Preacher Revd Wilma Roest
Today we reflect upon the kingship of Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The Church through the ages has gotten a lot of mileage from this royal imagery. Think of all the pomp and circumstance in the church: the cathedrals and big churches, processions, the robes, and even in our hymns. This powerful imagery captures our collective imagination.
Sometimes I love this imagery. It can move me and make me want to kneel before the throne, lost in wonder, love, and praise. Yet I also know that all images have their shortcomings and grow stale with overuse. I know many have challenged this king image. Some call it patriarchal and offensive. Others claim that there have been so few good kings that the image has been damaged beyond repair.
Today we are being reminded that Christ is not merely a king, safely ensconced in the palace, safely separated from God’s subjects, carefully guarded by security. We are challenged to consider a new image of kingship, one that will perhaps serve the church better in the years to come: the image of shepherd. Christ comes as a shepherd.
Sadly God’s shepherds have often failed to do their job. God’s shepherds have not gathered in the weak sheep. God’s shepherds have not sought the lost or healed the sick or done what God called them to do. So God, out of great love for humanity and powerful compassion for the lost, does the following. “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep and I will make them lie down,” says the Lord God. “I will seek the lost and I will bring back the strayed and I will bind up the injured and I will strengthen the weak….” God takes off and joins the search. God has left the throne room, the building. That is scary! We like the safety of the throne room, often a place of privilege and riches. We like to sing and pray and go home. We like our faith neat and tidy.
But today we are invited to join God in the search, in the great shepherding work.
Our God is a wandering God willing to engage in the nasty, challenging, dangerous work of shepherding. God wants his followers to get out of the building. To go and search for the lost. To wander every part of the community. To go where most people would not dare to go. To go into situations that most people would avoid.
It’s not easy to do that on your own. Of course we are willing, but also practical, down to earth and realistic. That’s why we work together, as a team, as Christians and we have made it part of our Mission Action Plan for the coming three years.
As you may know we are planning to get very actively involved with Glass Door, a charity providing safe night time spaces for homeless people during the winter months. We will give our church buildings 2 nights every week (St John’s on Thursday night and St Matthias on Saturday night), we will give our energy as volunteers and cooks and no doubt we will give money too. Twice a week from the beginning of January till the beginning of April, we will be hosts people who have no home, no food. We will be supported by professionals from Glass Door, but we will have to do the work of cooking, preparing, welcoming and clearing and cleaning at the end of the night. I’m under no illusion that it will be easy, but we do it together and in God’s name, following the example of Christ the King.
This image of Christ the King reminds me of someone you could call a literary model of Christ, Monseigneur Bienvenue, in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. When Monseigneur Bienvenue, who is given this nickname by his people in honour of his gracious hospitality, finds that his elaborate episcopal palace is next door to a tiny, cramped, single-story hospital, he says, “…There is evidently a mistake here. There are thirty-six of you, in five or six small rooms. There are three of us here, and we have room for sixty. There is some mistake, I tell you; have my house, and I have yours. Give me back my house; you are at home here.” The switch is made; the episcopal palace becomes a hospital for God’s sick sheep.
Our churches become spaces of safety and hospitality for those who are without. The Gospel is as radically today as it was when Jesus spoke those words 2000 years ago.
God calls us out of the throne room not just to gather in the weak sheep, but to challenge and speak out against the fat sheep who are ravaging and taking advantage of the weak. God calls us to follow God’s lead and speak out against power misused.
The temptation is to use religious language and religious affiliation to amass political and corporate power. We are blind to the corruptive influence of worldly power, how it co-opts us and blinds us to the need of weak sheep all around us. When this happens, our prophetic voice is silenced.
Peter Storey, a Methodist minister who fought to keep the Church from becoming a mouthpiece for the government of South Africa and was chaplain to Nelson Mandela when he was in prison, issued this warning, “The Church must be different from, and often over against and in contradiction to, the ways of all nations. That alternative identity must be cherished and guarded as the most important characteristic of the Church. The richest gift the Church can give the world is to be different from it. It must be a constant irritant that the world doesn’t want, but cannot do without.”
On this last Sunday of the liturgical year, before we embark on the season of Advent which starts next week, we are called to remember our corporate identity, and then to leave the building, to go and search in the worst places for the weakest sheep. We are to defend them at our own peril. It’s no surprise that when God came in the flesh he spent all of his time gathering in the weakest sheep and speaking words of warning to the fat sheep.
On this Reign of Christ Sunday we remember that Christ is King; that he came as a king who serves. We also remind ourselves that he will come again, as a king in glory. If he delays, don’t think he is not coming. Until he comes as a king in glory, he comes to us in the least of people, the ones we are called to serve.