The very first person who knew that Lori and I were engaged was the sound guy at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. It is true. It was Memorial Day weekend, 1994, and Lori and I had first hiked down from Minnehaha Falls to the spot where the creek enters the Mississippi River. We were sitting there, by the water, on a rock, when I proposed…and she said “yes.” Score!
And after she said yes, and we’d talked for awhile, we did what every young, newly engaged, head-over-heels in love, romantic couple in the world would do: We went to a Twins game.
I’d splurged for tickets in the lower deck, kind of behind home plate, because I am nothing if not a romantic, and we were walking down the steps to our seats, when I turned to scan the sound booth, which was right next to the home-plate press box back then. A good friend, someone I’d known since probably 9th grade, worked in the dome as the sound operator. His name is Dave Langholz. So I started yelling, “Langer! Hey, Langer!” His head popped up in the window and he waved. I pointed to Lori and I shouted “We just got engaged!” He gave a big thumbs up, and then clapped. And we went to our seats.
What I didn’t know was that Langer tracked where we sat down. And then he got on his headphones. And sometime in the early innings, Lori’s and my face appeared on the jumbotron, inside a big pink heart, and the caption underneath us said “Just got engaged.” (Thank you Langer.) We received tepid applause.
As I looked up and saw our faces on the screen, I remember thinking to myself: “Hmmm…maybe we should have told our parents first.” Oh well.
But that single question that I nervously asked that day, it totally changed everything! “Will you marry me?” And the trajectory of my life took a sharp turn…for the better.
Questions change lives. They do. Questions change lives. I’m guessing that if you gave it some thought, you could pretty quickly come up with a list of questions that you have either asked, or been asked, that took your life in a different direction.
- Would you like to come and work with us? Or,
- Should we buy this house? Or,
- Are you happy with your health?
Questions change lives.
Father Michael Reinninger a Catholic Priest in Richmond, Virginia, wrote about a couple he knew, who were in their 80’s. Early in their marriage, the husband had been unfaithful. Their relationship fractured. And in the terrible aftermath of that infidelity, the husband asked his wife, “would you be willing to at least try to save our marriage?” And through the grace of God and the strength of their vows, she said, “yes, I am willing to try.” Years later, surrounded by her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and her husband of 50 years, she realized how that question changed her life, for the better. Questions change lives.
This weekend is the final weekend of the church calendar year. Next weekend we start over with the first Sunday in Advent. But today is the endpoint…the culmination…the “New Year’s Eve,” if you will. It is “Christ the King” weekend, when we celebrate the promises of God fulfilled; the reign of Christ in our world, and in our lives.
And the Gospel story we heard today is a powerful story from the book of John. It is near the end of Jesus’ life, when he is on trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor.
In Roman trials at the time, the legal practice was that the governor would ask questions of the prisoner, and the prisoner would answer them. That’s all it was. No other witnesses; no other testimony. And then, the governor would decide the fate of the accused.
So Jesus stood before Pilate. And Pilate asks him what sounds like a simple, yes or no question: “Are you the King of the Jews?”
I don’t think that Pilate really understood the implications of his own question. Pilate is a politician. And so, he is looking at this trial, and this man Jesus in front of him, through a political lens. Pilate, to be clear, really doesn’t care if Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. He is only interested in whether Jesus is a potential political threat, a political opponent.
But Jesus wasn’t interested in politics…not at all.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asks. Jesus doesn’t answer him directly. Instead, Jesus answers his question with a question: “Are you asking that on your own, or have others told you about me?”
Now, if Pilate had really paid attention to Jesus’ response, it could have changed his life. Because Jesus’ question contained a fundamental truth.
Jesus is asking: “Pilate, is this something that you really wonder? Is it something that in your heart, you really want to know? Or are you merely repeating what someone has told you?” The fundamental truth at the heart of Jesus’ question is that Pilate’s life, and for that matter, your life and my life, will not really be changed or transformed if our only experience of Jesus comes secondhand; from what other people tell us about him.
