Jeremiah 23: 1-6
Colossians 1: 11-20
Luke 23: 33-43
May I speak in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today is Christ the King, what do we think of when we hear the word King?
If, like me, you are a fan of Disney, you night think of the Lion King, if you are a bit of a fashionista you might think about the fashionable clothes a king would wear. If you are a bit of an egotist you might think about having people bow to you and obey you if you were King.
In general good Kings are seen as people to be respected, looked up to and possibly admired by the people they lead, and in return they expect their subjects to work with them to help build a good and just society. However, a bad king, or any bad leader can also spell disaster.
The people of Israel had a bit of a mixed experience of monarchy. To start with they had no king, but were ruled by judges and prophets. Then the people decided they wanted a king and Samuel appointed Saul, who started well but ended up a bit mad, he was succeed by David. Who after a bit of adultery and murder was succeeded by his son Soloman.
At the end of Soloman's reign Israel split into two countries Israel and Judah, both led by Kings. There were some good kings and some bad kings. During the time of Jeremiah, Jehoiachin came to the throne of Judah. Jehoiachin was generally considered a bad king as it was under his rule that Judah was conquered by Babylon and many Israelites were forced into exile.
At the start of our first reading this morning, Jeremiah is speaking out against this current king, whose decisions have led to the destruction and scattering of the flock, the people of Judah. However, it isn't all bad news, even when it seems like the world is ending, he also has a word of hope, whatever it may feel like, God has not abandoned his people but will come and gather them together again. He will provide for them a righteous and good leader.
Jeremiah's vision is of a king who will reign wisely, who shall be in charge executing justice and righteousness. As Christians we tend to read these lines as pointing forward to Christ. Yet the reading from Luke's gospel this morning isn't exactly a great description of a King. Instead of a crown of gold and jewels He has a crown of thorns. Instead of people bowing down and worshipping this King, they are mocking him. He isn't sitting on a grand throne, but is nailed to a cross. In the words of Luci Shaw “he wore purple only once, and that was an irony.” This doesn’t seem like the great king of Jeremiah's vision, or to fit into any expectation of what a good king should be. This is a King that looks defeated rather than one who is going to have a glorious reign.
Yet despite all this, he still shows certain signs of kingship. He speaks to the penitent thief with a voice of authority “today you will be with me in paradise.” No ifs, no buts, this is what will be. We may be in what looks like a nightmare situation but the King still has the authority to lead us through it to something better.
Another trait that is often associated with great Kings is mercy. Even when on the cross suffering unimaginable agony, Jesus still acts with mercy, saying Father forgive them. We have become so used to hearing this statement, this story, that I think, it has perhaps lost some of it's impact. God's forgiveness is available for everyone, everyone means everyone. It doesn't just mean the people we like and agree with, it means the people we hate, the people we think have done terrible things. It means Donald Trump, it means the leaders of Islamic State. I find this one of the hardest aspects of Christianity to deal with, that God, the God that I love and that loves me, can also love those that hate and want to harm others, that have committed crimes too terrible to think about. Our human nature wants revenge, we want what we see as justice, we want those that have caused pain made to feel pain. Yet the truth is that God's mercy can reach them to, we are all loved by God.
In both the US election and the UK brexit vote there seems to have been a splitting of people into “them” and “us”, everyone in the us group is right and good and only acting out of the best possible reasons, everyone in the them group is evil, nasty, racist and only acting out of stupidity or self interest. Coventry Cathedral has a famous litany of reconciliation, however I found another litany about forgiveness on the internet this week:
“Whenever we speak of them and us, Lord forgive us
Whenever we ignore speech about them and us, Lord forgive us
Whenever we don't condemn speech about them and us, Lord forgive us
Whenever we stay silent in the face of speech about them and us, Lord forgive us
Whenever we don't speak on behalf of the silenced in talk of them and us, Lord forgive us
Whenever we don't offer an alternative vision that re imagines the idea of them and us, Lord forgive us”
We need to seek to understand the concerns of them and work with them to address those concerns. It is only through forgiveness and the coming together of them and us that the fractured wounds of our society can begin to heal.
What does it mean for us today to be subjects of Christ the King? We seem to be living through times of massive change and upheaval, where the unthinkable is becoming reality. I know there are many people who are worried, scared and upset at the direction the world seems to be moving in. It's all very well to say God's in charge, it all work out right in the end, all we have to do is sit tight. Well, God may be in charge, but a king needs his people to help enact his will. As the subjects of Christ the King, we need to stand up for the values of the kingdom of Christ. Love for one another, including those we disagree with, justice that is tempered with mercy, help for our neighbour, and forgiving those whose actions and words have hurt us. Not an easy task, at times it might even seem an impossible task. Later on in this service we will pray the words, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is up to us the subjects of Christ the King, to try and make that line reality.
Christ is not King of this earthly world yet and that means we are also called to follow in the footsteps of Jeremiah, to speak out against those in authority, or those with a loud voice, when they act in ways that go against the kingdom values of Justice, mercy, forgiveness and love of our neighbour.
To be subjects of Christ the King means we all have a calling, to work and act, in whatever way we can, in the situations we are in, to bring the kingdom of Christ into reality.