Sermon for Christ the King – 2015 – Year B
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
‘Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and her redeemer, the Almighty
I am the first ad the last, beside me there is no god’
Isaiah Chapter 44 vs 6
Just this last week I resigned from x x x xx . Not because I have too much on my plate – but out of a certain frustration x x x xx . But as I have reflected on the theme for this week, the Kingdom of God, made present to us in Jesus Christ – I have come to the realisation that my frustration came from a most unhealthy place, one I suggest which is familiar to all.
x x xx xGet the right people x x x x x and, with what is close to a majority, well surely we could do anything . . . and that my brothers and sisters is a highly dangerous temptation. That of the desire for that which belongs to God alone, Sovereignty – being in charge . . .
I remember my first ever ‘Vestry’ meeting. ‘The new Vicar’ – and round the table those elected by the parish to ‘get things done’ – and I will never forget the words of one of the people there during a conversation on ‘what needed to happen’. I can’t for the life of me remember what the point was, but she said, ‘Well, if I were the King of the jungle . . .’ Sadly I lacked the wit to retort, ‘Queen of the jungle, surely . . . ‘ which might have lightened the mood somewhat, but we had barely met and it was my first Vestry meeting. That desire to enforce our own will – to get things done – to put the world to rights – is so very very deep rooted – ‘If I were King or Queen of the Jungle . . .’, ‘If I ruled the world . . .’, ‘If I were like God . . . the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ You’ll know how to fix everything . . . very, very deep rooted temptation . . . to be God . . .
At a personal level we like to think we are right and thus more or less subtly seek to ‘do it my way’ . And of course the more money we have the easier it is at least to establish our own personal fiefdom, where things are as we would wish. As we move from the personal to the public, when it becomes about an organisation, a church, a country, or indeed the world to which we belong, we begin to seek out The Leader. The one on whom we’ll dump all our hopes and fears – the one who best reflects our own prejudices – in ages past, and in many places today – a King . . .
And so dominant is this narrative in our lives, personal, public at work, and civic in wider society, so dominant is that deep rooted story, that when we hear Jesus announce The Kingdom of God – we tend unconsciously to imagine that the ‘god’ of our imaginings is ‘the King of the Jungle’, or to use an unhelpful phrase; ‘in charge’, and if he is ‘in charge’ then frankly, to our eyes, he doesn’t seem to be doing much to fix things . . . [the unexamined presupposition over the question of God and suffering], because, “believe you me, if I was the King of the Jungle . . .” and as events in Paris this past week have revealed, it Is a Jungle . . . all we see is our own ultimate helplessness reflected back to ourselves, because we have determined what a King is and should be about . . . and thus the rush to abandon any idea of the Kingdom of God as the Reign of God in a meaningful sense, and the thought that in 7.3 billion and mutually contradictory ways ‘we’ll put it to rights’ . . . in the same old tried and tested and world weary ways, which didn’t work last time or the time before that or the time before that, but we are SO sure that we CAN enforce our will on the world and if ‘God’ won’t then we will . . .
And in all of this we Christians ignore OUR strange story. A people, who didn’t have a king, but were desperate for a King, because after all that’s how the World works. So because THIS people wouldn’t give up on the idea, God gave them what they wanted . . . so they had one King after another who tried to fix it, who tried in their own way to put it right, the same old tried and tested and world weary ways, which didn’t work last time or the time before that or the time before that . . . eventually leading people into exile – and then endless foreign occupation and we come to the end of the road . . . and we look at this bedraggled remnant, a few Galilean fishermen, a tax collector, a nationalist zealot . . . and at their head a dusty, hungry, battered and bruised rabbi – looking as if he’s had nowhere much to lay his head . . . and we see Him stood before Pilate the representative of the Global superpower, with all its armies, the World Order, then as now . . . we see Jesus, the one who says ‘My Kingdom is not from this world . . .’ When Jesus says this, we must understand – he is not saying, my kingdom is ‘spiritual’ ethereal, otherworldly – Rather ‘My Kingdom is not like any Kingdom you know . . .
Jesus says ‘If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews, [using the same old tried and tested and world weary ways, which didn’t work last time or the time before that or the time before that] But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ ‘My Kingdom . . .’ The Kingdom of God, My Kingdom . . .
