s146g00 Somerton Park 26/11/2000 Sunday 34 Christ the King
"If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over ..." John 18:36
I suppose that most of us, at one stage or the other in life have had an opportunity to lend something to someone else, something that we are keen to have returned. Even if we trust the other person, there are some things that we are not quite ready to part with, and somehow we make it plain to them that, while there is no hurry ... There have been occasions when I've lent theological books to people. While I rarely read theology these days, I am forever looking up references. One of the things about being an engineer is not knowing all the answers, but knowing where to find the answers. It is the cause of immense frustration when I know I've read something somewhere, but I've forgotten where. This almost drives me to distraction :-) It is one of the reasons I like computers so much, because with relatively little effort, resources can be readily archived and retrieved. I am a hoarder from way back!
And since we all love Jesus so much, we tend to look at Jesus as a precious possession to be kept to oneself. I recently read the passage from 2 Tim 1:14 during the daily office which says: "Guard the good treasure entrusted to you". I mean, the difficulty is that some people just don't realize and appreciate just who this Jesus is, and like the religious authorities of Jesus' day - surely they were people one would have thought one could trust! - but hey ridiculed and killed him. We would do all we could to avoid that happening again. Again we begin to think that we have to protect Jesus from people. But St. Paul assures us, "Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him." (Romans 6:9). We do not have to protect Jesus from people, like the disciples felt called to do. We do not have to protect God from the masses of ordinary people, like the religious authorities of Jesus' day felt called to do. We have come to conclude that it is people with little faith - in God or Jesus - who feel the need to protect God or Jesus from ordinary people.
The other difficulty is that so often "our" Jesus, if we allow others to have him, can get diluted, or misinterpreted. I should not be at all surprised to find that some people think that I do this to "their" Jesus. So when we give this Jesus away, in what we euphemistically call "evangelism" in reality, it's a bit like the books I lend, I want them back in good condition. Like the librarian, I don't want them written in, or pages torn out. So too with Jesus, we want him back, unaltered. He is too precious to be changed.
The Feast of "Christ the King" is one of the most happy additions to our Anglican worship from the Roman Catholic three year calendar. We are right at the end of the Trinity season which we began half a year ago. During this season of "ordinary "Sundays, as if any Sunday can be described as ordinary, we have been hearing the teaching of Jesus, and we conclude this with this festival of Christ the King. Next week we begin again the story of the announcement, birth, the events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, culminating in the feast of the Trinity. So one half of the year we tell the story, the other half we look at the teaching.
It is a very happy addition to our worship, because remembering that Christ is King, we remember that Christ is not just our King, or just the King of Christendom, but Christ is King of the whole of creation. Jesus never was, is not now, or ever will be "ours". Jesus can be found in every part of creation. As John the evangelist says repeatedly right at the beginning of his gospel account: "All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. ... the life was the light of all people ... The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.... the world came into being through him ...(John 1:3-10).
We are disciples of Jesus, and as Jesus said to Pilate, if his kingdom was of this world we would be fighting to make sure Jesus is not handed over - to anyone else. So if we are to be disciples of a kingdom not of this world, if we are to follow Jesus, the King of all creation, we are bidden to "give up" Jesus to the creation which already is his, indeed to give up Jesus to that creation in which he is already to be found.
We are bidden to not just lend Jesus to others, expecting what we lent to be returned, unchanged and unsullied. We are bidden not to keep Jesus to ourselves. We are bidden to hand Jesus over uncomplainingly. We are bidden to see Jesus in others who differ from us. It is when we do this that we are taken from living in the kingdom of this world, to the kingdom of God's son.
In this sense, we ourselves are truly gifts for others and others are truly gifts for us - not any biblical, ecclesiastical or sacramental orthodoxy.
Of course our perceptions of this Jesus will be changed as we allow others to "have" Jesus in different terms to us. They will worship Jesus in quite different ways; it may even be that they seem to be worshipping someone completely different to the Jesus we recognize and love. But, if we really recognize Jesus in them, our lives will be enriched as the perceptions others have of Jesus broaden our own.
For the reason we consider Jesus so precious to us is that in some way or other, we have perceived something of Jesus' gentle and loving rule (in the words of our Collect for today). We have perceived something of God's unmerited forgiveness towards us. Perhaps it has been that God has used the gifts we have brought to this church community or to the wider community in society. Somehow we have perceived Jesus is with us.
But if all of these things are true, as indeed they undoubtedly are, then they are true for everyone else. God has forgiven others as freely as God has forgiven us. God has accepted and used others as readily as God has accepted and used us. That is what the feast of Christ the King really celebrates.
But I should say that this way of life is not an optional extra, something that clergy and other religious people only do. Lay people have to be concerned about real life, the kingdom of this world. But who are we to follow?
And today is a feast day, like the feast of Trinity. We celebrate that the Risen Jesus will be found in all sorts and conditions of people. It is not up to us to take Jesus to people, to convince others of the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour. We celebrate when we see our Risen Lord in others. And by our perception and celebration of that perception of the Risen Christ in others, we will convince others more certainly of that which we actually believe.
Some time back, the General Secretary of the USPG visited South Australia, Bishop Manu Ramulshah, and he spoke of a missionary doctor who went to set up a hospital in Pakistan. He duly did this, but no one came for treatment. The people reckoned that he would steal their faith and their dignity (I hope I am being true to the sentiments of the story). Just before the missionary was about to give up and go back to England, he saw a dog limping along, and he thought, well, I can at least help one poor dog before I go. So he put the dog's leg in a cast. Apparently this completely floored the inhabitants who may well have cared for dogs, but not to the extent of treating them like that. They realised that here was a person who cared for them as they were, that this missionary was not there to convert them to Christianity. And the hospital flourished. Not many people were converted to Christianity, but a lot of people were treated and healed of their ailments. It was the phrase that the Bishop used, how the perception of the people was that the missionary had come to steal their dignity and their faith. And I suspect that these perceptions are common among Australians too.
Again the retiring Archbishop of Sydney, in his final speech to the Synod spoke of the perception outsiders have of the Anglican church in Sydney as "arrogant". I suspect this estimation is far far wider than that diocese, and it is very much a function of theological arrogance. It is an arrogance based on the perception many people have of the Church - that "we have the truth" and no one else does, and everyone else is condemned to eternal damnation unless they become members of our faith.
This whole perception is a kingdom of this world, and we are called to move to the kingdom of God's son, which allows Jesus to be handed over, to be seen in all sorts and conditions of people. The only way that Jesus will die again, is if we keep him to ourselves. Of course this is not possible, the real Jesus cannot be contained, either in the tomb, the Temple, the Book or the Blessed Sacrament. Keeping "him" to ourselves will only mean that our perception of the real Jesus will die for us.
And I am reminded that today is a feast, it is a celebration. There can be no greater test of a Christian than if we are celebratory. Of course there may be personal worries and ills that beset us. But celebration rules out the anxiety that we have to convert the world, that it depends on us. We celebrate because of what God through Jesus has already done. We rejoice as we begin to appreciate the wideness of God's mercy and the diversity of those in the kingdom already.
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