I wonder if you’ve ever been in West Quay or some other public place when some celebrity or other is making an appearance, or signing a book. Or perhaps you’ve been part of a crowd at a concert or a sporting event, or even a royal visit or parade.
There’s something about celebrity, authority, influence that draws us in, makes us want to be close, to jostle for proximity , to get a signature or have even have a conversation with the person.
In a work situation we’ve all been or seen those who linger after meetings, hanging around for a word with the boss, hoping that we might gain something to our advantage.
Today in the Church we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King,
A day when we can focus on Christ as the final authority, the King in Glory, Lord of all the earth.
It’s the final Sunday of the Church’s year – and reflects that culmination of all that has gone before – the birth, the ministry the death & resurrection, the growth of the church ;and we are reminded of what ultimately Jesus is, becomes, King. King of all of everyone of everything.
A King with the power of judgement, of understanding, of oversight.
In our reading from Ephesians we are reminded that he is above all things, in authority over all powers , all people, that God’s great power that raised him from the dead works in and through him. Such amazing authority.
On a day like today we could be forgiven for thinking that Christ as King is distant from us, that he stands only in judgement, in authority and power.
But just as today we remember Jesus as king in glory, we also recall the thing that is different – that makes him so different from any human king or leader or boss;
He is not an unapproachable King, or one who is detached and remote,
He’s not someone we can only aspire to be in relationship with, to know or be known by as we might with a human authority figure.
Because the same Jesus who is King of all the earth,
was also the baby in a manger, whose arrival we begin already to anticipate in the coming weeks
He is King and he is Immanuel – God with us
He is Lord of all and he is our brother.
He is Judge of the world, and he is Jesus; God come among us, Word made flesh, walking with us.
He is human, and he is almighty God.
And because of both these things, because of his death, and the resurrection by God’s mighty power as Paul puts it,
we can be close to him, without queuing or jostling or hanging round at the water fountain.
We are known and we know because he is both human and divine.
In being both King of all and human he ushered in the start of a kingdom that is like no other.
The Kingdom of Jesus is no ordinary hierarchical structure – despite being called a Kingdom, and having a King.
The Kingdom of God, of Jesus the King, is built on the radical foundation that a King can become the simplest most vulnerable member of his own Kingdom
The Kingdom is upside down, topsy turvy
The idea of what authority and power mean are challenged
In the Kingdom of Jesus, they mean being merciful and inclusive, welcoming all and turning no one away. They mean paying the late comers the same as the all dayers, and forgiving the son who ran off with the money.
They mean inviting everyone to the party, and making them all part of the family.
The power & authority in the Kingdom of Jesus lies in putting it all down, giving it all up – being prepared to be last even when you could have been first. They lie in death first, then resurrection. They lie in the manger, the cross and the empty tomb.
Leadership here is about letting go of what you want, and walking with those you lead, understanding what they need.
Love and care here is for everyone, recognising the greatest in the least, and the least in the greatest, understanding that what we do we do for everyone – including the King
These are the values on which the Kingdom of Jesus is built.
The values on which that illustration of judgement are based.
What ever you do for the least, you do for him because He *is* the least.
They are not simply representative – Jesus became human, he became poor and hungry, naked and imprisoned.
Everyone is made in his image, because he became like us.
Today we are reminded that Christ is King, with all the authority of God, all the power and all the strength, King of heaven & King of our lives, yesterday, today and forever.
but in the amazing way of the Kingdom, he is human, alongside us, walking with us,
In the weeks ahead we anticipate that closeness, that presence as we wait for his coming as a human baby,
And we look too to his coming as Christ the King in Glory at the end of time as we know it., when we too shall be in glory with our King.
Both/ And, King and brother, Lord and baby
God with us, God for us
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords – Hallelujah! Amen
Remembrance Sunday 2014 : The Beatitudes
It’s not often we hear someone in public life stand up and give a speech that radically surprises us.
We don’t expect our politicians to say anything radical or earth shattering any more , we’ve heard it all before, several times.
Somehow we think know how the world runs, and our somewhat cynical expectation is that everyone is as bad as the next person, and it doesn’t much matter which colour tie they wear who what their badge is.
There can also be sadly that same expectation in church. What do we think we’ll hear preached, or taught? maybe we come and we don’t expect to hear a different message or the status quo challenged?
I wonder if it was similar in first century Palestine? I wonder if the listeners to any speaker, whether political, or perhaps more so religious, thought that they knew what was coming.
If human nature hasn’t changed much, and I don’t suspect that it has very much .I expect that was indeed the case; and so when Jesus stood up to speak, what he said and how he said it would have been all the more radical and challenging.
