Sermon: Holne 26th November - Christ the King

This is the fourth and last Sunday in what is known as the Kingdom Season. Not a separate season like Epiphanytide or Lent; but as the Church’s year draws to an end it has a distinctive feel - November on the edge of winter and our primal deep fears – nature’s death and decay, darkness and cold making an impact, the ancient gods and their whims in human history: the days between All Saints and Advent are taking our eyes, ears and hearts towards the end of our days and the end of all things.

For Christians God is Sovereign. It’s God who holds the keys of life and death; It’s God in Christ who promises new life and a place of safety and joy with Him.

Pope Pius XI in 1925 first designated the Festival of Christ the King. He did this in the face of growing nationalism and the rise of dictatorships; he identified an increasingly secular world which claims and exercises a different authority than Christ’s authority, and disregards or doubts his existence. Originally celebrated on the Sunday before All Saints, Pope Paul VI whom many of us will remember, moved it to its present place on the Sunday before Advent. Three original objects still resonate with us:

  1. The Church has the right to freedom and independence from the state. God’s Kingdom is not national. It is global and universal.
  2. Leaders and nations would be challenged to give respect to Christ. (Today we would day to all faiths.)
  3. Christians would gain strength and courage as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies.

Interestingly other Christians - Methodists and Moravians, Lutherans and Anglicans embraced the Festival.

As Anglicans we know today as Stir-up Sunday –a title which takes us back to 1549 and the first definitive worship book of the Church of England, the original Book of Common Prayer and its title “The Sunday next before Advent”. We look back - Back to Christ the King who stood humbly before Pontius Pilate; to Eastertide and what we call Ascension and Pentecost - a time when God’s promised Spirit was poured out on Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free citizens - a spirit which gave birth to a borderless and inclusive Church and empowered it to make us citizens not of an earthly Kingdom, but the Kingdom of Heaven . Jesus seen as human being returned to his Father, and as the imagery puts it sat down on the right hand of God and crowned with glory. In the words of Paul to Timothy, today we stir up again the gift that is in us ( 2 Timothy 1 v.6-7 ).

Stir up Sunday points us forward to what is to come, to encourage us, to prod us into watching and waiting and looking, as Advent dawns, for his coming again in glory. But Why Christ the King?

From the days of Samuel the prophet when the people of God first asked for a king, they were told he would take their young men, their women, and their money, and demand their obedience. It all started well with Saul, but then went downhill. In reality the exercise of Kingship in the Old Testament was deeply flawed - even David was an adulterer and murderer, and Solomon had so many women he couldn’t have known what to do with them all; Other kings laid waste Jerusalem, practised ethnic cleansing, and took others into exile. Emperors of the Rome were often brutal and dictatorial, and lesser monarchs and puppet kings seem perpetually waging war, putting down rebellion, exacting taxes and paying little if any attention to their people. The models of Kingship were not encouraging, yet Jewish prophets foretold a different style of King.

The model of true Kingship is God, the Sovereign and Shepherd described by Ezekiel (Chapter 34 v. 6).

I will seek the lost,
and I will bring back the strayed,
and I will bind up the injured,
and I will strengthen the weak,
but the fat and the strong I will destroy.
I will feed them with justice.

And Ezekiel describes David King of Israel to be his viceroy; the one who, despite his failings, would act in God’s Name on earth.

This is the model we see in Jesus Christ, the Shepherd-King, the Good Shepherd spoken about in St John’s Gospel, who knows his sheep and they know him; and the King who stood before Pontius Pilate with a unique transparency, integrity and authority. Christ the King is not about triumphalism, but about service and authenticity – about being compassionate, Samaritan’s Purse -Shoeboxes of little presents for childen; being good listeners to our friends and neighbours; honouring God at mealtimes; being faithful in our prayers and our worship - keeping our nerve in difficult times and sticking at it when our Faith is rough around the edges.

Jesus invites our allegiance and loyalty and to have the same mindset and agenda. Insofar as you have served humanity, you have served me. ( Matthew 25 v.40 )

If you can't do great things, do little things with great love.
If you can't do them with great love, do them with a little love.
If you can't do them with a little love, do them anyway. Mother Teresa

And as we celebrate St Andrew’s Day shortly, the last verse of a great hymn Jesus Calls us O'er the Tumult (Listent to the hymn) says it eloquently:

Jesus calls us! By thy mercies,
Saviour, make us hear thy call,
give our hearts to thine obedience,
serve and love thee best of all.

Preb. Rev'd John Good

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