Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We pick up John’s Gospel this week where we left off last week. Remember, last week we read about Jesus’s arrest and Peter’s three denials. Now we are with Jesus as he is brought before Pilate. We know this story so well, and have heard it so often. We may stop listening before we get to the end of the reading. I want to talk about one of the questions Jesus is asked by Pilate, because Jesus’s answer is interesting. He says, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom was of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.”
How is Jesus’s kingdom not from this world? Is Jesus saying that his kingdom is somewhere else? I believe that instead of saying his kingdom is not part of this world—that it is in some far off place and time, where everything is good and there is no trouble, hatred and violence—Jesus meant his kingdom is not like the kingdoms, governments, and power of the world. If it was, his followers would, as Jesus said, fight to free him. But what Jesus is saying is that the kingdom of God is not about political power, religious differences, or hatred.
All the powers that conspired to bring Jesus before Pilate were centered around power and the need to protect power. Jesus discouraged his followers from trying to save him from the soldiers. He told Peter to put down his sword, because he wanted them to understand that his kingdom was different. Jesus’s kingdom is about love. Not the love that we see on Valentine’s cards and in romance movies, but about loving God and our neighbor because we are loved by God.
Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal church preached on the difference between God’s kingdom and this world:
“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?”
So, while Jesus’s kingdom is not from this world, it is in this world. It is in this world because followers of Jesus are in this world. We are part of that kingdom that is coming. We are called to help bring in that kingdom through our actions, to care for our neighbors.
Right now, as many other organizations are, we are collecting personal care items, donating funds, and praying for the people of Ukraine as the war against them continues.
We are called to love our neighbor here at home as well. Loving our neighbor means not excluding those who are different from ourselves, but reaching out to them and welcoming them in. We are called to stand up against the oppression, prejudice, and hate that this world is filled with and bring the kingdom of God with us wherever we go.
So this week, please think about adding some more neighbor-loving activities to your life, and participate in spreading the kingdom of God. That is what we followers of Jesus are called to do! Amen.