Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Covenant Service, a somewhat "tweaked" version

On Sunday, I’ll be leading a Covenant Service, a service in which a congregation renews its commitment to the life of Christian faith and service, in a nearby congregation. This is based on a service developed in the 18th century by John Wesley.
 
Traditionally the Covenant Service was observed annually, either on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, or (as in this case) during a congregation’s first service of Holy Communion for the year.
 
While this is based on the Covenant Service found in Uniting in Worship 2, the Uniting Church’s main liturgical resource book, I’ve tweaked the service a bit. Here’s the covenant renewal part of the service as I’ve tweaked it, with the changes being underlined and in italics, and with number (in parentheses) leading to footnotes explaining the changes.
 
 
***
 
  
In the Old Covenant, God chose Israel as his people and gave them the gift of the Law. For the Jewish people today, this Old Covenant still abides, and will abide for all time.
 
In the New Covenant, God made the gift of his Son Jesus Christ to the rest of humanity. (1) We stand within the New Covenant and we bear the name of Christ. God promises us new life in him. We receive this promise and pledge to live not for ourselves but for God. This covenant is renewed each time we meet at the table of the Lord. Today we meet, as generations before us have met, to renew that which bound them and now binds us to God. 
 
The minister continues:
 
Beloved in Christ, let us again claim this covenant for ourselves, and take the yoke of Christ upon us. To take this yoke upon us means that we are content that he appoint us our place and work, and that he himself be our reward.  
 
Christ has many services to be done:  
  • some are easy, others are difficult;  
  • some bring honour, others bring reproach;  
  • some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests; others are contrary to both. 
  • In some we may please Christ and please ourselves; in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. 
Yet the power to do all these things is given us in Christ, who strengthens us.
 
Therefore let us make this covenant with God our own, trusting in the eternal promises and relying on divine grace. (And I invite those who can stand safely and comfortably to do so now.) (2)
 
 
The people renewing their covenant stand, if they can do so.
 
 
Let us pray: 
 
Lord God, in baptism, you brought us into union with Christ who fulfils your gracious covenant; and in bread and wine we receive the fruit of his obedience. So with joy we take upon ourselves the yoke of obedience, and commit ourselves to seek and do your perfect will. As we do so, before we recommit ourselves to your service, we pray in silence for the world which you love. (3)
 
 
 
Silence is kept for a time. The minister says:
 
I am no longer my own, but yours.
 
 
 
The minister and people say together:
 
 
 
I am no longer my own, but yours.
 
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
 
enable me to make things happen, enable me to let things happen; (4)
 
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you;
 
exalted for you or brought low for you;
 
let me be full, let me be empty;
 
let me have all things, let me have nothing;
 
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. 
 
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours, to the glory and praise of your name. Amen.
 
 
(The service continues with the celebration of Holy Communion.)
 
 
 
***
 
 
 
Notes
 
 
 
(1) This affirms that the relationship between God and the Jewish people is still an ongoing relationship, and that Christianity has not, in any way, superceded Judaism.
 
 
 
(2) This simply recognises the presence of people of different physical abilities, including those for whom standing in one place for a few minutes is painful (if not dangerous).
 
 
 
(3) This is a simple addition of a brief time of intercession in this part of the service. Normally, prayers of intercession serve as a bridge between the Service of the Word and the Service of Holy Communion, and I’ve included the intercessions here.
 
 
 
(4) Here, I’ve “tweaked” the language of Wesley’s Covenant Prayer, without changing the meaning. At one point, the congregation traditionally said, “Put me to doing, put me to suffering”. The word “suffering” there does not involve our usual meaning of the word “suffering”. We’re not saying that God causes human suffering. To say that, or even to think that, would be to make a monster out of God.
 
Instead, the word has the same meaning as when the translators of the old King James version of the Bible had Jesus say “Suffer the little children to come to me”, in other words “Allow the children to come to me”, or “Let the kids come and don’t stop them”.
 
To allow things to happen is an important ministry given to all people of faith. Sometimes we see some possibility in the church’s ministry and mission which (deep, down inside) we know is a good, healthy, wholesome, development for the people of God, but, still, we don’t particularly like it. 
 
In these cases, we have two options:
 
 
· We can either allow it to happen graciously, (or)
 
 
· We can stamp our foot and say “Over my dead body!”
 
 
And this “Over my dead body” mentality has been destructive to the life of many congregations and many denominations over the years.
  
