Christ the King 2015
In a recent survey in America, 100 people were asked the following question: "When someone mentions 'the King,' to whom might he or she be referring?" Here are the four top answers:
81 people said "Elvis Presley"
7 people said "God or Jesus"
3 people said "Martin Luther King."
2 people said "The Burger King".
I wonder what answers we would get if we were to go to St Helier and ask people ‘who is Christ the King?’ because it’s a strange title for the last Sunday of the Church’s year.
Perhaps it is so named because it is the culmination of all that we have been learning of Jesus Christ throughout the year – or perhaps as a reminder of the nature of the one whose birth we prepare for throughout the season of Advent.
As a priest and a preacher I confess this is an occasion when I really struggle with the theme – I struggle because nowhere in the Gospels do I read of Jesus claiming Kingship.
Certainly, there are numerous occasions when others project their hopes, their longing for a monarch onto him; some looking for him to take up the role of a warrior king to lead the overthrow of Roman tyranny, others who sense their power and authority threatened by the leadership he is showing accuse him of being a King in order to rile the insecure King Herod – but Jesus is extraordinarily careful not lay claim to such a title.
That passage from John’s Gospel I read a few minutes ago illustrates the point – the careful conversation between the Roman Governor who knows that others are using him – and Jesus who is determined not to fall into the traps that have been laid for him.
And yet Jesus continually speaks of the Kingdom of God throughout his ministry, it is the subject of the majority of his parables – the kingdom of God is like this, or is like that, and he is frequently concerned about how those who hear him, will or will not enter the kingdom of God.
So the theme and the reality of there being a kingdom are important to him – and even in this passage from John he speaks of My kingdom – and he repeatedly speaks of God as Father – and if we are to take the concept of the Trinity seriously, the triune nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is Jesus a king or is he not?
To be true to Jesus’ teaching – I too am happy to paint word pictures of a kingdom – the kingdom of God – but to reflect Jesus’ teaching also entails a reticence to proclaim Christ as King.
And that caution and concern arises not because he is unworthy of such a title - but because with such royal language it is very difficult for us to avoid a projection of our own expectations and regressive and unhealthy dependency upon any monarch - and which inevitably causes a natural splitting between those who look to acclaim the monarch – and those who would rebel.
And it has not just been under real absolute Kings and Queens that there have and will always be revolutions and war between competing houses – but the splitting, the revolutions will inevitably come wherever and whenever leadership is tempted to draw to itself monarchical attributes.
In our twenty first century world, wherever fair and open elections do not take place – the higher monarchical style leaders climb – the les attractive it looks from the outside and the further they will some day inevitably fall. Zimbabwe and North Korea come to mind.
Jesus clearly had the measure of all this even before he began his public ministry – the devil who tempted him in the wilderness repeatedly dangles the allure of Kingship before Jesus. – and Jesus repeatedly pushes it aside.
In the course of his ministry some of the greatest pressures on Jesus to adopt the role of monarch come from the disciples – no doubt articulating what many others were saying.
They squabble about who will sit at his right and who on his left, given half the chance the more zealous among them such as Simon would coronate him as their king to lead a fight against the tyranny of Roman occupation – and the scribes and Pharisees are looking to bait him – to trap him - into calling himself king of the Jews – so that they can take him down… and ultimately take him out!
And all comes to a head before Pilate – as we heard earlier in that Gospel reading.
So right from the beginning of his project to establish the kingdom of God, Jesus rejects the obvious ideas of gathering like-minded rabbis around him who are already part of an established hierarchy, he doesn’t seek out and build an eclectic group, nor does he put an advert in the Jerusalem Times and hold interviews for the job of disciple.
Instead he takes a chance and invites an extraordinary and diverse group to come and follow him; impulsive Simon Peter and other fishermen, Matthew a tax collector, Luke a physician, Simon a disillusioned zealot, Philip who was prone to big thoughts under fig trees, Mark who gives the impression of being in a hurry, and John who judging by his later writings was someone who had to think things through, slowly and deeply.
To put it bluntly, not the most likely bunch of fellows to share a drink on a Friday night at the Nazareth Arms!
In the years to come there were times when they fell out, lost hope, argued and struggled to keep faith with what Jesus was teaching them. What a bunch of funny bunnies!
And yet Jesus, knowing them as he does, (he even knows which one will inevitably betray him) – values, nurtures, mentors each one according to the gifts and strengths they bring to the project – the building of the kingdom of God in their midst, from the bottom up.
Philippians chapter 2 – he humbled himself, he took the form of a servant.
It is from this role as servant to all, that Jesus builds a kingdom that does not succumb to splitting and schism.
Yes there are splits in the Church where there are varying interpretations and emphases, and the Church doesn’t always get things right – as the Christian comedian Milton Jones puts it - 'Christianity is like knitting. Basically good, but appears to be responsible for a lot of bad things.'
But across all the denominations we are united in our following of Jesus. The kingdom of God is undivided.
And so it is even here, in this building, a curious and diverse group of people who don’t always see eye to eye, but have many gifts and talents, a place where friendships often grow but where it is never a prerequisite of belonging – and a place where the primary gifts are of grace and of hope.
As D.T. Niles once wrote of Christianity: A place where one beggar tells another where to find bread.
A place where the only model of leadership, lay or ordained, that truly honours Jesus and builds the kingdom, is servant-leadership, upside down, counter intuitive and more mature than easier models – not least that of someone playing supreme monarch who brings division and dependency.
We all exercise leadership –
wherever and whenever we see a need,
have an idea what can be done,
and step forward to do something about it,
from those who lead teams in industry or commerce right through to those who offer to put the kettle on when a neighbour in need calls by, - and everything in between.
Do it with the mind of a servant, with the mind of Jesus, and knowingly or not – you contribute to the kingdom of God.
Christ the King? Yes – but let us be conscious of all the projection and transference and baggage the language of Kingship brings –
And remembering that this a king who sets aside all privilege, is born in a stable, worked with his hands as a carpenter, came to serve not to rule, and for the love of sinners lay down his life
… and for the kingdom of God, bids us do the same!