The Royalty of Renunciation
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
21 November 2010, 10:30 (Christ the King)
The announcement of a royal wedding last Tuesday gives a certain frisson to a sermon this Sunday as we celebrate Christ the King.
Pages and pages of newsprint and hours of air time later, the potteries and souvenir manufacturers are already churning out commemorative plates, mugs and goodness knows what else.
It’s good for morale, good for business and good form the monarchy. How though does it help us as Christians?
Well it probably muddies the waters more than ever.
Kingship is a key and critical concept in the Bible but the years of history and the culture and images of power have led us all a far way from the kingship of which Jesus speaks and with which the Bible has wrestled over the centuries.
If we go back to the Old Testament world, we find that Israel understands and accepts the power of God through three distinct human roles: prophet, priest and king.
In this biblical world, kingship belongs primarily to heaven and the human ruler is appointed to care for nature and society and particularly the weak.
So a king would often be compared to a shepherd cherishing his flock, for he would be mother and father to his people, and the defender of the widow and orphan.
So if we look at our Old Testament reading from Jeremiah, we discover here that shepherds are kings, and kings are shepherds, the rulers of God’s people.
King David, the shepherd boy and son of Jesse, was held up as the ideal king in spite of his faults and failings.
So from a pastoral society developed the shepherd as a metaphor for the king – with the daring and innovative qualities of humility and low status.
And it went further still and suggested that God himself comes amongst us in service and lowliness.
Jeremiah denounces and rails against the wicked shepherds that constitute the kings that formed the rump of David’s line: men who were an assortment of the feeble, the tyrannical and the neglectful.
Judah had not been saved from exile, and the would-be shepherds, Jehoiachin and his like, had done nothing to look after God’s sheep.
These rulers had been like wolves devouring the flock, and their evil deeds, promises the prophet, will not go unrewarded by God.
In this context, God promises to gather his sheep once more and to set a new and real king, a wise and caring shepherd, over them.
Now how would you round up and shepherd a flock of sheep? Well our pattern is probably pretty well set by One man and his dog where the shepherd and his faithful collie moves the sheep from behind and barks and whistles and calls and shoos.
In the nicest way it puts the fear of God into the woolly beasties and by hook or by crook they are moved and penned and put in their fold.
However, it may work very well but it isn’t God’s way in the Bible!
The Palestinian shepherd always led from the front and the sheep knew him as he knew them – and so they followed.
It may be just an ordinary middle eastern agrarian practice but it says a great deal about power and leadership and care, even today.
And so it is that when it comes to Christ the King, we find that the Anointed One, the Messiah, is born not in a palace as the Magi naturally assume but in the straw of a smelly workaday stable.
And his earthly reign knew no permanent home and ended on the throne of a cross outside the royal city.
Our gospel passage today notes the inscription placed over Jesus at the place of execution: This is the King of the Jews.
Jesus hadn’t even claimed that.
And yet that title board denoting his claim and his crime underlines the power and the glory that shines from Calvary’s hill
and the terror and excruciating death that hangs in Christ’s racked body through all time.
But none of this is helpful if we cannot relate power and politics today to the life of God in Jesus and in our lives.
How are we to teach and learn with little Alex and Raphael being baptised here today?
Young people being baptised are an all-important gift and sign to the Church for they become full and complete Christians.
Their faith, their lives, their souls are in no way deficient and they certainly do not have to change in order to be touched and redeemed by the grace of God in Jesus.
And Jesus went further and said that you and I as adults must become like children in order to enter his kingdom.
So as we look at these little people today, we must, we must remember that God has been just as they are: vulnerable and defenceless; uninterested in power and wealth and status as we are, yet wholly wrapped up in it because of us.
And that involvement never stopped for Jesus, for he became the victim of our fear, intolerance and inability to handle the power of this world or comprehend the power of love and eternity.
All the crises of today’s world start in the human heart.
It is there that God in Jesus Christ must conquer and reign.
And our prayers are useless and pointless if they do not flow from our hearts, the hearts of God’s people and the heart of the Church.
Ideas are not good enough on their own.
It is love and compassion and mercy that forgives the tormentors and executors and mockers at Calvary and then turns to the criminal who recognises Jesus as Christ the King.
‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’
Jesus replied, Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.
Any religion or creed that cannot understand or respond to that truth of unconditional forgiveness and love has nothing to say to the world.
And we will return to the pattern of our lives and thinking: royal weddings, politics and money and the pursuit of pleasure and purpose – but will any of them be re-thought and deposed by the kingship of Jesus in the manger and on the cross?
Can you and I dare to pray to Christ the King to reign in our lives and our world?
It is an almost unthinkable thing to do because we will renounce our will and our power to his.
That is what our baptism does and what our repentance allows us to re-inherit.
I am the great sun, but you do not see me,
I am your husband, but you turn away.
I am the captive, but you do not free me,
I am the captain but you will not obey.
I am the truth, but you will not believe me,
I am the city where you will not stay.
I am your wife, your child, but you will leave me,
I am that God to whom you will not pray.
I am your counsel, but you will not hear me,
I am your lover whom you will betray.
I am the victor, but you do not cheer me,
I am the holy dove whom you will slay.
I am your life, but if you will not name me,
Seal up your soul with tears, and never blame me.
I am the Great Sun ~ From a Normandy crucifix of 1632 Charles Causley