Saturday, 21 November 2009
When you “imagine Christ” - when you think of Jesus - what image or metaphor do you use most often? Some people think of Jesus primarily in terms of the song that the Choir sang - they think of him as the good shepherd as one who guides and leads as the gentle saviour - who seek out the lost and injured sheep and carries the wounded and the lame on his shoulders till they are safe back in the fold. And I am partial to that image to.
What image do you have of Christ? What metaphor are you partial to? I would wager that the image of Jesus as a King is not one that would win the most votes as the most common image among us here today. Yet it is for claiming to be a "King" that Jesus is brought before Pilate in today's Gospel reading, and even though Jesus is clear to Pilate that his Kingship is not from this world and that the Kingdom which he claims does not function like the kingdoms of this world; and even though Pilate believes his claim and finds no fault in Jesus - or should we say he finds in Jesus no direct threat to his power - for political reasons he ultimately condemns Jesus to death and places over his head the record of the charge that was brought against him - that he had claimed to be the King of the Jews - a charge that Jesus never denies.
When you think of a king what do you think of? What does the word "king" conjure up for you? I came up with a few images: from childhood: - fairy-tale kings: benevolent, often dead, with a wicked queen - king of the hill: the game where the strongest pushes everyone else off the hill - "king me": draughts/checkers king jumps in all directions, taking over and winning . From adult years: - "the" King - Elvis Presley - of which no more needs to be said - the King in the "Wizard of Id" - a self-centred bumbling dictator - king o' the road - a wanderer with no cares - A chess king - one of limited movement and power to protect.
What about you? What do you think of when you think of the word King? Or Kingdom? Do you, like some, think of folk like Pilate? Caesar Augustus? George the III, or Louis XIV? Figures like Saddam Hussein? President Obama? Men of immense power who are unafraid to issue orders and compel obedience, are unafraid to ask others, no - to command others, to die for their causes? Makers of Law whether by democracy or by Order of Cabinet or Council or Decree and enforcers of their own wills and the will of the State they command? Sometimes with popular approval, but often without?
The simple fact is that lots of folk have difficulty with the concept of Jesus as a King and difficulty with the whole idea of the Kingdom of God. When we think of Jesus - our favourite image of him, despite Sundays like this one, is not likely to be that of Jesus as King: more likely is Jesus as a shepherd, Jesus as a teacher, Jesus sitting with the children gathered around him. And when we do declare Jesus is King - when we declare he is the Messiah, the chosen one of God, I think we have a hard time wrapping our minds around what it is we truly are confessing.
But, having said all that, I think that the real problem with talk about Jesus as King is that we know that Kings are people who issue commands that others are supposed to obey - that they are people that their subjects are supposed to be loyal too and whom they are supposed to serve - no matter how they might feel about it. And we, in this age, perhaps even more than in some other, do not like that. We do not like the idea of obedience. We do not like the idea that someone can "command us" to do something, that someone has authority over us.
The real issue of behind the image of Jesus as King is this: Do I want someone other than myself to be Lord of my life? When we imagine Jesus as our friend, as our shepherd, as our brother, as one who comes to us a healer, teacher we accentuate in our minds the love and the grace and the goodness that he had and still has, it makes Jesus - "user friendly". It makes Jesus - first among equals. Jesus states to Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world and that, in effect, his kingship is not like that of the kings of this world.
As our King - Jesus is not in our face. He gives us our freedom. He treats us as equals - he treats us as his friends. We can slip and slide around the throne feasting when we like the fare, and we can dine out when it's not so palatable. And so we loose track of the fact that doing what he wants us to do really might be good for us, - and the fact that not doing what we want might not be so good for us. We loose track of the fact that obeying his commandments might be helpful to us and our world - and not obeying them might be harmful to us and to our world. In other words we sometimes grow too comfortable with our images of Christ. We sometimes resist too much the full consequences of calling him, as we do at Christmas - while thinking of a him as a baby, King of Kings and Lord of Lords We sometimes resist too much the implications of naming him, as our reading from the Book of Revelation did this morning: The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the ruler of the Kings of the earth, the one who was, and who is, and who is to come....