When we say, in the Covenant Prayer, words to the effect of “Put me to doing, put me to suffering”, we are expressing our rejection of the whole, destructive, “Over my dead body” mentality. 
 
In more modern language and (I hope) in less potentially misunderstood language, I’ve expressed this same idea in the phrase “Enable me to make things happen; enable me to let things happen.” I hope Mr. Wesley approves.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Reflections on a pair of antlers.

This time last year, I noticed a car with those artificial reindeer antlers, complete with a red nose a lá Rudolph.

(Note:  The image here is taken from the 'net, and not from the actual car I saw.)
 
My initial reaction was to enjoy the festivity of the car's owner, and the fact that here was someone who, I thought, went the extra mile in celebrating Christmas. 
 
My sense of festivity and enjoyment vanished when I saw the bumper sticker on the rear of the car, a sticker used by some people on the far right here in Australia to indicate their hostility to refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants.  The bumper sticker read:   "Eff off, we're full."  (... No, that wasn't the exact quote on the sticker.  ...  Yes, I know the actual word, and I've been known to use it myself when sufficiently annoyed.  ...  Nevertheless, I am trying to maintain some level of high standards in my blog.)
 
My reaction was to think, "Mate, you don't really 'get' Christmas.  However much you'll max out your credit cards in December, and however drunk you plan to get on the 25th, you're not really celebrating Christmas.  With that bumper sticker, dude, you're not even celebrating Xmas."
 
There is a real clash in values between the celebration of Christmas and the message of "Eff off, we're full."
 
Whether your Christmas is about Jesus or about Santa Claus, or about some Dickensian middle way, Christmas is about joyful generosity.
 
Whether your Christmas is about events in Bethlehem or at the North Pole (or both), Christmas is about extravagant compassion.
 
Whether your three-word slogan this time of year is "Peace on Earth" or "Ho! Ho! Ho!" (or both), Christmas is about universal hospitality.
 
There's just no room in the Christmas inn for the notion of "Eff off, we're full."
 
Anyway, to all who read this post, have a blessed Christ-Mass, a merry Christmas, and (just to annoy the folks at Fox "News") some Happy Holidays.




And, if you'd like some of my reflections on Advent and Christmas sitting on your bookshelf as well as on your computer, you may want to buy my book  Christmas Lost and Christmas Regained from Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Lost-Regained-Robert-Faser/dp/1518633420/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1478247054&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=christmas+lost+and+christmas+regained

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

“Keeping the ‘flesh’ in Christmas”: a sermon (John 1:1–14)

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Let’s keep the ‘flesh’ in Christmas.

Every now and then, I receive a Christmas card where, printed on the envelope, I find the saying:  “Keep Christ in Christmas”.  The cards were sold by a Christian charitable organisation, the St. Vincent DePaul Society (the Vinnies), who put this slogan on their cards as part of their on-going ministry.

I like the Vinnies.  I have great respect for their work.  But I feel the Vinnies are perhaps just a little bit too pessimistic here.  The phrase “Keep Christ in Christmas” implies that Christ is somehow at risk of becoming completely excluded from our Christmas celebrations.  And I honestly believe that the Christian basis of our Christmas celebrations is far too robust and resilient – even among those in our community who are not regular worshippers – for there ever to be any real danger of a completely Christless Christmas, despite all the scare talk about a so-called “War on Christmas” from idiotically extremist elements within the tabloid media.

Actually, I have a t-shirt that begins with the Vinnies’ phrase, “Keep in Christ in Christmas” and then lists a few ways in which we can do just that:   “Feed the hungry.… Shelter the homeless.… Welcome immigrants.… Forgive others.… Embrace outsiders.…  Share with those in need.… Advocate for the marginalized.… Confront those abusing power.… Value others’ religions.…”  (And, of you want to see the t-shirt, I’ll be modeling it when I take my alb off after church.)

And, if we did these things, not only at Christmas but all year, we’d be well on the way toward living the life of Jesus, and certainly keeping Christ in Christmas.  (We’d also seriously annoy the far-right media extremists who started all this “War on Christmas” hoo-hah in the first place.)

But still, I’d like to borrow the phrase from the Vinnies and play with it a bit more.  Taking, on the one hand, the Vinnies’ slogan “Keep Christ in Christmas”; and also taking, on the other hand, the central affirmation of our lesson from John’s gospel “... the Word became flesh ...”, I’d like to develop a new version of the Vinnies’ slogan: 
 
“Let’s keep the ‘flesh’ in Christmas.”

