Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sermon for Christ the King: Year A.

Kings and kingdoms.
A recurring theme in Scripture and in the parables of Jesus.
A sensible image to take us into a deeper understanding of what it might mean to call ourselves Christians
The obvious topic for us to consider on this feast of Christ the King.
Or so it would appear.

Kings and kingdoms.
We all know what they are – don't we?

Maybe not.

It's not just that I've never sung “God Save the King”, that throughout my lifetime coins and stamps have borne a woman's image, that when I use the beautiful altar book presented to one of my parishes in the 1950s I have to substitute "Elizabeth our Queen" for the printed "George our King"...
More than that, the experience of monarchy in the 21st century west is utterly unlike that which we would have encountered at the time of Christ.
Our monarchs are essentially powerless figure-heads, whereas there was nothing nominal about royal power then, and the character of the king was só integral to the ethos of the kingdom that it was almost as if his DNA was written, too, into the fabric of his realm. His word was law – and alot more besides, só that the everyday life of his subjects was affected, for good or ill, by the royal priorities, the royal agenda. What the king says, goes.
Something to think about, perhaps.

If you prefer another analogy, in ancient Israel, the language of sheep and shepherd was often applied to kingship
Ezekiel underlines this as he proclaims God's promise to search for the wounded and the straggler – as much as to judge between sheep and sheep.
You see, even as they set out to follow the shepherd, some sheep just don't care whom they hurt in their search for good pasture...and then the shepherd changes from gentle leader to agent of justice and judgement.
Perhaps that sounds a bit more like what we expect from a king...but if we're still not sure, then perhaps the internet can help. I find it often does!
Earlier this week, I was updating my parish website and searching for suitable images to accompany publicity for this Sunday - the feast of Christ the King.
You might like to try that - it's quite an interesting exercise.
As you'd expect, there are pages and pages to choose from.
Ultra pious, rather saccharine depictions of the Infant of Prague, unexpected links to churches dedicated to Christ the King and a whole galaxy of icons, from across the Orthodox Tradition.
Apart from the photos of church buildings, all these pictures feature a predictably regal Christ - crowned, on the throne, and often bearing orb and sceptre.
This is the king beloved of hymnody, the king "all glorious above" about whom we'll be singing through Advent...but I'm not sure that this is the king of today's gospel.

Oh yes, that king is present at the start of the reading
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.
This is the court of judgement ...the place where we will hear our final destiny...truly a place of awe.
But if we aspire to belong to the kingdom in the meantime, then there are more important truths for us to hear today, even than the verdict on our lives.
To live in a kingdom is about far more than standing to wonder at the majesty of the king as he makes his grand entrance...and we may be in real danger of missing the essence of the kingdom and the king if we focus too much on the set-piece, deus machina moments that will complete our drama.

It's an easy mistake to make – one that we hear about again and again in the gospels.
Think of the Magi, eyes fixed on the star, dazzled by its brightness into calling at the obvious place – the royal palace of Herod – while the king they seek, like a subversive character from pantomime, waits in the least likely shelter....
Think of the Palm Sunday crowds who seem to speak prophetic truth as they shout “Hosanna to the Son of David” but whose expectations of uprising and messianic triumph are disappointed by the events of Good Friday.
Then think of the ways in which Jesus chooses to explain the kingdom – a mustard seed, a hidden treasure, some leaven mixed with dough - and remember just how close king and kingdom really are...

Not a matter of heralds with trumpets, of unmistakeable majesty after all....but of recognising the king where he is always to be found – with those on the edge.
Suddenly the question of judgement and choices comes close to we realise that it is OUR judgements, our choices, that will make all the difference.
And those judgements, those choices, will be governed by our allegiance – to Christ the king or to other rulers, other ways.

If we want to live in the kingdom, then Christ the king is the one who sets the standards, who shows us what kingdom life will be life.
Christ, who chooses to spend his time with the marginalised, the oppressed, the forgotten.
Christ who is utterly committed to those whom nobody values, nobody respects,
Christ who identifies himself só completely with “the least of these” that when we look at them, we know we are seeing him too.
The hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner...
People who NEED us, who need very specific care – not just a generalised expression of good will...
People we probably won't be at ease with, people who may demand things that we find it very hard to deliver.
People we might not like, but are called to love.
People in whose faces we should expect to see the face of Christ.

Thomas Merton observed that the kingdom of God is not one that preaches a particular doctrine or follows certain religious practices, it is the kingdom of those who love. That's what lies at the heart of our parable – and at the heart of the kingdom.
The great commandments of Love.

To love our King is to love what he has made...children, men and women, joyous,broken, hopeful or despairing...
To love our neighbours is to love the One in whose image they,we, are made...and to recognise the divine image not on stamps or coins but in their faces, wherever we encounter them.

That's what it means to be true to the love, and love again.
The DNA of King and kingdom are that Bonhoeffer's question 'how may Christ take form among us today & here?' is both a mystery to be solved – as we look for Christ among those whom we encounter – and a challenge to be embraced as we consider how we can BE Christ...Two sides of one coin,
We may not realise, in our active loving, that we are serving Christ – and só the parable offers a wonderful surprise for those who didn't recognise that in loving service of the outcast they were offering loving service to the king...
But those with ears to hear are given insider knowledge in this parable, that if we want to serve the king we will inevitably HAVE to offer loving service to the outcast.
You see, there is, in essence, just one commandment, the commandment of love, and real love is always manifested in action. And, when it comes down to it, it is living lives of love that will build the kingdom of God here on earth.
We aren't asked to decide who might be sheep or goats...all we are asked to do is to carry on loving – wildly, indiscriminately, just as Christ our King does.


Perpetua said...

Superb, Kathryn. I hope its message will be taken away by those who hear it.

Rev'd Simon Cutmore said...

Thanks Kathryn. This was inspirational to me as I finished my own offering off in the early hours. Hope and pray, that despite the venue, the word was heard!