In a discussion on the name for this Sunday, Christ the King, my friend and I had this conversation and our roles as ministers: I'm sorry, Kim, but the Christ "demanding respect, awe and obedience" sounds like a Christ of law, not of gospel. For me, obedience means to follow laws and rules whether I feel like it or not. It focuses on outward behaviour regardless of my relationship with God through Christ.
I replied: I am an OLM, not because I "obeyed" the call of God, but because, though I thought it was a crazy idea, I didn't want to disappoint the God who had been incredibly faithful to me. My experience says "obedience" is not the essence of Christian faith. "Relationship" is. I hope my experience is not opposed to the gospel. And I really want to agree with my friend - I know that obedience means doing things whether I feel like it or not; and I know that the unconditional love of God, not obedience, is at the heart of the Christian faith - - but then I keep on thinking that this unconditional love comes to us because of obedience, because there was one who was obedient - even to death upon a cross.
And I keep on remembering that we are called to be like him, to be like the one who came not to be served, but to serve, to be like the one who listened to his Father and kept his commandments and who told his disciples that if they loved him, they would listen to his voice and keep his commandments.
Our faith is indeed based in relationship - a relationship of love. But obedience really does seem to be a part of what we should be about. And while we can all agree that Jesus redefined what Kingship means, while we can agree that his kingship is not in fact from this world or like that of the kingships of this world there is still in fact some measure of power that we should ascribe to Jesus - a power over our lives. A power - not of coercion - but of respect, and love, - a respect and love that has as its fruit willing obedience to God in all areas of our lives. The law, as the New Covenant says, is written on our hearts.
Can we imagine Jesus as a king? And does our image of Jesus as king - extend to making him Lord over even our plumbing whether that plumbing be that within our kitchen or within our bodies? Do we even bother asking Jesus about the little things that happen each day, seeking his help, giving him thanks, asking what he would like us to do next? Do we even allow Jesus to be in the situations we find ourselves in, good or bad?
Do we ask ourselves before speaking to someone who has ticked us off or talking to someone about what is happening in the house next door, or between us and our boss; "What would Jesus say and do here?" "What would Jesus want us to say or do here?" That is the issue at the heart of the Jesus is King language that the church employs. That is at the heart of the Kingdom of God language that Jesus employed.
Sometimes being faithful is a difficult thing. Sometimes loving someone or being dedicated to them means doing things we do not want to do, a kind of tough love approach, but when we trust in God and believe that he will be faithful to us, when we try to do what is right then, as Jesus says over and over again in the gospels the Kingdom of God is not far from us - indeed it is at hand - it is over us - and in us.....
Blessed be the name of Jesus – Christ the King - he who is our friend, our brother, our shepherd, our Lord, and our King, now and evermore. Amen
1. What image or Metaphor do you have of Jesus? What image or Metaphor do you have of Christ the King?
2. Do you regard Jesus as King in your life?
3. We are called to be like Jesus. How difficult/easy do you find this? How can we help?
4. Do you find having a relationship with Jesus easy or difficult? How can we help you to keep going?
(This poem was found among the possessions of an old Irish lady who died in a geriatric hospital)
What do you see, nurses
What do you see?
What are you thinking
when you look at me?
A crabbit old woman,
not very wise.
Uncertain of habit,
with far away eyes?
Who dribbles her food
and makes no reply
when you say in a loud voice
I do wish you’d try!
Who seems not to notice
the things that you do.
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe?
Who, unresisting or not
lets you do as you will
with bathing and feeding
the long day to kill?
Is that what you’re thinking
Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes –
you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am
as I sit here so still.
As I move at your bidding
as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of 10
with a father and mother.
Brothers and sisters who love one another.
A young girl of sixteen
with wings on her feet.
Dreaming that soon now
a lover she’ll meet.
A bride soon at twenty
my heart gives a leap.
Remembering the vows
that I promised to keep.
At 25 now I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty,
my young now grow fast.
Bound to each other
with ties that should last.
