Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sermon; Last Pentecost, Proper 29B; John 18:33-37

All hail the power of Jesus' name, let angels prostrate fall.  Crown him ye kings, with many crowns, for he is King of all.  But this is a helluva way to present that king – bound, beaten, deserted, standing alone before his judge awaiting his execution.  This is not how we envision our kings.

We expect our kings to be dressed in regal attire.  We expect our kings to wear gold crowns.  We expect our kings to command armies.  We expect our kings to demand loyalty from their subjects.  We expect our kings to be the face of empires.  But our King is not like any other king.  And our King is not of this world.

On his blog,, Dr. Richard Beck has been writing a series called, The Voice of the Scapegoat.  In general, it's an in-depth look at the theology of the late Rene Girard, his opposition to penal substitutionary atonement (PSA), and how Mark Heim addresses this in his book, Saved from Sacrifice.  It's a seven-part series and the second article is entitled Sacred Violence, Scapegoats, and Myth, wherein Dr. Beck really gets into the explanations for, and problems with, PSA.

In this second of the series, Dr. Beck writes about the need for sacred violence and scapegoats in societies.  The scapegoat allows a society that is on the verge of disaster to focus their paranoia, hysteria, and panic on one particular individual, or group of individuals, and carry out communal violence against the few in return for the safety of many.  Scapegoating allows the dominant group to blame a safe minority of THEM for the problems besetting society.  As such, the scapegoat is punished or executed to appease whatever deity or socially acceptable rationalization is needed to restore order.  Think Salem witch trials, the Holocaust, homosexuality, or Muslims in general.  Whatever the problem is in a particular society, the scapegoat is identified and then sacrificed in some manner in order to return to normal.

Scapegoating IS a solution to a problem, but it is a short-term solution at best because it must be repeated every time a new crisis threatens the stability and safety of the society.  In the tinderbox that was Jerusalem at Passover under the Roman occupation, Jesus was that scapegoat.

But Jesus wasn't just any scapegoat.  Rather than the typical scapegoat who was deemed guilty of a great offense to society and deserving of death, Jesus was the innocent man of Isaiah's suffering servant.  Jesus was the innocent man who bore OUR offenses.  It is not Jesus the scapegoat who is guilty, it is us.

One of the things Jesus does here according to Dr. Beck's series, is that Jesus gives an ultimate voice to the voiceless.  He speaks out in a way that removes our need to find a scapegoat.  Jesus made victims visible.  Jesus became the face of victims everywhere.  And it is this act that makes Jesus our King.

The regal attire of Jesus is not a gold-embroidered cloak over a satin-lined robe with a gold crown.  The regal attire of Jesus is the worn out clothing of a man with no permanent home and a crown of thorns.  King Jesus commands heavenly armies that are not used to conquer earth by force.  King Jesus doesn't demand loyalty from anyone, but accepts loyalty freely given.  And King Jesus is the face of an empire, but that of an empire unlike any on earth before or since.

His empire, despite what some people think, isn't forged in battle or through the conquest and deaths of non-believers or different believers.  His empire is won through self-sacrifice, by picking up our cross, and through the paradox of losing our life to find it.

Whereas other kings would imprint their image in royal coinage signifying how the kingdom was run and who was in charge, the image of our King adorns a cross.  The image of our King is of one who speaks truth, gives a voice to the voiceless, and is not controlled or defeated by the powers of this world, despite being bound, beaten, and deserted.

The kings of this world place their image in prominent locations for all to see.  The kings of this world have slick P.R. campaigns to boost their ratings.  But our King has a different location to place his image.  Our King's image is to be found in the faces of the poor, homeless, hungry, outcast, and despised.  Our King's image is to be found in the faces of the persecuted and forgotten.

We need to be very careful with the whole idea of Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords.  I am not saying he isn't, but if we aren't careful, we run the risk of becoming like Pilate, those who handed Jesus over to him for execution, and the mob at the gates demanding that Jesus exhibit his kingship in terms that we understand.  If we aren't careful we will expect and demand that King Jesus come swiftly in power and glory to crush our enemies under our feet like any good king.

But that's not the way our King works.

Our King is found on the cross.  Our King is found in the midst of the weak, vulnerable, and expendable.  As Dr. Beck writes in his scapegoat series, and using Saul as an example, Jesus saves Saul (and us) by identifying with the victim.  Saul eventually repents, becomes Paul, and stands with the victims whom he persecuted.  He joins with those whom he had been scapegoating.

This, then, is our King – one who had been victimized and scapegoated, but the one who now gives victims and scapegoats a face and voice.

On this Last Sunday after Pentecost when we celebrate Christ the King, let us never forget that our King wears the clothes of a wandering preacher who had no permanent home.  Let us never forget that our King wore a crown of thorns.  Let us never forget that our King carries our sins.  And more than anything else, let us always remember that the face of our King is to be found in those who are faceless, voiceless, powerless, victimized, and persecuted.

All hail the power of Jesus' name.



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