Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Christ the King
November 24, 2013, 4:12 pm
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, 24th November 2013

It is told that when St Francis of Assisi set out on a life of poverty, following Christ, he went out dressed in a ragged tunic, singing the praises of God. Some robbers met him, and asked him who he thought he was. “I am the herald of the great King,” Francis replied. In those days (as now on royal occasions) heralds dressed in elaborate uniforms, so the robbers just laughed at him and threw him in the snow-filled ditch at the side of the road. But Francis climbed out, and went on his way, still singing.

Cefalu_Christus_Pantokrator_croppedToday we celebrate the Kingship of Jesus. What does that mean? A thousand years before he was born, David the former shepherd-boy became King of Israel. In spite of his actual faults, he became remembered in after years as the ideal king; and it was said that God himself had promised that his line would continue for ever. His son Solomon was even more successful, building the Temple in Jerusalem and conquering the lands around. It was, you might say, a “golden age”, where a wise and powerful king represented the nation, and could be hailed even as “son of God”, just as Israel itself was regarded as God’s child.

Things went very wrong after that golden start. Kings became tyrants, the kingdom split in two, false gods were worshipped and the people were oppressed. Four centuries after David, Jerusalem was captured, the Temple burnt, and king and people went into exile. Prophet after prophet who had warned of coming disaster had been ignored, even persecuted. But even the prophets who warned, also said that God would be faithful to his promises, and that one day he would restore his people, forgive their sins, and dwell with them again.

Faithful Jews always believed that God alone was their true King, and earthly rulers were only his agents, responsible to him. Even after many exiles had returned to the Promised Land and rebuilt the Temple, they knew that God had not yet returned to live with them: otherwise, why did foreign nations still rule over them? Persians, Greeks and then Romans. They longed for a decisive and final intervention by God, the establishment of his kingdom.

The theme of “The Return of the King” has echoes in other peoples and cultures. The British (by which I mean the Celtic people, not the Anglo-Saxons) dreamed that King Arthur would one day return from Avalon. JRR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” turns on the restoration of an ancient dynasty, long thought extinct, and the overthrow of tyranny.

Ordinary people may long for the return of the True King- but that is not likely to be welcomed by those who, in the meanwhile, exercise power. Two thousand years ago, Caesar, or Herod, or the High Priests of the Temple, would not have been at all happy to hear someone proclaiming “The Kingdom of God is coming near!” They would be even less pleased if someone claiming the Kingship actually turned up. But that is what happened.

Except: when the King came, he didn’t look like a king at all, any more that St Francis looked like a royal herald. He went round the villages with a rag-tag of followers, he healed the sick rather than fighting the foreigner, he sidelined the official religious practices by offering forgiveness to sinners.

Human beings think that their enemies and rivals are other human beings. That is not quite true: the real enemy of humanity is Satan, the Enemy of God, the father of lies. Jesus knew that the only way to defeat evil was not by re-directing it onto someone else (the human way), but by simply absorbing it. Jesus proved his kingly power by what the world thinks of as weakness. He proved his kingly wisdom by what the world thinks of as folly. He was the representative of Israel- the Messiah, David’s heir- and the representative of humanity- the second Adam. He simply took upon himself the consequences of all human rebellion against God, all our failure to love God with all our hearts and our neighbour as ourselves, everything that leads to greed and violence and suffering, and he allowed himself to be crucified. There are two images of Christ easily visible as you look towards the High Altar. In the distance you can see Christ crowned and robed as a king; but much nearer, literally overhanging you, you can see Jesus on the Cross, suffering and dying. His crown is of thorns, his purple robe his own blood. “This is our God, the Servant King.”  We are his people, his followers, his family.

AH02And we are his heralds, even if we end up mocked and thrown in the ditch. Christ is King; we only belong to his kingdom when we acknowledge him as our King. That is what we must say to ourselves every day. Christ is our King, He asks, he needs, he deserves our total loyalty. We must not let him down.

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