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The King's Speech

November 21, 2021 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lectionary

Topic: Biblical Verse: John 18:33–18:37

Festival of Christ the King: The Last Sunday of the Church Year

November 21, 2021

John 18:33-37

 “The King’s Speech”

In 2010, The King’s Speech appeared on the screen as a historical drama movie. This British film told the story of the future King George VI, father of Queen Elizabeth II, who sought out the help of an Australian speech and language therapist named Lionel Logue to cope with a stammering condition. The two men began to work together while the future king was still Prince Albert, Duke of York. “The men become friends as they work together, and after his brother abdicates the throne, the new king relies on Logue to help him make his first wartime radio broadcast upon Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in 1939” (The King's Speech - Wikipedia). The movie was written by a man named David Seidler, who “read about George VI’s life after learning to manage a stuttering condition he developed during his own youth” (Ibid). Seidler believes that his stammer was “caused by the emotional trauma of World War II and the murder of his grandparents during the Holocaust. King George VI’s success in overcoming his stammer inspired the young Seidler, ‘Here was a stutterer who was a king and had to give radio speeches where everyone was listening to every syllable he uttered, and yet did so with passion and intensity.’ When Seidler became an adult, he resolved to write about King George VI” (Ibid). Lionel Logue “received the Royal Victorian Order for service to the Crown, was always present at King George VI’s speeches during the war and… they remained friends until the King’s death from lung cancer in 1952” (Ibid). The movie was a great success, and “received 12 Oscar nominations, more than any other film in that year, and subsequently won four, including Best Picture” (Ibid). We hear a different sort of king’s speech today in the Gospel lesson as Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate. On this Christ the King Sunday as the church year draws to a close, we hear the words of our King’s speech. This becomes the theme for preaching on this day. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

So often in life we can get caught up in all of the stuff that’s going on; all of the things vying for our attention. It can feel like we’re playing whack-a-mole as we go from one thing to another; just doing our best to hang in there and get through the day. Because of this, it’s very easy to see only the day-to-day things, and not see the big picture. Christ the King Sunday reminds us that there is a big picture. There are cosmic dimensions to this day as both Old Testament (Daniel 7:9-10) and Epistle (Revelation 1:4b-8) lessons make clear. Beyond all the struggling and striving of daily life are things timeless and eternal. Daniel’s vision reminds us of this with the Ancient of Days, the court of heaven, and the Son of Man whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14b). This is Christ our King, prophesied centuries before his coming. So also the words from today’s Epistle lesson remind us that in the turmoil and confusion of the world around us, there is Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth… who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6). All of the influence, authority, and power that are part of this world will give way to Christ our King when he comes again.

Standing before Pontius Pilate, bruised and battered from abuse already, Christ our King makes his speech. Pilate was no fool when it came to political intrigue and power struggles. He interrogates Jesus about his kingship, and Jesus replies, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). None of this makes any sense to Pilate. Like most earthly rulers, he operates in the realm of raw power. Deeper concerns about the kingdom of God and the coming judgment are not in his vocabulary. Jesus’ speech, his response to Pilate, goes on: For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37b). The verse which follows, which is not part of today’s Gospel lesson, is Pilate’s cynical response: “What is truth?” (John 18:38). The cynical world would have us believe that truth can be whatever you want it to be. Truth can be twisted and warped to fit into whatever situation it needs to fit. Over against this,  Christ our King has told us: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). At the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world, it is only the truth of Christ our King that matters.

Unlike most speeches, our King’s speech before Pontius Pilate was not long. After Pilate pronounces sentence that our King is to be crucified, there are only the briefest of words that Jesus utters: “Woman, behold your son!... Behold, your mother!” (John 18:26-27); “I thirst” (John 18:28); “It is finished” (John 18:30). In saying little, our King said much; he said everything. His final words, “It is finished,” make clear that all the saving work of our redemption has been accomplished by our King. Jesus’ once- for-all sacrifice upon the cross for our sins is the saving truth that leads to eternal life. When heaven and earth pass away, this is the truth that remains for time and for eternity.

Looking at Jesus on the cross, we would be hard pressed to see the glory and power and might that the world looks for in kings and rulers. Looking at Jesus on the cross, we see only weakness, suffering, and death. But with the eyes of faith, we see that it is precisely through the weakness, suffering, and death of Christ our King that we have received strength, blessing, and everlasting life. Even in his resurrected and glorified body, Christ our King still retains the marks of his suffering and death; the print of the nails and the thrust of the spear are still visible (John 20:19-21). But these are now transformed from signs of grief and anguish into songs of praise and thanksgiving. Christ our King lives and reigns to all eternity.

Thanksgiving is this week, and among all the many things that we could talk about around the Thanksgiving table, is there room for a word about our King? Christ our King still speaks through his people today who are his witnesses and ambassadors to all the world. We have the great blessing to tell others about our King. It doesn’t mean we have to give speeches, but through our words and actions to share with others all that our King has done for them. What opportunities are before us to do this? The Holy Spirit creates these open doors of opportunity, and they are really divine appointments. And so until Christ our King comes in all his power and glory, let us in our hearts “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Amen.  

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