You Won't Be Needing This
a sermon on violence and the human competition extravaganza
You Won’t Be Needing This
a sermon for Christ The King Sunday 2021
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 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?” -John 18
I took Twitter off my phone 6 months ago and It felt…like having a tumor removed…like, sure it hurt for a while but the pain was worth the increased life expectancy. For the last several years it has felt like being a progressive on social media is like playing a poorly designed video game in which you never actually engage the other team, you just earn ranking points by showing how the people on your own team are wrong. If you can call out the ideological impurity of another person’s tweet, you get to level up in the game and call it “activism”.
I, of course, want to blame Twitter, but that’s like blaming the Ford motor company for my road rage.
There is a reason why gamification – the way that every app on our phone offers us opportunity to earn points and badges and level up and see where we rank in comparison to others is the key to getting people hooked –Gamification is used in weight loss programs and language learning apps and even military training – and the reason is because we humans love to feel like we are winning. It is an old instinct, meaning, we differ far less from our caveman ancestors than we think we do. Like, maybe I can’t imagine hitting another human over the head with a club and stealing their wooly mammoth meat. But I will for sure put another human in danger just to get in front of them on I-25.
So when these companies and their products can hack into our lizard brain and make us feel like we are competing for resources and winning, we will keep coming back so that we can feel like we dominated our environment when really we just are getting a digital dopamine hit so we feel good about ourselves for half a second.
We have not evolved as much as we think we have.
I mention this because of our Gospel text today.
For just a little bit of background, Pilate was governor in a b-list province and just trying to cover his backside when Jesus was dragged in before him. “Are you king of the Jews?” he asks, basically saying “Are you or are you not trying to overthrow Caesar” To Pilate, Jesus was just some itinerant Jewish teacher, a bedraggled nobody with some questionable followers… So the question must have felt absurd.
But Pilate didn’t know to ask the right question. He didn't know to ask “Are you the human incarnation of the God who created the universe” Pilate didn’t know to ask “Have you or have you not come to proclaim release to the captives and freedom to the oppressed?” And Pilate for sure didn’t know to say to Jesus “be honest… if we kill you, are you just gonna go and rise from the dead 3 days from now and change the course of history?” So instead, he asks if Jesus fancies himself a political leader who might threaten Rome with a violent revolt. Which is basically like asking typhoid Mary if she’s trying to steal your boyfriend. Typhoid Mary is a threat .. but not to your romantic relationship.
Jesus is totally a threat. But not in an overthrowing the government sort of way. The threat is not to Pilate’s power – as though Jesus wants to take that power for his own. The threat of Jesus as king is not despotic and tyrannical like he’s just this year’s Caesar. Jesus is a threat to violence itself and to the exertion of dominance over others and to all of our ranking systems we all are trapped into thinking actually matter.
The thing that stood out for me in this little conversation between Jesus and Pilate is that Jesus says, were his kingdom of this world his followers would be using violence, because I wonder if violence – or put another way, if any kind of destructive force …not just the physical kind– is an inherent part of the human competition extravaganza. Violence of every variety is its energy source.
And Jesus is like, do your worse…your violence does nothing but show how weak you really are.
Which means when he said the first shall be last and the last shall be first he didn't mean a single iteration and then stop. I seriously doubt that Jesus was saying “if you have been hurt by the strong, in my kingdom you will be the ones who get to do the hurting” He was saying that rivalries and striving to win, trying to dominate, getting over on people, doing what it takes to be the one on top will never bring us life in the way we think it will.
In his kingdom there is simply nothing to win at. Pilate didn't know the right questions to ask because like us, he couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that Jesus wasn't just changing the seating chart in the human violence coliseum, he wasn't trying to win the battle, he was burning his draft card.
Which is bonkers since Jesus was the one person in history who could have legitimately won the game by the way – he could have called 10,000 angels as the old Gospel hymn says, he could have pulled off some pyrotechnics when it came to defeating his enemies. And we could then cheer and pump our fists in the air and be like, “yeah. That’s our guy!”