At forty my young will now soon be gone,
But my man stays beside me to see I don’t mourn.
At fifty, once more babies play round my knee.
Again we know children
my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me –
my husband is dead
I look at the future
I shudder with dread.
For my young are all busy
rearing young of their own.
And I think of the years and the love I have known.
I’m an old woman now
and nature is cruel.
Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles ;
grace and vigour depart.
And now there’s a stone
where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass
a young girl still dwells.
And now and again
my battered heart swells ;
I remember the joys
I remember the pain
And I’m loving and living life over again.
I think of the years
all too few –
gone so fast
and accept the stark fact
that nothing can last.
So open your eyes nurses –
open and see.
Not a crabbit old woman –
I was reminded of this poem when I read today’s gospel reading.
We have an image of Jesus sitting on the Mount of Olives,
opposite the temple in Jerusalem.
It was a huge building,
dominating the landscape of Jerusalem –
a central focus of the Jewish faith.
I wonder what we would have commented on
had we been sat in that same place?
Perhaps the splendour of the building?
How good it was to see a symbol of faith?
Or how privileged we were to be there?
How many of us would have commented
on the apparent weakness of buildings –
their sign of temporary splendour –
how weak buildings are compared with God’s glory.
Jesus sees beyond what the human eye sees.
He sees beyond what is in front of him –
to a time when buildings will be destroyed ;
when there will be wars ;
Many have looked at this passage
and used it to predict signs of the end of time.
But perhaps a more important message
is to see what Jesus sees.
To see beyond the human eye –
beyond what is immediately in front of us,
and to see God.
To see behind the face of the crabbit old woman
and to see God ;
to see behind the words of those saying ‘I am he’
and to look for the face of God.
Sometimes we may not even have a face, or words
to look behind.
Sometimes, like this picture, we may have a few objects.
an empty room.
Is that all we see?
Can we see beyond the image –
is there a sense of loss?
What we see beyond the image will probably
be different for each of us.
God speaks to us in different ways,
and where we sense God’s presence will vary.
But the message from the gospel reading
is that our eyes only give us a one dimensional view –
we need an inner sight too,
a sight that reveals God
in unexpected places.
Perhaps our challenge as we approach advent
is to see the unseen –
see God in our own lives,
and in the lives and faces of those around us.
Questions for discussion
1 The picture is called Hidden Place. Are there hidden places in your own lives? Or can you see hidden places in the lives of others?
2 The poem ‘Crabbit old woman’ touches many people. Why is this?
3 How can we see God’s face in our own lives and in the lives of others?
Nurses reply to the Crabbit old woman
What do we see, you ask, what do we see?
Yes, we are thinking when looking at thee.
We may seem to be hard when we hurry and fuss.
But there’s many of you, and too few of us.
We would like far more time to sit by you and talk,
to bath you and feed you and help you to walk.
To hear of your lives and the things you have done ;
Your childhood, your husband, your daughter, your son.
But time is against us, there’s too much to do …
Patients too many, and nurses too few.
We grieve when we see you so sad and alone.
With nobody near you, no friends of your own.
We feel all your pain, and know of your fear
That nobody cares now your end is so near.
But nurses are people with feelings as well,
and when we’re together you’ll often hear tell
of the dearest old Gran in the very end bed,
and the lovely old Dad, and the things that he said.
We speak with compassion and love and feel sad
when we think of your lives and the joy that you’ve had.
When the time has arrived for you to depart,
you leave us behind with an ache in our heart.
When you sleep the long sleep, no more worry or care,
There are other old people, and we must be there.
So please understand if we hurry and fuss …
There are many of you, and too few of us.
Saturday, 7 November 2009
Remembrance Sunday, and also Tuesday 11 November, are times for reflection, remembering and for prayer.