When our gospel lesson declares that “the Word became flesh and lived among us”, the writer was saying a mouthful.  In speaking here of “the Word”, the writer seemed to be combining a significant idea from the Jewish scriptures with another significant idea from Greek philosophy.  Both ideas referred to the mind of God reaching out to the mind of humanity.

The Jewish idea was called Wisdom, (Hokmah in Hebrew, Sophia in Greek).  Wisdom was often personfied and, when personified, Wisdom was personified in female terms.  Lady Wisdom is a term often used by scholars today to speak of this personification of Wisdom.

The Greeks spoke of the logos, a word which means “word”.  But logos means “word” in a far more active sense than merely a series of letters that makes up part of a sentence.  Logos means “word” as in the self-revelation of the one speaking. 

In this passage from John’s gospel, we have a combination of both the Jewish sense of Wisdom and the Greek sense of the self-revelation of the mind of God, using the Greek word logos, “Word”. 

The active Word,
     the living Wisdom,
          the eternal self-revelation of the Living God
came to Earth and into our midst,
     not as ink on paper, but as flesh and blood,
          not as an infallible  book but as a vulnerable person. 
The Word did not become mere words, but living flesh.

As well, it was also important that the Word became flesh.  The Greek word used here for “flesh” was sarx.  In Greek, the word sarx was considered a bit crude.  Both literally and in the way we use the term today, sarx was a four-letter word.

When the Greeks wanted to speak of the dignity, nobility and beauty of the human body, they used the word soma.  Soma was the body beautiful, the human body which was immortalised in the classic Greek sculptures and celebrated in the regular athletic contests at Olympia.  That was soma:  dignified, noble, and beautiful.

However, sarx was the word they used to speak of our human flesh at its least dignified, least noble, least beautiful, and most vulnerable. 
 
Sarx hungers,

Sarx thirsts.

Sarx sweats.

Sarx gets sick.

Sarx bleeds.

Sarx dies.

When the gospel declares that God’s eternal Word and Wisdom took human form, the word used wasn’t the beautiful, noble, and dignified soma, but its poor relation, the vulnerable sarx.  This is good news to us all in our own vulnerability.  This good news is the message we proclaim at Christmas.  This is the good news we proclaim in the lessons we’ve been reading and in the carols we’ve been singing.  At its best, Christmas has always been a rather motley combination of authentic Christian spirituality and authentic human earthiness. 

Perhaps this combination of factors is why so many of the more austere sort of Christians are very uncomfortable with Christmas:

  • the sort who also deny the authenticity of the spirituality of most people in the community;

  • the sort who often deny the authenticity of the faith of most of their fellow-Christians;

  • the sort who are often highly uncomfortable with their own earthiness.
Such austere Christians are often profoundly uncomfortable with the motley combination of authentic Christian spirituality and authentic human earthiness that is Christmas at its best. 

But for the rest of us, for those of us who don’t wear our halos so tightly as to cut off the blood supply to our brains, this message is tremendous good news.  The Eternal God has embraced our human condition in its fullness.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Let’s keep the ‘flesh” in Christmas!

Saturday, 5 December 2015

“... Every valley ... every mountain ... all flesh ...”: a sermon (Luke 3: 1 – 6)

Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

In these middle Sundays of Advent, our gospel lessons focus on John the Baptist; a curious figure, in many ways.

Luke tells us that Jesus and John were related to each other through their mothers.  At an important point in the story of the preparation for Jesus’ birth, Mary received hospitality and profound encouragement from her relative Elizabeth, herself pregnant with John.

Throughout the gospels, there seemed to be both some strong points of contact (as well as some areas of tension) between the movement led by John and the movement led by Jesus.  Exactly how much closeness and how much tension there was is a matter for speculation (and many writers have added to the speculation). 

While many of John’s followers embraced Christianity, many others did not.  There is still, in fact, a religious community in the Middle East (the Mandaeans) which regards John as the founder of their faith.  

At various points in the gospels, John was described as maintaining a very austere lifestyle. 

  • He lived in the desert. 

  • He survived on the Middle Eastern equivalent of “bush tucker”. 

  • He wore only animal skins. 

