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Nov 25, 2018

Choosing Christ

Passage: John 18:33-37

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Series: The Choice Is Yours

Category: Sermon Series


Last Sunday sure was special!  At 10:30 we had a trombone choir from MU, led by world renowned trombonist Peter Steiner from Italy providing us worship music.  We enjoyed a tremendous Thanksgiving feast in the Great Hall.  And then an incredible trombone and organ concert in the afternoon.  At 9:00 we had a full house in worship, our second straight week of 65+ (our high-water mark).  We had our special table set-up, which required a lot of work to get ready.  And I’m trusting that last Thursday was wonderful for you as well.  Some of us are probably still groggy and full from too much Turkey and Turkey leftovers.  But all in all a great week!  And next week?  That will be even better!!!  It’s Hanging of the Greens!  One of the top 3-4 Sundays of the year (in terms of sheer aesthetic beauty).  We’ll be decorating the whole church and having lots of special music in worship!  Lots of work has already gone in to making next Sunday memorable.

But today???  It’s easy for today – 11/25 – to be overlooked and get lost in the shuffle.  Yet I would submit to you that today is more important than either last week or next (and not just because Luc Longcor has given us some wonderful music to enjoy).  Next week is Advent.  Advent is a season in the church year that encompasses the 4 Sundays prior to Christmas.  Advent helps us get ready for Christ’s coming, by reminding us of the importance of Christ in Christmas.  Advent reminds us that although we celebrate Christmas with fancy decorations and gorgeous music, and though we exchange presents with one another, Christmas is about God choosing Christ to come into the world, and Christ choosing us to be part of his kingdom.  Today, November 25, the week before all of this begins, is a time to hear that message loud and clear – without all of the admittedly beautiful (and simultaneously distracting) decorations and pageantry that are to come. 

Our scripture reading today is from John 18.  It is the day of Jesus’ crucifixion and he stands before Pontius Pilate, who will hand him over to die.  Pilate is interrogating Jesus about his being a king.  And here is how the conversation unfolds: John 18:33-37

Life is all about choices.  And when it comes to faith and belief, the question is: Whom will we choose to serve?  To whom will we choose to be devoted?  Pilate or Jesus?  Pilate and Jesus represent two clear alternatives.  Pilate and Jesus are both leaders, just of completely different realms.  Pilate’s realm is an earthly one.  In Pilate’s world, strength is measured by muscle and how much you can get your objectives accomplished.  Power is seen in how much you can bend others to do your will.  Pilate’s is a temporary, instant gratification world, of quick-fixes regardless if they last or not; and it is one where people are crucified and killed for things as simple as being an inconvenience. 

Jesus’ realm, as he tells Pilate, is not of this world.  In his world, strength is measured not be lashing out, but by patience and self-control.  Power is measured by choosing to serve the needs of others over self.  Jesus’ world is one that understands the value of a long-term victory over short-term success, because it is eternal and not temporary.  It is a world where the defeated, depressed and downtrodden are transformed and uplifted in the end.  And God… has already chosen Christ!  God has already declared that Christ’s kingdom and not Pilate’s will be the one in which God dwells.  God could have chosen Pilate’s world as the one that leads to life, but God chose the way of Christ instead.  And Advent and Christmas are about Christ choosing us to be part of his hope, his life, and his realm.


I would like to direct your attention to this picture (sermon insert).  It was presented in 1600 by the Italian painter Caravaggio, and was arguably one of his most famous works.  It is named “The Calling of St. Matthew.”  According to the Gospels, Matthew was a disciple of Jesus.  He was also known by the name Levi and was a tax collector.  Caravaggio’s painting depicts the moment at which Jesus calls Matthew to leave the tax both and follow him.  And there’s so much theological depth in this painting.  Matthew and the other tax collectors are sitting in darkness.  But as Christ enters the room, so does light, beaming over his shoulder.  No one at the table seems to realize they are in darkness until the light of Christ comes in.  Moreover, they don’t seem to expect Jesus (or anyone) to walk on in them.  We have every reason to think they are caught off guard, as though they didn’t invite Jesus to come.  But still he comes.  Jesus is the one on the right with his finger outstretched.  Jesus’ pointing is clearly meant to be the moment at which the invitation is given (as in, “Hey you!  Come and follow me!”). 

But to whom is he pointing?  Some have argued that it’s the man in the red beard, who is pointing to himself as if to say, “Who me?  You want to call me?”  As though he is surprised to be among Jesus’ inner circle.  As though he sees himself as not somehow worthy.  But others have suggested the one Jesus is pointing to is the younger man at the end of the table; the only one not looking up; who’s oblivious to everything around him because he’s so focused on counting his money.  And that’s the beauty of the painting to me.  It doesn’t matter!!  The fact that we might debate whom Jesus is calling in this painting is precisely the point.  Jesus came for both of them.  Because he chooses them all!  One of them was named Matthew, but the light that came in shone on all of them. 

This whole month we’ve been talking about choices.  We don’t always choose the way life unfolds around us, but we do choose how we respond.  Three weeks ago we talked about adversity and grief.  How will we respond when death takes a love one from us?  Two weeks ago we talked about serving.  Will we choose to follow Christ’s example and serve others, or instead insist on being served by them.  And last week we talked about how gratitude is a choice to see everything as a gift from God that is not to be taken for granted. 

Today, with the help of Caravaggio’s painting, we have the ultimate truth; the best expression of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And it is this: God chose Christ to be the one to bring light into our darkness and new direction to our lives.  And Christ choose US!!  All of us.  And even if we make the “wrong” choices in our lives – even if we’re stuck in grief and we find it hard to persevere in faith; even if we don’t serve others or haven’t figured out how best to use our gifts; even if we’re not grateful and appreciative, and take things for granted…  Christ still chooses us.  Christ will still break into our lives – whether we invite him in or not.  He will still bring light to our darkness.  He will still offer wisdom and guidance for our path.  And he will still point to us and say “You… come follow me.  You are welcome in my kingdom.”  If we are serious about keeping Christ in Christ-mas, this is what we should remember.  For this is what next month is really all about.