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Christ the King

Revelation 1: 4b-8, John 18: 33-37

“You say that I am a King. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”

The royal visit of Harry and Meaghan to Australia recently has come and gone, but the daily updates of their lives and the rest of the royal family constantly appear in our social media feeds and magazines.

This obsession with all things royal reveals our underlying interest about kings and queens. I want to suggest that it also reinforces, even subtlety our underlying understandings of who we are as a country and our place in the world particularly in relationship to the Church and the claims of Jesus as the Christ.

More importantly perhaps it speaks into where our allegiance belongs as people of Christian faith and how we will inhabit the world?

What shape will our lives take and what influences will we as disciples of the Christ privilege?

These are the questions Jesus and Pilate grapple with in our scripture reading today.

I want to acknowledge the work of Rev Dr Chris Budden in his latest book Why Indigenous Sovereignty should matter to Christians in shaping some of this sermon today.

But let us start with the relationship of God, Countries, Kings/Queens and the Church. In Old Testament times as, Walter Brueggemann describes in his book Theology of the Old Testament, God is present to people through four partners: Israel, human persons, nations and creation.

God’s relationship with these partners is always unsettling and unsettled, and somehow problematic. God however is the incomparable and sovereign One, the One who is always free and endlessly faithful and engaged.

God is usually mediated or made present to Israel through people, events and things and this happens particularly through the Torah, the King, the prophets, the cult and the sage.

God cares for Israel and provides, so that all of creation and creatures will have what they need in order to live. God acts for the wellbeing of God’s partners over the long haul and God has an end in view for creation that draws and entices life.

This image of God as King or sovereign in the Old Testament is a reminder that God is God, God does care, and people are accountable. Real power “to be King like” is the power to speak truth and bring real life, it is about empowerment for life.
In the New Testament Jesus bears the presence of God and bears God’s deep commitment to life, yet never allows people to capture God for their own benefit.

Jesus very much destroys the image of a god who supports empires, by revealing God as the one who runs down the road to welcome home those who are lost and destroyed by the economics and politics of empire.

God the One who is hidden, is mediated or revealed in various ways in the life and practice of God’s people. People are partners with God, mediating God’s presence through the pattern of their lives – Life becomes a vocation that expresses the life of God.

So, for New Testament Followers of the Way, Jesus as Lord and King of King’s was presented by the gospel writers as a mocking alternative to Caser and the Roman Empire.  Jesus as Messiah offers healing, release from all that binds, Jesus breaks down barriers and offers life to the full.

At the end of the Roman Emperor Constantine’s live he proclaims that all Romans were to become Christian and the Church was drawn into relationship with the empire.

For the Church this brought protection, power and influence with Kings and Empires and power to enforce particular practices over ordinary people.

Empires gained the blessings of the Church to pursue wealth, power, land and Kings gained power and control of their people, while also becoming representations of God.

To disobey the church or king was to disobey God. To destroy enemies became acceptable rather than loving them and turning the other cheek.

As the Empire and the Church’s life blurred together and as Empires colonised distant lands and the Church “Christianised” the “heathen” this image of Christ as king took on a whole other meaning.

This comes close to naming the reason why the Uniting Church has made a convent with First Peoples and why as a nation we need to continue to grapple with indigenous sovereignty and treaty.

This continuing legacy of relationship between Church and State of Kings & Queens is problematic for the followers of Jesus when we come today and expect to name Jesus as Christ the King. For Jesus’ claim on our life is in sharp contrast to that of empire.

Jesus reign as King was not of this world as today’s gospel reading re-tells. If this were so Jesus states, my followers would take up arms and fight to prevent me from being arrested.

While Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God drawn near offers an alternative political reign it is in contrast to the empire of Rome and Cesar, that understood politics as enforced by violence and power it is not a kingdom of this world.
Neither is violence a part of God’s kingdom. For Jesus in John’s gospel, testifying to the truth is the mark of kingship. To which Cesar replies “what is truth?”

We hear in the beginning of John’s gospel a clue to how Jesus understood this claim about truth and who John’s Jesus is for us.

Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Word was in the beginning with God and was God. The Word was the creator the one who brought forth light and life in the darkness.

This is a claim about where our allegiance lies, will it be with Jesus the Word made flesh, the one in whom life and light is created or will it be with the forces of darkness.
Those who listen to my voice belong to the truth.

The claim of Christianity is expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus modelled and declared God’s defeat of all that blocked God’s desire for the earth.

This new life is not yet complete but its future, promise must be lived in trust. Christ calls people to trust this promise/victory and live as a sign and foretaste of God’s promise.

What Jesus revealed in his life and work, and in his death and suffering, was a different understanding of the power of God. God did not impose a solution on the world or reveal God’s power by destroying armies or defeating enemies, God found a way towards God’s promised future.

God chose in creation to call forth human beings who would be invited to share with God in God’s hope and plans for the world. People were invited into relationship and the extortionary life of God to forge well-being and flourishing for the whole creation.

God invited human beings to love God and to love neighbour as they loved themselves. But it was an invitation and people could choose to join that journey or not.

Jesus revealed God’s self-imposed weakness in the suffering of Jesus for the sake of the freedom and life of the world. God’s apparent weakness is the sign and consequence of a strength that dares to lose life in order to save it.

This is a profoundly different sovereignty to what nations claim and the church usually expects of God. Only this suffering sovereignty will leave us with our freedom and humanity. It is a sovereignty that respects our lives.

It invites and draws us towards life and God’s purpose and does not impose God’s desire on the world. It is a suffering that offers us hope that we are not alone in our suffering.

Our suffering is absorbed into the suffering of Jesus and carried into the heart of God. This is an understanding of Jesus that offers discomfort to those who want a God of power to justify their power, and comfort to those dispossessed and crushed.

This understanding of Jesus as King points us to an alternative way of inhabiting the world. A
way that does not buy into the ways of empires, of power struggles and violence. But it does not allow us as would be followers of this King to be passive in the face of empire either.

Jesus in his encounter with Pilate offers an entirely different way of being in relationship with God and one another. Our lives as Christian community are a sign and foretaste of the reign of God here and now and how the church practices that life together matters.

It is through acknowledging God’s ultimate authority and living the values personified in Jesus that we begin to glimpse the kingdom of God here on earth. As the author and evangelist Alan Redpath puts it: “Before we can pray Lord, thy kingdom come, we must be willing to pray, my kingdom go...”

Acknowledging Jesus as Lord was for those first Christians a subversive act and perhaps this too becomes our practice of life that shapes our way of being in the world.

Acting in the interests of God in this time and place is to subvert much of the western world’s way of being.

God’s interests might just be to offer “welcome and belonging” in the face of exclusion from community.

To offer love in the face of hate and violence;
and to offer compassion to those hurting and damaged is to truthfully proclaim the Kingship of Christ.

Amen.

 

 

Geoff Wellington

Geoff is Presbytery Minister (Congregation Futures) in Canberra Region Presbytery, with a particular focus on faith formation and development among members of the Uniting Church congregations in our region.

Quote for today

...But you know Him, for He lives with you, and will be in you. John14:17

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About Our Church

Our faith community began in 1975 as a small ecumenical gathering of people who settled in the new Canberra township of Tuggeranong. We have grown with the Tuggeranong Community, and our parish centre is the hub for our work, as a place of worship, of gathering, fellowship and ministry.

We come together for authentic and Christ-centred worship. While we worship in a variety of styles, we share a common focus on faithfully listening for God’s Word and sharing His kindness and compassion with others. We express our love for God and others through a range of ministries, and connections with our community.

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