  • He rejected many of the comforts of life.
(In fact, the gospels tell us that one point of tension between John’s movement and Jesus’ movement was that some of John’s followers criticised Jesus for not living as austerely and abstemiously as John.)

John baptised people as a sign of profound repentance of sin.  (The baptism practiced now by the Christian Church is a very different baptism from that practiced by John, in many ways, not least of which is the fact that Christian baptism is principally an act of incorporation into a community, while John’s baptism was a radically individual act of repentance.)

John’s was a provocative critic of many different religious, social, and political abuses.  This criticism eventually led to his imprisonment and execution.

Every community needs its John-the-Baptist-like characters.  Every society needs its provocative social critics, those who make themselves an absolute pain in the anatomy most of the time while speaking words of genuine wisdom and solid (if uncomfortable) integrity.

As Luke began to describe John’s ministry, he used words from a prophet whom biblical scholars today call Second Isaiah.  Second Isaiah was the person responsible for most of the last third of the book of Isaiah, proclaiming a message of hope and renewal as the Jews returned from the Exile in Babylon. 

This part of the book of Isaiah was from a time about one hundred and fifty years after the earlier two-thirds of the book of Isaiah, which was written well before the Exile.  (For that matter, most biblical scholars also think there was probably a Third Isaiah.) 

Luke associated the message of renewal proclaimed by Second Isaiah with that proclaimed by John:

The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

Throughout the centuries, the image of valleys being filled and mountains being leveled has always been an image of human liberation.  Human liberation is God’s concern, and it always has been. 

  • When Second Isaiah first used these words to celebrate the return from Exile, human liberation was God’s concern.

  • When Luke quoted these words to describe John’s ministry of preparing the way for Jesus, human liberation was God’s concern.

  • In 1742, when George Frederick Handel set these words to sublime music, human liberation was God’s concern.

  • In 1963, when Martin Luther King quoted these words in his “I have a dream” speech, human liberation was God’s concern.
And today, in twenty-fifteen, human liberation is still God’s concern.

As well, we also need to note the radical inclusivity of this image of liberation: 

Every valley ... not just some valleys ... but every valley shall be filled.

Every mountain ... not just some mountains ... but every mountain shall be made low.

All flesh ... not just some flesh ... not just white flesh ... not just male flesh ... not just the flesh that surrounds minds that have got their theology right, or with whose politics we agree, or of whose personal morals we approve  ... but all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

There is a message of radical inclusivity here in this Advent message of renewal. 

This Advent message of renewal leads into the message we celebrate at Christmas, good news of the eternal Word of the Living God taking tangible form,

  • not as a book, but as a person,

  • not as ink on paper, but as flesh and blood.

  • not as the Word becoming words and correcting our theology, but as the Word becoming Flesh and living among us ... the Word becoming Flesh and living among all flesh ... the Word becoming Flesh and sanctifying all flesh.
The sacrament we celebrate today is a participation in this process. The Incarnate Christ, whom we expect each Advent and welcome each Christmas, comes near to us in this meal of faith, as near to us as the food we eat.

Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

“Stand up and raise your heads!”: a sermon (Luke 21: 25 – 36)

When I was twelve or thirteen, I attended an Easter sunrise service for the first time.  It was an ecumenical service, sponsored by a number of churches of different denominations. 

That year, it was the turn of one of the churches with a more conservative-evangelical theological outlook to provide someone to preach the sermon.  For some reason, this fellow chose not to speak about Easter, but about the Second Coming.  Growing up as a Methodist, this was something I’d never heard about in our church.   

As I remember, the visiting preacher exhibited what seemed to be great glee about the torments that awaited those whom he didn’t deem worthy of God’s presence.  He really seemed to be enjoying himself.   

The one thing I remember most vividly, though, about the sermon was the series of nightmares I had for a week or two afterwards.  (The nightmares only stopped after I overheard my minister joking about the fire-and-brimstone sermon at youth group, which gave me the opportunity to ask him about what he thought.  And I learned that he profoundly disagreed with the guest speaker.)

Because I was so traumatised by this experience, I have always, in my ministry, tended to be very wary of passages such as today’s gospel lesson.  I know, from experience that such passages need to be handled with care. Jesus’ message of hope can easily be distorted into a message of fear.    

·         This can happen innocently, as a result of a lack of sensitivity on the part of the person preaching or teaching.

·         At other times, this can also happen with no innocence at all, but rather with the unscrupulous deliberately seeking to use fear to manipulate the insecure or the immature (including twelve or thirteen year-old kids attending their first Easter sunrise service).

