Sermon - 20th November 2016
Christ the King
Scripture - Psalm 146; Colossians 1:15-20
[An audio version of this sermon, in mp3 format, is available via the link at our Spirituality > Audio and Video page.]
“Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam...”
“Blessed are You, LORD 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 is called “The Feast of Christ the King”. It is always celebrated 5 weeks before Christmas and it is the newest festival in the global church’s calendar, introduced around 90 years ago by the then Roman Catholic Pope, Pius XI, and adopted by most 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 World War I, 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 written some 90 years ago are still as true today as they were then.
Psalm 146, verses 3-4, says:
“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.”
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?
The psalm, in verses 6-9 offers us a helpful, summary 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.”
Let us look briefly at our own country, the United Kingdom, over the past 20 years since 1996: comprising 3 years of Conservative government, 12 years of Labour government and 5 years of a Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition government. Let us use the standards set down in Psalm 146… Highlighted are some key words from the psalm.
- “The hungry…” it is estimated that there somewhere between 0.5 and 1 million 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.
- “The Fallen… The widows and orphans…” social services, the mentally ill, the homeless… the charity Crisis estimates the number sleeping rough each night to be around 12,000, 1:10 of whom are veterans; and around 200,000 families live in temporary, emergency accommodation.
- “The Strangers…” the asylum seekers in our country and in our churches. Our First Wednesday group now supports around 70 LGBT asylum seekers from many countries, mainly from Africa and the Middle/Central East. Jimmy is still in Home Office detention after 3 months; and the Home Office ways of working seem to have the intention to set claimants up to fail.
- “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 individual LGBT hate crimes still occur (a 150% increase since the EU referendum); and, there are still oppressed minority groups in our society…
It is certain that politicians and supporters of both major parties which have been in power would argue and seek 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.
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, 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, like the Anglican Church. When the URC was formed 45 years ago, the document called the Basis of Union recognised 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 – we seek to use and apply God’s standards, and 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 suppose 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, even in these times of dramatic political change arising from surprising election results: we are reminded that Christ is the ruler of the kings, queens and presidents of the world.
"Blessed are You, LORD God, King of the Universe."