Christ the King : Daniel 7, 9-10, Revelation 1, 4-8 & John 18, 33-37
Hands up who enjoyed studying history at school, or even beyond? I really enjoyed history. I think I enjoyed it for two reasons: first, history is the record of events which explains how we have got to where we are, in this way history shows how the past informs the present and the future. The second thing I really enjoy about history is the insight it provides into people; their characters and motivations, the things that drove them and inspired them. I think that two of the most basic lessons we can learn from the study of history are that our actions always have consequences and that our lives are fleeting.
In a standard British school history curriculum a lot of time and effort is devoted to studying our monarchs: our kings and our queens, and quite right too for we are and remain a monarchy.
Theology – and don’t be put off by the use of the word theology for all it really means is spending time thinking about the nature and consequences of religious faith – also takes seriously the study of kingship. In the Old Testament we have two books entitled Kings. The Jews prized and valued the concept of kingship. Through the Gospels and into the New Testament the notion of kingship is ascribed to Jesus. Jesus is of course also described in other ways: friend for example. The message is clear: Jesus is a new form of king.
Whereas, throughout history – religious and social history – kings have had a tendency for tyranny, Jesus is a servant-king, a friend-king, a truly incarnate and intimate king. Jesus is the prototype king. He is the king who is content to touch, and be touched, by lepers, women with menstrual problems, Samaritans, tax collectors, fishermen. He is the sort of king that counts amongst his best friends women such as Mary Magdalene. He is the sort of king who gets down and dirty, caring about the loss suffered by the likes of the Widow of Nain. He is the sort of king who touches the dead, (Lazarus) and who speaks about the necessity to care, really care, for the outcast and the refugee. He is the king who insists that the poor should be the first guests to be invited to a great banquet, and he is the king whose training to those responsible for building on his legacy reaches its epic climax in the washing of their feet. Jesus is the King who dares to break every protocol and who confronts every taboo. A couple more things: Jesus is the king who knows no earthly home, he has no mansion to call his own – he is a vagrant king – and whose only throne turns out to be the cross. Phew! It is for all of these reasons that I am intrigued, fascinated and inspired by the historic Jesus.
But, as Christians, what we can’t do is to leave Jesus in the history books and to say to ourselves ‘what an interesting character he was.’ We can’t do this because Jesus, for Christians, is the king who continues to reign and will always reign. He is, as John puts it so eloquently in the book of Revelation, the ‘Alpha and the Omega,’ or as Daniel writes, the king whose ‘dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship shall never be destroyed.’ We should take great confidence from these words of Scripture.
So what should our response be in the here and now as subjects of the Eternal King? Just a few thoughts:
We should be people who ‘testify to the truth,’ in both word and deed. We should never be afraid of telling the Jesus story, or giving an account of why we believe in the Jesus story.
We should seek to live out the Jesus story, searching out and relating to the sort of people Jesus sought out and related to: those who live, or dare I say exist, on the very margins of society; those who might seriously challenge our preference for some form of domesticated church.
And, finally we should pray, with total sincerity and conviction, the words of the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps especially the phrase ‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.’ But, be warned. I suspect that these are the most challenging, unsettling, life changing and yes, history-making words you can ever pray, but if we are to truly affirm Christ as King then they are words we must learn to pray without hesitation or equivocation. Amen.
In Loving Memory : 1 Corinthians 13
It's wonderful to welcome so many of you here today for this very special In Loving Memory service. Of course you are all here because you have suffered a loss, a bereavement. In many ways I suspect that you are continuing to suffer your loss, because death is always painful, and loss is hard to bear. When someone dies a hole is left and the way we experience life changes.
When a loved one dies, we don’t stop relating to them, but we do start to relate differently. We relate through our memories. Memory is an important human and biblical concept. Before Jesus died he implored his friends to keep on meeting together, and eating, to gather ‘in remembrance’ of him. Jesus asked his family and friends to learn the art of remembering well.
Remembering well, remembering with love, is all about a healthy and continuing relationship. Remembering well accepts the pain of separation and death whilst also giving thanks for the qualities, and the impression on your soul, that the person you miss has left behind and passed on to you. Loving memory’s concern is a commitment to keep living as though love matters and as though love, as St Paul rightly insists, is the final word: ‘now these three remain, faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.’ So can I encourage you to live well, as people of love, even though you have suffered the pain of loss. May your loving memory be a very active and transformative way of honouring those who have gone before.
