Sermon: Christ the King 22nd November 2015

SERMON – CHRIST THE KING – ST ALBAN’S – 22.11.15

Rev. Catherine Eaton

Readings:        2 Sam 23. 1-7, Ps 132.1-12, Rev 1.4b-8, John 18.33-37

In the name of Christ, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the one who is and who was and who is to come. Amen.

Isn’t this a fabulous day! Over the years I‘ve grown to love this celebration of Christ the King, which brings the Christian year to a fitting conclusion.

We’ve made an exhausting journey with Jesus over the last year – we’ve met the angel at the Annunciation, the baby is born at Christmas, some wise men come to tell us who he is at Epiphany, and then, after a few stops on the way, we’re suddenly on the road to Golgotha on Good Friday. After a brief pause, we then find ourselves rejoicing at the empty tomb at Easter. Jesus disappears in the clouds at Ascension, there’s a fire and the church is born at Pentecost. We learn that God is 3 in 1 at Trinity. We briefly wonder how that works, before we’re back trying to catch up on what happened to Jesus between his life and his death, and what that means for us his followers.

And so we come to this day to discover where it’s all been heading.

But this day is also a relief, because if you’re like me, you find you’re only just getting a handle on one event before we’re on to the next. The beauty of the Christian calendar is that every year we go round the same familiar stories, but each time finding ourselves in new places, as the experiences of the past, and the new awakenings, take us on an ever-deepening spiral into our faith, and into our relationship with Jesus. The very rhythm of the year somehow embodies itself in us, the story sinks more deeply into us, and our faith seems to grow, simply through our participation in this yearly drama.

And so we come to this day, having discovered Jesus as the essence of God’s incarnation in the world, who has become the risen, ascended, and glorified one, the Christ, who is all in all, and through whom all things came into being, the Alpha before the Big Bang, and the Omega, in whom all of creation is fulfilled, into whom we’re already being drawn, and in whose life our life is already held. Christ – the one who was and who is and who is to come, the one who is before time and beyond time, and in whom time itself exists.

Unfortunately, our current religious language has left this Christ very small. Perhaps ‘Christ the King’ worked when people lived with a more medieval worldview, or even a different experience of human society and the exercise of power, but we’ve come a long way, especially in this last century, and our language is both limiting and confusing.

Today is also a difficult day as, with events in Syria, Paris, Beirut, the degradation of the environment, and so on, it’s hard to believe that Christ is king of anything. Yet our faith, and this day in particular, continues to affirm that Christ is in charge. How do we make sense of this?

Which brings me to the other reason why I find this day important: at last the scientists seem to be catching up with the mystics! As discoveries in science and cosmology expand, there seems to be a growing convergence between theology and science. For centuries, the New Testament writers, Christian mystics, and early theologians have been trying to find expression for their experience of, and insights into, this Christ.

And now, with so many new frontiers opening up in the world of science, modern theologians are all too aware that our language and our doctrines are unable to cope with our new understandings of the cosmos, and of the nature of creation itself.

In the early 20th century, a Catholic priest – Teilhard de Chardin – had already begun to identify the end point of evolution as the Omega point. Today, bizarrely, there are scientists who refer to the Omega point or the Christic point, not necessarily because they’re religious, but because it is, for them, the best way to describe where they sense evolution is heading.

The year we’ve spent journeying through the scriptures, and following the story of Jesus, is not just about giving us a focus for each Sunday. We’ve been led to this day, and been reminded on the way that Christ was there at creation, already a fully participating member of the Godhead. Christ didn’t just become Christ after the resurrection.

But the incarnation – the Jesus story in all its beauty, its pain and its promise – is also about Jesus showing us that the transformation of creation is already happening, and we are participants in it. He is the first born in this process. He has come to lead us into God from within. But that process also meant he suffered with us and for us, as the Christ in creation has always been doing. It is profound mystery, and to simply use language like ‘king’, and ‘ruler’, and so on, reduces everything, not least the Jesus story, and Christ himself, into a farce too easily dismissed by a more literate world.

