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The Most Rev. Michael Curry The Most Rev. Michael Curry

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry became Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church in 2015. He formerly served as the Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina.

Member of:

The Episcopal Church


Michael Curry: The King of Love

John 18:33-37

Christ the King Sunday - Year B

November 25, 2018

The king of love my shepherd is,

whose goodness faileth never,

I nothing lack if I am his

And he is mine forever.

 

Jesus of Nazareth has been arrested. He stands before the governor of the empire of Rome, the occupying and ruling power. The governor asks him, "Are you king of the Jews?"

That very question suggests that the charge against Jesus is that he is leading a movement to set up a new alternative kingdom to the kingdom, the Empire of Rome. And that charge, if true, would constitute treason against the empire, warranting the sentence of death. "So, are you a king?" Pilate asks. Then Jesus answers, "My kingdom is not from this world."

This statement of Jesus has often been interpreted, or misinterpreted rather, to suggest an individualized otherworldly piety, divorced from real life--personal, social, interpersonal, political, public. But that's not what is going on here. The way of Jesus of Nazareth is about how we live our lives individually and collectively, personally and publicly. Listen to what Jesus goes on to say in response to Pilate's question. "My kingdom is not of 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."

In other words, Pilate, you and Rome, you are the powers of the world and your way is the way of the world, but my kingdom is a rule, a reign of another way. Another power. Another way of living.

 

The king of love my shepherd is,

whose goodness faileth never,

I nothing lack if I am his

And he is mine forever.

 

Let me show you what I think is really going on here. The truth is, on a historical level, Jesus of Nazareth was really killed by an unholy alliance of political, economic, and religious self-interests: Political interests of the imperial Empire of Rome, religious interests of the Jerusalem temple priestly aristocracy, and business and economic interests represented by the Herodians. All three of these powers--political, religious, and economic--colluded and conspired to execute Jesus of Nazareth. That is why Jesus is arrested and tried before the Sanhedrin composed of priests and Pharisees, tried before King Herod of the Herodians, and tried before Pontius Pilate, governor of Rome.

But on a far deeper level than the mere historical level, if you ask the question, what forces and dynamics in human life and society actually conspired to kill Jesus, something else emerges. Jesus was killed by a conspiracy of self-interest, self-centeredness, greed, jealousy, political and economic corruption, religious narrow-mindedness and intolerance, individual cowardice, bigotry, violence, hatred, and indifference--what our biblical tradition actually calls sin.

Sin is selfishness. Sin is self-centered existence, and that self-centered existence left untethered makes no room for anyone else. And in the end, this selfish existence has the capacity to actually destroy life itself. Every war that has ever been fought, every bigotry and hatred that has ever been wrought, the fruit of every humanly devised evil has its root in this sinful selfishness.

Love is the very opposite of that. Sin is self-centered. Love is other-directed. Whereas sin asks, what's in it for me, love asks, what is the greatest good possible, what is good, what is just, what is fair, what is kind, what is merciful, what is compassionate.

This isn't liberal theology, this is hard-headed biblical and theological orthodoxy. And if you don't believe me, ask Jesus. It was Jesus who said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

It was Jesus who in that great parable in Matthew 25 said, "As you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you have done it unto me."

It was Jesus who said, referring to the law of Moses and teaching of the prophets, that the entire religious edifice of religion and spirituality depends upon love. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is just like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets." That's what Jesus said! The entire religious edifice depends on love.

This truth about love--love that is unselfish, sacrificial, seeking the good and the wellbeing of others before my own unenlightened self-interest--is particularly vivid in the gospel of John where our text comes from. For John's gospel, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the ultimate cosmic battle between the titanic powers of sin, evil, and death, and the ultimate power of the love of God.

As John sees it, there is an organic and intimate connection between the love of God, the self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, his resurrection from the dead, and the salvation, liberation, hope, redemption, and reconciliation released because of that.

Let me show you what I mean. At the Last Supper in John's gospel, chapters 13-17, Jesus prepares his followers for his death by teaching them about love. It is fascinating that if you look at the New Testament gospels, you will discover that Jesus speaks most consistently and profoundly about love as he is heading toward the cross. It's at the Last Supper in John's gospel that Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another." It's at the Last Supper that he says, "Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another." It's at the Last Supper that Jesus says, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another." It's as Judas is slithering out of the room, as Peter will soon deny him, as he will soon be betrayed and handed over to selfishness that Jesus says, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now abide in my love." It's at the Last Supper in John's gospel that he says, "Greater love has no one than this, but that they give up their life for their friends, and I have called you friends."