That is not how Jesus works. Our lives will be transformed if we experience Jesus’ love, and his lordship, his reign, in our lives.
When Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you a King,” Jesus knew that Pilates question was based not on personal experience, but on hearsay; on what other people had told him about Jesus.
If Pilate himself, had ever listened to the truth that Jesus preached, or had witnessed the power of his miracles, or had even just paid attention to the way that Jesus had cared for the sick, or the poor, well then perhaps his life would have been transformed. If he had experienced these things, then he too, would have believed.
Now I’m treading a very fine line here, and I want to be clear. I don’t want to give the impression that it’s all up to us. It’s not a matter of our “inviting” or “asking” Jesus to enter our lives. That’s not what I’m talking about. Because Jesus is already here. You can’t invite someone into a place where they’ve been living…and Jesus has been living within your heart since your baptism.
The love and grace of God is not dependent on our asking for it. We don’t have that kind of power.
No, I’m talking about is embracing and experiencing the love and grace of God which is always offered to us…which always surrounds us.
I’m talking about engaging Christ’s mission to bring meaning, to help the broken and to care for those on the margins.
I’m talking about recognizing that God is already working within and through you, and naming that, claiming it and partnering with Christ in mission.
What does this look like?
- I’d taught about service for years. But it wasn’t until I witnessed the keys being handed to a family that was receiving a Habitat for Humanity home, and I saw the look in their eyes, that I understood service.
- I’d taught about mission for years. But it wasn’t until I was at Westhaven Children’s Home in Jamaica, and I looked into the eyes of a hungry child as I fed him; a child who had physical and cognitive disabilities, and who had no parents, that I understood mission.
- I’d taught about grief and loss for years. But it wasn’t until I sat with and held the hand of a person who was drawing their last breath, that I understood grief.
In these moments, and many, many others, my understanding moved from my head to my heart.
Ultimately, Jesus does answer Pilate’s question. “Yes, I am the King of the Jews. But I am unlike any other king the world has ever seen.” Jesus’ kingdom is not political, and it is not geographic. He doesn’t have an army that is ready to fight the Roman legion, and he is not looking to take dominion over land, or territory.
But Jesus’ kingdom is real. Again, Father Renninger writes that “Jesus’ Kingdom is revealed whenever anyone listens to the truth of God, and put’s God’s truth into action, especially in our relationships with each other.”
Our understanding of Jesus and the role he plays in our world and in our lives it not meant to be simply cognitive…our faith is not simply of our heads…our minds. It is also of our hearts. Jesus wants to be experienced. Jesus wants to be in relationship. Jesus wants to be in relationship…with you. That’s what Jesus was getting at in his question to Pilate.
Questions are powerful, powerful things. And I cannot help but wonder, were you or I standing in front of Jesus today, what questions might he ask us?
He might ask:
- It is nice that you wear that cross, that jewelry around your neck. But do you really live out my teachings? Or he might ask,
- It’s good that you know that you are sinner. But are you ready to be vulnerable, to be honest, to confess that you are broken, and to change? Or maybe Jesus will ask:
- It’s good that you are a member of a church. Still, are you simply an observer of the faith? Or do you believe it, and live it?
Know that in these questions, there is no judgment. This is not about blame or shame. We are not on trial, and our salvation does not depend on our answers.
But we worship Jesus Christ, the king of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He is the beginning and the end. He is the one who knit us together in our mother’s womb, and he is the one who loves, accepts and welcomes us, as we are. God has a hope…a vision for each of our lives.
This Savior…this King…loves you so much that he is asking you a life changing question today: “Do you simply know about my love, or have you experienced my love?” Do you want Jesus to lead you, guide you, teach you and change you? Are you open to becoming who God created you to be?
Today, is Christ the King Sunday. And today, our King, our Lord, Jesus, is popping the question. He asks: “I love you. Do you love me and trust me enough to follow?”
Let our answer be: “I do.”
Thanks be to God.