the roles actually get reversed. Pilate is put on the defensive. Pilate has to justify himself. Pilate gets so unnerved and bewildered that finally he asks in desperation, "What is truth?" Everything that he had assumed to be true no longer seems so true in the presence of Jesus. Finally, with a sense of desperation, Pilate gives up and hands Jesus over for crucifixion. Jesus is the one who is really in control. He is determined to have the last word. And he has the last word when -- as King! -- he compels Pilate to hand him over to crucifixion where he can finally be enthroned on the cross!

Because Jesus has the last word, this congregation and other Christian congregations like it can express a kind of community life that just isn't seen any other place. Because Jesus has the last word, the last word among us is mercy and forgiveness. We are slow to judge and quick to forgive. We are generous instead of stingy. We welcome all into our midst with no strings attached.

Because Jesus has the last word, we are a leaven in the loaf, a light in the darkness, the salt of the earth. In other words, we can make a difference in this world. All too often we think that we can only do God's work by working in the institutional church -- by singing in the choir, teaching Sunday school, giving our weekly offerings. But the most important work that we do is out there in the world Monday through Saturday. In our jobs, in our communities, in our families and neighborhoods, we can dare to go against the grain. Jesus has the last word -- not the boss or the neighbor or the latest popularity contest. Because he has the last word, we can tell the truth when everyone else can only lie. Because he has the last word, we can strive to do our best when everyone else is just trying to get by. Because he has the last word, we can go out of our way to help a co-worker, even when it might cost us.

This day of Christ the King may appear to be utilizing an old-fashioned and outmoded image, the image of a king. But the truth of the matter is this. Christ the King invites us to ask a most timely and timeless question. It is hardly old-fashioned. Who has the last word in our lives? Who is truly king -- Pilate and his ilk or Christ?

The hymns and prayers and psalms and scriptures and rituals and colors and music of this day boldly proclaim to you and to me and to the whole world: Christ is King! Christ has the last word! Amen!