We live in confusing and dispiriting times, when there seem to be threats all around. The majority seem convinced that our climate is changing, but there is no agreed view about this, or whether human activities are the cause; if they are, it is doubted that any practical steps will be taken to address the situation. The economy seems to persist in depression, whether of the V, W, bathtub or dead cat bounce variety, and jobs, pensions and savings will never seem safe again. So many folk are afflicted with suffering, - physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. And there is the constant fear and threat of terrorism and war. So many of us know of someone serving in Afghanistan; if we hear of the news of a death or injury, we are fearful if we recognise the unit, and perhaps feel guilty if we are relieved to hear it is not someone personally known to us. We live in confusing and dispiriting times.
Our readings this morning call us to raise our eyes, our hearts, our minds, and look to Christ.
The short extract from Hebrews picks up from our studies earlier this year when we looked at the Tabernacle, the Tent carried by the people of Israel in the wilderness, where sacrifices could be made and God would appear. The temple was later constructed on the same pattern or blueprint in Jerusalem. Countless sacrifices were offered , culminating each year on the Day of Atonement when the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place alone, to offer before God sacrifice on behalf of the whole nation. The point is that sacrifice is required, blood must be shed, but that the ancient system then being kept going in the temple was obviously not good enough – always more sacrifices had to be offered. It was a perpetual reminder of the imperfection of this world, that all is not well.
And so Jesus came. He was the great High Priest, but he did the unthinkable – he offered himself. The passage stresses repeatedly he did this once, once for all. The language and thought forms of Old Testament sacrifice pointed to a greater truth, now fulfilled by Jesus. All the visual language of the tabernacle and temple give us a language to speak of heaven, where Jesus has now gone, having sacrificed himself for us. In one mighty act he has changed everything. Once we might have imagined this world going on and on; there would always be wars and warlords, always injustice and impoverishment, always disease, famine, earthquake, fire and flood. Once we might have been tempted to despair and give up all hope.
But now Jesus has appeared. The signal for him to act reminds us of the very harsh realities of this world that we have been speaking about. His cousin John has been arrested and thrown into prison, so now it is the turn of Jesus to step, as it were, into the firing line.
What a blessed relief. Have you ever been in a situation where you felt alone, in difficulty, perhaps in danger, and someone, just the right person, has appeared to solve the situation and come to your relief? It might be as seemingly trivial as you are locked out in the pouring rain, and someone else with a key arrives. It might be a life saving situation where you have been on the floor, and someone has at last heard your cries or come round and discovered you and raised the alarm.
Jesus arrives and announces that the time has come. Not only Israel, but the whole world, the whole cosmos is in a terrible mess. Every human seems to be determined to live a life independent of God, and even the religious have fashioned ways of worshipping and living that primarily benefit themselves. Squabbling and fighting are the norm, whether in the school playground, over the garden fence, or between nations.
But now God’s kingly rule is breaking in. We should get on the bus, join up, throw in our lot, be whole heartedly committed.
To repent is not to feel guilty, it is to have a complete, deep rooted change of heart and mind. We aspire to live differently and better because we are under new control and direction.
To believe the good news – the Gospel – is not to be able to recite the creed, but to depend utterly upon God, his fatherly goodness, the sacrifice of his son, the welling up of his Spirit within us. I believe and trust in him.
Those earliest disciples were called to leave family and profession and set out to follow Jesus wherever he led them. Each of us is called to a similar abandonment – we might go on living in the same home, following the same job or pastimes, but we do so now under the direction, the kingship of our God. Soldiers, especially on active service, are called to be obedient and so are we. Our lives right now are not the rehearsal, but the real thing. Our call to follow Christ is not an optional extra, to be fitted in where possible amongst other hobbies and pastimes – rather it is the foundation position from which we can be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled, disciples and followers of God and servants of others.
In that first appearing, that once-for-all act that encompassed Jesus’ birth, baptism, teaching, miracles, death, resurrection, ascension, glorification and sending of his Spirit, this world has been changed. The church is here now as the sign and evidence that there is a God of love, might and justice. We are called, like the boy on the beach with the starfish, to incarnate God in this world, today.
As we look towards the season of Advent, so we remember that there will be a second appearing, and that God will complete his work. All that causes death, disease, suffering, warfare, distress of any kind will be dealt with and it will be judged. Where today we look back with gratitude on those who have given their lives for others, and pray for those on active service, and hope that war and fighting can be avoided in the future, we know that there is a time coming when there will be no more wars, no more suffering. Our call is to follow, to be obedient, and to do all that we can to bring in his kingdom here on earth, as it is in heaven.
