Year C, CHRIST the KING

 

   20-26 Nov

 

Luke 23:33-43                                                             (Sermon 1: “An Unkingly King”)

Colossians 1: 11-20                             (Sermon 2: “Celebrating the Unusual”)

Jeremiah 23: 1-6

Luke 1: 68-79

 

PREPARATION

 

The grace of our only King, the Lord Jesus Christ, be with you all.

And also with you.

 

Today is a day when we ask you to turn an idea upside down -

            to firmly take  the word “king” and stand it on its head.

 

Christ is our King, the monarch of all things,

is that  humble, compassionate person who–

            never went to university

            never wrote a book,

            never held any public office,

            never had friends in high places,

            never travelled out of his tiny country,

            never met anyone more important than a provincial governor.

His only crown- a wreath of thorns.

His only throne- two crossed planks of wood.

At his right hand, and at his left, two dying thieves.

 

Come, let us celebrate a remarkable thing;

Jesus of Nazareth is our incomparable King!.

 

            OR—

 

My fellow citizens in the realm of God,

today we celebrate the only ruler

to whom we can give undivided loyalty:

Jesus of Nazareth, Christ the king!

 

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

who has visited and redeemed our people

and lifted up the trumpet of salvation,

that being liberated, we might serve God without fear

with holiness and justice all the days of our life.

 

Through the tender mercy of our God

when the Dawn Light from on high visited us,

to guide our feet in the way of peace.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Thank you, loving God, for giving us a king unlike any other; for rescuing us from all our false ideas of importance, like power, wealth, mansions, and the glory of armies. By your grace, assist us to get into the true spirit of things, and to show you a worship which fits your sublime humility. For your love’s sake.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

We come before  God in confession, laying our faults at the feet of Christ.

 

Let us pray.

 

To you, Christ our King:

We bring our lust for power and set it down before your rejection of power.

We bring our love of money and place it before your willing poverty.

We bring our stubborn pride and set it before your utter humility.

We bring our pay-back mentality and lay it before your mercifulness.

We bring our desire for self-glory and put before your passion for God’s glory.

We bring our inveterate self-interest and rest it before your self giving.

We bring all our vain wisdom and lay it before the “folly” of your cross.

 

Most merciful God, please forgive us once again. Enable us to let go of guilt, and to take steps to prevent future debacles. Correct the distortions in our thinking and feeling, and realign our hopes and ambitions to your will. Let us become in action as well as intention, the brothers and sisters of Christ the King.

Amen!

 

ASSURANCE

 

My friends, I come to us as the Kings’ herald! Good news! Wonderful news! God has already forgiven you. Believe it, take it to heart, and live it! It is for real!

In the name of Christ.

Amen!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            To King Jesus

 

King Jesus,

carpenter’s son and friend of sinners,

come and rule in our hearts.

 

King Jesus,

washer of feet and healer of diseases,

come and rule in our minds.

 

King Jesus,

nailed to a cross and rising from a grave,

come and rule in our actions.

 

King Jesus,

you are wonderful,

you are the greatest!

 

Forever and ever,

AMEN!

 

PSALM: LUKE 1: 68-79

 

Wonderful is the Lord God of Israel,

who has visited and set the people free,

            and has lifted up the trumpet of salvation

            for the descendants of God’s servant David.

 

As the prophets preached long ago,

that we should be rescued from enemies,

            and from the hands of those who hate us,

            to live by the love promised to our forebears.

 

To keep remembering the holy covenant,

that oath which God made to father Abraham;

            that we, free from the grasp of enemies,

            might serve God without being afraid

            and do good things in God’s presence

            throughout every day that we live.

 

And you, little child, will be named

the prophet of the Most High.

            For you will go on ahead of the Lord

            to prepare a new path for him,

            that people may know what it is to be free

            as all their sins are forgiven.

 

This will be the outcome of God’s yearning love,

when the new dawn shall shine on the heights,

            to shed light on those who crouch in darkness

            and in the deep shadows of death,

            to guide our feet into the way of peace.

 

                                                                                                            ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

 

CHRIST THE KING?

