Will Platnick- Seminarian
When I was a kid growing up on Long Island, I absolutely loved playing in the snow. Though the amount of snow we typically got paled in comparison to the snow that some of the south towns got a year ago, we would typically be shutdown for snow at least a couple times per year. Snow ball fights…no school…building snowmen…no school….making snow angels…no school…I loved every second of it. One day, my friends introduced me to a game called King of the Mountain, or King of the Hill, do you all know what I’m talking about? What do you call it out here? So, for those who don’t know, King of the Mountain or Hill is a game where the object is to make your way to the top of the pile of snow while keeping the people you are playing with off the top of the snow pile and when you claim your rightful place on top of the snow pile, you yell out something like “I AM THE KING OF THE MOUNTAIN”. As you can imagine, the game necessitates a bit of rough housing, and with my friends, a lot of rough housing. People were getting thrown down or tumbling down this gigantic 30-foot snow pile at an alarming rate, and looking back on it, it’s a miracle none of us were extremely injured that day, because although it was a lot of fun, it was also really, really violent.
When we look back throughout the ages, we can see many battles and wars fought between different kings and rulers with an amped up version of the violence we associate with that childhood game, with each king or ruler trying to throw each other off whatever piece of land they were fighting about and trying claiming sovereignty over. If you’ve ever seen the HBO television show Game of Thrones, you have seen this battle between kings and rulers play out, and it is often us, the subject of the monarchy, who suffers most greatly. Historically, we don’t trust our kings and rulers.
Because of our lack of trust in kings and monarchy, we setup a different system of government when we overthrew the British monarchy here in America…but we don’t trust our government much now either, do we? A week ago, the polls showed the congressional approval rating was 11%. In our society, it feels like we are always at odds or fighting with someone because of lack of trust. This lack of trust in each other divides this country bitterly in just about every area. Why do we find it so hard to trust?
In our Gospel reading this week, we hear the story of Jesus being interrogated by Pontius Pilate. In Verse 37, Jesus answered Pilate calling him a king with “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me, to which Pilate retorts “What is truth?” That’s a question that I think all of us constantly grapple with at some level, and I think it contributes to our inability to trust, because what else can we trust in but something or someone that is actually true…and true not like the world looks at true where you have your truth and I have my truth and they’re both true, but real, absolute truth.
I grew up in a non-religious household, my father was a non-practicing Jew and my mother a non-practicing Methodist. My mom grew up the daughter of the church secretary, and was turned off of Christianity because she had an intimate view of how the members there treated each other. When my dad and I talk, he doesn’t have many good things to say about his religious upbringing either. Growing up, I had a curiosity about Christianity, so when my parents would drag me to antique shows, I would sometimes pick up a Bible in the hotel drawer that the Gideon’s left, and start reading Genesis and I would get to family lines and lineages and become so bored that I put the book away, wondering how on earth anybody could read such boring crap. That curiosity soon gave way to hatred and animosity towards organized religion, and Christianity in particular. The only Christians I knew in real life were my Catholic friends, who hated everything about the church, and the ones in Catholic School had the love of God physically beaten out of them by the nuns at the school. I saw this happening to people I cared about, and I got angry. In history classes I read about the Crusades and the ridiculous amount of innocent people killed in the name of Christianity. On television, my view of Christianity was shaped by greased up televangelists trying to swindle poor people out of their money and groups like Westboro Baptist Church, spewing messages of hatred and bigotry. All these things I experienced were 100% true, and because they were all true, I felt confident and justified in my hated towards anybody who was stupid enough to believe in God. Truly, while growing up, I hated every single person here, without ever having met you.
Then one day, God started dismantling this false truth I had created, funnily enough on an online dating site called OKCupid. I was browsing my matches and came across the profile of a woman who was cute, but was finishing up seminary and was going to become a Pastor. Not wanting anything to do with a Christian, let alone a Christian Pastor, I moved on without a second thought. The next day, I saw she visited my profile as well, and apparently she didn’t see anything that she liked about me either, since I didn’t hear from her. Then, one day, I was sitting at work on a Friday around 11 AM, and I get this strong and sudden urge to send that Pastor woman a message, so I hop online and I see that she’s online and send her an instant message. As it turns out, the woman was on the page to delete her profile from the site entirely because of one too many bad dates. If I hadn’t messaged her in that 30 second window, we never would have met. As you can probably guess, the woman in the story was Pastor Becca, my lovely wife.