As a Christian I believe that the notion of Loving Memory is best animated through a sense of faith and hope. This intermingling of faith, hope and love is captured beautifully in our readings and hymns. The twenty third psalm comes to its epic conclusion with the suggestion that God really does walk with us ‘all the days of our life’ and, that we truly shall ‘live in the house of the Lord forever,’ whilst the hymn that we are about to sing anticipates that God will ‘be there at our sleeping,’ gracing us with us ‘peace in our hearts...at the end of the day.’
For me such sentiments are very real; they reside at the core of my faith. At the beginning of most funeral services that I take I read the words of St. Paul where he says that he is ‘convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,’ (Romans 8, 38-39).
These verses get to the heart of things, they are a statement of faith, written in a spirit of hope, expressing an eternal truth: love can never be defeated, not even by death. Faith and hope, animated through love, are the virtues that have the capacity to transform our memories into eternal treasures.
So even as you continue to suffer the pain of loss and to bear its scars can I encourage you to keep remembering well, to remember in the spirit of faith, hope, and love, in the sure and certain knowledge that the transformative power of love, your love and God’s love, never comes to an end; it is an eternal treasure.
Bible Sunday: 2 Timothy 3,14 – 5,4 & John 5, 36-end
Does anyone here like receiving presents? I do. When I was ordained deacon the Church of England gave me a New Testament and Psalms. When I was ordained priest they decided they could trust me with the whole of the Bible. In the bible they gave me for my priesting a card was placed, with my name on it. On the card was written the following words:
‘Receive this Book, as a sign of the authority which God has given you this day, to preach the gospel of Christ and to minister His Holy Sacraments.’
Now, at the risk of being defrocked, struck off, sent to some far flung part of the Anglican Communion, I am slightly tempted to quibble with this invocation, for the Bible isn’t a book but a collection of books. The bible is a biblios which includes different types of book within each of its testaments. In the Old Testament we have the ‘in the beginning book’ of Genesis, the law books, the history books, the wisdom books, and the books of prophecy. In the New Testament we have the four gospels, Paul’s specific epistles, Peter and John’s general epistles, and the apocalyptic and visionary book of Revelation. The bible is a collection of different books, written for different purposes, so we need to be clear when we say things like ‘the Bible clearly says.’
In the reading from today’s epistle we hear one of the most quoted verses in the Bible ‘all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching.’ This verse is often interpreted as ‘the Bible is correct in every way.’ But it can’t mean this for one very simple reason: when Paul wrote these words to Timothy the gospels hadn’t been written, in all probability, and the canon hadn’t been agreed. So we need to treat this verse with some caution. But this doesn’t mean that we can dismiss the Bible. Not does it mean that the bible isn’t truly inspired by God and useful for teaching. What it does mean is that we should treat the bible with dignity, reverence and intelligence, holding it lovingly in our hands as we read it. What we should never do is to reduce the Bible to a form of Christianised Haynes Manuel.
My approach to the Bible is fairly straightforward and, as a Christian, I believe that the central figure in the Bible is Jesus. The Old Testament points us towards the coming of Jesus, the gospels introduce us to the person of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament, with the exception of the Book of Revelation, shows us how we might live as communities that believe in Jesus; and the emphasis on the communal is all important. We are after all a communion, so the only real question is whether we aspire to be a Holy Communion.
The approach I have sketched is in many ways highly Lutheran. I believe, like Luther, that the Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation, but without believing that the bible is perfect in every way. Like Channing I believe the Bible to be ‘a human and therefore fallible record of the infallible divine word.’ Like Luther I believe that we should read the Bible with openness and humility allowing our consciences to be ‘captive to the word of God, rather than the Bible.’
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus urges his followers not to mine the Scriptures in the vain attempt to find verses that affirm any prejudice we might hold, but instead to focus on learning more about the very character of Jesus. If we follow this advice the Bible will, I suggest, open up in unexpected ways before us. Luther said: ‘if you want to interpret well set Christ before you, for he is the man to whom it all applied, every bit of it.’
My hunch, my suspicion, is that Luther was, and is right. As a community and as individuals we should treat the Bible with dignity and reverence, we should set ourselves before the endlessly fascinating Christ of the Gospels, so that we are fed, changed and equipped to proclaim his holy name in both word and deed, for this after all is the mandate of the Church; we are the Church of Christ.
But how can we do this? How in this place can we become people of the word; people fed each and every day by Jesus and the words of Scripture? Well, I know of only one way: prayerful reading of Scripture. So let me invite you to do something: as you leave Church today, and every Sunday, take the pew sheet home with you, don’t give it back in, and spend five or ten minutes each day simply reading through the passages and see what strikes you, challenges you or even affirms you. I think if you do this it just might, over time, make all the difference in the world, Amen.
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