Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King, Yr B

If a picture is worth 1000 words, I wonder what we’d learn from picturing our readings today…There is the high drama of apocalyptic vision in Daniel and in John’s Revelation but
to begin with, let’s focus on the Gospel, on the encounter between Pilate and Jesus.

Pontius Pilate, Roman Governor…
In contemporary terms, he’s the chief executive, the man in a smart suit, clean, well-pressed, if a little weary from his broken night.
His is the seat of power…but as he leans back in his leather chair and looks across the desk he sees …what?
Perhaps a dishevelled figure – it’s unlikely that the arresting officers were specially careful in their treatment of him (though whipping and stripping will not happen til later, few people look their best when they are hauled in for questioning in the middle of the night)
Certainly a lonely figure, isolated, unsupported even by the ragtaggle group of friends who’ve been his companions up til now…
Someone it might be easy to bully.
One man alone.
Not someone who presents a realistic challenge to the might of Rome.

Two people confronting one another…Pilate and Jesus.

So where does the authority lie?
If we’d been there, if we had been given the choice, I wonder whom we would have opted to follow.
It might not be the clear-cut decision we would like to imagine.
Actually, even as we gather here today, the jury may still be out.

Can we, DO we celebrate the feast of Christ the King?

We gather together as the Church of Christ…
We pray earnestly “thy Kingdom come” week after week after week, but I wonder if we can truly claim to be wholehearted citizens of that kingdom?
Like countless other Christians, from the earliest days of the Church, we use words like Lord and Master to talk about God and Christ and the life of the world to come… but it’s sometimes hard to tell what that means in our lives here and now.
Jesus, of course, was the great subversive, turning the world upside down as he challenged every accepted norm.
“My kingdom is not from this world”…
The mission that began with his mother singing the Magnificat
“He has put down the mighty from their seats and exalted the humble and meek”, continued with the Sermon on the Mount,
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.
Soon it will reach its climax – in something that looks to bystanders very much like defeat….because on the whole, we’d all prefer our crowns to be made of something more glitzy than thorns.

My kingdom is not from this world…

Even as we confirm our allegiance to the kingdom, we tend to adopt our own definitions of what this actually means
Perhaps we translate it thus…
“To follow Christ the King need have no impact at all on how we live our daily lives…”
We opt for comfort and conformity, but turn our faces away from challenge and change

So I’d invite you, here and now, to think about what life would look like in Cainscross, Cashes Green, Ebley/Selsley if we took our status as citizens of God’s Kingdom seriously.
We know, don’t we, that the Kingdom is founded on the sort of love that gives without reserve, that befriends with ceaseless generosity, that values everyone whom we meet as someone for whom Christ was pleased to die…
But we tend to live and to love within far narrower, more self-interested boundaries…
We follow the rules of our own kingdoms, safeguard the interests of those whom we find it easy to love, too often leave injustice unchallenged…
We pray “Thy Kingdom come…” but maybe at times we have our fingers crossed.

If, like me, you’ve found that process of consideration more than a little uncomfortable, I’d encourage you to sit with the discomfort for a while…It might just be God’s Spirit prompting you to fresh perspectives, new initiatives, small steps leading, with God’s help, to transformed lives.
And I’d encourage you, too, to keep your eyes open for the signs of the kingdom that are represented by others taking their small steps…To see them, and to celebrate them. The kingdom begins here and now…

But what of our other readings with their flavour of the end times, and of judgement?
Will that King whom we so often fail to follow find us wanting when he comes in the clouds of heaven?
Should we be praying not, “Thy Kingdom come…”but, “Please, Lord, give us more time to get straight”?
Advent begins next week.
Should we look forward not with joy but with panic?

Listen to John
To him who loves us and who freed us from our sins by his blood…
The King who will come in judgement is the one who loves us so much that he dies for us…each one of us, even for me.
We have nothing to fear.

The writer Adrian Plass tells the story of a preacher who was anxious that his congregation should fully engage with that theme of judgement so he placed a chair at the head of the nave and invited them to imagine that it was occupied by Jesus, enthroned in great glory
He told them to imagine that, each in turn, they were coming to stand before him, to receive his verdict on their lives.
He asked them
“Now, tell me, are you not full of dread as you stand at the judgement seat?”
And Plass responded
“No...because if Jesus is there, then he will, really and truly make everything, -  EVERYTHING all right”

So we don’t need to despair of ourselves or of our world as we consider this feast of Christ the King.
Instead, we need to strive to embrace the challenges of the kingdom, while we admit our own fearfulness, our reluctance to engage, to really live as citizens of heaven…
We need to recognise that God’s kingdom does not wait out of reach for the end of life as we know it, but is close at hand, ready for us to grasp it and be transformed.


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