Sermon at Evensong on the feast of Christ the King 2018
Divine love and justice has begun to erupt into the world we know.
The Venerable David Stanton Canon in Residence
Sunday, 25th November 2018 at 3.00 PM
For a number of weeks, the UK has been putting pressure on Saudi Arabia over the killing of Janal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist, encouraging Saudi authorities to cooperate fully with the Turkish investigation into his death, so that justice may be delivered for his family and the watching world.
Yet Saudi Arabia is adamant that King Salman and Prince Mohammed have no knowledge of the plot. This is not surprising. Most kingdoms will do anything they can to protect their king.
This, of course, is also the unspoken premise in the game of chess, because the king is the most important piece on the chessboard. It can never be captured and if it is in danger then it must be made safe immediately.
If it is not possible to make the King safe, then the game is lost. The King therefore must be protected at all costs.
This reminds me of a little known fact that happened during the Second World War at the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day.
Winston Churchill desperately wanted to join the expeditionary forces and watch the invasion from the bridge of a battleship in the English Channel. General Eisenhower was desperate to stop him, for fear that the Prime Minister might be killed in battle.
When it became apparent that Churchill would not be dissuaded, Eisenhower appealed to a higher authority: King George VI.
The king went and told Churchill that if it was the Prime Minister's duty to witness the invasion, he could only conclude that it was also his own duty as king to join him on the battleship.
At this point Churchill reluctantly agreed to back down, for he knew that he could never expose the King of England to such danger.
King Jesus did exactly the opposite. With royal courage he surrendered his body to be crucified. On the cross he offered a king's ransom: his life for the life of his people.
When we look into the gospels we see that Jesus’ life is framed by kingship. At his Nativity three kings search out the new-born King of the Jews.
And at the Crucifixion, the notice hammered into the top of his cross ironically echoes the same unfulfilled promise: ‘This is Jesus, King of the Jews.’
What kind of king begins his earthly life in a stable - and ends it as the victim of a cruel public execution?
His own reaction to the question as to whether he was a king, is, at least to Pilate, elusive. ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ demands Pilate in St. John’s Gospel.
‘My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’
But if Jesus is reticent about his own kingship, he never stops talking about the kingdom of God. He says the kingdom of God is like the mystery of the seed sown by a farmer, which grows, whether its looked after or not, and ultimately reaps a huge harvest.
It is like a mustard seed, a tiny seed, but one which grows into a huge tree. It is like yeast which is mixed with dough and which makes it rise.
In a sense, the kingdom of God was present in Christ, and is Christ, since he drove out demons and explained that this was a sign that the kingdom of God had come to us. In fact, its also mysteriously and intimately linked to the Church, which is Christ's body.
Because this kingdom exists about us and around us - so the good wheat grows beside the weeds in the kingdom's field, both good fish and bad fish are caught in the kingdom's net, which sometimes confuses us or gives rise to scandal.
And so we see that the Gospels tell the story of how the cross, around us and amongst us, ultimately wins the victory of the kingdom. How the kingdom came not like earthly kingdoms but in a different way altogether.
But ever since the enlightenment perceptions have changed and the West has seen the world very much in dualistic terms, splitting heaven and earth, forcing the Gospels into a rather different framework.
In a subtle but very distinct way, our collusion with secularism has enabled the message of the cross to shift from the ultimate victory over the principalities and powers, to simply a way of dealing with individual sins.
Jesus’ fundamental message of saving the world through the Cross, has caused the modern world and much of the modern church to rebel and recoil.
But the real point of all this, is that Jesus was not preaching a new 'religion' and he wasn’t just giving us the secret of how to get to heaven. Rather his fundamental message was about how heaven's rule can come to earth.
He wasn’t leading a protest movement, far from it, he came to institute God's very rule on earth. This was his theocracy. He emphasised that personal salvation and social action are both true out workings of the gospel, but when taken independently they distort it.
The real point of the message is that through Jesus the world is a different place. Something divine happened which gives a new meaning to creation, to the new temple, to new humanity.
This is not the confine of academic theology, but a command and challenge to us all to actually living it. To hear the call of Jesus, to be part of kingdom right now.
When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, he really did mean that this was the time for God to become King and reign in a way that not only challenged Caesar's kingdom but continues to challenge all types of Caesar's kingdom.
The implication for us today is that this isn’t something that will just happen at the end of time, but that this began to happen through Jesus' own ministry, death and resurrection; and that the world is radically different because of it.
Of course, the Western enlightenment hated this message, because it claimed that nothing really happened with Jesus' coming except the fact that he created a few new religious options.
In many ways this historic clash stands behind many of the struggles we face today. Because the West has bought so deeply into the narrative of the enlightenment we can't understand why the world appears to have gone so wrong - with tragedies seemingly hitting us day after day.
As a society we need to re-discover the Gospel narrative, rather than the post-enlightenment one, in which the poor and the sick are cared for and fed. Where the displaced and the marginalised are given dignity and help in the name of Christ.
Our New Testament reading about the feeding of the 5,000 models such compassion; showing how compassion involves obedience and is so much more than just an emotional response.
When Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world, he is not talking about being king of another world, he’s talking about having a divine source for his authority in this world.
And when he talks about the kingdom of God, he’s not talking about heaven, he’s talking about a new world order.
When he says that the kingdom of God is very near indeed, he doesn’t mean that paradise is almost close enough to touch, but rather that divine love and justice has begun to erupt into the world we know.