Sermon for 2nd December

Christ The King

Can you sum up the Gospel in three words? Can you find a phrase that incorporates the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection? Can you describe the means by which the way of rebellion and pride is replaced by freedom and justice? Can you cover the commands of the Sermon of the Mount; the abiding presence of Jesus; the council of the Holy Spirit; the return of Christ? In three words, can you account for the reason why Christ is misunderstood, hated and feared at the same time that he is loved, obeyed and worshipped?

The earliest followers of Jesus Christ had just such a phrase. They knew that the key to the Christ-life was the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord”. Or, in other words, they knew that if Christ is King then all else follows.

The claim of kingship was not an abstract concept for Jesus or the people who followed him. It was the sign of their sharpest break from the world – the source of their persecution. When Gentiles living in the Roman Empire proclaimed that Jesus was Lord they were also proclaiming that Caesar was not. When Jews proclaimed the kingship of Christ they were upsetting the nationalist expectations of a warrior Messiah. Anyone using the phrase was marked out as different, subversive, even dangerous. It was a phrase that could have led to serious persecution and even death. Of all the things that could have been put above his head, it was the proclamation of Jesus’ kingship that Pilate had nailed to the cross.

Today the Church makes a bold assertion, because today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. Who is in charge of the world? Christ is, we proclaim. Who is in charge of the church? Well, as I fully appreciate, it is not me. It is not the Church Wardens or the PCC? I may have a leadership role, wardens and The PCC may have responsibilities but if anyone is in charge then it must be Christ, our King.

Is Christ the king? Look around you. Does it seem like it? The world appears to be in the grip of financial, political and natural forces completely beyond our control. Record levels of rainfall in, Pirates on the seas surroundling Somalia, Terrorists fighting British soldiers in Afghanistan, Gaza and Israel in rows resulting in recriminations. It is probably quite legitimate to ask, Can the world survive? Will it be nuclear war that destroys us? Or global warming? Or the collapse of all our financial systems? Or a flu pandemic? It is difficult to find evidence that Christ really is king of the world.

And yet we say it. Whatever the evidence, whatever we feel, today we say that Christ is king. We assert the truth which is deeper than appearances. We reaffirm the truth that at the heart of the universe is a force for peace and justice and love which is stronger than all human forces, which has been from eternity and will be to the end of time.

Centuries of Christian history have perhaps dulled us to the matter-of-fact nature of the phrase “Christ is King”. It is easy now for us to hear Jesus’ statement that his kingdom is not of this world as meaning that his Lordship is purely a “spiritual” one. Christ might be king in our Sunday worship but in our public, everyday life the claim has no real purchase. The phrase has become a subject of inner belief and not a rallying cry for outer obedience. Since Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, runs the logic, then the kingship of Christ has no relevance for the way we spend our money, regulate our business or organise our social groups. This certainly makes life easier for those of us living comfortable lives. But if Christ’s kingship has nothing to say to the powers that be, then it also has no hope to give to people crushed by injustice or to a world having the life squeezed out of it by our systems of habitual violence, haughtiness and greed.

As Christ’s people we live in a kingdom whose rules of life have not been drawn from the surrounding kingdoms but instead have been set by our king. In other words, we live in a kingdom that is in this world, but not of it. As Christ’s subjects, we strive to remain faithful to his example. Yet we also live in expectation that though we live as aliens in this world our rightful king will return to claim his throne.  That is why since the earliest days of the Church, Christians have used another three words to accompany their great gospel proclamation that “Jesus is Lord”, and that is the prayer “Come, Lord Jesus”.

It is rather apt that today we remind ourselves of the kingship of Christ, the authority of our Lord. That is because we are clearly a church that needs to be reminded that Jesus is Lord. This week I am more than concerned that the church has failed, dismally, to remember just that. The failure of the vote for Women to the Episcopate has ignored the will of God for sure. Has ignored the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord, that Jesus is in charge of the church. It is abundantly clear to everyone that Gods will over this issue to ordain Women as Bishops now. This vote was not about whether we are to have women as Bishops but the mechanics behind how that might be achieved, to safeguard a small minority who object. That is why I can say quite emphatically that the will of God is for women to be ordained Bishops and that by not doing it now is ignoring that will. Jesus Christ is in charge of the church not the small minority of folk who sit on a very unrepresentative body and who exercise their own bias views, not listening to the views of the vast majority. People who claim to be concerned about authority and yet cannot, it would seem, accept the authority of their Bishops currently who are  overwhelmingly in favour of female colleagues. People whose views are intrenched in the past and unable to face the future. Whatever their motivations there is a simple fact that the wider society, which we could call the Kingdom, do not understand the finer points of the debate and for that reason in the words of  The Archbishop ” everyday we fail to resolve the issue is a day when our credibility in the public eyes likely to diminish”. This then is a matter of mission and the infighting is preventing the mission of the Church. I do not want to be a part of a church which has no credibility, no time for mission and which cannot see the will of God. Which cannot recognise that Jesus is Lord and that same Jesus is the Jesus in charge of the church. The needs of a small minority, whilst important, cannot be greater than Gods will for his Kingdom.

We are now faced with a difficult future. This is a serious issue. People’s loyalty for the  church they have supported, some for all their lives, will be tested.

This matter has been the focus of a great deal of prayer and debate over recent years.  It involves issues which affect people deeply and personally; it is testing personal relationships and indeed people’s loyalty to the church which they may have served and supported, as I have said,  for all of their lives.

My prayer is that somehow by God’s grace we will be enabled to move forward. That we might hear Gods will for a church in which Jesus is Lord. May God grant us to be both faithful and fruitful in the work to which he calls us.

 

Amen.

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