sermon Christ the King (Reign of Christ)

Today is the final Sunday of the Church liturgical year – next week we arrive for worship and it will be the first of the 4 weeks in Advent.  The Church in a move designed to pick up and present to us the whole year of worship and prayer and singing and scripture reading – the church designates this final Sunday of the year as Christ the King Sunday.  Or as it is increasingly being called, “Reign of Christ”.

In our lectionary the last Sunday of the year strikes pretty much the same note as we will commence the new year – anticipation and expectation.  As I am fond of saying you may by now be picking up – Christianity is far more future oriented than past oriented.  It was born in an outpouring of barely containable anticipation of the return of Christ and has only taken on the role of genteel preserver of a revered past when it has lost its vision and urgency of the coming of the Lord of Creation who challenges every worldly pretender to authority.

There is no scriptural order to establish this day and to be honest I just can’t see Jesus urging his followers to establish a Christ the King Sunday to honour him. The one time he was directly asked if he was a king – when bound and brought before Pilate he refused to accept that title.   It is actually a far more recent invention of the Roman Catholic Church –it only dates from 1925 as Europe attempted to arise from the wreckage of WW1 and the church rightly suspected its power to be a political king or queen maker was rapidly drawing to a close.  You choose for yourself if you opt for the more cynical version of the story that Pope Pius was desperately attempting to cling to some imperial power for the church in inventing this festival where the church could retain the privelege of  naming at least one King, or was it simply what it declares at face value – the theological truth that Jesus Christ is the one who shall reign for ever and ever.

Either way it remains an open question whether the church either in 1925 or today has fully grasped the audacity of what it was doing in calling its members to the very same declaration that got Jesus executed by the state as a subversive.

Let us be clear on this – Jesus did not get himself executed for feeding people, or healing the sick, not for walking on water or telling parables.  The sign on his cross listing the charge against him was quite specific; it read, “Jesus of Nazareth – King of the Jews”.

One of the many things this story tells us is that Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware of those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware of those who cannot tell God’s will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains start wearing guns and hanging out at the sheriff’s office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar

Issue for us on a Sunday such as Christ the King, or reign of Christ, is we are not yet Christian.   By that I mean we do not allow Christ to shape our words, images, symbols, and then use that Christian language to critique the world.

Scripture largely unknown in Australia… Pointless is a game show with a twist.  100 members of the public are asked to answer questions in various categories.  For instance words that end in “aer” or Australian Prim Ministers, or Olympic swimmers etc. Contestants have to give a correct answer but the most obscure of the 100 answers.  And the aim is to get a “pointless” answer – that is so obscure none of the 100 people thought of it.  I was astonished to see “New Testament” books was a recent category.  And there were lots of pointless answers!  Understandably the 4 gospels got the most nominations – followed bizarrely by the book of Revelation.  You can look up the full list by googling Pointless.

What this means when we do not know the story of Jesus is  we get an image of Kings or Queens, or Presidents, or power or whatever… and say Oh  that is what a king looks like and how they act.  And then along comes the bible or the church and says Christ is a King, and already having this idea in our heads we say, “oh yeah we know about that, we know what a king is like, so Christ must be one of those”.  The gospel of John says precisely the opposite to what most people would hear when the church says, “Christ the King”. And if you have picked up during this sermon that I am pretty ambivalent about this day and its designation of Christ the King, my only justification is that  I got it from John’s gospel which is hugely ambivalent about presenting Jesus in any way shape or form as a King.  There is massive irony going on here as this bound and mocked lone pretender to kingship is arrayed before his earthly ruler who has power of life and death over him.  John’s gospel is quite clear that you cannot link in the one phrase Christ and King without putting in a massive disclaimer.

Reading online in preparation for this week and ad breaks into the article.  Was an ad for State Liberal Party (but that irrelevant) Get back in  control.  Matthew Guy

Point is the question about what authority, rule, power, is.

Let’s not take for granted what we went through yesterday – being able to choose our leader. Both winning and losing candidates usually mention that fact that the people have spoken, and we live a democracy.  Let’s never gloss over the possibility of being able to say to our leader – well we have grown a bit weary of you, you’ve had a good run, time for someone else now.   I think even Jesus would have been aghast at the thought of a people being able to do that.

Let’s not take all that for granted.