This way of love that Jesus teaches as he is about to give up his life is not sweet, soft, or sentimental. This way of love is the way of living that is unselfish, sacrificial, seeking the good and the welfare of others before my own unenlightened self-interest.

That way of love is a game changer. It's a game changer in my personal life. It's a game changer in our personal lives. But it's also a game changer in our social life, our political life, our economic life, and in the global life of the world. And that teaching about love by Jesus happens both before this conversation between Jesus and Pilate, before his crucifixion and resurrection, and then, even after it. Jesus has another conversation about love with Simon Peter after the crucifixion and resurrection, and after that conversation with Pilate, he says to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"

I am convinced that John brackets this conversation and confrontation about kingship between Jesus and Pilate because love is the key to the entire gospel and message of Jesus. 

Love is the key that opens up the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection.

Love is the reason and the cause for which Jesus sacrificed his life, and it is the energy and power that would soon, even after his death, quake the earth, roll back the stone from the tomb, and raise him from the dead new and transformed and transfigured.

This love is the key to our living in the power and the dynamic energy of the risen life of Jesus.

 

The king of love my shepherd is,

whose goodness faileth never,

I nothing lack if I am his

And he is mine forever.


One of my fondest childhood memories is sitting in front of a television screen--and I suspect black and white, not color yet--usually around Easter, probably Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday, watching the movie "The Robe." "The Robe" was one of those films from the 1950s starring Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, and Victor Mature. It was based on a work of historical fiction that sort of told the story of one of the Roman soldiers who was involved in the crucifixion of Jesus. 

Now, it gets a little bit fanciful and little bit Hollywood, because the story revolves around this soldier being the one who was gambling at the foot of the cross and, as a result of his gambling, he won Jesus's robe. Anyway, the story of his experience of the robe changed his life because, as long as he was living a life of hatred and violence, every time he touched the robe it would almost kind of electrocute him. That's why I say there's little bit Hollywood there. But the story had its roots in the gospel story because, eventually, the slave of the Roman soldier converts him to Christianity, or better yet, he converts him to the way of Jesus. And this Roman soldier all of a sudden realizes that he must live with two loyalties: his first loyalty now to Jesus of Nazareth and his way, and his other loyalty to the Empire of Rome. Well, obviously this conflict began to emerge into a real conflict. 

The conflict had its final moment when this Roman tribune was arrested by the very empire that he had served, and he was brought before the emperor of Rome--a mad, insane megalomaniac, I suppose a combination of Caligula and Nero, frothing at the mouth--says to this tribune, "Tribune, I have been informed that you are a Christian. State your loyalty clearly before the senators and nobles of Rome. They await to hear your defense."

And Richard Burton who played the part, with that wonderful, wonderful way of speaking that only Richard Burton could do, said, "It is true that I am a Christian." And the senators of Rome all gasped. But then he goes on to say, "It is true I am a Christian, but it is not true that those of us who follow the teachings of Jesus are engaged in any plot against the state."

But then the emperor says, "But, isn't it a fact that you say this Jesus is a king?" The soldier replied, "Yes, sire. But his kingdom is not of this world. He seeks no earthly throne. He reigns over the hearts and minds of men in the name of justice and charity." 

And then Caesar replies, "Are not these virtues found also in our empire?" And he says, "Was it justice or was it charity when I was given orders to put him to death on the cross?" 

To this Caesar replies, "Why are you risking your life for him?" And the soldier replies, "I owe him more than my life. He forgave me my crime against him. The Empire, it is governed by men and men sometimes make mistakes. And this, sire, was the greatest mistake that Rome ever made."

Then there is a dialogue that goes on between the two and, finally, the soldier says this to the emperor of Rome, declaring his loyalty, proclaiming that he is a Roman citizen, proclaiming that he is a Roman soldier. But then, he adds this: "But if this empire should wish to pursue a course of injustice and slavery and tyranny, then my king will march forward to right those wrongs. And his kingdom will come, and it will have no end."

 

The king of love my shepherd is,

whose goodness faileth never,

I nothing lack if I am his

And he is mine forever.


God bless you. God keep you. May the King of Love lead us all into the ways and path of peace.

Amen.

 


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