Event Name Sermon given at Matins on Christ the King 2016
Start Date 20th Nov 2016 10:00am

The Reverend David Stanton, Canon in Residence
In my last sermon at this service I spoke about the connection between personality type and the way we live out our faith and discipleship. In other words, the relationship between our natural persona, how we tick as individuals, how we make judgments and choices, and the way we express our Christian faith. In essence, how we live our lives.

This last sermon concerned the classic opposites of extrovert or introvert. The sermon is on the Abbey website as will be this one. Today on this feast of Christ The King, I’m going to talk about the dichotomy between thinking or feeling, in the context of how we understand the Kingdom of God; next Sunday I will be considering the world of judging or perceiving.

When Jung studied human behaviour, he noticed that people have the capability to make decisions based on two very different sets of criteria: thinking and feeling. When we all make logical and reasoned decisions, we’re most often operating in thinking mode. When we make a decision purely on what we believe to be right, we’re operating in feeling mode.

We all use both modes for making decisions, but ultimately all of us tend to put more trust into one mode or the other. In a rather general sense we all fall into these two broad categories when we consider the Kingdom of God.

A thinker tends to make decisions in a rational, logical, impartial manner, shaped by doctrine and what we believe is fair and Christian behaviour. A feeler tends, more often than not, to make decisions on individual cases, in a rather subjective manner based on what they believe to be right and reconciling that with their faith.

Well, today on this feast of Christ the King it begs the question, how do we understand the kingship of Christ and how do we recognise God’s kingdom amongst us?

Our second lesson from the Revelation to St John the Divine tells us of loud voices in heaven saying ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah’. These words echo the very inscription that we can read above the high altar on the reredos before us.

But how do we recognise this kingdom? how is it revealed to us? Some decisions of faith are made entirely by the thinking or feeling process and yet most decisions involve a combination of some thinking and some feeling.

Many churches today play up the emotional, the feeling, dimension of faith, because as the argument goes, emotion is all part of being human and therefore it must be integral to faith.

Well, there’s no doubt that the Scriptures certainly do express the full range of human feelings: joy and sorrow, gratitude and jealousy, trust and doubt, hope and fear, love and hate, they’re all part of the divine because, in their different ways, they bring us into contact with God.

Yet its important for us to understand that feelings can only partly reveal God to us. Although there’s a strong contemporary temptation to reduce faith to emotion, the senses and feeling, supported by the fact that deep personal experiences and feelings can indeed kindle faith, the problem is they cannot be the sole pillars of our spiritual lives, because, at the end of day, emotions are not the essence of faith.

Rather faith rests upon a loving God who’s not just emotion or feeling, but one who calls us into union with Him through the revelation of His Son. In other words, faith requires us to acknowledge and accept revelation.

Because of this, St. Thomas Aquinas described faith as an intellectual virtue: ‘to believe is an act of the intellect assenting to the truth at the command of the will’. He argues that the intellect has priority because it accepts what comes from God, yet it does so through the will, which can be moved by the power of religious experience.

Nevertheless, religious things are hardly ever black and white. The sort of decisions that we find most difficult are usually those in which there’s some sort of conflict between our thinking and feeling sides. Usually, in these situations, our dominant preference will ultimately take over.

Our understanding of the kingdom of God is a classic case in point: If I asked you, would you put more weight on principles and doctrine or would you like to put more weight on personal concerns and the people around you? This can be a revealing question. But in answering it we shouldn’t confuse feeling with emotion or thinking with intelligence.

When you make decisions, do you analyse the pros and cons, in a consistent and logical way? If you do, you’ll probably believe that telling the truth is more important than being tactful. On the other hand you may believe you make your best decisions by carefully weighing up what people care about, balancing both sides of an argument?

If you do, then you will probably go out of your way to do whatever it takes to establish or maintain good relations, coming across as caring, warm, and tactful. You’ll be conciliatory, looking to see what is important for others and making compassionate heart felt decisions.

Our understanding of the Kingdom of God is of course a combination of both these approaches. Each compliments the other and together they are stronger, more comprehensive, than their individual parts.

We do our best to understand the kingdom around us, but the New Testament never actually speaks of us building or creating or making the kingdom. The thing is we’re not helping God, bit by bit, to realise his ideal kingdom. We’re not somehow making God’s dream come true!

God simply makes his kingdom possible and then helps us, through both head and heart, to make it real, as best he can, by our rather feeble efforts. And so we remind ourselves that however we understand the kingdom of God, we must never see it as something we’ve created, however compassionate we are, however intricate our thought.

Thinking and feeling can take us so far, but if God cannot be more faithful than we are then there really is no saving grace. Ultimately, Christianity stands on objective truth, not on subjective perception, intuition, reasoning or feeling.

As Christians, we must always look to Christ, and to Christ alone, for our vision of God, ourselves, others and the world around us. How different this is from the notions of God that the human mind and heart produce themselves.

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