When John’s gospel puts Jesus and kingship together there is so much irony to the extent it would be far more accurate to call Christ the anti-King, in the same way some figures are anti-heroes.  They challenge, overturn and subvert all we have ever known learnt about heroes or kings from other places.  For instance the later church dressed Jesus up in the finery of kingly garb of crowns and gowns and scepters, mostly forgetting that this “king” had only the clothes he stood in and told his followers when out on his business to not even worry about the extra shirt.

So if this is what kingship, Lordship, leadership is about then every king, PM and leader will have to be assessed by how they measure up to this Jesus.  If Jesus is King or ruler then kings and rulers and lords and leaders must be different to what we see around us.  Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you.   If Jesus is Lord then Barack Obama, Donald Trump Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbot, Bill Shorten, Sco Mo, Therese May, Putin, nor the Queen, nor Australia itself, nor families, nor the economy is Lord.

His strength revealed in weakness he is our saviour because he did not save himself.

sermon september 23, 2018

Mark 9:30 – 37

Jesus takes a child, places the child in their midst, these rough blokes – tax collectors, fishermen, these men who have filled the air with their shrill clammering, slugging it out on the roads of Palestine as to who will scramble their way over the others to the position of superiority.

Places the child among them and says, “You want to be great?  Can you receive this child?”   That easy, and that hard.  Mostly we rank the great ones as those who give much.  And there may somewhere be some truth in there.  But today Jesus says there is a prior requisite.  Great ones in the first instance are those who have first received others. To be great the first thing you learn is to accept and embrace the other person.   Greatness is never snatched from another or won in battle.

Now note carefully Jesus does not reject the notion of aspiring to greatness.  Jesus does not rebuke the disciples because they had aspirations of greatness in the Kingdom.  Sometimes in the contemporary church we may be guilty of talking down the pursuit of greatness, maybe not inspiring our young people to do a great thing for God.  For Jesus the deeper issue was that these disciples, despite their tunnel visioned pursuit of greatness, had precious little idea of what greatness consisted of.

On a visit to the Beethoven museum in Bonn, a young American student became fascinated by the piano on which Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works. She asked the museum guard if she could play a few bars on it; she accompanied the request with a lavish tip, and the guard agreed. The girl went to the piano and tinkled out the opening of the Moonlight Sonata. As she was leaving she said to the guard, “I suppose all the great pianist who come here want to play on that piano.”

The guard shook his head. “Padarewski [the famed Polish pianist] was here a few years ago and he said he wasn’t worthy to touch it.

Pattern is …Seek greatness, to first receive God, (worship) to receive others and then to use God given talents and gifts to change the world into a Godly place of peace and justice (mission).

No, what Jesus rebukes is a self serving perversion of what it means to be great.  Which gets us back to the child,,, to be great receive a child…

A child.  We do not have the blessing of many children – sometimes XXX comes with her dad.  A pity because they do add a lot to a community and to worship.

Now we must be careful – we are reading Mark’s gospel here, not Matthew or Luke’s “become like a child”.  We are not being instructed to become a child, but to receive a child.  To become great…. Receive a child…..That easy, and that hard.

To understand how to receive a child, in the way Jesus means it, you will need to ditch all your modern wisdom and insights of personal inner psychological theories

Ditch all your political correctness that children are actually people with rights

Ditch your spirit questing for a the inner child

Not all wrong, just not what this passage is about.  Mark’s gospel is not a very sentimental one at all.  And in fact what is going on here is actually at the opposite end of the spectrum to any sentimental glorification of childhood. 

The child here stands representative of a no-body, no rights, no status, no influence. The word used in Mark is the same word for servant or slave, and the correlation is  captured perfectly in that sneering term for slave, “boy”.  The child here is not the example of the innocent trust we should aspire to, but rather the one none us want to become.  The one of no influence, no status.  One who can do us no favours, can be of no advantage to us.  You can do all you can for them, every deal, every favour and they will never swing a deal in your favour in return.

What Jesus is driving at here is… if you receive this child…. There will be no applause, no front page photo in the national daily press.  You will have done nothing of note in the eyes of this world.

But you will have achieved greatness in the Kingdom… in God’s eyes.  You will have received the eternal creator of the universe.

Greatness in the Kingdom is linked with the way those who have some power use that power on behalf of, and in service of,  those who have no influence.

The first step towards greatness is to free ourselves… should we say be freed by the Spirit of God, for not something we can do for ourselves… from the mad scramble to have to prove ourselves, get our sense of worth from winning applause from others.

This wisdom that Jesus teaches applies to individual Christians who put their roots down deeply into the life giving waters of the Spirit, but also to congregations. 