I mean, that’s how the kingdoms of this world WORK. Regime change, hostile takeovers, aggressive divorce attorneys, making a name for yourself in academia by tearing down the work of another scholar, gossiping about others in order to feel superior. There are countless ways to exert dominance in the war of human striving.
Like when someone has hurt me, the kingdom of this world would have me seek retribution, but retribution has never managed to eliminate the shame of having been hurt, or the shame of having been betrayed in the way I think it will.
And this week I kept thinking about the ways we deploy violence even toward ourselves. The punishing self-critical impulse I feel when I fail or fall short. The berating accusing voice that tells me that if I am cruel to myself it will motivate me to be some imaginary perfected version of myself - compassion toward myself is counter productive - so the beatings will continue until I finally level up.
And here is why his kingdom is not of this world, because Jesus could have won the battle and the war and all the cash and prizes and yet, as Phillipians 2 states,
though he was in the form of God,
he 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.
So Happy Christ the King Sunday when softly and tenderly Jesus is calling us home to his kingdom. Calling us to the truth of what actually matters. Calling us back into the very heart of God.
I don’t know what sort of rivalry you might be in right now. Or how you may feel like you’ve slipped in the rankings, or aged less gracefully than your brother, or are missing your chance at life and love. Or maybe you have won the game according to all standards of American society and are confused as to why it feels so empty. Either way, just know that even in a time of fake news and alternative facts and competing world views that there is still big T TRUTH to be had.
He came to tell the truth and all who belong to the truth listen to his voice, Jesus said to Pilate.
Which means that the Truth is not something you manufacture or manipulate or earn the right to own. Truth doesn't belong to you. It is something you belong to. And your belongingness to the truth, is simply not determined by winning or losing. It is not determined by religiosity, ideological purity or your ranking in society. Your belongingness to the truth is determined by the God in whose image you were made and in whose kingdom you are offered life and life abundant.
Which means The Lord's Prayer which we are about to say, and which has been spoken every single day since our Lord taught it to the first of his faltering friends, just might be the most subversive of all declarations: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Because we who live and pray this way have a very different agenda than Caesar's, we have pledged our allegiance and submitted to the reign of the unresentful loser, The prince of peace.
Whose throne is but two pieces of wood and a few rusty nails, whose crown is jeweled with thorn, and whose judgement is one of forgiveness and mercy…A servant King. A crucified enemy-loving King. In whose kingdom, there is nothing to earn. There are no Google reviews to wring your hands over. All notions of supremacy are crushed under his feet. To be citizens of his kingdom is to have an identity and a value and a peace that is unthreatenable. There is no public image or private property to defend or protect. Because with his still wounded hands, Christ our king is gently taking the gun out of ours and saying “It’s ok. you won’t be needing this.”
Christ The King
a sonnet by Malcom Guite
Our King is calling from the hungry furrows
Whilst we are cruising through the aisles of plenty,
Our hoardings screen us from the man of sorrows,
Our soundtracks drown his murmur: ‘I am thirsty’.
He stands in line to sign in as a stranger
And seek a welcome from the world he made,
We see him only as a threat, a danger,
He asks for clothes, we strip-search him instead.
And if he should fall sick then we take care
That he does not infect our private health,
We lock him in the prisons of our fear
Lest he unlock the prison of our wealth.
But still on Sunday we shall stand and sing
The praises of our hidden Lord and King.
If you’d like to support my work, access more content, and engage with me and other subscribers here, you can subscribe to The Corners using the button below. You will have access to essays, conversation threads, Q & A, and all the archives.
If you’d like access to all the content here but a paid subscription isn’t for you, no problem, we give them free to absolutely anyone who emails us at email@example.com (over 1,000 so far!) This is for everyone. (I’m a big believer in paying for content. I have paid subscriptions to many publications and am a patron of several artists and thinkers whose work I love. BUT I am also someone who had very little money for most of her life and even lived on government assistance for many of them, so I know what it is like to not have extra. This is why The Corners is set up as a “those who can pay do and those who can’t need not have to” model.)