For This Reason I Was Born
Today is the last Sunday of the church year – Christ the King Sunday – and the lectionary text from John’s Gospel is the same text that we read on Good Friday. It seems odd at first glance to juxtapose Jesus’ trial at the end of his life with the anticipation of a baby to be born in Bethlehem of Judea. It is jarring to picture the baby in his mother’s arms and the man outstretched on a cross with his mother reaching for him in the same frame.
And yet, as he stood before Pilate, facing his death, Jesus met his gaze proclaiming, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
For this he was born, to testify to the truth that his kingdom is not from this world. The King James Version mistranslated the preposition so that Jesus’ words read, “my kingdom is not of this world.” But the Greek reads, “my kingdom is not from this world.” The problem with the error is that Christians have interpreted what Jesus meant as a statement about a heavenly kingdom and at times have not fully engaged in establishing Jesus’ kingdom on earth. Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world, but it is for this world. And so we listen, as Jesus testifies to the truth, listening to his very life.
For this he was born, to choose 12 common people to live with and learn from him. And we hear the truth – each of us is able to be used by God to do the work of the kingdom.
For this he was born, to speak to the outcast Samaritan woman who had been known by too many men, who was thirsty for real love, and to really know her and quench her thirst. And we hear the truth – no matter what we have done or been, Jesus knows us fully and satisfies our needs. For this Jesus comes, to be present as we look into the eyes of another and seek to truly know them.
For this he was born, to heal a blind man and testify that his blindness was due neither to his sins or the sins of his parents. And we hear the truth – physical handicaps and illnesses are not a punishment for sin. For this Jesus comes, to be present as we sit with someone who is suffering and testify that the suffering is not God’s punishment for sinning, it is not God’s will, and God mourns with them and will use their suffering for good as they allow it.
For this he was born, to turn when he felt the power of healing going out from him to a woman who had been hemorrhaging for years, to call out to a dishonest tax collector up in a tree to come down to him, and restore them to community. And we hear the truth – the way of Jesus is the way of repentance, restoration, and community. For this Jesus comes, to be present as we move to the outer circle to restore and welcome the outcasts, the unclean, the sinful into our community.
For this he was born, to chastise the inner twelve when they formed a tight inner circle around him and moved the least, the weak, the women and the children to the back of the crowd around Jesus and to draw them near to himself. And we hear the truth – the way of Jesus is to turn society norms upside down and to welcome the vulnerable. For this Jesus comes –
A few weeks ago, Rev. Ray Schellinger, a friend of a friend of mine, wrote from within the caravan making its way to the US-Mexico border. I cannot forget his words. “I came to hear their stories. I have spent the last several days sitting, walking, playing, and crying with the members of the caravan. I have been struck by their willingness to just hang out with me and talk. They are hopeful, yet full of questions about what the future holds. They are anxious to get moving again, but at the same time, afraid to leave.
As I look out upon the throng of people here, with so many human stories, and so much pain, I thought about Jesus’ seeing the multitudes. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
So I cry with them, and try to be a pastor, shepherd, for the few moments I have here, for the few people I can
We have talked about their families and friends, their communities and life back home. They have shared with me their hopes about what the future might hold, their unreachable dreams in an impossible future. Most of all they express their desire to just be able to find a home where they can be safe and know that they will receive a fair wage for a good days work.
As I speak with the young men, they have shared the experiences of working in farms, factories and construction, often for less than $4 a day. Quite a few said they earned less than half of that for 10 hour days of hard labor in the fields of the rural towns from where they come.
And then they tell me about the gangs who take it all away.
Every shop owner faces extortion and those who refuse to pay have their stores burned to the ground- or are murdered by the gangs which control their neighborhoods. Laborers are robbed of their pay more often than they can keep it. In rural Honduras, it seems that things have reached the point where it makes no sense to even try to work anymore. The people I speak with describe a lawless society where criminals are destroying every aspect of their communities. Every single person I spoke with named several close family members and friends killed by the gangs.
I asked one young man, Miguel, 17, why he was here. He responded, “I had two choices, to become a criminal or to leave. There is no other way to survive.” His two friends, standing by his side, shook their heads in agreement as tears formed in their eyes. Carlos continued, “I didn’t want to become a criminal, so that is why I am here.”
Over and over again, I hear the same story… They just want to work hard and earn enough to live a life of dignity.”
I cannot forget the stories of Miguel and Carlos, and others that he told. I admire Rev. Ray Schellinger’s commitment to go and be a shepherd to God’s sheep, and I wonder about God’s will for us. “For this I came,” says Jesus.
I received a note from our mission worker in a security sensitive area of Asia this week. She is well but reports that the security situation is deteriorating and many are having to leave quickly. One friend left so quickly that she shared a bag of clementines that she had purchased, not knowing she would have to leave them behind. She wrote in her email, “One worker who had a significant role in training local workers here commanded me as he was leaving, “Please stay here as long as possible and continue the work that many of us are leaving behind. There is a huge gap to fill in this place.” In such times as this, the phrase, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” comes across with a resounding meaning. This is kingdom building that we are a part of, through our pledges, we support her financially as she testifies to the truth. “For this I came,” says Jesus.
Last week I got a reminder for Room in the Inn coordinators to emphasize that we do not take pictures or video of our homeless guests. One of our guests had been videoed without her permission by a news station, that had been warned that some of the guests did not want to be on television, at an event for homeless hosted by a local restaurant. Her employer had seen her and learned that she is homeless. Now, she fears repercussions at work. Many of our guests are working poor. “Come, inherit the kingdom,” says Jesus, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me….Truly as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” “For this I came,” says Jesus.
Perhaps it does make sense that the same text is read on Good Friday as the Sunday before Advent. Waiting for the coming of Jesus is not about Christmas trees and sparkling lights. It isn’t about too much food and calendars filled with parties. Christmas is a celebration of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom into this world. For this I was born, says Jesus, and this is the truth to which I testify. My kingdom is not from this world, but it is of this world. My kingdom comes as God’s will is done on this earth. As justice is established, as mercy is shown, as God’s beloved walk humbly testifying to the truth, “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son” to testify to the truth. For this he came, joy to the world. Amen.