The Sermon on the Mount, from which today’s reading is taken was nothing short of an extraordinarily radical sermon, the things Jesus said and the approach to life that he was advocating would have shaken his listeners completely.
Over the course of the years, familiarity has lost the sense of the radical that the original would have had,
We often approach the Beatitudes, the “ blessed are…” statements with a rather cozy comforting feeling, the idea that they’re there to make us feel better, nice Christian mottoes with vague positive meanings.
They’re absolutely not!
These are challenges that are designed to really make people think about their lives and how they lived them,
Blessed are those who show mercy and forgiveness, without looking for a return, who open themselves to the stranger and the foreigner without differentiation;
and those who are poor in spirit, who know they’re broken and messed up and in need of forgiveness, change and help…
blessed are the peacemakers, not just those who want peace but those who stand in between warring factions and risk themselves, their lives their reputations & their lives for reconciliation …
blessed are those who ache with every fibre of their being for what God wants in the world…
It’s these people, Jesus says, who understand what the Kingdom of God is all about,
For the Kingdom of God is not like any earthly rule or dominion.
It’s not based on power, and might, empire or influence, its not based on beating your neighbour, or being stronger or more important, or amassing more than they have.
It’s not based on keeping up a front and pretending you’re better than you are.
The Kingdom of God is about turning the values of the world on their heads –perhaps turning the world the right way up again , it’s radical , different and costly
It’s not what we’re used to, nothing like we’ve known before.
The kingdom of God is not about “me”
Its not about them & us
It is about the other, about welcome, forgiveness, radical peace, and living God’s way.
This way of living is not natural to us, it’s not how humanity lives given the choice – and today is a day when we recall that sombre fact; we recall and remember the legacy of kingdoms built on power and might and aggression, rather than the values of the Kingdom of God.
But living the way of the Kingdom of God is only possible with Jesus.
Today at the memorial, we listen to the Last Post, that poignant symbol of night, and death.
We stand in silence, as we remember all those who have died in war,
and we resume with the Reveille, the Rouse –the call to wake, to Live
Death. Sleep and Resurrection
That ceremony reminds us not just of those who have died for this country and so many others,
It reminds us too of what is at the very core of our Christian faith, it reminds of of what Jesus did, to enable us to be forgiven, and to live a different way,
the silence of the grave
and then his glorious resurrection are what give us the chance of a new and radical way of living, a change in ourselves and in our communities, a challenge to the world around us as we learn in his power to live not for ourselves and the old ways, but for the Kingdom of God , for mercy, peace, forgiveness, justice and life.
As part of a conversation at the service in Winchester Cathedral to mark 20 years of shared priestly ministry , I reflected on the gospel reading, Luke 1: 39-56.
I began though with a comment about how times had changed in 20 years My colleague ordained in 1994 had remarked that her 17 year old daughter had gained enormous street cred & kudos from having a mother who was a priest.
20 years on, I remarked, for my 17 year old daughter there was no such kudos at all! I think this is a good thing , as the ministry of women continues to be come more and more “unremarkable”, in the best sense of the word.
The verse that sits in the middle of the gospel passage – the hinge really, is one that has been very personally special to me over the course of my adult life, there have been times when I’ve known deep down that God has promised something for me, that he’s had a purpose – sometimes I’ve known what I thought it was – other times it has been just the more general knowledge that he’s promised to fulfil his calling on my life –
And there have been times of waiting and trusting – and hanging on to the fact that there is blessing in the waiting itself, and in the trusting and not just in the fulfilment
Sometimes – as it has been for all of us I’m sure it has been so counter intuitive to believe, to keep on hoping, and yet we trust, we believe and we are blessed in doing so.
When Mary visits Elizabeth, Elizabeth recognises in her what God is doing, the call on her life and she blesses her
There is support, and discernment, no pulling down or envy but a recognition of what God is doing in each of them,
For each of us, men, women, whatever our labels and our struggles, our vocations are our own, to be discovered, discerned and supported, we’re not in competition, in rivalry but in mutality – always recognising God’s hand on the other and blessing what he is doing. It’s such an important lesson –equality does not come by pulling everyone down to the same level, but by allowing each of us to rise to where God calls us all.
Mary’s calling to bear God to the world must have caused her immense pain – the sword that Simeon spoke of at the Presentation was not just a future one – it had happened already.
The ostracism and social condemnation, becoming a pariah in her own village, the moral judgement and the fear of harm & death would have pierced her heart even at the start, and yet she clung to the promise, and its fulfilment,
The promise given to her, her calling, encompassed death, and resurrection,
It was the forerunner of all our vocations, as many of us have dealt in so many various ways with pain and rejection, the death of our calling – and its resurrection in God’s own time. These experiences are universal, not limited to women, for all of us are following the same God, who calls us to die, in order to rise again.