As we develop our  plans as a separate congregation we will be looking for how we receive others.  God, and others, particularly the  overlooked, the marginalized.

sermon August 19, 2018

How would you answer that question the Lord asks of Solomon – what do you ask of God today.

A cluster of references to wisdom in today’s bible readings.

King Solomon asks God for wisdom to rule well rather than for personal riches or power…  Bit like the prayer attributed sometimes to Reinhold Niebuhr “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

(Which begs the question do you already have to have some degree of wisdom to know to ask for wisdom?   Does the wise person not already know they are not wise?  Secondly, we have the famous line from Psalm 111 (which in one form or another appears a number of times in scripture) “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” 

from psalm 111 the fear of God is the beginng of wisdom

And  third from Ephesians

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, Ephesians 5

Our readings today cluster around the theme of Wisdom. 

Think of someone who for you is the picture of a wise person.  Who do you think embodies wisdom.  Could be a character from a book or film, a historical person or someone you know personally.  Lets have a time of sharing about this….

It is interesting that the translators of the New Revised Standard Version have stuck with the old “fear of God” phrase. Do we need to say just one more time that when we say  “ fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”  for fear you are to think Awe, wonder, reverence, yes, a hint of danger is certainly implicit for we are in relationship with purity and holiness and let’s face it we are not all that pure or holy yet.  How shall we be treated?  Shall we be judged harshly or will we be accepted and loved and made more pure and holy?  In Jesus God answers that and when we grasp that Jesus is the wisdom of God – the outcast hung upon a cross; that which is most despised and reviled by worldly wisdom -then we realise that maybe God’s wisdom will look quite different to accepted values and wisdom. 

Next, these passages tell us that Wisdom must be personal and immediate.

You can read books of collected wisdom, read quotes.  But until wisdom walks in your shoes, flows through your blood, inhabits your flesh it will remain someone else’s wisdom and will remain an intellectual amusement.  You have got to live wisdom, not just read it. I think for that reason Wisdom becomes incarnate in our flesh  (just as Jesus became flesh).  Wisdom is personified in scripture; for instance in the first chapter of Proverbs   where she (and wisdom is always a she)moves in the market place, cries out in the street, at the busiest corner she cries out, at the entrance to the city she speaks

There are two (at least) schools of thought on Wisdom and how we come by it. Ike that play The Getting of Widsom.   Some think of Wisdom as a gift – a gift of the Spirit that you can only pray for and passively receive..  Something you can ask God for and God may or may not bestow supernaturally bestow this gift upon you.   Is it a gift of God, and if so is it “supernatural” or should we think of Wisdom as something that can be learned, absorbed, grown into?  Is it the same as what we nowadays call “emotional intelligence”? 

I don’t think the sort of wisdom we are talking about today is “supernatural”; though it is profoundly “spiritual”.

Wisdom is the capacity, the skill, the art, of making the best judgement for future living.

It is the ordinary life lived extraordinarily well.  Using the learnings of the past to guide us into the future.  The suggestion then is that you have already had enough life experience to give you access to wisdom.

To live wisely. 

I bought this photo at the Stewart Lodge art exhibition held in our church.  It is a photo of some graffitit in Stewart St just over the road from Stewart Lodge a large supported residence service in Brunswick.  The graffiti says, “It Doesn’t matter”.  Maybe a funny thing to be hanging on the wall in a minister’s study.   I bought it because it can be taken so many ways.  Some days I look at it and it urges me to move on from something that is nagging me and has a grip on me. Somewhere in my life I may be doing what I referred to last week under the heading of letting the sun go down on your anger.  And we were saying then that everytime you go to bed angry that anger rusts a bit more onto your soul, like a nut rusting onto a bolt and there will come the day you ain’t ever going to get that nut from that bolt.  On that day you no longer have a person who can get angry but an angry person. 

And the really dumb thing is that 95% of the stuff we get all fizzed up about is not worth going to bed angry about.  So it is that some Sun I stand up here and the message is, “Look, let it go, in the scheme of your life does it matter?”  Yet on the other hand  very often the Sunday message is, “Gees, this is your life, you are only going to get one shot at it; make the most of it; it matters”. Wisdom knows what the message for the day is.  I have it on my wall next to a crucifix and Madonna and Child and that puts everything in perspective.  Birth, death, relationships…does what you are preoccupied with today matter or not…. or is it something that is so vital you just must attend to it and immediately?  The Wisdom that comes from above knows such things and is also good at working out the correct timing on such matters