 

Come worship your king

this peasant-child thing

asleep in cradle of straw.

Come pay your respects

and have no regrets

if you step in cow-poo at the door.

 

Come worship your king

this carpenter thing

who works timber as smooth as a glove.

Come see what entails

when hammer and nails

are used in the service of love.

 

Come worship your king,

this vagabond thing

who preaches of sheep and fig trees.

Come touch with your hands

his garment’s frayed bands

and find you are healed from dis-ease.

 

Come worship your king

this crucified thing

who hangs where the guilty belong.

Come stand here in awe

and forever adore

the love that will last all life long.

 

Come worship your king

            this arisen Thing

who serves breakfast to friends by the sea.

            Come share in this meal

            and know it’s for real

that he still dines with you and with me.

                                                            Ó B. D. Prewer 2006 and 2012

 

COLLECT

 

God most holy, God most loving, we thank you for Jesus our unique King. May we see him in the glory of his saving grace, love him as the hope of our lives, and serve him as that loving  Brother who alone can change the alienation and aggression of the world and bring us to that wondrous reconciliation where no one is forgotten, and no soul excluded. In his name and to your eternal praise, we so pray. Lord hear our prayer.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: AN UNKINGLY KING

 

Luke 23: 33-34 & 23:38

 

When they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified Jesus, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said” Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they do. Luke 23: 33-34

 

There was also an inscription over him, written in Greek, Latin and Hebrew: “This is the King of the Jews.” Luke 23: 38

 

 

What should the worldly wise do with an unkingly king? With an unkingly king who

refuses to take authority over armies

            who will not grant cabinet posts to cronies

            who will not, even for one day, live in a palace

            who refuses to hate enemies or plot their downfall

            who mixes in common crowds without any sense of royal dignity

            who won’t have a bodyguard or wear a safety vest

            who refuses to play political games to increase his power

            who will not dress in gilded gowns, or wear a jewelled crown ?

           

What would the worldly wise do with such an unkingly king?

 

Get rid of him quickly. Very quickly! Dispose of him before he ruins the fabric of our macho society! If necessary kill the fool. Publicly humiliate him and then execute him.

 

Then, sometime after his death (a respectable interval, mind you) turn him into a heavenly King with a worldly majesty;

            get your artists to paint him and your poets to embroider his name with fine verses

            dress him in the rich robes he refused to wear, and place a beautiful crown on his head

            even give him features similar to earthly monarchs that we serve

            give him here on earth courtiers and princely representatives who live in palaces

            bless your armies with his name and loot the cities of your enemies in his name

 

And depict him as one who learned from the mistaken leniency of his first coming;

            teach that next time he comes things will be very different

            he will come with armies and swords and fire to do the job properly this time

            he will subdue the earth and put all opposition under his iron boot

            no more of that nice guy stuff; next time he’s King for real!

 

O dear! O Hell!

 

With the taste of bitter irony on my tongue, I say these things.. Because this is what the worldly wise would do with an unkingly king.  To a large degree that is what historically has happened to Christ Jesus.

 

THE STARK GOSPEL FOR THIS DAY

 

I am grateful for the stark Gospel reading that the Lectionary offers us today. It redefines kingship.

 

Christ’s kingliness is defined by that lonely, suffering figure dying on a cross, naked and forsaken, mocked by his enemies, yet even in his last hours forgiving his murderers comfortingly a criminal who is dying at his side.

 

At Golgotha, the worldly-wise way of pride and violence confronts humility and non-violence, and it is the latter that seems to lose the contest. Mercy is crucified, dead and buried.

 

Yet.... yet..... is it?

 

NON VIOLENCE

 

I want look at the story of non-violence in Christianity.

 

For the first few centuries in Christianity, a non-violent Christ was worshipped and followed by believers. Jesus was king, but a king utterly other than the kind of authority exhibited by the Roman Emperor, or regional kings and governors. During this springtime of Christianity, the most popular artistic representations of Christ were as the crucified One, the Good Shepherd, and sometimes the plain man on the mount of Transfiguration, glowing with the radiance of God.

