November 20, 2016 Reign of Christ
What Kind of Kingdom Do You Want?
What Kind of King?
The Rev Rod Sprange
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
It’s time to start making your new year resolutions, your spiritual new year resolutions. This is the last Sunday of the liturgical year and next week we start a brand new cycle.
I was thinking back over the last liturgical year; during the four Sundays in Advent we looked with anticipation towards the coming of Christ - both as a celebration of his birth but also in expectation of his coming again in glory to make all things new. This led us up to the great feast of Christmas and the 12 days of the Christmas season with the naming of Jesus followed by Epiphany and his baptism. The five Sundays after Epiphany brought us to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of our Lenten Journey. Lent was a time of self examination and perhaps small sacrifices. The five Sundays in Lent led us to Palm Sunday where we joined the exuberant worshipping crowds who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem as their saviour. We journeyed together through Holy week marking Maundy Thursday, with the institution of the Lord’s Supper and Jesus’s betrayal. Then the desolation of Good Friday - when all the adoring crowds had been turned against him and we too stood and jeered and watched as he was executed on the cross; taunting him to save himself if he was the Messiah. And then we shared Easter Eve on Holy Saturday with the Easter Vigil which took us from sorrow to joy. The next day we celebrated the greatest feast of the year, the victory of Easter Day - the resurrection of the Lord and the inception of God’s Kingdom on earth.
We had been through all of this and it was still only March! Together we celebrated Easter for seven Sundays and as the weeks went by we looked with expectation to the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when the church was born in Jerusalem. Our church, charged by Jesus with sharing the Good News and helping to bring the Kingdom of God to completion. And that is still God’s mission for the church, for us.
We set aside the following Sunday to glorify the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
We then had 24 more Sundays, the Sundays after Pentecost, a period known as Ordinary Time - a time of growth of the church and the kingdom - depicted by the green banners and paraments (those are the lectern hangings and the burse and veil we use to cover the chalice and paten). And that leads us to today, the last Sunday after Pentecost - the Reign of Christ.
On this final Sunday of the church year we recognize and give thanks to God that Jesus Christ is not just Our Lord, but the Lord of all creation. We can have hope and faith and trust that God’s Kingdom will continue to grow and come to that time of fulfilment for which we long. The big enemies have been defeated, sin and death no longer have the last word for human kind - but the work is not yet completed and we need to respond to God’s call to us and to our church to take our part in God’s mission in the world.
And yet, did you hear the Gospel reading today? Did you see our King, our Lord Jesus, the Lord of all, hanging on a cross in agony? Dying an ignominious death? Did you hear the soldiers and crowds and even one of the bandits being executed with him, deriding him and taunting him?
Is this the kind of King you want, a defenceless, seemingly beaten king? Jesus wasn’t the kind of king the people of Jerusalem wanted after all. He was not the kind of king who comes with armies, force and violence. He was the king who came in humble peace, offering reconciliation, mercy and love. What kind of kingdom then are you expecting - do you want?
Our neighbours to the south have been arguing for months and continue to argue about what kind of country they want, and what kind of leader they need. And they are seriously divided about both those questions. Some want a strong-willed leader who will make the country more like the way they think it used to be. Others want a strong leader who will protect civil liberties and continue a more inclusive course. There seems to be little room on either side for compromise or unity building. Do the people know what they really need at this point in history? It seems that the leaders - the modern day shepherds of the people, like the shepherd leaders in the reading from Jeremiah today, may all be scattering and dividing the people. We must pray for them and for ourselves. And we must pray for all the leaders of the world, for true wisdom and courage.
But what of our King and God’s Kingdom? What kind of King do we want? I read someone’s commentary this week who asked “Would you have voted for Jesus?” The people of Jerusalem certainly didn’t get what they were hoping for, but they got what they most needed. And so did we.
I often hear people say “why doesn’t God just stop those wars? Why does God allow these things to happen”. But what kind of King would it be if we had no choice but to do his will? What kind of humanity would it be if we had no choices to make, if God didn’t let us make any mistakes - if we were just puppets? Or if we did the right thing only because we were terrified of God’s wrath not out of love.
In love of God, we all must do our best to live up to the responsibilities that have been entrusted to us by God. To care for our planet, to look after the vulnerable, to share the world’s bounties in sustainable ways.
Jesus came so that we would have the opportunity to see God’s character, to know what matters to God and what God wants for us. In Jesus we see compassion, love, courage, humility and mercy.
But ask yourself this: Which do you want, justice or mercy? We hear so many voices crying out for justice when often they are seeking revenge. The song says “ the punishment should fit the crime” - but if we think punishment will satisfy our anger and sense of victimhood we are sadly mistaken. We may go away saying, well at least justice was done, but until we learn forgiveness we will never find peace.
But what of the Holy Trinity - do you want a God of Justice or mercy for yourself? What about for others? If God leans heavily on the side of Justice we will get what we deserve and so will others. Is that what you want? However, if God leans heavily on the side of mercy - we get what we don’t deserve, but then, so will others. And that’s what Jesus so amazingly demonstrates and teaches us. First he prays for his tormenters and executioners and the crowd “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” offering forgiveness from the agony of the cross. And a little later one of the thieves admits he is getting what he deserves in terms of worldly punishment and throws himself on Jesus’s mercy. Jesus tells him that this very day he will be with him in paradise. Jesus immediately redeemed him. And we learn, with Christ, it is never too late for redemption.
I feel we need a quick word about this paradise. It isn’t the final coming of the Kingdom of God, or the Heaven of popular thought. The original word meant a walled garden - typically the safe garden where the King could walk in peace. In Jewish tradition paradise is a garden of eden place where the souls of the righteous wait after death for the day of resurrection. In his teaching Jesus spoke about the general resurrection and life after death, and would tell parables about what the Kingdom of God is like. That is as close as we get to what happens, and when it happens after we die. But we can be comforted by Jesus’s words to the thief - “This very day you will be with me in paradise”. Wherever or in what state we can’t know, but we can be sure it will be a safe and peaceful place with our saviour.
We cannot choose what kind of king we want - thanks be to God we have been given Christ. But we can do something about the world we choose to live in, and this is where I come back to encouraging you to make spiritual new years resolutions as we enter our new church year. You might start with thinking about these two questions.
- How might I help Christ’s church known as The Parish of St. Peter’s?
- What gifts do I have to provide to help our church undertake it’s part in God’s mission?
This is an excellent time of the year to pray and think about your various contributions to the life and vitality of our parish.
- What skills and abilities will I offer the church this year?
- How much of my precious time will I lovingly share?
- and, what financial commitment will I make this year?
Remember we should offer all of these freely, in grateful response to God’s incredible love and generosity and recognizing the trust God places in each of us.
I hope the following words from David Lose in his blog this week, may help you to think about your priorities for the coming year. David writes “If we choose to live in a world where might makes right, we will all eventually lose. And if we prefer a world where the rule of the day is “an eye for an eye,” all of us will be blind and the whole, indeed, will eventually lay in ruin...Jesus reminds us that far from promising us a better future, he redeems us today, not only forgiving us for what we have done or not done, but setting us free to stand with those in need around us, advocating for their welfare, demanding their just treatment, and seeing in them the very presence of the God who always takes the side of the vulnerable”.
So I ask, What kind of world do you want? What kind of church do we need? How will you help us to be the church that works with God to heal the world?