When Becca and I first started dating, she had no requirement that I be a Christian, just that I be respectful of her views as a Christian…though to be honest even that was hard, since I was definitely a bit of a jerk. Being the master of subtlety that my wife is, she invited me to the Alpha course, which is sort of an introduction to Christianity course that, incidentally, is starting up here in a little over a month. One day, it occurred to me that I really don’t know a lot about a group of people who I hated, so wanting to not be completely lost, I downloaded the first Bible app I found, called YouVersion, onto my tablet, and started a reading plan that would walk through the Bible in a year, with not just the boring parts of Genesis I was used to putting down, but also Psalms, Proverbs and Matthew, and it was a completely different experience. One day, I was in the reading plan, and I get to the point in Genesis where God is breathing life into man through his nostrils, when all of a sudden I have this huge, crushing blow on my nose, like someone is placing the palm of their hand against my face and pushing as hard as they can. I was scared out of my mind, and I remember sending Becca a text message saying that either my brain was really enjoying playing tricks on me…or the Holy Spirit just punched me in the face.
I had spent my entire adult life building up this big, false truth, based on smaller, incomplete amount of true things, that God didn’t exist, and people who believed in God were idiotic, hate-filled hypocrites who the world would be much better off without. It was right then that God started tearing all these walls that I had built down to the ground, and showing me that this false story I had created, that the world around me seemed to affirm, was in fact, completely false. Through God, Becca and the congregation at Prince of Peace setting a positive example about what it means to be a Christian and challenging my expectations, the false story I created fell apart…and a few months later, I was baptized and joined the church.
Though my negative experiences with Christianity were true and I thought I could trust what the world was telling me about those experiences, they weren’t together the truth. The world asks us to put our trust and hope in lots of things: wealth, power, our own opinion, and all sorts of vices that make us feel good temporarily. The world lies to us and tells us we can turn to these things to make us happy or to give us purpose, but if we’ve ever looked back in our pursuit of these things, we know that it’s all one big lie. In our text today Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world…that it doesn’t look like what people would expect the kingdom of God to look like. Jesus Christ didn’t come as a conquering king, he came as a suffering servant. Jesus didn’t setup his kingdom through brute force, he built it while dying the death of a criminal on a cross. Nobody saw that coming…that wasn’t anybody’s expectation. I thought I could trust what I saw in the world about God and Christians…but I put my trust in things that were false and would only bring me frustration and death.
It’s important to know that the reason that Jesus was born and came into the world was to testify to the truth because being able to trust in God’s truth…in God’s promises for us, is the cornerstone of our faith. When we are able to trust Jesus Christ as the good and perfect King who loves and cares for his servants well being, we get to see glimpses of God’s Kingdom starting to come down from heaven into our time on earth right now, and there is nothing more amazing than seeing that happen in front of you.
Because Jesus came to testify to the truth and through his death on the cross for our sins and his resurrection 3 days later, we can trust that same God who created life, the universe and everything also cares and loves each person here, intimately. Because Christ is King, we can trust him to lead us not only through the amazing experiences where we see God acting in big ways right in front of us, but we can also trust him to lead us through the really hard and difficult times as well.
When Becca and I’s son Gideon died just a little over a year ago, that trust in God kept us afloat when the world threatened to drown us. Being able to cling to the truth that Jesus loves us and is for us and is mourning with us helped keep us going, even if sometimes it was hard to believe. We clung to the truth that it’s in Jesus’s character as the good and perfect King to be able to take the worst experiences we will go through in life and use them for good, and we got to see tiny glimpses of that good as we mourned. Because we were able to be transparent about our faith, struggles and trust in God in a time in which the world expected us to crawl under a rock and die, lives were changed. Friends and acquaintances, moved by our blog and Facebook posts wanted to talk to us about Jesus. People who hadn’t gone to church in years found themselves wanting to go because they could see God’s truth in our story. We were able to minister to so many people who had been carrying around grief and pain related to birth and parenthood that society had forced them to remain silent about, and in many cases, they were able to minister to us as well. And, I should also say, Pastor Becca and I would not be here at Zion if our son had lived, and while I miss my son tremendously and nothing will ever make his death OK, we also love it here at Zion, and we are grateful to now be a part of this amazing congregation.
We may not trust our government…we may not trust our rulers…lord knows we shouldn’t trust ourselves given how often we’re wrong …but we can trust in Jesus. In our story, Pilate asked, what is truth? The truth is that Jesus’ love for us…it has no end, it’s as deep as the sea and as high as the sky and encompasses everything in between. Life may be going really well for you right now…everything seems to be lining up perfectly…or maybe you’re going through a really hard time and your faith is being tested and it feels like God is far away, but that’s not the truth. The truth is that neither death nor life…neither angels nor demons…neither the present nor the future nor any powers…neither height nor depth nor anything else in all of creation is able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our lord and king…and that’s truth that we can trust in.