The church needs to respond fully to science, because that is already God’s domain. And strangely, it’s as if we’ve been ahead of the game all along, thanks to the insights of so many early Christian writers.

Listen again to the opening words of St John’s gospel –

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being.

I always get goose-bumps when I hear these words, because, it’s as if it’s the truest thing ever said. It connects me, and all of us, to our ultimate meaning and our ultimate beginnings. We hear these words at Christmas. Today, at the end of the church year, we hear that Christ is not just the Alpha. He is also Omega, the one who is yet to come, but who is already here.

The incarnation was a moment in time, a specific event, but its effects link the beginnings of creation with its fulfilment. Its effects reach back towards the Alpha point and forwards to the Omega point, for Christ is both. And, as the church year reminds us, Christ is also the incarnate one, Jesus, the man, the wounded one, the brother and friend, the healer, the crucified and Risen one.

The words of Revelation also remind us that we are ‘a kingdom of priests serving God’. What does that mean for us?

If God is already present within creation, what is our role, if not to be as priests, not just to other human beings, but to the whole created order, which shares its energy with us, whose molecules are part of our same substance. Already we are being drawn into the fullness of Christ, the Omega. Our lives are already sacraments of that divine reality. If we are all members of that kingdom of priests serving God, then surely our task is to enter as fully into creation as Jesus did, with the same love, the same offering of ourselves, to enable all of creation to be free, and drawn into that oneness which this day calls us to celebrate. The ‘already is’ of creation’s ultimate union with God.

But this requires a completely different way of imagining the doctrines of our theology, fit for the 21st century and beyond. Christ is indeed ruler of all, but he’s not sitting on a throne somewhere up there. He is beyond and before, and already we are in him, because there is no time other than what is between the Alpha point and the Omega point. Our lives are to be sacraments of that reality, and our task is to foster the sacramentality of all creation.

Next week we have the chance to begin again with this story of Jesus the Christ, to bring our lives to it afresh, and to enter into it with all the wonder and openness we can muster. But this year, let us also bring with us creation’s whole story, because as St Paul reminds us in the letter to the Romans – creation itself ‘waits with eager longing……. [to] be set free from its bondage to decay and [to] obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (8.19-22)

The category of kingship is inadequate for this Christ. He is not simply a bigger, better version of the kings of the earth. Christ is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, the one in whom all things hold together, the Word eternal, through whom all things came into being. We are already part of his story, already in him, and next week we come to discover again, how he himself came to be born in us, within this frail and wonderful human flesh, which is yet so vitally alive with the smallest atoms, vibrating with the energy of God.

 

Sermon: 25th Sunday after Pentecost 15 th November 2015

Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost – Series B

St Alban’s, Epping

15th November, 2015

Rev. Ross Weaver

1 Samuel 1:4-20; Song of Hannah; Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25; Mark 13:1-11

I have been sorting through my books lately. I have so many of them. So now and again, I try to decide which I should keep and which should be discarded. Originally, my decision was based on the idea of keeping books I use regularly, and getting rid of books I will probably never use again. But I have begun to realise that I have another group. It is those books that I haven’t read for some time yet books that I plan to read again at some future date. These are usually novels or murder mysteries. They’re not necessarily good literature. But they’re books that I enjoy reading. And the pleasure of reading them is not reduced by knowing how they end. In fact, knowing how they end actually provides some reassurance, some comfort to me. They reassure me that the book will end the way it should. They comfort me because a book is like an old friend. And you can feel safe particularly when you know how the story will end.

On the other hand, it is very stressful when we are in situations when we don’t know how the story will end. When you are waiting for the results of tests from the doctor when things have not been going well and we wonder what will the tests reveal. Will it be good news or bad? And if it is bad, what will that mean? Where is this story going? How will it end?

