Sermon - 24th November 2019
Christ the King
Scripture - Psalm 146, Colossians 1:15-20
“Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam...”
“Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the Universe…”
These words begin many of the regular prayers used by Jewish believers, acknowledging God’s Kingship not only over Jews or their nation but of the whole earth and the universe in its unfathomable, resplendent majesty.
This Sunday, 5 weeks before Christmas, is called “The Feast of Christ the King”, and it is the newest festival in the global church’s calendar, introduced in 1925 by the then Roman Catholic Pope, Pius XI, and adopted by many Protestant churches, to remind Christians that our allegiance is to our spiritual ruler in heaven as opposed to earthly powers. Writing in the years after the horrors of WW1, Pius XI noted that while there had been an end to the fighting, there was no true peace. He wrote:
“Since the close of the Great War, individuals, the different classes of society, the nations of the earth have not as yet found true peace... the old rivalries between nations have not ceased to exert their influence... the nations of today live in a state of armed peace which is scarcely better than war itself…”
Pope Pius XI’s words are still as true today as they were then.
Who are these people? [Slide of 8 politicians: Obama, Trump, Blair, Corbyn, Johnson, Macron, Merkel, Putin]
- Question 1 – What do these 8 people have in common?
- Question 2 – What do the coloured stars represent? Blue, red, green?
- Question 3 – Thinking about our Psalm reading, and including all of us, what do we all have in common? [They are Mortal; created not creator.]
“Don't put your trust in human leaders; no human being can save you. When they die, they return to the dust; on that day, all their plans come to an end.” Psalm 146:3-4
Because of their democratically limited time in office and their mortality, politicians are keen to make their mark on the world and to be remembered in the history books, but by what standard should we measure them?
Some politicians have served their time in office (Obama, Blair); others have power now (Trump, Johnson, Macron, Merkel, Putin); and others are seeking power (Corbyn). But were they, are they, would they be good rules? How can we measure this?
Today’s Psalm (146) offers us a helpful description of a good ruler:
“[God] always keeps his promises; he judges in favour of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free and gives sight to the blind. He lifts those who have fallen; he loves his righteous people. He protects the strangers who live in our land; he helps widows and orphans, but takes the wicked to their ruin.” Psalm 146:6-9
Our own country, the United Kingdom, is about 3 weeks away from its third General Election in 5 years. Let us measure our country using the standards set down in Psalm 146… Highlighted are some key words from the Psalm.
“The hungry…” An estimated 1.3 million (2.5%) people use a food bank.
“Sight to the blind…” health care… the NHS is used by all politicians as a political football. The NHS staff do their best to provide maximum care and compared to many other countries in the world, we are truly blessed; however, there are 97,000 job vacancies.
“The Fallen… The widows and orphans…” care for broken families, the mentally ill, those addicted to drugs, the homeless – all these services at breaking-point. The charity Crisis estimates the number sleeping rough each night to be around 5,000; 320,000 live in temporary accommodation or are sofa-surfing. Counted among them are 6,000 veterans.
“The Strangers…” the asylum seekers in our country and in our churches. Our First Wednesday group now supports around 80 LGBT asylum seekers from many countries, mainly from Africa and the Middle/Central East. While rejoicing over the many successes this year, our hearts cry out for justice for the many who are still in the process, some whose lives have been on hold literally for years.
“The Oppressed…” as Christians and particularly as LGBT people, we may feel that we are no longer particularly oppressed and there is much for which we can be thankful in terms of LGBT rights, but many hate crimes still occur (a record 103,000 in 2018); and, there are still many oppressed minority groups in our society…
The accounts in the Bible teach us to have the long view. It would be easy to lay the blame solely at the door of the Conservative party and its coalition partners, in power since 2010. But when we look into the history of our country, we see a cycle of Labour and Conservative-led governments, during all of which, there have been the hungry, the fallen, the strangers and the oppressed. Indeed, Jesus Himself said (Matthew 26:11) “You will always have poor people with you”.
It is certain that politicians and supporters of all parties would seek to argue and to explain the situation, and it is an appalling mess in which we find ourselves, and vast sums of money are involved beyond our comprehension. While our politicians could not agree on leaving the EU, and the story filled the news, they happily agreed to spend £4bn of our money to repair a crumbling building. And while all the parties try to win our votes with their promises of huge spending, there is silence about the £1.8tn of national debt. No individual, family or business could run their financial affairs in that way.
Our role in this as Christians is to use God’s standards for good leadership, and to call all politicians of all parties to account, and while we may not be in a position to change the big numbers which I have mentioned, we can begin, as we already have, through the work we do as a church and individually. As Jesus taught us…
“I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)
As members of the United Reformed Church, our church is not part of the state. Although the URC was formed only 47 years ago, it has a proud history of dissent and speaking the truth to power. In the document called the Basis of Union, we recognise the brokenness of our world:
“We believe that Christ gives his Church a government distinct from the government of the state. In things that affect obedience to God, the Church is not subordinate to the state, but must serve the Lord Jesus Christ, its only Ruler and Head. Civil authorities are called to serve God's will of justice and peace for all humankind, and to respect the rights of conscience and belief. While we ourselves are servants in the world as citizens of God's eternal kingdom.” (URC Basis of Union)
There is a lot that I have said today which may have annoyed some of you, considering it overtly political, yet on this day – Christ The King – and at this time of decision for our nation, we seek to use and apply God’s standards. The ways of our world, our country and its leaders are found lacking. Jesus’ teaching calls us; and, as the URC Basis of Union declares, we must serve the Lord, Jesus Christ.
The 20th-century German liberationist theologian Dorothee Sölle in her book “Beyond Mere Obedience” had this to say about Jesus’ Kingship:
“We not only accept responsibility for the world around us but seek to be a part of God's transformation of the world.”
Oscar Wilde wrote in Lady Windermere’s Fan: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Yes, the world might seem in the gutter and it may seem hopeless sometimes, but if we look up, not to the stars, but to Christ, just as our second reading today from St Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae calls us to do.
“Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God. He is the first-born Son, superior to all created things…
“For through him, God created everything in heaven and on earth… including… lords, rulers, and authorities…
“He is the first-born Son, who was raised from death, in order that he alone might have the first place in all things…
“God made peace through his Son's blood on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven…”
(Colossians 1:15, 16, 18b, 20b)
In the darkness of our world, in these times of intense political debate and decision in the forthcoming election, we are reminded that Christ is the ruler of the kings and queens, presidents, prime ministers and governments. Their failure to recognise this is the reason for the poor state of the world we are in. Instead, let us raise our eyes to Christ the King!
Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the Universe.