Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, November 21, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

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

Have you ever been asked a question that changed your life?

            Will you marry me?

            Would you consider joining my company?

            Will you forgive me the wrong I have done that hurt you?

            Have you ever thought about ordination?

 And how about you younger ones, have you ever been asked a question that changed your life?

            Will you be my friend?

            Can I sit with you?

            Will you share with me?

Now, some of these may not sound life changing, but if you think closely about what a question does that challenges or invites you to something new, you might see that these questions open a new pathway in your heart or change the direction you might have been going.

Jesus has questions for Pilate today. This is not the way it is supposed to work. In the Roman legal system, the prosecutor or, in this case, the governor, got to ask the questions, and the accused were expected to answer. Pilate poses his question: “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33), but Jesus, instead of answering, asks a question of Pilate: “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” (18:34).

Where are you getting your information from, Pilate? If you had a direct experience of me, if you had walked with me and listened to me, you wouldn’t have to ask this. You would know. You wouldn’t have to ask if I am a king. You would understand that the kind of reign I am talking about has nothing to do with your pitiful little empire.

Pilate missed his opportunity. If he had been paying attention to the question, he might have thought to himself, “No, I only heard about you from others. Maybe I need to see this for myself.” But that isn’t what Pilate did. He continued to ask his prosecutorial questions, relying on hearsay, on what the religious leaders told him. Had he done otherwise, it might just have changed his life.

Will you marry me?

That’s a life-changing question, and surely not one that will be asked based on hearsay or what someone else has told the asker. That person is going to know from personal experience that this is the person with whom they want to spend the rest of their life.

If I were to ask you who you believe Jesus to be and added, “and is this something you know on your own or have others just told you about him,” those would be two very different things.

Maybe you know about Jesus from what you learned growing up in Sunday School. Maybe you know about Jesus because you’ve been listening to me or someone else preach about him for weeks or years. And all of that is well and good.

I will tell you, though, that I can preach until I am blue in the face, but until you have a personal experience of the living Christ, of the one who loves you no matter what; until you can answer Jesus’s question by saying you know first-hand who this Jesus is and not just because I or someone else told you about him, you’ll be missing out on a life-changing opportunity. 

Jesus is always inviting us into relationship, always asking questions of us:

I see how faithful you are about church attendance, but how faithful are you in living my teachings every day of the week?

I see you read and study your bible, but how much of it have you put into practice?

I know that you come to this table and receive the sacrament, but how does my broken body lead you live a Christ-centered life in the world?

I’m sure you have heard a lot about forgiveness, but how often do you actually forgive?

I hear your prayers for the poor and oppressed, but how often have you tried to make a difference in the lives of the poor and oppressed?

Jesus does not have us on trial today, but as we come to the end of the Church year and acknowledge that the reign of Christ is not like any reign of this world, we have yet another opportunity to consider who this Jesus is, for each of us, not just because we heard about him in church or read about him in a story. No, when Jesus asks, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me,” how we answer that question can change the course of our lives. And enough of those changed lives can change the world.

You may be wondering how this happens, then. If you don’t get that deep relationship with Jesus from coming to Church and taking communion and listening to sermons and going to Sunday School, why come?

I’m going to tell you.

Gathering as a community of faith is how we learn to live together as Christ’s body in this world. We hear the Word of God proclaimed, we are filled with the Bread of Life, we pray for each other and those beyond our doorstep, and then we go into the world taking all that we have learned and experienced here so that we will know it when we see it out there. So that we can be Church out there.

They say that faith is not so much taught as caught, and you catch it by surrounding yourselves with people doing their best to live a gospel life, confessing our sins when we fail, and picking ourselves up again as loved and forgiven people of God.

As this kind of life becomes part of us, when we consider the question, “Do you know this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” we will be able to answer that we have seen, we have experienced, we have witnessed Jesus’s love for ourselves. And there is nothing – not even “will you marry me?” – that is as life-giving and life-changing as that.

ASEPSermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, November 21, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas