Do you remember playing “Follow the leader” as a child. Usually a group of kids move around a room in a line with the leader marching, or hopping, climbing over or under things. Kids clamor to have the honor of being the leader. Everyone wants to be the leader. But, of course, we cannot all be the leader all the time. A leader needs followers, so we take turns being followers.
In the real world, we follow leaders too, don’t we? So we want good leaders. We want to follow a leader who cares about us, and who understands the big picture. Now we understand that there are political leaders in our country, and as good law abiding citizens we live with the rules our elected leaders make. But as Christians, we also follow Jesus. And ultimately, we choose to follow Jesus. We choose Jesus way for our life and it takes priority over anyone else who tries to get us to follow them.
This can cause conflict sometimes – trying to follow Jesus in a world where human leaders also have authority over us.
In our scripture for today, Jesus comes into conflict, not an unusual thing for Jesus to be in, with the political and religious leaders of the day. At the time, they had kings. Jesus was becoming a powerful leader. And the king was threatened by Jesus. You see, the people wanted to follow Jesus. And the king knew there could not be two kings.
The scripture passage for today, John 18:33-37 for those following along on the from afar, is right before Jesus is going to be condemned to death. There is this back and forth with Pontius Pilate. Pilate gives the crowd a chance to have Jesus pardoned, because there is this tradition during Passover that one criminal can be pardoned. But the people say: “If you pardon this man, you’re no friend of Caesar’s. Anyone setting himself up as ‘king’ defies Caesar.” (John 19:12). Here’s the highlights of the scripture:
Pilate has asked Jesus if he is trying to be the King of the Jews. 36 “My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.”37 Then Pilate said, “So, are you a king or not?”
Jesus answered, “You tell me. Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice.” (John 18:36-37)
You see, Pilate is trying to pin Jesus down. Make him either save himself by saying he is not a king; or get Jesus to condemn himself by admitting he wants to be a king. But Jesus says: “my values (meaning God’s values) are not the same as yours, Pilate. I am not the world’s kind of king. I am a different kind of king.”
Then Jesus tells us why he came. “I came into the world, a king, to witness to the truth,” (meaning the truth of God’s ways).And Jesus says that anyone who cares for God’s truth, will recognize the voice of Jesus as their king.
Jesus confounded the leaders of his day over and over again. They couldn’t pin him down. He went against the norm. Jesus is like the person who stayed home on Black Friday, to have an extra day of family time or to go visit the sick, when everyone in the world knows that you should go shopping on Black Friday. You go on Thanksgiving night too. Never mind that means people who work retail have to work on Thanksgiving. Our economy depends upon it. Even our political leaders will tell us to shop.
But Jesus would not follow the values of the world. Jesus was focused on one thing: showing people the love of God. When we follow Jesus in his ways, it makes us counter-cultural.
Think about it, over and over again, we see this inability to play by the world’s rules. He loved what I like to call the least, the last and the lost. He loved the people that the leaders of the world viewed as throw-aways.
In worship, we showed a video of a tent city in New Jersey. People needed affordable housing and a group of 75 people who are living in tents outside the city. They are the working poor. The cost of living is $23 per hour for housing, but the people there are making $8 per hour. This is the kind of place I believe Jesus would spend his time if he were here today. If he were a king of anything, I think he would be king of the tent city in that video. There is one of these in Toledo, Ohio today.
I feel pretty confident that if God sent Jesus to the Earth today, this tent city is the kind of place Jesus would go. He would not go to the White House, or to Wall Street. He wouldn’t start there. And yet we call him a King. We call him our leader.
Today, is the day on the church calendar called “Christ the King Sunday.” It’s the day we try to wrap our minds around what sort of King Jesus is. A different sort of king is what Jesus is. Because, you see, this is our calling here at The Village, “to follow Jesus and change the world.” We have decided that he is our leader.
His mission was puzzling to the people who lived when he first came to Earth. They were expecting a political and military leader who would overthrow the ungodly leaders of their day – by force.
Jesus kept talking about being a servant leader, and loving God. He had this idea that he could change the world by spending time with the people I like to call “the least, the last and the lost.” The people society would call misfits. Because you see, these are the people who most need God’s compassion and mercy.
Those other folks in power? Well they needed God too, but they needed to be made humble before they would open themselves to God.
So, as we read this story, I wonder where do we put ourselves? Are the we least, who are grateful for Jesus, because he comes to show us that we still matter to God? Are we the people on the outside of society. Or are we those with power and privilege, who need to listen to Jesus as he reminds us that in letting go of power and privilege, and acting as servants, that we will truly see God?
I think each of us has been both of those people at one time or another. We have experienced being on the edge of society, and being without. And we are also people of privilege when compared to the rest of the world. When we have privilege and when we have abundant resources, Jesus says that we have the responsibility to use that privilege and those resources to care for the least.
In either position, we need someone to follow. In the old days they used the title King. For us, we need a leader. We need someone to look up to, who shows us the way to live. We can’t always make those choices on our own.
Jesus wants to be that leader for us. Our question is this: how will we follow Jesus? What actions do we take, and will we take, in our daily life in order to walk in the way of Jesus?
Today we are one month from the celebration of Jesus’ birth. As we prepare for Christmas, I wonder, how will our traditions and our activities help us follow Jesus? I started thinking about our family’s Christmas traditions and how do they cause us to follow Jesus. For example, does making cookies help us follow Jesus? Possibly. If it means we spend time with children in making them together, or if we give some of them to someone who might be lonely or sad this year at Christmas – as a way of saying: we care about you and we wanted to bring you this homemade gift. Making cookies probably does not help us follow Jesus if it stresses us out and we are just doing it because we have always done it, and we really NEED to eat all those extra calories this month.
So, how will we follow Jesus as we celebrate his birth? I want us all to ponder this question: how will I follow Jesus as I celebrate his birth? You can share your ideas and thoughts here or anywhere on the web. What are the ways we can help to do this or would like to do this?
At the Village this year, we will be reminding people that this is not your birthday, it’s the time we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. We will be working on spreading Jesus love and compassion in Toledo and around the world this Christmas.