The final triumph of Christ at the climax of human history is a theme that we find in the lessons both for the beginning and the ending of the Christian Year.  We find this as a theme for the first Sunday of Advent, as well as for some of the Sundays in the previous weeks. There are a few reasons why passages such as our gospel reading today are treated as importantly as they are.  I’ll suggest two.

1.     Firstly, the three-year lectionary we now use was first developed during the 1970s.  This was during the period of the Cold War, a time when the world lived under the shadow of nuclear warfare.  As happened at many other periods of history, the growing insecurity experienced by many people led to a growing sense that human history was coming to its end.  Because this theme was becoming so important to some of the movements on Christianity’s fundamentalist fringe, the compilers of the lectionary felt it was important for the more sane sort of mainstream Christian churches to address this as well.

2.     Secondly, this theme seemed to be very important in the mind of Jesus and of the first generations of Christians.  All of this first generation of Christians seemed to believe that they were living during history’s endgame.

In any event, Christians have argued over the Second Coming for two thousand years.  I believe Christians will continue to argue over the Second Coming for the next two thousand years, if not for longer.

But one thing that we hear very clearly in what Jesus said in our lesson is not to be overcome with fear, but to live with courage. 

Jesus spoke of those who “will faint from fear and foreboding” in response to events taking place in the world around them, both in the world of nature and in the world of human affairs.  The context here is that this response, to “faint from fear and foreboding”, is not a very useful one.

Instead, Jesus advised his disciples (and us) to “stand up and raise your heads” in response to traumatic events both in the world of nature and in the world of human movers and shakers.  Live with courage.  “Stand up and raise your heads.” 

·         Live with courage in a world of environmental degradation.

·         Live with courage in a world of climate change.

·         Live with courage in a world of proliferating armaments.

·         Live with courage in a world of growing inequality.

·         Live with courage in a world of frightening religious fundamentalism, smoldering cultural resentments, and the terrorism caused by both.

“Stand up and raise your heads.”

Ultimately, this message of God’s final triumph at the climax of human history is not really there for the benefit of:

·         a religious huckster trying to scare some thirteen-year-old kid in an church or a hall somewhere into walking down the aisle to make a commitment, or

·         another religious huckster trying to scare a lonely person on the other side of a TV screen into writing a big, fat cheque.

That sort of con artist will always be there.

But, ultimately, the Advent message of God’s final triumph is that God can give us the courage to live in the face of all the threats that life can throw at us, whether the threats are of human origin or not.  We have the choice to live with courage. “Stand up and raise your heads.”

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Empire of Vulnerability: a sermon (John 18:33-37)

Here in Australia, churches have a few problems with today’s observance of the Sunday given the title of Christ the King, or The Reign of Christ.

In our egalitarian society, the idea of kingship rings a note that is artificial for many people; and even deeply offensive for some.

This is further complicated by the fact that, in many countries with monarchs (at least in the Western world), monarchs play a mainly symbolic and ceremonial role.

We ask ourselves the questions:
  • Is this image of Christ the King a symbol that denies much that is good, healthy, and life-giving in Australia’s egalitarian traditions?
  • Does this day of Christ the King speak to most Australians of an irrelevant Christ, a mainly symbolic and ceremonial Christ?

So, we find ourselves with a celebration whose main symbol could be seen as:
  • of limited relevance for most people,
  • artificial for many,
  • offensive for some, and
  • potentially misunderstood by all. 

If we look at the background of this day, the celebration of Christ the King began in the early twentieth century in the Roman Catholic Church.  It was a time when many nations were coming under the rule of dictators, such as Hitler or Stalin.  It was a time when powerful national governments were seeking to control all aspects of human life.  This celebration of Christ the King was a reminder to worshippers - and to the broader community - that no state ever had that right.  It was a celebration of human dignity and human integrity. 

In the 1970s and 1980s, this day of Christ the King became part of the life of many other denominations, such as the Anglican Church and the Uniting Church.  This was when most mainstream churches adopted the three-year lectionary, which developed following the Second Vatican Council. 
 
This day gives us a chance to reflect on Christ’s challenge to all who exercise power over others.  Each year, the gospel for this day emphasises Christ exercising a radically different kind of kingship than that exercised by the rulers of his day . . . and by many of the rulers of our day. 
 
