s201g98 Somerton Park 22/11/98 Christ the King
"they do not know what they are doing" Luke 23.34
This prayer of Jesus is a classic case of a prayer designed, not for God to respond, but for the human hearers round about to hear. For God in sending Jesus to live, to die and to rise again was all about forgiving humanity, including those in the very act of crucifying Jesus - not when they later repented, not as they are pierced to the quick by the words of forgiveness uttered by Jesus in his anguish, but even as the nails are still being hammered into his flesh by an unrepentant and hardened humanity. And they echo down the centuries as I too do the wrong thing and are understood and forgiven even before I repent.
When I attended the worship at the Metropolitan Community Church during my holidays, one of the striking things about their worship is that in the "Lord's Prayer" they begin and end it differently. "They say "Our God in heaven ... your Dominion come ... and ... for the Dominion, the power and the glory are yours, Now and forever. Amen." So references to the "Father" and to the "kingdom" are altered.
This alerted me again to the fact that for some people, particularly those who have been abused as children, their concept of "father" is associated with the infliction of pain rather than the provision of care. The poignant advertisement on television, of a child's letter to Santa asking for new parents for Christmass, brings this home, certainly to me. So many people see the concept of God ruling the universe as "father" counter productive.
And in our church where the ordained ministry has been, up until quite recently, exclusively male; some women have found the concept of kneeling to receive the sacrament from a male priest an act of acquiescence to a patriarchy which they find demeaning and one they wish no longer to make. I have considerable sympathy with this sentiment. It was never intended to be an act of acquiescence, though I suspect some males have found it convenient for it to be portrayed as such ...
I think that ultimately it is human nature to have a love/hate relationship with those set in authority over us. I had occasion to email an expatriate Australian on the 5th of November and I wished her "A happy Guy Fawkes Day" saying "wouldn't you just love to blow up a politician or two sometimes :-)" This is a completely unfair statement, but sometimes as the media and the politicians get together one can easily get exasperated. Yet I suppose politicians feel precisely the same thing. I suspect they sometimes feel they would like to blow up a few constituents too! Our politicians are hard working people, and like most public figures have stresses and strains on their family and personal life that we mere mortals could never imagine.
Of course Jesus spent his entire ministry running away from people who would make him King. I wonder do we not do Jesus a disservice by celebrating him as King today?
One of the difficulties I suspect is that when everything is going well, we are loath to share the glory with another, yet when we are the underdog it's good to have a king to fight for us - so we don't have to fight for ourselves. I suspect what most of us would like is a king who will do what we want, support our programs, and "give the raspberry" to those who don't support us or want to things "their way" rather than ours. It is remarkable how many people wanted Jesus to do their bidding - and it was usually to the detriment of others.
I recently saw again the words in John (7.3-5): that his brothers said to Jesus, ""Leave here and go to Judea ..." For not even his brothers believed in him." It brought back to me all the other times when individuals had helpful suggestions to make - to Jesus or to those who were coming to him. The synagogue official who suggested the crowds come on a day other than a Sabbath, the disciples who didn't want people to bring children to him, and who wanted Jesus to dismiss the crowds before the feeding of the 5000 (Mat 14.16), his mother who wanted him to change the water into wine, the mother of James and John who wanted him to organise the best seats for her sons in the kingdom of God, Peter who wanted to dictate how Jesus fulfilled his ministry, Judas Iscariot who questioned the extravagance of an act of devotion a woman made towards Jesus, the religious people who crucified Jesus for associating with others. It seems Jesus was forever the butt of people's good advise. I am sure that politicians can relate very closely to the aspect of Jesus' ministry.
When I was at Kapunda, where the Church is called "Christ Church", we celebrated the patronal festival on this Sunday. And I always used the Special Preface from the Roman Missal, where it says:
"You anointed Jesus Christ, your only Son, with the oil of gladness, as eternal priest and universal king. As priest he offered his life on the altar of the cross and redeemed the human race by this one perfect sacrifice of peace. As King he claims dominion over all creation, that he may present to you, his almighty Father, an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace." (Glenstal Missal p 611)
The beauty of these words is that they put the cross and the kingship together. We might identify the resurrection with the kingship, but that is to make Jesus the victor over humanity, over those nasty (other) people who crucified him, instead of a kingship which forgives one and all.
The kingship of Jesus is not one where anyone (either male or female) is diminished - the kingship of Jesus is where humanity (both male and female) is affirmed and magnified. We properly ascribe kingship to Jesus to make it plain that we do not pretend to rule over others ourselves - in Jesus' stead. Jesus is not King in the sense that we will be punished if we step out of line. Jesus is king so that we are assured that he is King of all creation, those who crucified him as well as those who demurred. Because Jesus is king, we can be sure that the grace of "sitting down and eating with sinners" extends quite unambiguously to all of creation.
And we don't rule over others by controlling Jesus.
In my experience, control of others is quite counter-productive to a relationship, which can only be based on equality and freedom. A relationship which has one controlling another will only produce frustration in one and resentment in the other. The relationship which gets deeper and flourishes is were there is equality and mutual respect.
It is remarkable to me that Jesus, in the highly patriarchal society of his day, so completely moved away from any sort of control.
One of the things I find in counselling or supervising is that I often say: "I'm no expert". In other words I don't have the answers, and those who I talk to are welcome to weigh my words, to take what they find helpful (if anything) and discard anything they find unhelpful. In this way (hopefully) I free people to be themselves, to respect the uniqueness of their situation and any decision to act in a way different from anything I might suggest. In this way I attempt to magnify the person involved, and to encourage self reliance.
Healing, grace and magnifying of others come from me making myself vulnerable, as I disclose my own mistakes and weakness. In doing this I only model what Jesus himself did. This is fundamental to the mission of Jesus, made particularly plain in the cross. Healing, grace and magnifying of others primarily come not through Jesus uttering a magic formula or waving a magic arm (acts of power) but as he became weak and in the ultimate dead. He encourages us to be self reliant by becoming weak.
As I was preparing this sermon, I was reminded of the phrase "a full and healthy faith-dependence on God" - something that we as the Church have traditionally thought is God's primary purpose to encourage in us / demand from us. But I wonder if this is actually so, for it makes a virtue of subordination, when God, it seems to me is about becoming weak to magnifying us.
I would want to say that God's primary purpose is not for us to be dependent on God, but for us to love one another, and that comes about as we know the grace of God magnifying us, enabling us to magnify others - all others.
And, for me, this gives new meaning to the seemingly self depreciation words commended by Jesus: "When you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'" (Luke 17:10).
They also give new meaning to the promise of Jesus: "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father." (John 14:12).
So today we celebrate Christ the King, knowing precisely what that Kingship means. It is the provision of comfort not the infliction of pain or will (divine or human) upon others. It is not about Jesus doing what we want either in the economy of salvation or the eradication of those we might be thoroughly convinced are irredeemable sinners. Jesus' kingship is wholly bound up in the cross, and therefore in forgiveness, grace, healing, magnification of others, indeed in the conferring of life itself to others, all others, including us.
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