Sermon for Sunday 20th November 2011

Revd Jan KeartonSermon for Sunday 20th November 2011

Given by Revd Jan Kearton

I was in the hairdressers last Friday and as I flicked through the magazines I saw the front cover of OK. It was Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge at a recent Remembrance event. William looked immaculate and Catherine glowed in a long silver dress - they looked young and regal. The clue that they were royalty came from the space that everyone else had left around them. Where you and I would jostle in the crowd, their special status demanded that their progress was unimpeded.

The feast of Christ the King was introduced in 1925 because the Church felt that the world was becoming worrying secular, it was making spaces between people and God. Political leaders seemed to have lost a sense of Christian ethics in their political dealings, public events were conducted with less attention to the contribution of the church and it seemed as though people’s private lives were being lived less before God than perhaps they had been. The first world war had left a legacy of difficult and shocking memories and had been a sever challenge to the faith of many people.  The feast of Christ the King was an attempt to remind everyone that Christ is at the heart of our lives, whatever we engaged in, whatever happens.

The problem with the rule of God is that it’s surprising and his kingship can be difficult to spot. Christ isn’t king in the same way as one day Prince William expects to be king. Jesus is both greater and less than that. Ezekiel tells us that the rule of God is personal - the shepherd rules with a personal care for each of his sheep - I myself will search for them, rescue them, bring them to the land, feed them, make them lie down, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, strengthen the weak, judge them and bring justice. Shepherding was very humble work and certainly not the remit of royalty, but God chooses to behave like a shepherd. Jesus spoke about himself as the good shepherd, the rescuer, the gate of the sheep fold, the one who gave his life for his sheep. God doesn’t leave much royal space between himself and his sheep - he’s close by them, in among them, and busy with them.

The Good Shepherd

God’s kingship is even more surprising in Matthew’s parable of judgment. The one who was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison turns out to have been Christ himself. Christ was vulnerable, needy, down and out, ill and on the wrong side of the law. This is no distant ruler demanding respect and honour, this is a king who chooses to be with his people in their poverty and powerlessness.

Jesus’ judgment of us, made from his throne of glory, comes as a surprise to both the groups of people he judges - the righteous didn’t know that they were serving their king in the people they had compassion for and neither did the unrighteous know that it was him they were ignoring. Maybe it’s because Jesus is now enthroned and looking much more royal that we don’t expect him to have that shocking degree of solidarity with people whose lives are difficult. Maybe we expect the same degree of separation that keeps royalty apart from us, like William and Catherine’s space around them.

But Jesus became human for the sake of all humanity. He lived among those who were poor and struggling and showed them what the love of God was like in his healing and teaching. He was accused, tried and imprisoned and he died a criminal’s death on the cross. He was never going to be the sort of king who demanded separation his people and himself.

Paul does speak about Jesus in quite exalted language though - he describes Jesus as having immeasurably great power, a name above every one else’s, as having all things under his feet. But his thinking is grounded in the firm belief that Jesus is present with his people and in creation - we have with us the fulness of Christ and he fills all in all.

In Christ’s kingship we have the best of both worlds. He’s the powerful ruler of all things whose reign can’t be shaken, the wielder of absolute power as the parable warns. He’s big enough and effective enough for us to feel secure. But he’s also the shepherd who’s close to his people and uses his power to provide, to rescue, to bind up and strengthen. He’s a ruler whose priorities are the health, wellbeing and security of his sheep. That’s why we worship him - he can hold power without becoming cruel and he can be compassionate without becoming overwhelmed and ineffective.  

Life is still all that it is. Humankind is still what it is. There will be natural disasters and there will be horrors that we bring upon ourselves. Just like 1925, secular and consumerist arguments are still rife and there are plenty of people who’d like to persuade us that God’s either not real or not worth bothering about, that life is cruel and we may as well please ourselves how we live it. But in the middle of those arguments stands this feast of Christ the King, laying out again for us the experiences of those who knew Jesus and of those who’ve followed him, those who’s experiences tell them that God is neither indifferent, aloof, insensitive or dead.

God in Christ is vibrantly alive, so close to us that he’s present in everything and everyone that we encounter. He longs to rule our heart and will, our mind and actions, so that the kingdom that he strives for can come to fulness. He longs to stir up in us ways of living and being that will bring the good fruit that he expects for his kingdom. So on this feast day let’s worship him afresh with our whole being. Christ our unexpected king: hidden, yet present; far above us, yet here among us; exalted, yet humbly choosing the companionship of the least of his  people; powerful beyond our imagination, yet uncorrupted.  To him be glory, for ever and ever, AMEN.   

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