Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christ the King 2012

What a difference a week makes!
Last Sunday I stood here full of hope. I told you happily that I was off on retreat and looked forward with excitement to the prospect of a week spent entirely in silence, working on my relationship with God.
I anticipated sinking gladly into the peace of that relationship...abandoning the overwhelming details of parish how to rest in God's presence

I drove to Wales, arrived at the retreat house on Monday night and settled in, then spent much of Tuesday praying rather actively – for Gaza and for the deliberations at General Synod.
Though I didn't have a mobile signal, my phone was able to access the internet – and so I heard news of the vote as it broke.

And suddenly, the world was in turmoil and I was no longer sure quite who I was.

I have no aspiration whatsoever to become a bishop but the debate on Tuesday made it very clear the the ministry of women is not seen as good news in some quarters, despite our efforts to be faithful servants of God and His people over the past two decades. To be told that actually I had misheard God's call...that though I think of myself as a priest, I must somehow have got it wrong, since women CANNOT be priests at all.....that was deeply painful in ways that I had not anticipated.

Bishop Michael's letter, which I've copied for all of you, makes it clear that this is not the end of the road. He and many others have been wonderfully supportive of we who, certain that God has called us to minister as priests in His Church, have struggled with the rejection of that ministry which Tuesday's vote seems to represent. Late on Tuesday night, after the tears and the anger, when it began to seem that sleep might be possible, I posted to twitter
We can do this thing. We can go on loving & serving,& needing & receiving forgiveness, & being the Church,because God call us to do so
I found it hard to be away from the parish as I wanted above all to put on my collar on Wednesday morning and say, as loudly as I could, by my presence if not by my words
I'm still here. I still love you and so does God” and then get on with living my calling with all the energy and commitment I could muster.

Because, you see, I am certain that this IS my calling.

That's still where I am 5 days on, on this feast day of Christ the King.

Still trying, above all, to be obedient to that work out day by day what it means for ME to have Christ as my King...for it's no use regarding him as a figurehead monarch. It's all about obedience to his just and gentle rule.

Though this Feast emerged in the 1920s from a dubious alliance of the papacy with Mussolini's fascist government, it nonetheless expresses a deep and vital truth. As citizens of the Kingdom we are called to a different kind of life – and to look constantly to a different and higher authority.

Let's think, for a moment, about where power truly resides in today's Pilate confronts Jesus after that long night of questions and discussions. Pilate, representing the might of Rome, urbane, in control – versus the dishevelled figure, rather the worse for a night under armed guard...isolated, unsupported by even the ragtaggle group of friends who’ve been his companions til now…a natural victim, powerless, easily bullied.
Try to visualise the scene.
Who would YOU back to carry the ultimate authority, if you were a fly on the wall?
It might not be the clearcut decision we'd like...We might not find it that easy to align ourselves with the true King - then or now. 
You see, we might, actually, still be getting it wrong as we make some of our life-choices, but I'm confident that in our heart of hearts we know what the DNA of God's Kingdom really looks like, and thus how we should live in it.

It's NOT, ever, about immediate, obvious success...Not about claiming the upper hand by strength of arms or coercian or even by clever strategy.
This is a different kind of rule, for a different kind of King.

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…

What does that mean for us?
Sometimes we seem to put our own gloss on it. God's kingdom is not of this world, so we can live our daily lives according to the rule of our own wills...and leave God to one side in some kind of remote insubstantial spiritual realm which doesn't impact on our actual behaviour at all. 

Not from this world – so He isn't really interested in it.

Hah! This is the God who is SO involved in human kind that He opts to join in with our life in all its mess and muddle, frustration and disappointment.
He's interested, all right.
Interested whenever his children cry out for justice...whenever they long for bread but are given stones....whenever we exclude or deny or try to limit His life-giving, transforming Grace.

Christ's Kingdom may not be FROM this world but it is most emphatically FOR this world...for the Church of England in all its current pain and confusion, for the people of Cainscross and Selsley, whether they are with us in church today, or staying at home, baffled, apathetic, distressed...for all those for whom the confusion of the church threatens to drown out the message of the gospel.

Christ's Kingdom is founded on the sort of love that gives without reserve, that befriends with ceaseless generosity, that values everyone, regardless of gender or opionion, as someone made in God's image, 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 – because we want God's kingdom to fall in with our own plans.

But – here's the Good News
God is ALWAYS greater – greater than any human endeavour, greater even than the institution of the Church (though in her true essence, of course, the Church is herself part of the outworking of the Kingdom)
God's Kingdom WILL come, regardless of our faltering efforts, our feeble witness, our failures of love and compassion.
Good news!
More, 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, our church 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, and to embrace those who see the Church in very different ways.
We need, too, to 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.

Heaven shall not wait for the poor to lose their patience,
the scorned to smile,
the despised to find a friend:
Jesus is Lord; he has championed the unwanted;
in him injustice confronts its timely end.

Heaven shall not wait for the rich to share their fortunes,
the proud to fall, the elite to tend the least;
Jesus is Lord; he has shown the master's privilege -
to kneel and wash servants' feet before they feast.

Heaven shall not wait for the dawn of great ideas
thoughts of compassion divorced from cries of pain:
Jesus is Lord; he has married word and action;
his cross and company make his purpose plain.

Heaven shall not wait for triumphant Hallelujahs,
when earth has passed and we reach another shore
Jesus is Lord; in our present imperfection;
his power and love are for now and then for evermore.

1 comment:

Julian Elloway said...

Excellent no-punches-pulled sermon by Chris Collingwood last Sunday about the women bishops vote. It's not yet up on the Minch website, but I'll let you know when it is.