 

It was a period when Christians were given a hard time under successive waves of persecution. But they did not resist arrest or form terrorist brigades to fight back. Generally they tried to obey Roman laws except when those laws conflicted with their first allegiance to their king , Jesus.

 

People presenting for baptism were carefully sifted. Those in professions of violence found it hard to become members of the church. Some men who were already in the army were admitted under strict conditions. But those not already enlisted, could not first be a Christian and then proceed to join the army.

 

Listen to some restrictions contained in a document called “The Apostolic Tradition” written around the period of 200 AD.,  for those asking for baptism.

 

If a man is a charioteer, a wrestler, or attends wrestling matches, let him either give it up or be sent away.

 

If he is a gladiator or teaches gladiators to fight, or is a beast fighter, or he is an official who organises gladiatorial games, let him give it up or be sent away.

 

If he is a soldier in position of authority he is not allowed to impose a death sentences; if he is ordered to do so, let him not carry out the order..... if he does not accept this rule, let him be sent away.

 

A man who is a civil magistrate with the power of the sword, one who wears the purple, must either give up his position or be sent away.

 

Believers or candidates who wish to enlist as soldiers are to be sent away, because they show contempt for God.

 

Those early Christians worshipped a non-violent King; a  Son of God who would not use physical power against another but chose the way of humility and mercy. To be a citizen of Christ’s new kingdom meant to be a non-violent person in the midst of an extremely violent society.

 

WHAT CHANGED?

 

But things were to change.

 

In a bloody contest for the throne of the Roman Empire, Constantine emerged as the likely winner in the year 312 and the sole Emperor in 323. During his military campaigns he embraced a deviant form of Christianity and his soldiers were treated as if they were warriors of God.

 

Christianity by Imperial decree was soon made the state religion. Earthly power was linked with Christ’s power.

 

Soon the clergy of the church were given legal authority.

            Priests became magistrates wearing the Roman robe and stole of office.

            Bishops became high court judges with the robe, head gear,

            golden ring and throne which went with the office.

 

In art, the form of Jesus as the crucified criminal, or as the gentle good shepherd, is replaced by Jesus as an Emperor on a jewel encrusted throne, seated on the Emperor’s purple cushion, surrounded by the high officials of state. Jesus the king is now the supreme commander of the legions of heaven, who was gathering his army for a final assault on the wicked unbelievers on earth.

 

The kingship of Jesus had been high-jacked, and perverted by worldly wise concepts.

 

Much of that which started in the era of Constantine, has carried down the centuries. In the art of Italy, Spain, France, Germany and England, Jesus was often portrayed as an august, formidable man of supreme power, to be greatly feared.  In some cases, even the facial characteristics of certain monarchs were transferred by fearful court artists on to the features of Christ the King.

 

Jesus becomes an unapproachable power freak who was coming on the clouds of glory  to conquer the world and put right what had not happened in the first coming.  (Incidentally, as Jesus became more Imperial, Mary became increasingly the subject of devotion from common people.)

 

Tragically, Jesus the non-violent, merciful, power-renouncing person was largely forgotten.  He survived in a few sub groups of the church. For example, with the Quakers. But on the whole, the Christ-King of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, was nothing like the man who died on a cross.

 

WHICH KING WILL WE HAVE?

 

Today is the festival of Christ the King.  We give Jesus our complete allegiance. But which kind of King will we be worshipping?

 

It is said that we grow like the thing we worship.  What do we worship?

 

The Gospel for today takes us back to the centrality of the cross, to that person of supreme love who even forgave those who killed him. Above the cross was a notice board which was meant to be ironic humour: JESUS; KING OF THE JEWS . For us it is surely the very heart of the truth.

 

The real power which rules this universe is long-suffering love. Love rules. Ultimately (for love is a slow process compared with armies) love will be the only power than remains in heaven and earth.  Love is the only King to which we must all one day give account.

 

Our King has not changed. He who says “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” does NOT turn into a tyrant who yells: “Come and prostrate yourself before me or I will stomp on your like a cockroach!”

