We Are Called to Shine
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: John 18:33-37
I hope you don’t mind me saying it, but Jesus is such a badass. Here he is in this gospel—in all the gospels, actually—in front of the most powerful man in Israel, a man who’s backed by one of the biggest and most powerful empires the world has ever seen, and somehow—somehow—Jesus manages to flip the script on Pilate.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asks. The local religious authorities are all riled up about Jesus, and Pilate’s trying to figure out if he’s a threat to his power and to the stability of Roman rule in Israel. Pilate doesn’t see a man or a teacher or a leader. He’s just trying to calculate his next move. It’s all politics to him.
But Jesus is not bothered. In fact, he answers Pilate’s question with a question: “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” And just like that, he turns the interrogation onto Pilate, dismantling the political theater and getting to the core of things in one little question. “Are you asking me this on your own or because the religious authorities told you to? Are you really in charge here?”
Now John paints Pilate as a pretty sympathetic figure, someone who seems to understand Jesus and wants to let him go. So even as Jesus has him on the hotseat, Pilate is straightforward, honest: “I’m not a Jew, and I don’t know your story. All I know is that the chief priests handed you over to me. Why would they do that?”
And here’s where Jesus occupies his badass-ness, because he undermines Pilate’s authority without making Pilate feel threatened: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
“Yeah, I’m a king,” he says. “But not in the small, superficial way that you and your caesars rule.”
But Pilate doesn’t hear that part, because he doesn’t care. Pilate isn’t threatened—because he’s thinking too small. He’s only thinking about his little sphere of power, protecting his miniature kingdom, looking out for his own interests. He hears Jesus say “my kingdom is not from here,” and he immediately lets out a sigh of relief and decides that Jesus is not a threat.
Pilate doesn’t get Jesus, because he thinks a king is someone who takes power however he needs to and then does anything necessary to protect that power. Dominate or be dominated. Take or be taken from. Pilate isn’t a king, but just a few verses later, that’s exactly how he acts. He decides to protect his own interests by bargaining with the chief priests and killing Jesus anyway. To Pilate, everything is a calculation in maintaining power, a transaction to keep what he thinks is his.
But that’s not the kind of king Jesus is interested in being.
There’s a reason I chose today’s poem.
All this time
The sun never says to the earth,
With a love like that,
It lights the
I chose this poem because I see in it the kind of kingdom Jesus brings. Let me explain.
The sun just shines. It’s not afraid of being too bright for some people. Its light isn’t a commodity to be hoarded or protected or carefully rationed according to who deserves it and who doesn’t. The light is just who the sun is. It just so happens that who the sun is, is also essential to the thriving of others, of the earth, of us.
That’s the kind of kingdom Jesus is bringing. We see it in his interaction with Pilate. He is calm and confident inhabiting all of who he is. He’s not worried about what the chief priests think of him. He’s not worried about what Pilate thinks of him. He’s not calculating whether the world deserves his gifts. He’s simply there to shine.
You are here to shine. We don’t all shine in the same ways. Not everyone is built to stand up to rulers like Jesus did. But some of us were built to hold the hands of people who are dying. Some of us were built to play music. Some of us were built to help children find their own ways to shine. Some of us were built to organize the tiny details behind the scenes. Some of us were built to balance accounts.
And when I say built, I mean created in God’s image. God built us this way. God gave us this light that shines through us.
I’m not going to pretend that shining is always easy. Being who we are isn’t always easy. It wasn’t easy for Jesus. Even he pleaded with God, “take this cup from me. I don’t want to be me anymore.” I didn’t want to be me when I started figuring out I was queer. I mean, even when I started to realize I was called to be a priest, I was like, “ummm, no thank you.”
Stepping into God’s light for our life isn’t always easy. But that’s where the Body of Christ comes in. That’s where this St. Luke’s community comes in. Remember when I said that the sun’s shining is essential to the thriving of everyone? So is your shining. We get to practice here. Well, not exactly practice, because we need your gifts here, whatever they are. We need you to shine, even if you’re still learning what that means for you. And we all always are.
That’s the kind of kingdom Jesus is talking about. That’s the kingdom he rules over. The power in that kingdom is not in dominating or diminishing some people. It’s not in hoarding resources for the benefit of some and not others. It’s not a transaction of “You owe me.” It’s about everyone letting their light shine for the benefit of everyone else. It’s about knowing that your gifts are absolutely essential for the thriving of St. Luke’s, for the thriving of the whole world.
It’s our ingathering Sunday, and in just a bit, we’re going to collect and celebrate the pledges you’re making to this community for 2022. Our pledges are not a transaction. They’re not a “you give me this, and I’ll give you that.” Our pledges are a commitment to letting God’s light in us shine. To exploring what that means for us—maybe exploring gifts that have been waiting inside you, waiting for the safety of a place like this to practice.
Our pledges are a commitment to manifesting right here at St. Luke’s the kind of kingdom where Jesus is king, where love rules, where every single person is essential not despite who you are but because of who you are, where all you need to do is show up and let yourself shine. Amen.