Sunday, 24 November 2019

Christ The King

Luke 23.33-43 & Colossians 1.11-20
There are rather a lot of stories in the news at present about people seeking power and about people who hold or have held positions of great influence and power. I’m sure that you can easily bring at least one to mind.
Our Gospel reading today is a major challenge to what passes for power in human terms. It’s a difficult subject. People cry out for strong leadership and clear direction in matters of national policy, military conflict, religion and in workplaces but as soon as that leadership doesn’t behave in the way they feel is right they turn against the people leading and accuse them of not listening. In a worldly situation it will never be possible to provide leadership and decision making acceptable to all.
Is it different with God, accepting his rule and being willing subjects in his kingdom? Well, kind of, but it’s still not straightforward, it depends what we believe the kingdom of God looks like.
Is the whole world ready to consider the fact that we are all God’s children, made to live together in community? Unfortunately not, even many who call themselves Christians have different interpretations of what Christ’s kingship is calling them to do sometimes twisting it to suit their argument or excuse their failings.
We may say to others that your God is not my God if he doesn’t believe in pursuing compassionate solutions which put the interest of refugees first, and which recognise our common humanity. Your God is not my God when the ministry of women is devalued and ignored by sections of our own church or when LGBTQ people are ridiculed and made to feel unwelcome.
Churches Together in England say on their website …’ Our vision is to create the space in which fruitful collaboration and mutual understanding can grow…’ yet, quoting verbatim from The Quakers website, ‘Plans to appoint a further President for Churches Together in England (CTE) have faltered because not all denominations in membership of CTE would accept a nominated President, who is a Quaker in a same-sex marriage.
To view this from the outside with criticism is easy, and I admire those who don’t walk away from situations such as this, but stay to try and build understanding, they are certainly worthy of our prayerful support.
At this time of great division and tension in so many spheres I found an example that shows we don’t always have to go back thousands of years to find wise words, it’s a tweet from a social justice campaigner which states, ‘We  can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist’.
Our lectionary labels this Sunday as ‘Christ the King’, the hinge between Ordinary Time and Advent which starts next week. When we think of Jesus’ kingship in the bible we may recall the time the Magi got King Herod worried when they asked ‘where is the child who has been born king of the Jews, or when Jesus was in the wilderness and refused an offer to have all worldly kingdoms if he would worship the devil. Perhaps the easiest image to conjure up is that of Christ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as the crowds laid cloaks and branches in his path ‘Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey…’ 
These earlier events have already taught Jesus’ followers that this is no normal king but someone who has come to show them what real kingship is about. But even to them it must have been a challenge to recognise the pinnacle of Christ’s kingship upon the cross with one commentator claiming it to be as nonsensical as ‘being enthroned on an electric chair.’
Even on the radio now certain stories are preceded by a warning to listeners that ‘the following news story may contain harrowing and upsetting elements’ in order that, if they wish to, they can switch channels for a few minutes until something easier returns. So it really makes us think when we consider that the Kingship of Christ and the love of God was demonstrated to us through a situation of sickening violence and appalling suffering on a wooden cross. As Christians this is something we are called upon to prayerfully consider, not avoid, and in doing so we will better understand God’s love for all.
We heard in Luke’s gospel how one of the criminals being crucified alongside Jesus adds his voice to the abuse, ridicule and mockery aimed at him shouting ‘if you are the King of the Jews, save yourself’ but you sense a mood change which would surely have shocked those looking on as the other criminal calls out ‘Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom’.
This criminal has heard Christ say ‘father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing’. He sees that this is a king who doesn’t blame the ordinary people, the carpenters and the soldiers,  carrying out the orders of the powerful. Even in agony on the cross he can’t stop caring for others.
The criminal recognises in Christ a power that sets people free and a truth that doesn’t need to make compromises, surely this is the sort of kingdom we would all like to make our eternal home.
Those who mocked Jesus might have felt affirmed if he had replied in a way that confirmed their view of all that was happening. Some of his followers might even have expected to hear him reply to the call of ‘Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom’, along the lines of:-
·       Kingdom what kingdom, do I look like a king to you, can’t you see that I’m finished mate?
·       Sorry who said that, I’ll have to have my royal crown adjusted as these thorns are so tight the blood runs through my eyes?
·       Surely you aren’t taking seriously the inscription stating ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’, are you? That’s just Pilate having a laugh, being ironic, antagonising the Jewish leaders as he scoffed at the idea of me challenging the kingship of Caesar.
Instead we know that Jesus took this last earthly opportunity to remind us that God never stops reaching out in love to us, keen to welcome us into his kingdom.
Despite the obvious fact that the criminal on the cross had done much wrong he receives Jesus personal assurance that he will join him in Paradise making it clear that it’s never too late to turn to Christ and that nothing we do can separate us from God’s love.
As he hangs on the cross Christ continues to throw open the gates of his kingdom to exactly the sort of people that worldly power would turn its back upon.
As we begin to understand the type of kingship we see in Jesus it helps us recognise a clear mis-match with much of what we value. We need to think hard about why we are doing things and if they seem right to pursue them with a degree of humility.
There is a great deal of difference between those that accept positions of responsibility and service aware of their weaknesses and reliance upon the support of others and those that seek self-importance and power. The real question is whether leaders want to rule over or to live in community with others.
One of the primary characteristics of our king, Jesus, is a commitment to solidarity with and in our suffering. The criminal who turned to Christ found him immediately willing to offer hope and died knowing that the Son of God suffered with him.
We know that there is a great deal wrong with our world but we also need to be people who can recognise God’s kingdom when we see it in each other. Despite many terrible things happening in and to our world, as Christians we remain people of hope, seeking peaceful resolution of our differences and not giving up in our efforts to collaborate with people of all faiths and none where this benefits others. We get a glimpse of Christ’s kingship each time we see kindness and forgiveness in action that seeks no reward, even more so when it is for those we don’t know, find hard to help or even like.
In doing these things we are not keeping God’s kingdom to ourselves but allowing others to experience it and share in it.
We each play a part in building Gods kingdom every time we refuse to turn our back on people in need, every time we have the courage to stand up against what we know to be wrong and every time we try to put God’s desires above our own. We could think of it as bringing the cross and all it stands for into our world.
It sounds logical but it’s easy to get worn down and distracted from our good intentions, we run into difficulty, disappointment and even danger for some. It’s therefore important that we support and encourage each other remembering that we are not alone in this. We, together, are the body of Christ and we have the potential to breathe new life into all we see around us.
Christ as a baby, Christ resisting temptation and Christ being adored as he rides into Jerusalem all offer palatable aspects of his kingship. Christ on the cross must be as raw a vision of God’s kingship as we can bear yet it is here that the paradise Jesus talks of becomes a reality for each one of us.
Kevin Bright                 
24th November 2019

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