This was the dilemma for the disciples in Mark 13. They had been caught up with the story of Jesus. They had seen him challenge the ruling authorities of Jerusalem. They had heard his claim to be Israel’s messiah. They had come to believe that he was the Christ. But the question remained when was Jesus’ kingdom coming? When would it begin? When would he become king in Israel? How will the story end? And what place would they have in this story? They could tell that things were moving to a crisis, the climax to the story. But when would that be? This was a confusing time for the disciples. What was important? What was unimportant? What could they trust in?

The chapter begins with the disciples thinking about the stones in the building of the Temple. This Temple was built from a beautiful white marble. The Temple was so large it covered one sixth of the area of the city. Much of the Temple was covered in gold. So on a sunny day the Temple shone white and golden – an amazing sight. The marble had been cut into large blocks to build the walls of the Temple. But Herod had done something different. He didn’t use the standard sized building blocks. He had the marble cut into amazingly long slabs and those slabs were used to build the walls. Some slabs were larger than a double deck bus.It was a very difficult way to build. And imagine the difficulty for the builders as they had to man-handle each of those large marble slabs into position – an amazing engineering achievement. No doubt you have seen pictures of people at the wailing wallplacing prayer requests on pieces of paperbetween these stones. But those are the foundation stones. On the walls themselves the joints are so tight there isn’t room for the thickness of a piece of paper.

If you go to Jerusalem today, it is possible to see some of those large stones. They haven’t moved in 2000 years, though the Temple itself was destroyed in AD 70. But this building was so impressive, the disciples could not imagine it ever being torn down. But Jesus underlines his warning to them by pointing out that the day was coming when even this great building would be gone. Not one stone upon another. The disciples couldn’t imagine the magnitude of the conflict that would produce so great a disaster.

They had been hoping for the coming of God’s kingdom. They had been hoping for the end of Roman rule, with Jesus as king of the city. What they wanted to know was, how would the story end? But Jesus answer was not good news. As he looked at the future all he could see was more wars and natural disasters and persecutions. In other words, Jesus is saying this is what the world will be like. Don’t hope for a golden age. It won’t be like that. Rather the world will be like what we see on the evening news each night. And Jesus says two things about that. First, don’t be worried. Now there are certainly things here to worry about. Jesus describes some dreadful events. But he is saying “Don’t be worried,” in the sense that things have not gone wrong. This is not a world out of God’s control. Rather, the point is, this is the way the world will be. And Jesus second point is that we need to be prepared for these events. Don’t be taken by surprise, don’t be off your guard. This is what the future holds.

Then the disciple asked a significant question. They wanted to know when these things will happen? They probably wanted to know two things. First, when will these disasters strike. And second, when will God’s kingdom arrive. But the question “When will these things happen?” is never answered by Jesus. Rather than considering when they will happen, Jesus is more concerned about what they should do during these events – how they should behave. The events Jesus describes are truly terrible. First there will be wars and rumours of wars. There will be earthquakes and famines. Brother will betray brother, children will rebel against their parents. People will hate those who profess any faith. It is not a pretty picture. Rather it is a picture of the breakdown of society.

The world will not always be a place that gets better and better. And Jesus is not concerned about when these things will happen. Sometimes people treat this chapter of Mark like it’s the prophecies of Nostradamus, that if only we can find the right key we can foretell the future. But that is not Jesus’ concern. He is concerned with the question of what we should do – how we should respond to this situation. His first command is “Be on your guard.” That is, be prepared for these hard times. It reminds me of the warnings we get from Paul in Ephesians 6. There we read,

“Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these,take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and request. To that end keep alert and always persevere in praying for all the saints.”

In other words, God will nurture us spiritually with the weapons of righteousness, and faith and the spirit and the word of God and the good news of the gospel. He has prepared us for when the battles come. But there is more. He talks about being arrested and being brought to trial. These are worrying pictures but Jesus’ point is that the spirit of God will sustain us through all things.