 

The Scripture which says “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” does NOT have a new clause added: “However, if you don’t get yourself saved before time runs out, then you are going to get zapped!”

 

What does the Bible tell us? “Jesus Christ, the same today, yesterday and forever.”

 

According to Luke, when the risen Christ is taken up into heaven, angels comfort the disciples with the words: “This same Jesus will come again.”

 

Our King remains the one with the crown of thorns. Who welcomes sinners and eats with them.

 

THE WAY OF NON VIOLENCE?

 

Let me explain one thing about myself: I am not a pacifist; maybe some of you will think that is to my shame. So be it. However, I do recognise situations where I would resort to violence. (The reasons are too detailed to explain here and now.) 

 

But I refuse to glorify my very reluctant non-pacifist position by projecting it on to Jesus. He was not, is not, and will not be an instrument of violence.  He did not get it wrong the first time, nor is he about to correct a mistake that some may think he made on his next visit.

 

He got it right. He is my beautiful King.  He is the only hope for this crazy world. He is the world’s future. His humble mercy is the way of God.

 

The final power and authority which outlasts, outlives and out-celebrates everything else, is LOVE!

 

If we worship this King, cling to him as to no other, spend time in his company, then by his grace we be drawn nearer and nearer our own true destiny and hasten the day when violence and war will be no more. The love of God in Christ Jesus will be all in all.

 

 

SERMON 2: CELEBRATING THE UNUSUAL

 

Colossians 1: 15-20

 

This week marks the end of the current Christian year.

Next Sunday ushers in Advent, the new year on the church calendar.

 

We finish this old year with a bang!

We revel in the unusual, life of Christ. Jesus is a “one-off;” a bizzare kind of royalty. Today we celebrate “The Festival of Christ the King.” There is no other king in history like this one whom we love and praise with heart and mind and voice.

 

Our king Jesus, is definitely not in the mould of other kings, emperors, governors and presidents. Today we turn the common idea of king inside out, like a tee shirt with a flamboyant print on it, and come up with a completely different, and much less strident colour.. We must turn the word king inside out if we are to express anything of the truth that belongs to Jesus our King.

 

TYPICAL KINGS OF THIS EARTH

 

So let us begin with characteristics of the kings of history.

 

Historically king meant absolute power over subjects,

arbitrary authority over life and death; the right when the monarch was in a foul mood (and while reaching for another glass of the choicest wine) to shout: “take him out and behead him.”

 

Historically kinship included body guards and armies.

There was a ruthless enforcement of royal decrees. If a king decided to pick a fight with a neighbouring kingdom, it meant the young men of the kingdom were forcibly rounded up and sent off to die a slow and most bloody death in battle, for the sake of the king’s honour.

 

It meant violent suppression of dissent.

Any view at odds with the king’s was rooted out. Spies and enforcers, midnight raids, torture chambers and dungeons were the order of the day.

 

King implied palaces and luxury apartments.

It meant gold threaded robes, shinning crowns studded with precious stones, and over-supply of sumptuous meals that were, as the saying goes, “fit for a king.”

 

King suggested court jesters.

Comedians who  constant created new stunts to divert his majesty. Minstrels singing exaggerated praises in ballads, and composers being expected to produce a new orchestral work every week.

 

It meant gilded throne rooms.

Ah yes, august throne with ambassadors bowing low and employing fluent flattery, courtiers trying to get as close as they dared, suppliants offering expensive gifts, and favourites being dubbed Knights or given a Dukedom.

 

King meant sheer dominance.

Absolute power, extravagance, lofty arrogance, and grandiose displays of “pomp and circumstance” to impress the populace and keep them under the royal foot..

 

POWER AND SELF GLORY IS NOT CHRIST’S THING

 

Christ our king has nothing in common with such a king.

I repeat: nothing in common. Let us jettison any thought associated with pomp and power. There is no swagger in Jesus. No imperial manners.

.

