Christ the King - Politicians, people and power
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
23 November 2014, 10:30 (CHRIST THE KING)During the past week the cathedral along with the castle has been a backdrop to the television crews filming the closing days of the by-election campaign and the analysis of the result.
For many people in our land, the ruined castle is a symbol of a past mediaeval and feudal history, a power overtaken by centuries of human progress and scientific advance.
Similarly, the cathedral though magnificent as a living church in its architecture and setting, will be seen by millions of viewers as irrelevant to the concerns of voters and the triumphs and defeats of politicians.
This is the world into which little Clara and Emily have been born and today they have been brought inside this church to be baptised.
What does this mean and what difference does it make?
On this Sunday, the last one of the Church’s year, Christians celebrate Christ the King.
In a world where monarchs are increasingly being replaced by presidents, is this another anachronism which distances Christianity from people and their everyday experience, language and understanding?
I think the answer has to be yes but also that we really have to do something about it.
Christianity is this land still enjoys a unique part of our national life but the situation is changing and we as Christians are failing to share effectively the treasury of our faith which actually forms, enriches and undergirds the very essence of our civilisation and the development of our moral values.
Pilate asked Jesus what kind of king he was and our neighbours up and down the country will be none the wiser today.
If you were to ask anyone to draw a picture of a king, what do you think the result would look like?
I am sure that almost everyone would draw a man with a crown, richly robed and sitting on a throne.
This image is burnt into our minds from an early age.
Nursery rhymes, fairy tales and children’s stories are all full of kings: good, bad and ridiculous – and almost always based on the image of the crown and the palace – symbols of the riches and status of the one who rules and is in charge.
Now in the Bible, kings are different in terms of the ones chosen by God: they are called to be shepherds and pastors, protectors of the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, the foreigner – even though so many proved in practice to prefer the privilege and status found as soldiers, politicians, autocrats. and self-seekers.
And it was the prophets who had to call them into line.
Tony Benn, that colourful and marmite politician of the last half of the 20th century, used to talk about this regularly to highlight power and righteousness in the world today.
He wanted to show the difference between power and morality.
He had been brought up with these concepts from a very early age; his mother read him Bible stories night after night in which she was always keen to distinguish, ‘between the kings of Israel who exercised power and the prophets of Israel who preached righteousness, and she taught Tony to believe in the prophets rather than the kings.’
I am not sure if you have to make that choice unless you feel you are being called to be a prophet!
However, it graphically illustrates in the pages of the Bible how power can corrupt even the loftiest of visions.
Yes, on our own, the gravity of selfishness corrodes our best intentions.
And God shows us in Jesus a new understanding of power born in relationship and exercised in love, sacrifice and self-giving.
Through the ages people have challenged this unique Christian understanding of God who is humility and love.
Sometimes it has stemmed from that sense of aggressive power and domination expressed in a kind of ‘superman’ – Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th century philosopher, had no time for anything that he saw as pity and humility which lie at the very heart of Christ the King.
For Jesus is marked by these hallmarks of divine power: humility and love. Jesus is God’s anointed one, the Beloved Son, and unlike the king sought by the Magi at his birth first in King Herod’s palace in Jerusalem he is born in a stable, brought up in a carpenter’s workshop, wandered as a homeless teacher, was publicly executed as a criminal and his body was laid in a borrowed grave.
Yes, God’s kingship is so different from our model of political power whether constitutional, feudal or tribal.
The reign of Christ the King is true freedom for all – and through him God claims the power which protects the weak, welcomes the stranger, heals the broken and raises the dead.
All life and meaning are realigned and reinterpreted by that radical rule of God in Jesus Christ.
If we are not convinced of this and able to recognise what it means in terms of power and politics in our world today, how will
Emily and Clara ever know and all the other children in our land?
Schools are not teaching it with the result that most families Britain are estranged from this kingship.
And there is no such thing as a moral vacuum.
Materialism and the cult of the self, ‘celebrity’, has become the focus for power and status and fulfilment generated by a free market that has no morality outside of itself.
By contrast at the same time there is a counter movement of absolutism which is marked by religious fundamentalism.
Within our own land, young people are being ‘radicalised’ through anger, aggression and intolerance – the tinder box of a power that leads to the everyday brutality of Iraq and Syria, Congo, Ukraine and Boko Haram’s territories in Nigeria.
Christianity is often caricatured as the religion of the loser and the victim.
Back in 1866, Algernon Swinburne the English poet, wrote in
Hymn to Proserpine praising up the lusty appetites of an amoral paganism compared to Jesus and his followers:
Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean;
the world has grown grey from thy breath;
He saw Jesus as effete and life-denying – and such an attitude still persists in Britain to this very day.
As we celebrate Christ the King and the baptism of Emily and Clara, I hope and pray that we can make our faith a priority in terms of intellectual enterprise, social action, moral leadership and in the adventure of the imagination in creativity and the release and nurture of human flourishing.
Christ the King certainly reigns from the cross – as the victor who defeats brutality and evil by love and compassion.
I literally feel sickened and paralysed by the accounts and pictures of the beheadings by ISIS of recent days.
Without the grace of God in Jesus Christ I truly believe the future is bleak.
Thank God that Clara and Emily are today brought into the universal family of the Church that submits to Jesus Christ as Lord – for with him there is nothing to fear and we already are beneficiaries as well as inheritors of his eternal freedom and joy.
Back in the dark days of 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian, was imprisoned and awaiting execution.
In spite of the power of the Nazi state machine, he had no doubt as to the power of God in Christ the King.
There is a poem about him with which I wish to end. It is called Christmas Trees – the name given by Berliners to flares dropped by Allied planes before bombing raids on their city.
In that ironic Christmas light, Bonhoeffer lived and died but not without the peace and pity and dignity that resisted the tyranny and evil that tried to destroy him.
That is the power and promise of God in Jesus.
Bonhoeffer in his skylit cell
bleached by the flares’ candescent fall,
pacing out his own citadel,
restores the broken themes of praise,
encourages our borrowed days,
by logic of his sacrifice.
Against wild reasons of the state
His words are quiet but not too quiet.
We hear too late or nor not too late.
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