(John 18:33-37 & 2 Samuel 23:1-7)
Fear and uncertainty has gripped the world.
In the aftermath of the brazen shootings and terror bombings in Paris and Beirut, and the bombing of that Russian airline over the Sinai Peninsula….
…. and then the racist violence which followed:
against an innocent Muslim woman in Toronto,
the burning of a mosque in Peterborough,
even here in Kitchener the vandalism of a Hindu temple last week …
In the midst of all this hatred and craziness, we feel caught up in a rising tide of worry, fear and uncertainty.
And so we yearn for certainty.
We long for rock solid answers and solutions.
This pursuit of certainty: It’s understandable. It’s a human impulse.
We see this in today’s scripture readings.
2 Samuel refers to King David’s dynasty, one that endured for over four hundred years!
Imagine that! That feeling of stability, certainty and predictability stretching out for centuries in such a longstanding dynasty!
And so, we can also imagine the shock, the sense of upheaval, when it came to a crashing end in 587 BC when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded and destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem, carrying off the Hebrews into exile in Babylonia.
Suddenly, no more temple. No more King. No more stability, predictability, familiarity.
The “rug” had been pulled from under their feet.
The Hebrews were suddenly cast adrift in a sea of fear and uncertainty.
There’s a promise given in that first reading, a promise to the Hebrews that the Davidic dynasty would indeed continue forever into the future.
A promise that a Messiah would finally come, and establish rule forever.
No doubt, this promise comforts the Hebrews in their longing for certainty.
But, as we see later, to everyone’s surprise, this long-awaited for Messiah, Jesus, turns out to be quite different than expected … offering not certainty, but something else.
In the Gospel reading today, we actually see the kind of Messiah God had in mind.
A man bent over in pain and handcuffed, the side of his face swollen, bruised, his lips and nose bleeding, his robes dirtied and torn from the whipping and beating he received from the soldiers ….
A sorry, sad sight of a Messiah or “king” if ever there was one.
In this scene before Pilate, Jesus admits to being “a king”, but a different kind of king…
One who rules not with force of power and military might, but with self-giving vulnerable love.
One who rules not by ordering others around, but by serving them.
One who rules not by criticizing, condemning and punishing, but by forgiving, and restoring right relationships.
His was not a typical “king-ship” of certainty, security and power, but rather a “kin-ship” of love, fairness, mutual care in right relationships.
Love, over Certainty.
An American pastor, (now the President of Princeton Theological School) Craig Barnes, tells of the time when he was a parish pastor in a Pittsburgh church located close to the university there.
Naturally, the church saw many students attend.
And many of them took their faith very, very seriously.
It seemed all they wanted to talk about was “God’s will”, figuring out what God’s will for their lives, and the world, really was.
They wanted to get it right.
Many of the students were science-oriented types, students of science and math. And so, they just assumed there was always a right answer to everything.
They wanted the right “formula” to know God’s will.
There was this one earnest, senior student, who wanted to talk to Pr. Barnes about a decision he needed to make, a choice about two job offers he was given, one in Chicago, the other in Houston.
What he wanted to know was: Which of these two jobs was the “right” one to take? Which one did God want him to take? Which one was God’s will?
What this senior student was really after, was certainty, certitude.
He wanted to know for sure, without a shadow of a doubt, which of these two offers was the “right” and “perfect” and “God-ordained” choice: the one in Chicago, or the one in Houston.
Finally, after a long conversation, the student said: “You know Pr. Barnes, you still haven’t told me what you think I should do, if I should go to Chicago, or to Houston.”
And so, with as much profundity and wisdom as he could muster up, the Pastor said: “I don’t know.”
(It’s at this point people realize why pastoral counselling is free.)
But then, Pr. Barnes went on to say this to the student:
How can I know if you should go to Chicago or Houston?
But here’s what I do know: I don’t think God is up all night worrying about your choice.
It’s not as if God is saying: “I hope he picks Chicago, because if he chose Houston, I can’t help him there.”
God owns all the roads.
And so, as Yogi Berra said: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it!”
It’s not as though we’re going to choose a road that would wander away from the reach of God’s love and compassion.
Make a choice!
Take seriously the gift of freedom that God has given to each one of us.
And use it for that which is good, just and loving.
Ultimately it’s not about finding certainty, but finding love – God’s love – about being found by love.
There’s a wonderful image I want to leave you with, from the first reading, 2 Samuel 23:
The kind of God we have, our Ultimate “King”, is: “like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”
Those of you who regularly are up early in the morning to see the sun rise on a cloudless morning will have an easy time imagining what the prophet is describing here: the serenity, that awe-inspiring sense of a fresh new start, the beginning of a completely new, adventurous day.
It’s hard to “nail down” a ray of sunlight.
It’s hard to reduce and stuff into a small box the increasing light on the land, the brilliant, breathtaking blue hues of the sky, and that deep feeling of peace as the dawn awakens.
God in Christ Jesus cannot be “nailed down” or stuffed into a neat, tight little box.
Rather, God’s reign in Jesus is as expansive as the open horizon, as beautiful and breathtaking as a sunrise or sunset, as wild, adventurous and mysterious as the world in which we live.
All Hail to Christ the Ruler of the Universe!
…who fills the whole world,
…whose love and compassion knows no boundaries,
… and in whose love we can most certainly rest secure.