Christ is not the man with his finger on the button of military violence. Christ is not that autocratic kind of king. Never was, never is, never will be. Political power as we see it wielded in this crazy old world, is out! The power as exercised by presidents, prime ministers, ruling juntas and dictators of this world is not Christ’s kind of thing. Never was, never will be.

 

Sending conscripts off to die is not his thing.Bullying and overpowering is not his thing. Wealth and palaces are not his thing. Forcing obedience to law by armies and guns is not his thing. Having people bow and bribe him for favours is not his thing. Flamboyant “pomp and circumstance” are not his thing. Gilded thrones and jewelled crowns are not his thing. Yelling “off with his head” is certainly not Christ’s thing.

 

Jesus completely transforms the concept of kingship.

As I said earlier, to arrive at Christ’s kingliness, we must turn the idea of kingship inside out, like a tee-shirt. Or to change the images, we must turn the word king upside down, or put it in a vice and squeeze all the arrogance out of it, or strip it of ostentation and put the clothing of commoners on it.

 

THE SINCERITY OF NEW TESTAMENT PRAISE

 

In the glorious reading we enjoyed today from the Letter to the Colossians,

we had an extended passage which glorified Christ. Glorifying our king Jesus does not ever get much better than this, whether in the rest of the New Testament or in the enobling hymns of 2000 years of Christianity. Let’s hear some of those majestic words from Colossians again..

 

            Christ is the very image of the invisible God,

            the first-born of all creation.

            For in him all things were created

            in heaven and on earth,

            things visible and invisible,

            whether thrones or empires,

            principalities or other authorities.

            He is before all things,

            and in him all things hold together.

            He is the head of the body of the church,

            the beginning and the first-born from the dead,

            and in everything he has no equal.

            For in Christ all the fullness of God

            was happy to come and live,

            and through him all things shall be reconciled,

            whether on earth or in heaven,

            making peace by the blood of his cross.

 

That is extraordinary praise!

What’s more it is spontaneous praise, coming straight from overflowing hearts. It stems from love not obedience, from joy not fear.

 

This  is not at a flattering oration.

Not like those praises given by fearful subjects to dictators, kings and emperors. Nor like the hollow diplomatic praises spoken to visiting heads of state by prime ministers and presidents who are intent on cementing a new trade deal or military alliance. Not even like the more subtle spiel of parliamentarians who are trying to “butter up” their leader in the hope of winner a position on the cabinet.

 

The praise of the New Testament is full-on sincerity.

This is the real thing! In Colossians, as in Ephesians and Philippians, we have an outpouring of love-praise from a writer who had suffered hardship, pain and persecution for his unique King, yet did not look back with regret on one moment of it.

 

AT THE HEART IS THE CRUCIFIED CHRIST

 

At the heart is the crucified Christ.

His body broken, his blood poured out in love for the world. The supra-costly reconciliation of all things. Humanity reconciled with God by God’s incomparable love. Person reconciled with person through the saving grace of Christ Jesus..

 

            In everything he has no equal.

            For in Christ all the fullness of God

            was happy to come and live,

            and through him all things shall be reconciled,

            whether on earth or in heaven,

            making peace by the blood of his cross.

 

This is not a strutting earthly king. Here in Colossians is a crucified man wearing a crown of thorns. King Jesus. The wounded healer. The bloodied reconciler. The one who lays down his life for others. This is Jesus our king, the one who turns all other ideas of kingship inside out.

 

Here is the humble son of Mary.

The apprentice of his earthly father, Joseph the carpenter.

A village man who become an itinerant preacher and healer.

The fellow who listened to women with an unusual respect in what was a man’s world

A misunderstood man who spent nights out on the hills with only heather for a mattress.

Here is a young physician actually touching untouchable lepers.

A blesser of grubby street kids (not the same thing as kissing well-washed babies before an election!!)

A dinner guest among the equivalent of bikies and beach bums.

The saviour trusted by prostitutes and tax collectors.

Friend of foreigners and fishermen.

A servant washing the feet of guests.

The wanted man slipping through city streets by night.

A soul in agony, praying  in an Olive grove.

The young rabbi betrayed by a disciple.

Prisoner in kangaroo court, abused by the police guards.

