A sermon for St John’s Adel – Christ the King – 2019
Colossians 1: 11-20; Luke 23:33-4
Our Iranian friends, Solmaz and her two boys, have been on my mind this week. They worshipped with us for only a few weeks, but they made an impression on those who spent time with them.
My inability to speak anything but English made communication difficult…I didn’t learn much of their history, but their time in England must surely have been very disorienting.
On arrival as asylum seekers, they were placed in the Parkway hotel on Otley Road. Pleasant enough I’m sure…but what an odd place to find themselves. No community, probably no one speaking their language, no school, college or work to fill their days. With no money for buses, they had to walk along Otley road, probably in the rain, just to find this church.
And just as they’d begun to know a few friendly faces – including the wonderful Maryam who could speak in their own language – they were uprooted and sent to Ashington, on the edge of Newcastle. I hope they’ll find another welcome – but the landscape will be totally different, not to mention the type of English spoken!
Whilst remembering them in prayer – imagining their disorientation has been a useful picture for me on this feast of ‘Christ the King’.
The celebration began in the 1920s to counter the rise of secularism and remind us that as Christians, Christ is our King – and Christ alone. It sounds obvious – but what does it really mean? Today’s New Testament readings give us an idea.
Paul wrote to the Colossians, ‘God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his beloved Son.’ In Paul’s time, this language of transfer from one kingdom to another spoke of refugees rounded up after a battle and taken to the victor’s land…marched far from home to live in a kingdom completely different in geography and culture. Here the ruler is different, the rules are different, even the ideas that make sense of how life is lived are different.
Becoming a Christian, says Paul, is like that. Not a case of fitting Jesus into our present way of thinking; because as Christians we’re deported from one kingdom to another – from one way of living to another. Nothing should be as we’ve known it. If you like, we are asylum seekers…and if we venture out into our new land everything should be a shock.
Why so shocking? Because of the King we follow. Paul continues with a description of Christ our King…‘He is the image of the invisible God…in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things.’
Don’t try to fit this king into your existing ideas, Paul is saying…because this king is God. He’s not one king amongst many; he’s the king of all things. His rule is over all things. It should take first place in our lives, with the secular world fitted around it. Just as our Iranian friends will have to work out how to fit their lives into this new place…we should be working out how our lives can be lived in this new kingdom.
And just in case we’re not disorientated enough, ‘he is the image of the invisible God’ is followed in today’s readings with ‘they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.’
‘Here is your King’ we’re told…this man, a good man, a man who did nothing but love…humiliated, tortured, dying. Image of the invisible God – yet at the same time, a man who couldn’t look less like the sort of ruler the secular world demands.
The onlookers couldn’t cope with the disorientation – they tried to fit him into their world. Even as he was dying they tried to make him into the right sort of king, the sort they understood. “If you are the King of the Jews, the Messiah, save yourself.”
Instead we have is King committed to being truly human, but who doesn’t meet evil with evil…a king who loves and forgives, and goes on loving and forgiving whatever the cost…a king who, in the depths of humiliation and pain, has time for a dying thief.
‘The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there’, a famous and brilliant opening to a novel that I’d like to steal today. ‘Christ’s kingdom is a foreign country, they do things differently there.’
As Paul wrote about Christ – image of the invisible God: ‘through Christ God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, through the blood of his cross.’ This is a kingdom where victory comes not by fighting evil with evil, but by loving and forgiving. This is the king we’re offered on this Christ the King Sunday.
There’s a modern hymn, ‘Meekness and majesty’, that seeks to put into words the shock and disorientation of Christ’s kingdom. It’s number 226 in NHSW and the choir will sing it during communion – you might like to follow the words – but here are a few of them:
‘Lord of eternity, dwells in humanity, kneels in humility and washes our feet’
‘Suff’ring to give us life, conquering through sacrifice, and as they crucify, prays ‘Father, forgive.’
‘O what a mystery, meekness and majesty, bow down and worship for this is your God.’
If this is the king we follow, the rules are different. When we encounter Jesus here on a Sunday, or during the week through prayer or bible reading – the contrast with the world should be a shock. We should feel perhaps like refugees or asylum seekers – bewildered by the differences, having to work hard to work out the rules.
But just as people want to come to Britain for the peace and religious tolerance – once we’ve glimpsed Christ’s kingdom – and felt his love and forgiveness – we know it’s a place worth leaving home and travelling to.