Questions for discussion
What for you is the ‘Good News’?
We are ‘destined to die once, and then face judgment’ …. How do you respond to the fact there is no reincarnation, but rather we will be judged? (2 Corinthians 5:10, Romans 8:1-2 and 31-39 might help!)
How might the world look different if we saw more of God’s kingly rule? What are you encouraged to imagine and pray for?
Wednesday, 4 November 2009
He raised Lazarus to life again, although we know that he would die again, and this was a foretaste of the greater victory when God would raise Jesus himself from death. As Jesus has been raised from death, so he promises to give eternal life to all his saints.
But who are the saints? Stained glass images come to mind of Michael, Peter, King David, James or John. Perhaps we call to mind images from the book of Revelation of countless souls carrying palm branches and standing round the throne, while prayers go up before God like incense. (There is a problem with this that we shall come back to.) Perhaps we think of modern’ saints like Albert Schweitzer, Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, or Tim and Linda Ng?
The bible, however, makes it plain that all who believe in Jesus are his set-apart ones, his saints. The feast of All Saints is when we remember that we are all part of this heavenly family, those of us here on earth (the church militant) and those who have gone to be with God (the church at rest).
To be a saint is not, and never has been easy. You might be laughed at by your friends. If you choose to wear a cross, or offer to pray with your clients, you might risk losing your job. You might be taken advantage of if you choose to split and the other chooses to steal.
And yet we still have it incredibly easy here in the UK, in Camberley.
On 20 July 2008 a mob in the town of Andulo, Angola killed one school age girl and left another with head wounds requiring 20 stitches.
At least 50 Christians were murdered in Orissa by Hindu extremists in August 2008: the Barnabas Fund distributed aid to the displaced.
Hundreds of Christians were killed and an estimated 7,000-10,000 fled their homes after rioting, started by Muslims on 28 November, engulfed the city of Jos, Nigeria.
Martha Samuel, an Egyptian convert from Islam to Christianity, was detained, stripped and beaten at Cairo airport on 17 December as she tried to emigrate with her family. Her two children witnessed her assault and were deprived of food to pressure their mother to return to Islam. The judge, who tried her case, imprisoning her for a month, told her that if he had a knife he would kill her for leaving Islam.
The Rev. Noble Samuel, a Christian minister at a United Reformed Church in London, UK, was attacked by three men in March on his way to the TV studio where he films a Gospel programme. Police characterised this as a ‘faith-hate crime’.
Christians, our fellow saints, are persecuted in many places throughout the world, and are called upon to live with the firmness and perseverance that Peter writes of in his letter to persecuted Christians in the first century.
What can we do? First, we can live well. Our fellow Christians overseas and those of other faiths in this country are amazed at the laxness and half-heartedness that they see amongst so-called Christians here in the west. Far from facing persecution for our faith, Christianity is seen here by many as one among many competing lifestyle options, to be fitted in at our convenience. Our ethos here at St Michael’s is deliberately to be low key and not hound people – you have to be motivated by the love of Jesus and by his Spirit deep within. Nevertheless, we shall all be judged and will give an account of ourselves.
Second, we can pray and take action. There are hopeful signs. A debate has been started within Islam as liberal and moderate scholars are arguing for an end to the death penalty for apostasy. On 4 June 2009 in a speech in Cairo President Obama argued for this and called for human rights for all. We can sign the petition to our government to work for the end of the apostasy laws.
So we can pray for those in authority and for the weak, the innocent, the downtrodden, and especially for our brothers and sisters throughout the world.
In Revelation 7 and 8 it speaks of the martyrs around the throne of god, who have come through the great tribulation. And it speaks of the prayers of the saints offered up like incense before God – but the saints doing the praying are us here on earth. And our prayers have an impact, as an angel pours them back out here on earth, there are rumblings and lightning flashes – pictorial language for God at work changing situations.