This sermon was given by our ALM Carol on Sunday 24 November 2019 and was based on Jeremiah 23.1–6, Colossians 1.11–20, and Luke 23.33–43.
Lord God open our ears, our eyes, and our hearts that we may hear and receive your Word this morning. Amen.
How many of you watch ‘The Apprentice’? Maybe some of you are seasoned veterans of the program, as I am, and familiar with the one phrase from it spoken by Lord Sugar “You’re fired!”
For those of you who do not watch the programme, it goes like this. There are 16 contestants who all want to be Lord Sugar’s next apprentice. These are gradually reduced each week through doing different challenges; those remaining are split into teams with a leader being nominated from amongst the group. This leader has responsibility for the oversight of their project. It may be that there is additional added drama for television, but it seems to me that the leader’s style and technique is familiar to those with any management experience. Consequently, when their work is appraised, in the boardroom, the contestants need to justify all they have done in that week’s task and why they shouldn’t be fired. It all feels a bit like ‘the survival of the fittest’ – the selling of oneself and one’s virtues over and above those of your fellow teammates. It leaves me thinking about how we understand leadership today; have we lost confidence in what authentic leadership is really like, been seduced by what the Apprentice offers?
Yet leadership does matter, and on this feast of Christ the King we’re asked what kind of leadership we’re called to? What makes it distinctive? And what does it offer a society so often seduced by the outward trappings of power? The three readings for today put before us both challenges and encouragement; we heard of lost sheep in Jeremiah, of the Christians of Colossae who have understood that Christ is the King I quote “He is the head of the body, the church;” and in the Gospel the means by which the leadership, the kingship of Christ is established, the cross.
Each of us has our own feast day, our birthday. It’s a day when we celebrate being alive. Cards, flowers, gifts, a special meal and ‘phone calls tell us that our friends are glad to know us and that we make a difference to their lives. Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. We celebrate Christ, risen, ascended and glorified. We give thanks to God for all he has done for us through Jesus and for the difference Jesus makes to our lives. We celebrate the Kingship of Christ; but what sort of Kingship is it that we’re celebrating? Our Gospel reading gives us a vivid picture to reflect on.
The picture is certainly not what we would expect to see illustrating kingship, power and authority. Here are no fine robes but a naked and scarred body. His crown has no jewels, only vicious thorns. On his hands there are no rings of power, just the nails which fix him to a wooden cross – no golden throne. There are no courtiers or servants around him – just two criminals sharing his fate and an assorted crowd of soldiers and ghoulish spectators who taunt and mock him.
But before we turn away from this ghastly picture of cruelty and humiliation, we see the words “This is the King of the Jews” and we hear the voice of an unlikely believer “remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Someone here has caught a glimpse of the glory that is hidden by the awfulness of this torture. And we hear another voice, the voice of authority coming from the defeat of the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”.
We heard the voices of mockery and hate. Now we hear the voices of faith and compassion and it makes us stop and wonder. Is it possible that in this picture we are getting a glimpse of the sort of kingship that can meet our deepest inner needs, the needs we sometimes daren’t even face ourselves and which certainly aren’t met by the rulers of this world.
Here is a King who is prepared to suffer alongside us. This is not a King who holds himself aloof from ordinary folk. This is a King who experiences betrayal, savage injustice, brutal cruelty and utter humiliation and yet maintains his dignity and integrity. This is a King who has lived life as we live it, who has died as we must die but who now lives a new resurrection life. He reassures us and welcomes us into that same resurrection life in his Kingdom where we will know the peace and healing for which we have longed.
The picture of Kingship in our Gospel story turns traditional kingship upside down. It reaches out to us calling us to offer ourselves to Christ the King and we can perhaps sense what a difference this would make to our lives.
Today is the last Sunday in the Church’s Year; next week we will begin a New Year and will start again to tell the story of the coming of Jesus into the world as a baby and we will again start looking forward to Jesus returning as Christ the King. As we journey through the year, hearing once more the stories of Jesus’ birth and life, his ministry and teaching, his death and resurrection we too will be travelling on our own journeys.
We too will go through wilderness times of doubt and anxiety. We may enter the Gethsemane of anguish and despair. We will have mountain top experiences of excitement and good news. We will plod along through the everyday life of ordinary times.
As we travel, we will also have a companion alongside us and a vision to give meaning and purpose to our lives. Our companion will be Christ the King, the Son of God, who knows what it is to be human and who will show understanding and compassion when the going gets tough. His presence will make all the difference when we feel most alone and isolated. Our vision will be that of love’s victory over death and of Christ the King who will draw us into his eternal kingdom. His kingship will make all the difference when things seem out of control, chaotic and heading from bad to worse.
Today we celebrate the eternal presence of Christ the King in the bread and wine we will share at the Lord’s table this morning. Let us pray that his spirit will make a difference in our lives bringing us refreshment, peace, the power of love and whatever else our hearts need for the journey that lies ahead. Amen