The picture of the future that Jesus paints is very bleak. It will be like that for some but for others it won’t be so bad. But Jesus is encouraging us to keep going to the end and he will sustain us through bad times. As we remain faithful to him, he will keep faith with us. And of course, we have the great hope that we will all share in the Kingdom of God even if we face a rough road to get there. Jesus was about to face the cross and he called on all his followers to take up their cross and follow him. So what about our future?What will tomorrow bring?It may be good? But it could be disastrous. Are we ready for that? Are we prepared spiritually? How is our prayer life? How strong is our faith? Jesus offers no guarantees that it will be easy. Rather, he promises he will be there at the end.

Sermon: 24th Sunday after Pentecost 8th November 2015

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping  8am and 10am

Readings:  Ruth 3:1-5 &4:13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:23-28; Mark 12:38-44

The Reverend  Paul Weaver              “RUTH: MORE THAN A ROMANCE”

 

I have to confess that I have never read a Mills and Boon romance. And I must admit that it is not on my bucket list of things to do one day. But it seems to me that if there is a book in the Bible that reads like a Mills and Boon romance, it must be the Book of Ruth, part of which was our Old Testament reading this morning.

There is the heroine, a young widow. She has a heart of gold, but she is from the wrong side of the tracks. And there’s the hero: an older man, and a man of wealth. But where will he find true love? When he sees Ruth and learns a bit about her, he knows that she’s the one for him. But there are many difficulties in the way, many barriers. How can they ever come together? With the guidance of Ruth’s good mother-in-law and the faithfulness and hard work of Ruth, the barriers are overcome one by one. In due course they are married, have a son, and live happily ever after. It’s a lovely story, well worth reading in full when you have 15 minutes to spare.

Of course there is more to the book than romance and happy endings. The book reminds us that God is at work behind the scenes, guiding and supporting his people, even when things seem to be going dreadfully wrong. And it tells us something of what it means to be part of God’s family.

The story of Ruth is set in the time of the judges, 11 or 12 centuries before Jesus. The people of Israel were settled in various towns and villages, but there was no strong central leadership, and devotion to the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt to the promised land was very mixed. God was treated like a celestial plumber: usually we have no interest in the plumber, but when there’s an emergency we want his help quick smart! It’s not so different from the way so many people relate to God.

The people had discovered that the land of Israel didn’t yield its blessings easily. Compared with slavery in Egypt, it was a land of milk and honey. But the climate was dry, except in the wet season: and sometimes the wet season didn’t arrive at all. So from time to time drought was a reality for the people of Israel. It’s all very familiar to those who live on the land in Australia, isn’t it?

Ruth begins in such a time. The famine in Bethlehem is so bad that at least one family gives up, and moves to a place on the Eastern side of the Jordan River where things seem to be better. So Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons go to live in the land of Moab.

The people of Moab are related to the Israelites, but for a long time there has been tension and violence between the two nations. Furthermore, Moab has abandoned its connection with the Lord, the God of their forefather Abraham, and has become a pagan nation. The Lord is not faithfully worshipped in the land where Elimelech, Naomi and their sons have chosen to live. The family settles there, but Elimelech dies. Both the sons find Moabite wives, and the family continues.

But then more disaster comes. Both Naomi’s sons die childless. Naomi is bereft in a foreign land. No doubt two questions are raging through her mind. “What have I done to deserve this?” Not ultimately a useful question, but a very natural question as we try to make sense of life. And then the more important question: “What do I do now?”

The two daughters-in-law are responsible to Naomi, but she has nothing to offer them. Then she hears that things are better now back in Jerusalem. Perhaps she also feels guilty for leaving the land God had provided for his people. In any case, Naomi decides that it is time to return to her own people in Bethlehem.

But her Moabite daughters-in-law belong here amongst their own people. Naomi sets them free from any responsibilities to her, so that they can find a new future in their own land and within their own community.