Condemned man, mocked, flogged and spat upon.

A victim carrying his own cross to the Place of the Skull.

The crucified man, speaking forgiveness on his foes.

A corpse hastily buried in a borrowed tomb,

The stranger walking with men on the road  to Emmaus.

A host with wounded hands, cooking a fish breakfast for his fishermen mates on the shores of Galilee

 

WORSHIP AND TRUST THIS UNIQUE KING

 

We have no other king than this one. This same Jesus. This Saviour and Lord who “lords it over” no one.

 

Always central is his cross, reconciling love, and the promise of universal peace.

 

Please my friends, I beg you, stay true.Yes, I beg you, stay true! Never surrender the merciful Christ of the New Testament for a later edition. Don’t betray him by making him into a gorgeously dressed monarch made in the image of our human arrogance and aggression.

 

Worship this new type of king, this Jesus,  and trust him.

Don’t just pay lip service, but fully trust him and his example. Commit you ways to him and you shall know his peace, such as the crass old world cannot give.

 

            In everything he has no equal.

            For in Christ all the fullness of God

            was happy to come and live,

            and through him all things shall be reconciled,

            whether on earth or in heaven,

            making peace by the blood of his cross.

 

 

THANKSGIVING

 

We praise God with a thankful heart.

Let us pray.

 

We thank you, most Holy Friend, for being so patient and long-suffering in your work of creation and redemption.

 

Thanks for the abundance and resilience of the earth and its life sustaining power;

For the immense variety of trees and flowers and fruits and seeds and living creatures.

 

Thanks for that key likeness to yourself that you have inscribed in the very being of all people;

For the law givers and prophets who saw this clearly and called us to live with your justice and compassion.

 

Thanks for the long preparation  given before the time was right for Mary to give birth;

For her first born child, resting in a manger, to the surprise of men and the glorious  amazement of angels.

 

Thanks for what Jesus was, said and did; but most of all for his awful yet wonderful cross;

For all the benefits of his passion and death, and the vindication of the Easter event which is still happening today.

 

Thanks for the space he made in our souls and in the church for the gift of the Holy Spirit;

For gifts enhanced and new gifts received in the fellowship of the Body of Christ.

 

For these special gifts, and all the common ones that take for granted;

We give your thanks, Holy Friend;  our Creator, Redeemer and Counsellor. To you belongs our gratitude, praise and service now and forever. Amen!

 

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

FOR OUR NATION

 

We pray, Most holy Friend, for a future where everyone will get a fair go. Where the lucky will not lord it over the unfortunate, nor the strong force their will on the weak, nor the clever treat the ordinary as their servants. Please let justice flow around us like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.

 

FOR WORLD PEACE

 

Loving God, we ponder a fallen world, with violence and war , wrecked communities, broken bodies and shattered minds. We long, we yearn painfully, for that new world where wolf and lamb shall lie down together and nations learn war no more.

 

FOR THOSE IN HOSPITAL

 

Motherly Spirit,, put your arms around your suffering children, those we name in our minds and many whose names we will never know. Cradle them through the long hours, and by night grant them the precious gift of sleep. May they wake up each morning a little stronger in body and more buoyant in  spirit.

 

FOR THE SORROWING

 

Saviour of our dear and holy dead, the hardest thing for us is that we can no longer, see, hear, touch, soothe or kiss our loved ones. Help us to know that your arms are never closed, and to trust those so dear to us into the wisdom and tenderness that is truly resurrection and life. May they have your kiss of peace.

 

FOR OURSELVES

 

Implant us, dear Lord, with that miracle of trust which can transform setbacks into new growth, suffering into deeper compassion for others, and  heavy duties into the glory of practical praise. Through Christ Jesus our Redeemer.

 

 

SENDING OUT

 

May Christ the King give you the secret of his humble contentment.

            and the grace to be thankful for whatever this new week brings.

 

Be glad for those who encourage you and be civil to those who offend you,

            and learn when to speak and when to be silent, when to move into action

             and when to be still and pray.

 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, .the love.......................