So we proclaim with Mary, that he HAS brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly
Whatever our vocation, our calling our path,
Blessed are we who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what the Lord had promised
“He who has called you is faithful – and he will do it”
Trinity 18 : Matthew 22: 15-22
Don’t you just hate trick questions? The sort that you know there’s never going to be a right answer to – someone is trying to catch you out whatever & however you answer.
The Pharisees are at it again with Jesus –and this time they’ve hooked up with the Herodians –
Now these two groups are not naturally allies, politically and religiously, pretty much the only thing they agree on is that they don’t like Jesus!
So the fact that the two factions are together is right at the start a warning..
And they give him a bit of buttering up – I don’t know about you but it doesn’t sound terribly sincere to me..
And then they ask their question “ is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?”
A question they think will trap him, make him unpopular with one lot or the other for sure… bring him into the bad books of the Romans or the Synagogue..
So What will he say?
Many people underestimate those around them. They think they can delude them somehow, maybe as much as they are deluding themselves..
But Jesus sees right through these manipulators who are trying to catch him out –
You hypocrites, he says, why are you trying to trick me?
Straight back at them, and while they’re reeling from the shock ( though why they weren’t used to Jesus by now I don’t know)
He says to them show me the coin used for the tax – in other words, a Roman coin
This coin was the legal tender under Roman rule – it would have had a head of the Emperor on it – and some reference to the belief that he was Divine – so truly devout Jews would not use it as it fell into the category of idolatory.
Jesus is putting his questioners on to the back foot straight away by asking them for a coin – they had one – he didn’t.
They knew that he knew that Jewish law forbade such an image.
And he asks them to identify the name, Caesar , and the title –often “ Son of God”
And he says Give to the Emperor what is the Emperor and to God what is God’s
It’s not as simple as it sounds –
Jesus isn’t advocating, I don’t think, some kind of separation of “Church & state” as it were, this would have been a concept alien to that time , apart from anything else,
Instead Jesus is saying something much more all encompassing.
Much more profound than a sort of “ separate out the bits of your life and do them both right”
He’s established already that these critics deal in this Roman coinage –
They already pay, reluctantly or otherwise, their secular dues – they’ve paid the emperor, now what are they also paying God?
Jesus hasn’t uttered two separate but equal statements –it’s not an equation that you can balance out
Instead he is reminding them that everything is God’s
Even what they pay the state, not just what’s left over, not the extra, the loose change for the money box in the temple – but everything.
Our lives aren’t separated off into “the stuff that Gods not bothered with” and “ the stuff God is bothered with”
“All things come from you, and of your own do we give you”
is a line we say so often in our offertory prayers – but what does it mean?
How would it look if we involved God in our shopping? Is he bothered if we shop at Asda or Morrisons, or the farm shops? What do the choices we make about our food and our clothes look like if we’re including God in them?
What about our banking? Our saving or our borrowing?
Do faith and money mix?
If we really believe that God is God of everything, and all things come from him, then yes they have to.
It’s not about what we do with what’s left over when the tax and the mortgage or the rent is paid, and the food is bought and the heating bills paid
It’s about all those things too. It’s about doing what God is asking us to do with all those aspects of our lives , living right, making the right choices.
I can’t tell you what those choices are –
I’m not your ethical financial advisor ( you’ll be pleased to know) I’m not the food miles police or the clothes judge –
Though I do think fair trade is the place to start, and I think we have to consider who, how and in what way our clothes are made,
But really the point is that God is God of everything,
There’s not one bit of our lives that God should not be involved in –
I don’t mean that we stand in the supermarket and pray about which toothpaste to buy, God gave us commonsense too.
But too often we’ve dismissed whole sections of our lives, our world, money in particular, as being “ the Things of Caesar” and decided that we don’t need to bother God about them.
When in fact the opposite is indeed the case.
All we have is Gods, – so what are we doing with it?
This passage really creates more questions than it answers.
And that’s Ok, because they are questions we need to ask of God.
what should I be giving, where should I be investing, or borrowing from? What should I be spending my money on?
Bringing these questions to him is part of our response to his love, his great giving to us. It’s part of our worship if you like. As is our response to his answers!!
Questions like this are not optional extras
They are part of God’s transforming work in us.
Paul talks of how the message of the gospel came to the Thessalonians not in word only but in power and in the Holy Spirit.
They were changed not just in what they said, but in what they did, how they acted.
Our challenge is to give to God all of us, every aspect of our lives, to be transformed by his power in Jesus, to have those questions answered and to act on what we hear – as we remember that everything we have comes from him.
this one is for tomorrow – twice at another church in the same team. I really didn’t intend so much overlap from last week , but there it is…! ( and another Sara Miles quote too! (if you haven’t read her stuff..why not? read it!)
