JOHN 18:33-37

NOVEMBER 15, 2009


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            As we come upon Stewardship Sunday, a couple of childhood games spring to mind.  One is the game “Chutes and Ladders.”  How many of you have played that game at one time in your life?  So most of you are familiar with it.  You shake the dice and move your piece along an S-shaped path.  The goal, of course, is reaching the top before anyone else, and if you land on one of the spaces with a ladder, you get to the top even faster.  If you land on a chute, however, you slide back down the path, and have to work hard on overcoming that downfall.

            I sense that many view life as portrayed in the game “Chutes and Ladders.”  Life is about getting ahead, about climbing to the top whether that is wealth, fame or achievement.  We hear the phrase “Climbing the ladder of success” quite a lot and that phrase drives many, especially in a capitalistic society.  Conversely, as in the game, we desperately want to avoid the chutes.  Failure of any kind sends us back down the path of success, we lose ground to others, and we feel like losers.  In other words ladders=success=good whereas chutes=failures=bad.  Getting ahead, getting to the top is what it’s all about.

            The other game I played a lot as a child was checkers.  That game also imitates life.  Checkers is about moving forward.  It’s also about advancing toward a goal.  The way you get there - the way you succeed in checkers - is to conquer your opponent.  Jump them and they no longer exist.  Double-jump them and they disappear even faster.  I loved checkers, and I was good at it. 

            Of course, my favorite part of the game, other than winning, was when your checker reaches the opposite side of the board, your opponent’s side of the board, and you say to your opponent, “King Me!”  Then your opponent stacks one of your conquered pieces on top of the piece that made it to the far side of the board, and now you are king.  In checkers, kings are to be respected, even feared.  Kings can go anywhere.  Whoever is “kinged” first has a decided advantage.  Being “kinged” means having power, and whoever is “kinged” first is in the drivers seat and the one likely to win the match.  Sort of like life.  Human nature often tells us that power is everything, and wealth is everything and winning is everything, in checkers, and in life.

            When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate on that first Good Friday, however, he disagreed.  When Pilate asked for his credentials, Jesus could have called down legions of angels and walked out of the palace without breaking a sweat.  If Jesus had chosen to assert his authority as the Son of God, he could have merely raised his voice and Pilate would have melted, just like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz.  He could have said, “King me!” and he would have won the day.  But he didn’t.  This most unusual king in human history apparently believed in love more than power, meekness more than assertiveness, and Jesus’ behavior so baffled Pilate that Pilate never recognized the king of the universe standing directly in front of him.  Of course, we can’t blame Pilate.  Who could have pictured a kingdom where power is not everything, where wealth is not everything, where winning is not everything.

            Jesus rules what we might call an “upside down” kingdom.  In this kingdom, the last is first and the first is last.  In this kingdom, one would rather serve than to be served.  In this kingdom, you gain your life by losing it.  In this kingdom giving rivals, even outdistances, getting. 

            I think of a former president, Jimmy Carter.  In 1980, President Jimmy Carter lost his bid for reelection to Ronald Reagan, and he returned home to Plains, Georgia, a broken man.  Even fellow Democrats distanced themselves from this embarrassment of a president.  Out of the limelight, he began to work quietly on issues and projects that were important to him as a follower of this different type of king, Jesus Christ.  He gave time and energy to a struggling organization called Habitat for Humanity.  He advocated for people of poverty.  He continued teaching his adult Sunday School class at Maranatha Baptist Church.  To this day, he takes his turn mowing the church lawn, while his wife, Rosalyn, cleans the church bathrooms. 

            In 2002, Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize, and when he was asked by the Christian author, Philip Yancey, to reflect on his life as an engineer, a Naval officer, a farmer, a governor and a president, about which phase of his life he enjoyed best, Jimmy Carter thought for a moment and said, “Now.”  I don’t know what you think of the former president’s politics.  I just know what one of my friend’s thinks of him.  My friend Don Collins is a Republican’s Republican.  He votes the party ticket.  I’m not sure Don ever voted for a Democrat in his life, but he’s traveled to Plains, Georgia twice to sit in on Jimmy Carter’s adult Sunday School class.  Despite the difference in politics, Don admires, respects, and loves the former president.  I’m not sure the exact reason for that, but I suspect it has something to do with how Jesus stood before Pilate and refused to act like a king the world would want to follow.  Jimmy Carter’s humble spirit, his refusing to act like a person of importance appeals to Don.  It causes one to think.  If what we long for in this life is to be admired, respected and loved, why do so many spend so much of their time trying to be important, and successful, and wealthy, and powerful?

            Listen to these words from Frederick Buechner, the Presbyterian theologian.  Buechner writes,


            If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter, and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party.

            The world says, “Mind your own business,” and Jesus says, “There is no such thing as your own business.”

            The world says, “Follow the wisest course and be a success” and Jesus says, “Follow me and be crucified.”

            The world says, “Drive carefully - the life you save may be your own” and Jesus says, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

            The world says, “Law and order,” and Jesus says, “Love.”  The world says, “Get” and Jesus says, “Give.”

            In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is as crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy, too, is laboring less under the cross than under delusion.  “We are fools for Christ’s sake,” the Apostle Paul says.  Ultimately the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men, the lunacy of Jesus is saner than the grim sanity of the world.


            This is Stewardship Sunday, and for most, it’s the least liked Sunday of the year.  It’s the Sunday we talk about money and possessions, and giving and generosity, and to be honest, it’s not our favorite topic.  Given that let me tell you of a conversation I was a part of last Sunday night.  Trudy and I are in a small group that meets once a month on the second Sunday of the month, and toward the end of the group we ask each other, “How can we be praying for you this next month,” and I was the first to answer, and I said, “Well, one thing you can pray about is next Sunday at Anderson Grove.  It’s Stewardship Sunday, and I hope it goes well.  Pray that people will come to the service, they won’t avoid this Sunday, and people will give and they will give generously, and we won’t have to dip into reserves to balance the budget, because that can only go on so long,” and so on and so forth, but then a side conversation broke out between three of the women in the group.  One woman said, “I hate writing that check to the church each month,” and she goes to another Presbyterian church in town, and this woman has plenty of money, but she worries about money a lot.  She’s retired and wonders if the money’s going to run out, and that’s just how she is.  She’s always been that way even when she wasn’t retired.  But then two other women chimed in, and this may sound like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party to you, but listen to what these other two women said.  They both chimed in, almost simultaneously saying, “Not me.  Writing the check to the church each month is my favorite check to write.”

            Did you hear that?  Are those two women crazy as coots?  Their favorite check to write is the check they write to the church to further the cause of Christ?  Is something wrong with them or is something wrong with us?

            This morning I am going to ask you to pay homage to this different type of king, and to commit yourself to extending his kingdom in our world.  In a world that unashamedly proclaims, “Me first!” I will ask that we adopt a credo of “Others first,” and though it may offend some, I’m going to ask us to be a little demonstrative as Presbyterians.  I know demonstrative and Presbyterians are words that don’t necessarily go together, but I’m going to ask you to push the limits and be a demonstrative Presbyterian.   I am going to invite you to get out of your seat, to come forward and lay your tribute to the king we worship in this place.  If you have no stewardship card filled out, come.  If you have no gift to bring but yourself, come.   You may not have anything in your hand, but God knows what is in your heart.  When the music starts, you come and offer whatever you have to give.  And the Savior will receive it as a gift fit for a king.  For so it is.