Toorak Uniting Church

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Christ The King Sunday

Luke 23: 33 – 43
Rev. Robert McUtchen
21 November 2010

Funny how stage shows, literature and television have contributed to our lexicon of sayings. Bob Dyer – "the money or the box." Get Smart – "Missed him by that much". Lady Bracknell in "The Importance of being Earnest"– "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness". The castle - Darryl Kerrigan: "Tell him he's dreaming". And Star Trek’s Mr Spock - "It’s life Jim, but not as we know it."

Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar – next week begins a new liturgical calendar, and the count down to Christmas called Advent. On the last day of the year we are asked to reflect on the idea of Jesus Christ as King. And here Star Trek comes in – reminding us that Spock may have well said of Jesus "It’s a king Jim, but not as we know it."

Christ the King Sunday was a 20th century creation. Quoting from Wikipedia – "Christ's Kingship was addressed in the encyclical Quas Primas of Pope Pius XI, published in 1925. The encyclical quotes with approval Cyril of Alexandria, noting that Jesus' Kingship is not obtained by violence: "'Christ,' he says, 'has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but his by essence and by nature.'" Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King in 1925 to remind Christians that their allegiance was to their spiritual ruler in heaven as opposed to earthly supremacy, which was claimed by Benito Mussolini."

This day is a timely reality check on what we think we believe about Jesus. As much as we may recite the creed regularly there is an endless tension between the written word on Jesus from the gospels and the epistles, and the ideas about Jesus which arise from personal ideas, stories we receive from people we believe, and our life experiences. We are reminded today that Jesus kingship is based on opposites and contradictions. The power Jesus claims and exercises grows out of powerlessness – the man made subject to the worst humanity can do responds by calling upon God to grant them forgiveness; he teaches and demonstrates the power that comes of not reacting to the taunt or provocation of others – thus denying them power over us. The power that comes of exercising grace, and forgiving others seventy times seven, thus releasing the one showing forgiveness from the captivity of hate and vengefulness whose food is the stuff of our very souls.

The kingship of Jesus demonstrates there is another way of living and treating with others; the kingdom of God, to which his Kingship relates, does not accord to human standards or norms, and that that place to which God invites us will not be achieved by continuing to live as humans are accustomed.

With this awareness freshly stirred it better prepares us to appreciate the story of the incarnation through Advent. The manner in which the most unlikely feature in God’s human drama.

Christ the King Sunday appeared out of a concern that in the chaotic post world war world one, through totalitarianism, humans were claiming supremacy of the world and life for themselves. It was a brave move by the church of the day to challenge this, claiming Jesus was spiritual ruler of heaven, and even human potentates were ultimately subject to him.

I wonder if this day has a new relevance for humanity today. Mussolini and Hitler have risen and fallen, but there are powers rising today which do not have a human name or face – the extraordinary power of corporations and international banking powers have the potential, and sometimes the desire, to exercise power over individuals and even countries. Witness Ireland’s struggles to retain national autonomy in the face of international intervention to prop up their banking system; or moves by corporations in the United States in Trade Agreements, which are alleged to over ride laws established sovereign governments. Mao Tse Dung said Power grew out of the barrel of a gun – now power is exercised by money, political treaties and lawyers. Perhaps we all need to be reminded that God’s economy and kingdom operate to different rules, and offer a very different way forward in relating to other people and countries.

Pope Benedict XVI has remarked that Christ's Kingship is not based on "human power" but on loving and serving others. These things we have known in our heads, but forgotten in our hearts. Christ the King Sunday offers us a reminder that Jesus models a new paradigm in which is found the elements of a different power. As Ghandi recognised nearly 100 years ago, there is enormous power in powerlessness, which offers the dispossessed, the poor and ill educated a way out of their predicament. Desmond Tutu more recently demonstrated the same power that arises from powerlessness, when in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission people who had been abused by the Apartheid regime, were empowered and healed by the possibility to say a word of grace and forgiveness to those who committed the unspeakable. Victim and offender sometimes found healing and redemption and peace by offering grace from their powerlessness.

An odd thing the Kingship of Jesus – yet in God’s strange economy it demonstrates that power is available to anyone who can say a word of grace to an offender who wronged them; they are empowered, when they are powerless! It offers another way of living to us – my friend who though grievously wronged by his wife, remains free of malice or hatred, and simply prays for her, and the best outcome for them all. As you take bread and wine today, contemplate that simple elements of bread and wine are symbols of something that can enliven and empower. Then take these things, and share in living the work of the King, Jesus Christ. As Dr Spock once might have said "He’s a king Jim, but not a king as we know it". Amen.

© Rev. Robert McUtchen, 2010

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