Listening Doesn’t Simply Mean Hearing

Last Sunday after Pentecost Christ the King Proper 29, Year B, RCL, Track 1 11/25/2018

2 Samuel 23:1-7 Psalm 132:1-13 (14-19) Revelation 1:4b-8 John 18:33-37

We have been listening to Christ’s voice for years. It has persisted through civil wars and world wars. Many have discarded his voice but many held on to his words, his truth. We hear his words and we know that they are different from what we hear on a daily basis in the world around us. Even Pontius Pilate knows that his words are different. Pilate isn’t afraid or threatened by what he hears. He seems to hear truth; strange and almost incomprehensible truth.

This is the truth that Jesus speaks to us today...I am not of this world. My kingdom is not from this world. This is the truth we all know, and hear, and have such a hard time living with. And because his truth is different from the world around us we reject it.

We want his truth to fit our lifestyle. We want his truth to mesh with our feelings of duty and honor to our jobs, to our friends, to our country. We want God’s truth to fit into our human sensibilities but it just doesn’t do that very well. The truth we hear in the Bible often goes against our human nature and we resist the change to which we are being called. When we are attacked, we want to fight back. When we experience loss at the hand of someone else, we want that other person to experience loss as well. When we are emotionally hurt we want to hold a grudge; never forgetting, never letting go of how we were wronged. Justice is retribution in our world. Justice is paying for your misdeeds. Justice in our world never for forgets what has happened.

God’s Justice doesn’t work this way. If God judged us on our misdeeds we would not be saved. If he never forgot what we have done; he would never forgive us. If God held us to account for all our iniquities, we could never pay. We are called to turn the other cheek even if we are intentionally wronged. We are called to love those who we find unlovable. We are called to treat absolute strangers as if we know them well. We are called to forgive those who have wronged us in any way. But instead of holding our neighbors up in love we would rather hold up idioms such as “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Or how many times have we heard it said, “I can forgive but I will never forget.”

God shows us what true forgiveness means. We are shown over and over again not hold onto misdeeds. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he says, forgive others as Christ has forgiven you.[1] This is very similar to what is said in Colossians[2] and the Lord’s Prayer. In Luke’s gospel account Christ says “if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,' you must forgive.’”[3] This continuous forgiveness of someone’s misdeeds seems absurd but it is what our Lord calls us to do.

We call Christ our Lord. Our passage from Revelation says he is “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” In the interrogation by Pilate, Christ has a kingdom; a kingdom beyond this world. And a little later in Revelation, we hear that Christ is the Lord of lords and the King of kings. We have a lot of language about Christ being Lord and King but I wonder if the language of kingship is a bit foreign to us here in the United States.

Historically, we are not used to swearing our allegiance to any single person. Our constitution prohibits us from having a sovereign. In an absolute monarchy, the king or queen may make rules that the people don’t agree with but the rules or laws are followed because the people recognize the authority of their sovereign. Kingly authority is granted not by election but out of an inheritance. You inherit the throne. Kings or queens could order the execution of a person for no reason but their own pleasure. An absolute monarch can ask anything from you and if for no other reasons than loyalty to the crown you are to comply. People follow an absolute monarch without question. I imagine that it is because of this absolute power that a great number of monarchs have given up power or were removed from their thrones in the 17th and 18th centuries. The people would not have a single person wield so much control over them any longer. Now there are fewer than ten absolute monarchs left in the world.[4]

Following an absolute monarch has to be difficult. We may not fully understand why they want to do things the way they do. We may not understand the logic behind their decisions. We don’t want to subject ourselves to the tirades and whims of another. But as a subject of a monarch, we have no choice. Well, I suppose you could leave that nation. As Christians, we recognize that Christ is the King; a truth we celebrate this very day. We believe that Christ is our monarch and we are asked to subjugate ourselves to him. To bring ourselves down so that he can hold authority over us. We do have a choice. We can leave. We can separate ourselves from his authority with no earthly consequences.

When we recognize Christ as our supreme authority we notice that he is not like other rulers of the world. He does not have his best interest in mind all the time. He has ours. We find that he does not hold grudges but forgives. He forgave us for crucifying him. He offers us eternal life, but this life comes with a price. That price is following and listing to him; to transform our lives from what matters in this world to what matters in the Kingdom of God. The truth that Christ offers Pilate is the truth he offers us, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Listening doesn’t simply mean hearing. For if we hear but do not act on what is being said, what is the point in listening?

1] Ephesians 4:32 NRSV 2] Colossians 3:13

3] Luke 17:4

4] Absolute Monarchy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_monarchy

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