Saturday, November 19, 2016

Of Cabbages and Kings

What Kind of King Have We?
It is Christ the King Sunday. The final Feast of Jesus in the Liturgical Year. Next week we will begin all over again with Advent. So in a sense this is the final word on who our Jesus is. And where do we find our King? On a Roman Cross of all places [Luke 23:33-43] – to hang until death as a warning and reminder as to who has the Power; who is the Real King; who is the real God: Caesar.

Yet, we understand true Kingship quite differently. As one enters the Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul in Bath, England, a brochure that asks, Who is Jesus?, states the following:

“Jesus was born in an obscure Middle Eastern town called Bethlehem, over 2000 years ago. During his first 30 years he shared the daily life and work of an ordinary home. For the next three years he went about teaching people about God and healing sick people by the shores of Lake Galilee. He called 12 ordinary men to be his helpers.

“He had no money. He wrote no books. He commanded no army. He wielded no political power. During his life he never travelled more than 200 miles in any direction. He was executed by being nailed to a cross at the age of 33.

“Today, nearly 2 billion people throughout the world worship Jesus as divine - the Son of God. Their experience has convinced them that in the wonders of nature we see God as our loving Father; in the person of Jesus we discover God as Son; and in our daily lives we encounter this same God as Spirit. Jesus is our way to finding God: we learn about Jesus by reading the Bible, particularly the New Testament and we meet him directly in our spiritual experience.

“Jesus taught us to trust in a loving and merciful Father and to pray to him in faith for all our needs. He taught that we are all infinitely precious, children of one heavenly Father, and that we should therefore treat one another with love, respect and forgiveness. He lived out what he taught by caring for those he met; by healing the sick - a sign of God's love at work; and by forgiving those who put him to death.

“Jesus' actions alone would not have led him to a criminal's death on the cross: but his teaching challenged the religious and moral beliefs of his day. Jesus claimed to be the way to reach God. Above all, he pointed to his death as God's appointed means of bringing self-centered people back to God. Jesus also foretold that he would be raised to life again three days after his death. When, three days after he had died on the cross, his followers did indeed meet him alive again; frightened and defeated women and men became fearless and joyful messengers.

“Their message of the Good News about Jesus is the reason this Abbey Church exists, here in Bath. More importantly, it is the reason why all over the world there are Christians who know what it means to meet the living Jesus, and believe that He alone has the key to human life.

“May your time in the Bath Abbey Church be a blessing to you, as it is already to us in the church.”

This king of ours still challenges all our assumptions and understandings of power and meaning and truth. To a criminal hanging nearby on another cross he says, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise!’ Not tomorrow, not a month, a year or an eon from now, but today.

For those looking for a description of this paradise of which he speaks, look no further than the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel which describes a great day of reckoning – as all humanity is divided as sheep and goats; those who follow his example and those who do not.

When I was hungry you fed me; when I was thirsty you brought me a drink; when I was naked you clothed me; when I was in prison you visited me; when I was a stranger you welcomed me. Those listening say, “But when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison or as a stranger?” As you do this for the least of my sisters and brothers you do this for me.

This is what ‘today in paradise’ looks like. This is what true kings, real kings, do. Not like the bad shepherds in Jeremiah 23:1-6 who scatter God’s sheep and do not attend to their needs – that is, do not love them the way God loves them. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” We are to be this Branch! We are called to be those people who execute justice and righteousness in the land. We are to welcome the stranger and meet the needs of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and those in prison. This is what it means to follow Jesus, plain and simple.

Good shepherds, good kings, good people tend those in their midst, care for those who are strangers, those who are utterly unlike us; bring people together rather than divide them. This vision of paradise is promised to us all here and now. Today. Let those who have ears, hear. Let those who have eyes, see. Come, follow me, says our king, and I will give you rest.

Christ the King. Our king is a funny kind of king, but a king of kings! A Lord of Lords! And he shall reign forever and ever! May our time together with him be a blessing to us and to all persons, here, there and everywhere. Amen. 

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