Sermon for Solemn Evensong & Benediction Sunday 25 November 2012
Sermon preached by Fr. Julian Browning
Eternal Monarch, King most High, we sang in our office hymn. Fact or fantasy? Reality or escapism? I’ve always thought there’s a melancholy escapism about E & B on Sunday nights, a little treat to mark the end of a lazy weekend. The lessons and evening sermon float across the church, a sort of anesthetic before Benediction, where all thoughts and words are finally silenced. Tonight’s a little different, though, because it’s not only the end of the weekend, it’s the end of a year and you might think this were better spent in tears of repentance at the time wasted and the opportunities lost, but instead of that we have these shouts of triumph in praise of Christ the King. I think we have to be a bit careful about this. We do a fair amount of triumphing at All Saints. But triumph is hardly the mood of the wider Church. In 1925 the Feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to get one up on the dictatorships of Europe. Above the unity demanded by the state is a greater unity which connects Christians, a unity which crosses boundaries, a unity expressed in the person of Christ as King. So the reason I don’t feel very triumphant is because this Feast is celebrated each year to show forth the beauty of unity, and yet in our neck of the woods, the Church of England, we have division and estrangement.
Alleluia, sing to Jesus. How can our faith, our reaching out towards this kingly Christ figure, help Christians in times of despondency, as well as in times of joy? Maybe we have to take Jesus at his word, and hear him again: My kingdom is not of this world. If we understand the kingdom a little better, we’ll get to know the King. The kingdom is not of this world. In Christ’s kingdom, unlike any other kingdom on earth, power, influence and control have no meaning. Synod votes are irrelevant. Life in the kingdom is not about winning and losing. God is always free from all that, free from power and control. We can be free too. Through Jesus we are offered God’s freedom in a way we can understand. The Feast of Christ the King is a celebration of that new freedom, His freedom and ours. Jesus defined this freedom very clearly. It has nothing to do with conservatism or liberalism, no piling up of doctrines we have to assent to, nothing to do with whether we are right or wrong. There’s just one thing we have to do – and Jesus outlines this in that forbidding chapter in Matthew about sheep and goats, and eternal life and eternal punishment – just one thing: we have to recognise Christ where we least expect him to be, in the least of our brothers and sisters, in the least promising of circumstances – and it’s circumstances which convert people, not sermons – in the grim reversals of our lives as well as in the joyful times of creative love, there is Christ to be found. We have the freedom, if we want to take it, to recognise Christ in the man dying on the cross. To do that, to enter that kingdom of a new awareness, the key is a transformed mind. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the pattern, the exemplar, of how minds and lives can be transformed, or not. What happens to Jesus is what happens to our souls: incarnation, an ordinary life, trial, faith, death, resurrection, return to God, all these things happen to us and can transform us. Until this transformation begins, freedom will elude us and we’ll be back with ourselves with a serious night time worry about votes in Synod. I don’t mean to make light of important matters; there is always an agenda to be rightfully pursued by those with the talent for it. But to understand the Kingdom of God, to enter that enlarged consciousness, we sometimes need to get ourselves and our obsessions out of the way.
I’ve always had a little difficulty about Jesus taking over my life, putting on the mind of Christ, and all that. I’m not sure I want it to happen, I might pretend otherwise but I want to stay as me, it’s so much more fun and unpredictable. I don’t want some king bossing me about, demanding I say sorry, interference day in, day out, ordering me how to think. The problem with that line of thought – and I think it’s a barrier to many Christians trying to progress in their spiritual lives – is that we automatically think in terms of power and control, being taken over. So instinctively we resist, all the time. How resentful we then become, and how adept at compromise with this divine dictator, so that we get our own way in the end. But again He says to us, my kingdom is not of this world. Christ the King comes to serve, not be served. He comes to heal. He comes to forgive. He comes to help us transform our minds, and transformed minds lead to transformed lives, and so the Kingdom of God is built on earth and in our parishes. We stay as ourselves, we have to do the work, we are responsible, sometimes we mess up and start again, that’s the lifelong adventure of every spiritual life. There’s a depressing strand in the Christian tradition which says we are all completely useless and can’t do anything right until Christ comes along, reads the riot act, and we get in line and are driven forward into his Kingdom. I’d like to propose the opposite view. What if the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of Christ, is not just somewhere we are going to, a place we’re somehow never quite good enough to reach, but is actually the place we’ve come from? A place we know, because it’s home. The Kingdom of Heaven is within you. It’s a state of consciousness, the kingdom is a whole new way of looking at the world; it turns the world into a different place, a sacramental place, where we have a chance to accept reality, as it is, as God sees it and creates it. The real world, at last, where there is no separation between God and human beings, where there is unity, and where even in human affairs we can discern the beauty of unity. That is the kingdom where Christ is King, and in that kingdom we are called to work, to love, and to rejoice.