The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s067e05 Lockleys Sunday 34 Christ the King 20/11/2005
"the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints" Ephesians 1.18
I have, on more than one occasion when I've heard these words, thought here is St Paul off, revelling in delusions of grandeur, leaving us back in this world, struggling to cope with our day to day fairly mundane lives. What are we supposed to do? Is this the "challenge" of the gospel, to somehow lift ourselves from the mire of our depression and ordinariness? This glorious carrot, glimpsed from such a distance, is supposed to give us strength for the journey. Is the beatific vision the real light at the end of the tunnel, or is it in fact illusory? If and when we get to the end of the tunnel will someone switch the light off?
For those who know me, you will know that I have great suspicions of the word "challenge" for it seems to me to have become the way Christians have avoided loving their neighbours -- we challenge them instead. But our new Archbishop, in his installation sermon, spoke of Jesus asking the man at the Bethzatha pool: "Do you want to be made well?" John 5.6. In some ways the answer to this is obvious, yet perhaps here is the challenge of the gospel; but it is not something we do for ourselves, but something we are prepared to be done for us.
So much of our Christian journey focuses on what we have done for God; when perhaps God is waiting for us to want something more, it may be healing or perhaps something else. The Archbishop in his sermon said: "And with any institution facing massive change, there can be a sort of paralysis, a struggle to move, a looking back over the 38, the 138 years, or how many ever years, and a rehearsing of the story as to why we missed out."
I would want to say that that glory or lack thereof is directly proportional to how we see value in other people, or not. It is not what we can do for the health or spiritual direction in the world, but how we as Church accept what others can do for our health and spiritual direction. While we see ourselves as the "movers and shakers" we can expect little more -- when we are prepared to accept the contributions of others -- all others -- then those delusions of grandeur have rather more likelihood of becoming reality.
It is my experience of mental illnesses that those who suffer from delusions of grandeur invariably have this grandeur focusing on themselves. Time and again, Jesus distanced himself from any pretensions of being anyone extra-ordinary.
But there are also corporate "delusions of grandeur" and we might put Nazism in this category. Again this focused on the special nature of a particular group of people -- the untainted Aryian people.
But there are also those who use religious symbolism to feed their "delusions of grandeur". The proponents of apartheid in South Africa used religious symbolism, and we can see that in fact religious symbolism is often harder to recognise and counter. I think that what passes for evangelism, is sometimes based on some dream of converting the world so that everything will be all right. If this is what God really wanted -- it is certain that God could bring this about in an instant. Do we not operate on the paradigm that everyone else ought to recognise the beauty of the Anglican Church and become one of us?
Then there are those who simply have no interest in the other. Those who live the life of the survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle. Their attitude to others, is simply that they had better get out of the way or they will be steamrolled.
Mental Illness, political power, religious power, the downright self obsessed -- there is in fact little difference in motivation or outcome, except perhaps in terms of the scale of the harm done to others.
I want to suggest that there is a vision of grandeur that is healthy and entirely unrelated to these others that masquerade as possibilities. The vision of grandeur that I have is intimately related to how time and again, right throughout the pages of the Bible, God or Jesus lifts people to their feet.
Of course this was not welcomed by those who have delusions of grandeur that focus on themselves and their cronies.
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, and I am happy to do so, provided that we recognise that Jesus is king over all creation. The risen Christ continues to lift all people in creation to their feet. It has nothing to do with our status over others, our personal status or our corporate status.
Recently I heard 350 Sudanese people singing "Yesu number one" and it was really very stirring. It was led by the Bishop of Cairo who hosted the recent "Global South" conference. In the communiqué from that conference, they said: "All Christians are to participate in the sanctification of their lives through submission, obedience and cooperation with the Holy Spirit." Later they said: "The unscriptural innovations of North American and some western provinces on issues of human sexuality undermine the basic message of redemption and the power of the Cross to transform lives."
May I draw your attention to the difference between my reading of scripture about God lifting people to their feet, and their demand for submission by all. For me the Cross and resurrection is the attempt by the religious clique of Jesus' day to stop Jesus lifting the ordinary people to their feet, and the failure to stop this continuing.
There are many, many people out there who live their lives, quietly doing their duty in the state of life to which God has called them. They recognise the delusions of grandeur that others have, in people who are ill, in political bandwagons, in religious circles, in those who treat others with distain; all based on some version of self interest. They want no part of any such religion based on self interest. Jesus would have us affirm these people.
As we celebrate Christ the King, it is vitally important to use our celebration to affirm others not to exclude them.
This paradigm of mutual interdependence and reciprocity will give us strength for our human journey -- of this I have no doubt.
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