Jesus says ‘He has a Kingdom . . .’ as he announces the Kingdom of God, somehow it is His – He is the King of it. When Jesus says ‘The Kingdom of God is amongst you . . .’ he is not declaring some spiritual truth about the nature of reality which he is pointing us to beyond himself, he is pointing us to Himself. I am here, in your midst, ‘My Kingdom . . .’ is at hand . . . this is it – this is God’s answer – Jesus of Nazareth. The real world flesh and blood answer to human history, God’s King, in the flesh . . .
We live in a world in which words are routinely emptied of any meaning – and the phrase ‘The Kingdom of God’ is similarly prey to such evacuation. It gets attached as a religious label of convenience to any and every human project for ‘betterment’, for ‘putting the world to rights’, a ‘spiritual message of human well being . . .’ ‘It’s, you know, spiritual, it’s ‘out there somewhere’ if only you look . . . you know, the Truth – that which science is opening up to us, so we’ll see – it’s out there somewhere, the truth, the truth that will set you free . . . but The Truth is that which in truth we avoid . . .
ISIL claims that it was behind the terror attacks in Paris . . . and in the blink of an eye ‘France’ declares war on ISIL and goes to bomb the hell out of them, because of course ‘that will solve it . . .’ wouldn’t it be helpful if just once in a while, a Prime Minister or a President, or a King would come on TV and tell the truth? ‘I’m really sorry folks, I have no idea how we can sort out this horrific mess . . .’ but of course that would bring the whole edifice, the whole human project crashing to the ground – in five minutes they’d be out of office and replaced by someone ‘with a plan!’. Then as now, the truth is to be avoided.
Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’ ‘What is Truth?? St Jerome who first translated the scriptures into Latin plays a lovely word game with this, translating ‘what is Truth’ ‘Quid est veritas?’, which is an anagram of ‘Est vir qui adept’—‘It is The man who stands before you’ [HT to Ian Paul for this insight]
And so this hapless and to our gaze hopeless wandering rabbi – who declares he has a Kingdom – stands before Pilate and declares ‘Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice’ I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life. I am the Good Shepherd – that ancient type of the King of God’s people, God himself come to be the Shepherd – My sheep hear my voice – they will not follow after another . . . I will lead them beside still waters . . . take my Yoke upon you and learn from me – the Yoke, the symbol of Kingly rule, the people under the yoke – learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart . . . Where is the Reign and Rule of God we might ask – where is this Kingdom of God? It is crucified – the world’s answer to Truth, the world’s answer to Love – but it is not overcome. Light cannot be. And God raises Jesus from the dead and sits him at his right hand . . . the place of authority of Kingly Rule – and here and there, people take him for their King, The King, The Truth, and here and there small communities form who take their authority, not from any ‘worldly ruler’, but from Jesus. And where his rule is acknowledged, there as in Galilee all those years ago – The Kingdom of God is born witness to. For this community which embodies the Rule of Jesus is his body, is the manifestation of the Rule of God in the World, in and through Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom of God takes fleshly expression – In the body of the Crucified One – and now in His body, that is, His people. A people saved by God from the consequences of their sins, to proclaim his mighty acts, revealed in Gentleness and Grace and Peace made known amongst us. The Kingdom of God is not an abstract unreal message about a world perfected by our efforts – an empty metaphor which we fill with our ultimately violent ideologies and agendas. The Kingdom of God only has reality in flesh – in the flesh of Jesus who only does what he sees the Father doing even to death upon a cross – and in the fleshly body of those who belong to the Truth who hear his voice and do not listen to another. We do not ‘build the kingdom of God’ – that phrase should be struck from our lips –
rather that we Hear His voice and obey his just and gentle rule – forgiving one another from our hearts – laying down our lives for one another – sharing all we have with one another – acting as that which we are The Body of Christ, the physical embodiment of the reign of God in Jesus, who is gentle and humble of heart.
“But will it make a difference to the world in which we live??’ you may ask. Frankly, that isn’t our problem. Our problem is living in obedience to Jesus – that is work enough. As someone once said, ‘it isn’t that Christian faith has been tried and found wanting, it has been found too difficult and so not tried’ Put another way, being the Church, Being the people of GOd requires all our energy, our imagination, our wealth, our lives. Directing our Life together with the One who comes into the World – that is our work. And we have the promise of Jesus, that in response to our obedience, the world might see and give glory to God. That is what it means to be the Church – a kingdom of priests, serving our God – to whom be glory for ever. Amen
Hear the prayer of Jesus for his Church :-
[Father] I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’ Amen