Trinity 15 year A
The Parable of the Two sons
recording of sermon for Trinity 15a
Politicians and children often have something in common, when faced with a question they don’t want to answer they do their darndest to wriggle out of it – they ask a different on, say something unrelated.. you know the scene!
Jesus didn’t always give a straight answer to questions either, but rather than being evasive he tended to turn the spotlight back on the questioner & their motives often with powerfully uncomfortable results!
In our Gospel today Jesus has been challenged by the chief priest and the elders, they’re, as always trying to catch him out, they want to trip him up, probably to catch him out on a blasphemy charge, or some other violation of the Jewish law.
They want to out him as a radical and a heretic. So they ask him in whose authority does he teach.
Jesus isn’t daft – if he said God’s then he’d be hauled off on the grounds he was usurping authority; if he said his own, far worse, that would be blasphemy too.
But Jesus doesn’t answer –instead he asks them a question – what about John? Where was his teaching from? and they realise they’ve been had again. Caught in their own net of rules and expectations.
Jesus doesn’t persist with the authority theme though, instead he talks right into the root of the problem, telling the parable of the two sons.
He doesn’t elaborate, or waste words, but simply says to these religious leaders ,
“tax collectors & prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God before you”
That would have hit them right between the eyes. Jesus has picked two of the most reviled and despised jobs in society tax collectors were enemy collaborators, who cheated their country men for their own gain, and prostitutes were considered lowest of the low, unclean, unworthy, unredeemable.
These outcasts were entering the kingdom of God, the life and presence of God among us??
How very dare he suggest such a thing?
But what Jesus said , shocking and radical as it was, and indeed is, is the truth,
For these religious leaders were blind, so tied up in their notions of respectability and right-ness
So concerned for their reputations and their rules,
They worked on the basis of who was in & out,
Outcasts were essential to their ways of thinking because outcasts define the centre, without outcasts,
well it would be unthinkable, everyone would be included.
They’re whole world view was built on
“we know we’re right because they’re so wrong”
WRONG says Jesus,
What’s happening here is that the religious leaders are missing the point
Missing the point of what the Kingdom of God is all about
For the Kingdom of God is not a country or a structure with borders and passports
It’s not a Kingdom with an immigration policy that wants to legislate about who is in or out, who belongs or who doesn’t.
The Kingdom of God is about grace, undeserved love, mercy forgiveness from God to all of us
Grace flows from Jesus incarnate -God with us, the Word made flesh, present with us.
Grace flows from the cross and from the empty tomb.
Grace is radical, generous and yes, frankly offensive.
It offends our notions of right & wrong, it offends our comfortable status quo, it offends our walls our barriers and our insistence on in & out, worthy and unworthy.
God is merciful without reason, his love is for everyone, saint, sinner Archbishop, drag queen everyone.
Radical mercy disrupts the mentality of centre & outcast, it blows it open
Sara Miles says
“ Jesus keeps making the point that salvation doesn’t depend on worldly status or even on religious observance. In a whole series of stores Jesus demonstrates that God deliberately chooses the stranger, the outcast the foreigner, the sick the unclean – in short the Wrong people – to show the scope of his love”
And we find that hard.
Tucked up in our churches, feeling like perhaps we’ve got this sorted. We know what we believe and what we’re doing.. and yes if we’re honest we know that a bit because of the people out there – the people we’re not.
And yet Jesus says to us too “you’re missing the point” it’s not about all this, it’s about Grace, and its free and it’s for everyone,
And we struggle –
Because we’ve made it comfortable, and static, and we don’t much like change or mess.
Rachel Held Evans , a Blogger & Theologian writes “
I don’t like the idea of God using people and methods I don’t approve of and yet that seems to be God’s favorite way of working in the world—outside my expectations, right where I’m prejudiced, against all my rules.”
My rules, our rules aren’t what matters.
What God is doing is what matters and he is working in whom so ever he chooses, not to our direction, or preference but because he offers his grace freely to us all.
And we all need it, we’re all sinners. There’s no centre and no outcast, we’re all the same – in need of God’s grace. We cannot dictate what God does because we’re the ones needing that mercy and forgiveness, as much as the next person, and the next and the next..
The glorious thing about Grace is that we can just say yes to it, open our hearts and our eyes to what God is doing, ask for his mercy and join in with what he’s doing – wherever it is.
As we experience the radical grace & mercy of God we’re called out of being like the second son, lip service and no action, into being like that first, changing our mind, admitting our failures and going off gladly to do our Father’s work.
Let us pray for an experience of that transforming grace in our lives and communities.