Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 24th November ‘The Reign of Christ’
Readings: Colossians 1:15-20, Luke 23:33-43
Let us pray: may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our sustainer. Amen.
Today is kind of like New Years Eve – for the Christian church anyway. It is the last day of the old year and the next time we meet together, next Sunday, we could technically be greeting each other with Happy New Year! Sound a bit weird? And yet there are a surprising number of similarities, are there not? A time to look back on the year that has been, and to look forward with hope to the hope that is coming. A time to pause, a transition time, to tie up loose ends and to seek new beginnings!
And what a seemingly abrupt almost inexplicable transition – today we talk about Christ as King, ruler, the reign of Christ, powerful Christology, divine might and majesty. And next week we await the birth of a child, a helpless, weak, vulnerable child born to nobodies in the antithesis of a palace – in a rude, last resort, stable.
Yet we cannot, must not have one without the other. There is a memory from Delores William a theologian from the southern states of America around Sunday morning worship – she remembers the Minister shouting out: Who is Jesus? And the choir responding in voices loud and strong: ‘King of Kings and Lord Almighty’. And then, a little girl, in a voice so soft and fragile that you could hardly hear, sang out ‘Poor little Mary’s boy’ - back and forth they sang ‘King of Kings.....Poor little Mary’s boy.’ Delores said: This is the Black Church doing theology!. The answer to who is Jesus cannot be ‘King of Kings’ without seeing ‘poor little Mary’s boy’ cannot be king of kings without being. Might I suggest that you look at some of the hymns that we sing today in that same way – the king and the servant, the child and the man on the cross.
And these two ways of knowing Jesus are reflected in our readings for today.
In the reading from Colossians we have a hymn to the awesome power of Jesus –firstborn of all creation, the one who holds all things together, the one who reconciles all things in heaven and on earth – through his death. Christ is sufficient, is above all, is a manifestation of the very God. This is a surpassing declaration of faith and you can almost physically touch the passion of Paul for his God. But the picture he paints is of magnificence, a reign or rule that exceeds anything we might know here on earth, that encompasses all the world and beyond, that is undeniable and above all. You can understand how the imagery of king spoke to the people of the time and speaks to us still. But we do have to be careful with this image of King – its very easy for it to lead us into of dictator type rule and mostly kind but sometimes scaringly judgmental type of God image that is not at all helpful.
Nothing could be further from the truth – the ‘Reign of Christ’ Sunday is very intentionally placed at the entrance to the new year – and the waiting for the Christ child. – telling us again that we need to approach the kingship of Christ with otherworldly eyes and fresh understandings.
It helps to remind ourselves too, where else in the Gospels we encounter the kingly Christ – the first is Palm Sunday when Jesus rides into Jerusalem to the loud hosannas of the crowds (on a donkey), and the other in the Gospel reading - on the cross, ridiculed, derided, humiliated, with his crown of thorns – where is your kingly power now then mate, he is mocked!
And yet, paradoxically, that is where Christ’s kingship is revealed once and for all – there on the cross. That was where the power of love was revealed to the world, and where the reign of Christ was established. In the lowest of places, in the most insulting, deepest act of dismissal that humanity could heap on Jesus at that moment, that was where the immensity of God’s vision for the kingdom was made clear for all generations and all people, that of reconciling compassionate love.
I wonder if we realise still how countercultural and threatening the concept of a rule based on love and compassion continues to be to the world today. Jesus would, I suspect, be equally subversive and equally denied today - for we still live in a world where the weak are stomped on, the helpless exploited, the vulnerable dismissed and the damaged discarded. Maybe the stories are different to those of Jesus time – but they are just as heartrending – the least of our societies are just as subject to the powers of injustice and economic and political expediency as anytime in our history. The world continues to show a disregard for the weak and vulnerable, to make laws and decisions that hurt the least and crucify the voices that cry out. Sadly we, and the Church, have at times joined in with this rather imperial approach – putting our own interests above others, using the weapons of influence and control and dogma to further our own power rather than the power of Christ which is love.
Where then is the hope? The hope is in our putting Christ in the forefront of our lives and living out the reconciling compassion love that the God of the cross embodied. Can I share a story of just such a love
“Here’s a true story told by Jack Kornfield, a clinical psychologist. Travelling by train from Washington to Philadelphia, Dr. Kornfield found himself seated next to the director of a rehabilitation programme for juvenile offenders, particularly gang members who had committed homicide.
One fourteen-year-old boy in the program had shot and killed an innocent teenager to prove himself to his gang. At the trial, the victim’s mother sat impassively silent until the end, when the youth was convicted of the killing. After the verdict was announced, she stood up slowly and stared directly at him and stated, “I’m going to kill you.” Then the youth was taken away to serve several years in the juvenile facility.
After the first half year the mother of the slain child went to visit his killer. He had been living on the streets before the killing, and she was the only visitor [in jail] he’d had. For a time they talked, and when she left she gave him some money for cigarettes. Then she started step by step to visit him more regularly, bringing food and small gifts.
Near the end of his three-year sentence, she asked him what he would be doing when he got out. He was confused and very uncertain, so she offered to help set him up with a job at a friend’s company. Then she inquired about where he would live, and since he had no family to return to, she offered him temporary use of the spare room in her home.
For eight months he lived there, ate her food, and worked at the job. Then one evening she called him into the living room to talk. She sat down opposite him and waited. Then she started, “Do you remember in the courtroom when I said I was going to kill you?” “I sure do,” he replied. “I’ll never forget that moment.” “Well, I did,” she went on. “I did not want the boy who could kill my son for no reason to remain alive on this earth. I wanted him to die. That’s why I started to visit you and bring you things. That’s why I got you the job and let you live here in my house. That’s how I set about changing you. And that old boy, he’s gone.
So now I want to ask you, since my son is gone, and that killer is gone, if you’ll stay here. I’ve got room, and I’d like to adopt you if you let me.”
And she became the mother he never had.
The hope is in recognising in the coming of the baby, the ‘God with us’, an event of such amazing grace as to change forever the world as we know it, and to realise that we too are able to participate in the life of Christ and to live in the power and the presence and mission of God transforming this world into ways of reconciling compassionate love. Amen.