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Saturday, 17 December 2016

kings in wrong places

This was written and spoken nine years ago: as we watch the rise of Trumpism et al, political extremisms emerging around the world, we might reflect anew on the dangers of looking for kings in the wrong place, in the power- and hate- paradigm that has so often been thought to be the right place.

It was written for the Feast of Christ the King, but as we prepare in advent to welcome a king in an unexpected place, it might do no harm to "translocate" these thoughts.

 (25th NOVEMBER) 2007


Jer. 23.1-6
For Psalm Luke 1.68-79 (as in NZPB / HKMoA 85)
Col. 1.11-20
Luke 23.33-45

 What is this kingship of Christ that we celebrate and proclaim? When Pius xii introduced the feast of Christ the King into the Roman Catholic calendar in the 1920s – originally on the last Sunday in October – he did so as a way of countering the claims to salvation being made by the Marxist and Nationalist-Fascist extremes of European society. By Vatican ii in the 1960s one of those political extremes, and in the years since, both those extremes have largely crumbled in mainstream western society – at least for the time being. Yet the Feast can and should still speak to us as we conclude our faith-year, our cycle of prayer, reading and liturgy

All year [2007] I have spoken of our call to be a counter-culture, what German theologian Gerhard Lohfink called ‘a contrast society of Jesus.’ Lohfink was a theologian who grew up in Nazi Germany, and once tellingly commented “I saw men and women who were forced to sew a yellow star of David on their garments; then one day I didn’t see them any more.” It was a memory that remained with him all his life (well actually he may be still alive!): some of us may have seen the corny but for once accurate bumper sticker that reads ‘If a court tried you for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you.’ Unfortunately the bumper sticker, like most Christian bumper stickers, is too smarmy and self-righteous. The sticker ignores the complex historic and everyday tragedy of many people who live and die for this faith of ours, and at the same time ignores the minor human detail that many of us might fail under duress to remain true to our faith – though we pray God that would not be the case. We would be better off allowing our lives, rather than our bumpers, to speak of our faith.

Gerhardt Lohfink, like many since, saw clearly that the earliest Christian writings were not about a ‘me and my mate Jesus’ individual salvation but about communities of faith springing up in an often hostile world, simultaneously providing community for members and a challenge to outsiders. By their lives they were to speak of resurrection, of hope, of love, of justice: and so are we. They were to challenge unjust structures as well as individual human beings to consider the values of God.
By doing this they would speak, as Jesus put it, of a ‘Kingdom not of this world.’ They would witness to the Reign, the Kingship of Christ. But what is this Kingship? It, too, is a Kinship of contrast. Caesar's was a kingship of power reinforced by massive military might. The Kingship of Jesus, as the author of the letter to the Colossians put it, was one revealed ‘through the blood of the cross’, revealed in brokenness and shame, execution and death. It is a kingship won not in great victory, but in shattering defeat: it is conspicuously not ‘of this world’, but of another world with contrasting values. It is a kingship not for the victorious, but for the vulnerable, the imperfect, for those who know themselves to be in need. It is a kingship that speaks to those dying alongside it on a cross, and speaks not to condemn but to invite those willing to accept its terms of love.
It is at the same time the kingship of Creation. The author of the letter to the Colossians sees not only the brokenness but sees too the cosmic dimensions of the crucified Christ. This is the one who, as we shall sing later in Kendrick’s classic hymn ("The Servant King") had ‘Hands that flung stars into space / to cruel nails surrendered.’ This is a kingship and a salvation of the whole range of Creation: this is, as our friends in the Orthodox churches see so clearly, the redemption of all creation: ‘in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.’
We can begin to grasp this kingship only when we begin to grasp the ‘For Us’ dimension of Christ’s self-sacrifice. This is kingship pro nobis, for us. This is ‘our God, the Servant King’, crucified yet conquering death for us, and for those we love and weep for, for those we neglect, for the wretched of the earth, and even then, perhaps, for the Big Players, the Caesars of God’s earth. As we grasp and live that dream of God we become the contrast society of Jesus that Gerhard Lohfink saw, so tragically, that we were not when the Jewish people were led, conspicuous by their stars to the death camps of Europe. As we become a people who are conspicuous by our living and speaking of resurrection, of hope, of love, of justice and of all that Christ was and is, then we will be the contrast Society of King Jesus we are meant to be.

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