In the coming weeks of Advent and Christmas, we’ll hear of some very unchristlike things being done by rulers:
  • Augustus ordering a census so that he could extort as much taxation as possible from the provinces;
  • Herod ordering a massacre of babies so that he could eliminate a potential rival.
Christ the King exercises a radically different kind of kingship than the rulers we encounter in our lessons for the next few weeks.

We see this in our gospel lesson for today.  Jesus was on trial before the Roman governor.  Pontius Pilate goose-stepped onto the pages of the New Testament as a chilling symbol of all that jack-booted fraternity who exercise power over other people by the sword, the whip, the gun, the bomb, or the noose.

The gospels tended to whitewash Pilate.  Other historical records of his time described him as a cruel and brutal ruler.  By the time the gospels were written, the small and emerging Christian movement was under great pressure to say that Christians could be loyal citizens of the Roman Empire.  However, there was one problem.  Jesus was executed by crucifixion, a characteristically Roman form of execution and torture reserved for those enemies of the Empire whom the Imperial authorities decided deserved a particular level of pain and humiliation in their death.

So the process developed, which was at its most advanced in John’s gospel, by which the cruel and sadisitic Pilate was transformed into a vague and vacilliating intellectual, so that Jesus’ death could be blamed on local authorities, rather than the Empire. 

In our lesson, Pilate assumed he was judging Jesus.   “Are you the King of the Jews? ... So you are a king?”  Pilate soon found that the tables were turned, and Jesus was judging the whole system of “might makes right” by which Pilate exercised his power. 

Now there’s an interesting thing about the word for “king” and “kingdom” used in the New Testament.  The Greek words used here is basileus for king, and basilea for “kingdom”. 
  • So, all through Jesus’ public life, he proclaimed, “The basilea of God is upon you.”
  • So, in this lesson, Pilate asked Jesus “Are you the basileus of the Jews?” ... and later ... “So you are a basileus?”
  • And Pilate’s sign on Jesus’ cross read “Jesus of Nazareth, the basileus of the Jews”.

The importance of these words is that they exactly echo the words that the Romans used to speak of their empire and their emperor.  The proclamation of the kingdom of God, the basilea of God, was seen as a challenge to the basilea of Rome, a challenge to the Roman Empire. 

In response to Pilate’s bullying questions, Jesus spoke about truth:
  • about his role to testify to truth,
  • about the response of those who are sensitive to truth.

Truth wasn’t Pilate’s strong suit.  Pilate was out of his depth here, ethically if not intellectually.  (And possibly Pilate was out of his intellectual depth as well.)  In his discomfort, Pilate responded to Jesus with a sarcastic one-liner:  “What is truth?”  (And I think Pilate’s comment probably came out more like:  “And what the hell is truth, anyway?”)

So in this lesson, we see a head-on confrontation between the power of human force and the power of God’s love.  Pilate, as he exercised the power of human force, believed he was judging Jesus.  Rather, Jesus was judging Pilate.

As we celebrate Christ the King, we reflect today on the judgement of the Prince of Peace upon all who exercise their power in a destructive way.

Jesus challenged the empire of force, but not by an appeal to counter-force.  He challenged the empire of force with an appeal to an empire of vulnerability.  And this inevitably links us as Christ’s followers with:
  • vulnerable communities of people around the world,
  • vulnerable communities of people in our own nation, and
  • vulnerable communities of people seeking refuge in our nation.
In many nations around the world, Christians are a small and, often, very vulnerable minority.  Still, these vulnerable communities of Christians work actively to promote the well-being of their neighbours in many practical ways.  I have seen this myself on my visits to Bangladesh on behalf of the Christmas Bowl.  Our support for the Christmas Bowl encourages these small, vulnerable Christian communities in countries around the world in their work of practical mercy, as part of Christ’s empire of vulnerability. 

Our celebration of Christ the King does not need to be a denial of our healthy, egalitarian Australian traditions.

Our celebration of Christ the King does not need to be a presentation of a ceremonial Christ with no real relevance.

At the first performance ever of Handel’s Messiah in 1742 in Dublin, the advertisements read:  “Gentlemen are requested not to wear their swords.”  This led one later commentator to say “Raw power has no place in the presence of the Prince of Peace”.

We celebrate Christ the King, who turns our cultural notions of kingship on their heads.  We celebrate Christ the King who calls us to the privilege of citizenship in God’s empire of vulnerability.