However both Orpah and Ruth say that they will come with her: Naomi must have been a good mother-in-law for them to be willing to leave their home and follow her. She does persuade Orpah to stay in Moab, and you can’t criticize Orpah for doing that! But Ruth will not have her mind changed: Ruth will go with Naomi. And her words of devotion may be familiar to many of us: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die – there I will be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you.”

So Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem. And Ruth the Moabitess joins not only the people of Bethlehem, not only the people of Israel, but also the people of God. Ruth is not only devoted to her mother-in-law: she has also turned away from her local gods to trust and serve the Lord, the God of Israel, the true and living God of all the earth.

But can a Moabite woman do that? How can a pagan foreigner be welcomed into the people of God? Israel was to be a holy people: separate, distinct, not just open to all and sundry.

It’s worthwhile noticing that in the Old Testament, side by side with the message that Israel is holy, Israel is not like other nations, there is also the message that God’s purposes reach far beyond Israel. Right back with Abraham, the great patriarch was told that through him all nations were to be blessed. The prophets said that Israel was to be a light to the nations. And even the law of Moses said that the outsider, especially the outsider who sought the Lord, was to be treated aright.

Of course, through Jesus we see where all this is heading. Jesus came and served and died and rose to open up God’s kingdom, not just to one nation, but to people of all nations and races and backgrounds. And so the church, which began as a company of Jewish followers of Jesus, broke boundaries, and the gospel went out to people of all nations.

And the book of Ruth has its own part in this story. For this foreign woman, who marries Boaz the Israelite landholder in whose fields she has worked, gives birth to a son. This son is Obed, the grandfather of King David, as the closing words of the book point out.

And Ruth’s place is also highlighted in the opening words of Matthew’s Gospel, where we find what looks like a boring genealogy leading up to Jesus. As with other genealogies in the Bible is it a list of men – except for four women who get a mention. And who are these women? Tamar, caught up in a rather sordid story in Genesis; Rahab the prostitute of Jericho; Bathsheba the wife of David, caught up in David’s adultery; and Ruth the Moabite woman.

The odd thing about these women is not simply that they get a mention, but that there is a question mark about them all. None of them is a good respectable Israelite woman. There are sexual irregularities; there is foreign blood. Matthew seems to take delight in pointing this out, as he prepares to tell the story of Mary, who gives birth to the Saviour of the world in circumstances which are seen as very questionable indeed!

There has always been the temptation to think that God is basically interested in good decent people like us: our kind of people. But the story of Ruth and that genealogy in Matthew make very clear that the arms of God reach out far beyond our little agendas, our limited priorities. God has a habit of blessing and welcoming and including the outsider.

And the church is founded on the basis that Jesus came for all kinds of people. A consistent pattern in the Gospels is how Jesus reached out to the untouchables, the people on the edge. And God welcomes into his family people of all races, all classes, all religious backgrounds. He is ready to welcome us all no matter what our strengths and weaknesses might be, no matter what our sins and failings might be. He welcomes those whose character is admirable, as we might well say of Ruth; but he also welcomes those whose background is questionable, as we might also say of Ruth.

God welcomes us all as we come in our need: he does not so much look for our achievements, as our openness to his blessing. And so it is not surprising that God calls us to be a welcoming church: welcoming and open not only to people who are like us, but especially ready to embrace those who are different – those with different backgrounds and cultures and stories.

It is wonderful to see our Archbishop and our Synod calling on churches to be actively involved in welcoming and assisting refugees and asylum seekers who come to our shores – reflecting the purposes of the God who welcomes all kinds of people. Indeed plans are underway in the diocese to encourage and help churches to extend that welcome and to offer that assistance to people fleeing dreadful circumstances. It will be challenging to play an active part in this great welcome, but I suspect it will also be greatly rewarding, if we respond to that call. And it will catch us up in a new way in the purposes and the love of the God who welcomes the outsider. Amen.