Saturday, 30 November 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 24 November 2019 Reign of Christ.

Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6   Luke 23:33-43

We 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.

There is a hymn, an old one, an anonymous one that goes like this:
Thou shalt not know him when he comes,
Not by any din of drums,
Nor by his manners, nor his airs,
Nor by anything he wears.
Thou shalt know him when he comes,
Not by crown or by gown,
But his coming known shall be,
By the holy harmony
Which his coming shall make in thee.
Thou shalt know him when he comes.  Amen.

I think it could be said that Jesus is the most paradoxical wielder of power in the history of the world.[1] He came to this world not with crown or drum but in a dark dank stable. He promised the world but ended up on a dirty old cross alongside criminals, a disappointment to those who had high expectations of his power and might. 
He restored others to life but could not seem to save himself.
Yet on the cross, in his suffering and weakness, he wielded more power than any earthly ruler.  He was the highest above all yet was treated as the lowest of scum at his death.  King of the lowlands might have been another apt inscription for him.  He was mocked for aspiring to titles that he never claimed, yet in the cruel jibes of the leaders and the soldiers the truth of his greatness was made known.

But Jesus had begun this story of upside down power from the beginning.  Born humbly, he was visited by the venerable wise sages from the east.  An innocent babe, he was perceived as a threat to his crown and hunted down by the powerful Herod.  A simple family became refugees through the warnings of the heavenly hosts.  This was an ordinary child, yet the power of kings could not destroy him and the power of heaven watched over him.

And throughout his ministry, his power always seemed topsy-turvy to those around him.  For it healed the weak and not the important, it sought out the unclean and not the holy, it beckoned to table the tax collector and threw over the tables of the temple.  He saw kingship as best understood by the role of shepherd caring for the flock, even the least and the lost.

If he was the messiah he was behaving in a most unexpected way, confusing and counter cultural.

For there was no doubt that the long awaited messiah was reckoned in worldly terms as a dangerous threat to the establishment– Judas thought so, the temple authorities thought so, Herod thought so too.  All from their different perspectives, they expected someone who would overthrow the rulers of the world and replace them. While this man didn’t quite fit the bill, they were taking no chances.
So they killed him.  Put him on the cross, belittled him, humiliated him, certain that that was end of that. 

Yet their mocking inscription held true –in a truly revolutionary way. King of the Jews.

You know if you were to do that word association thing – I say a word and you come back with the first thing it makes you think of, what would be your response to king?  It would be different to each person and certainly different to those people Jesus was speaking to 2000 years ago.  ‘King’ for us today does not hold as much of the menace or outright authority that it used to.  For them it was an instant connection with full and unassailable power, privilege and right.  The only thing that could possibly challenge it would be an even greater show of power, privilege and right.  That still happens today of course – ‘my bomb is greater than your bomb’ is heard in its many variations still.  Yet this was not the way that Jesus taught or exemplified – not in life or death.

Jesus, the most paradoxical wielder of power the world has ever known.

He seemed to be submissive – and so he was – to his Father.
He seemed to be have lost his assertiveness – but he spearheaded a revolution of love and grace.
He seemed to abdicate kingship in this world – yet he created a new understanding of kingdom not just in the yet to come but also in the now.
Jesus was dangerous, make no mistake about that, he was a true revolutionary, a subversive – but just not in the way everyone expected. 

And that is our legacy is it not?  How might we live it today?

Well perhaps first is the understanding that in we do not live bowed down by the accusations of the world – neither do we throw the accusations back with a louder voice and a better aim.  We offer a different way of living out the kingdom – love and compassion, justice and kindness are the laws we live by. We are the kingdom that Jesus established, by our living and our witness.

Then there is the thought that we are not helpless or hopeless, powerless just because we choose to walk the path of peace rather than war.   Jesus was born to show the world the power of love – yet we shy away from being that power in the world.  The words of Marianne Williamson, slightly adapted, challenge us to be more forthright and confident in the strength of the light of Christ in us:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: ‘Who am I to be outspoken,
confident, brimming over with hope, trusting in God’s presence in my life?’ Actually who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure about you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some, it is in everyone.
And, as we let our light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same.

So let us not be cave dwellers, people of the dark – let us take on a bit more of the confidence that what we do in the name of Christ, in the name of love, has the power to make a big difference.

Another question: do we have a bit of the subversive in us, challenging the ways of the world that hurt and harm, especially the powerless. Challenging also the ways of the church when they honour not Christ but the kingdoms of exclusion, judgement, self righteousness, hypocrisy.
Coming at the woes of the world with new solutions, different answers, taking the revolutionary path of love and compassion.  Where is our subversive meter reading sitting at right now and does it need a wee nudge up the way?

It seems fitting to finish by coming back to those words of the old hymn we started with –  the assurance that in the coming of the baby Jesus to our world, and in this child’s unhesitating walk all the way to the cross, we are healed, we are made whole, we are made complete in his holy presence and power.
Thou shalt know him when he comes,
Not by crown or by gown,
But his coming known shall be,
By the holy harmony
Which his coming shall make in thee.
Thou shalt know him when he comes.  Amen                                    Margaret Garland

[1] Feasting on the Word Year C, Volume 4  Martha Sterne p.315

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