Saturday, 20 November 2010

Christ the King - but what kind of monarchy?

Colossians 1:11-20
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for 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. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Luke 23:33-43
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, written in Greek and Latin and Hebrew (that is, Aramaic)');‘This is the King of the Jews.’

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Today we celebrate Christ the King, but what do we actually think of when we consider Kingship? You see for a 21st century western culture, the idea of an absolute monarchy is rather dated, if not completely alien and rather disagreeable to us. In the few countries where an absolute monarchy remains, such as Brunei and Saudi Arabia, we feel a sense of distaste and unfairness, that the people have no say in how they are governed.

In the UK, the Queen is our head of state and the head of the Church of England. But if you took away the monarchy in this country we would continue to function as a nation, albeit with perhaps rather less colour. In truth the church is run by the Bishops under the leadership of Canterbury and York whilst the country is led by parliament, and therein lies the crucial difference.

Unlike an absolute monarchy, our system of government is led from the ground up. The prime minister is one of us. He or she could be anyone provided they were well qualified enough and had the right talents for the job. They receive their power from below, from the people, and just as we have given them the power to govern us, so at the next election, if we so choose, we can take it away again.

But in an absolute monarchy, the system is reversed. The Monarch rules over the people as one who is separate from them and receives their power by inheritance. If we trace it back far enough we will find that monarchs have power because their families took it from someone else and then handed it on to their own children. They are not, in any way, accountable to the people. The people are, instead, accountable to them.

So the prime minister receives power from below, from the people, but the monarch receives inherited power. Or to put it another way, the prime minister belongs to us, but we belong to the monarch, and that’s a huge difference because of accountability.

In a 21st century democracy the prime minister is accountable to us. But in an absolute monarchy, we are accountable to the King or Queen and that should make us think carefully about what the implications are of celebrating Christ as King.

First and foremost, he is not King because we made him King. Nor was his kingship a result of it having been taken by force from a previous monarchical line. No, his Kingship is received from the Father who has always had power, and that means that we are accountable to him.

The reason I think this is important is because we cannot escape the way that our culture affects everything in our lives. That means that our understanding of Christ as King will be affected by our democratic ideals. In other words, if our government tries to do something that we don’t agree with, then we will vote them out. That is the right of a democratic citizen.

In fact that system of government has permeated almost every sphere of our lives. Many of us sit on various committees and are well versed in electing chair men and women. We’re used to people sitting for a term of office and then stepping sideways, or being ejected if they won’t go.

But subjects of a King do not have that right. If we don’t like the decisions they make we have only one choice, to leave the kingdom and go elsewhere. But the question I think this poses for us is whether we acknowledge the difference. Do we treat Christ as the King, or do we treat him as prime minister? Do we recognise ourselves as part of a kingdom or as sitting on a committee?

It seems to me that the important question is one of submission to the will of God, or more specifically, are we willing to submit to the Kingship of Christ? Over how much of our lives have we given him dominion? And over how much do we keep power for ourselves? It all comes down to authority. Do we recognise the authority of Christ as divinely given? If we do, if we really do, then that must surely have an effect on how we live and the decisions we take.

I personally feel constantly challenged by this issue, and I think that’s because for me I have always had difficulties with people who like to rule over others. But there is a huge difference between Christ’s rule and ours. I think of it like this. I have a friend, well she’s more a friend of a friend, who still lives at home even though she’s well into her thirties. But it’s not out of choice or financial hardship.

Instead it is because she is in submission to the will of her parents. She also has a sibling who is favoured over her and to whom she is expected to defer. I fear for this lady because her parents rule her life and she may not get the chance to grow into a person in her own right. I also find myself hugely angry at her parents for treating her like that. Their rule is for their own good, and they appear to be grooming her to be their carer.

I contrast that with an episode in my own history. When I was about sixteen I very briefly dated a girl who I had got on well with at junior school and then we had by chance met up again in our mid-teens. She came home with me after some church function and met Mum and Dad. After she’d gone Mum quietly took me to one side and explained that she felt very uncomfortable me seeing this girl. She couldn’t explain why, but just said she didn’t like her.

Now my mother has a highly tuned sense of intuition and she only ever said that about two people. It was enough for me. I got the message and we split up. The difference though wasn’t that my mother was trying to control me, but that she was seeking my best interests and she saw something that I, as a teenager, had missed. My parent’s rule was there to help me to grow towards safety and maturity, to a point where I was capable of making wiser decisions.

Now when we think of Christ as King, I think that is the kind of rule we should be considering. His rule is one of drawing the best out of us, that we should grow to maturity, that by submitting to his will it is not for his own good; he doesn’t need us or our obedience, but that by doing his will we should grow. However, there is one final caveat to this. Ultimately this is not just about us and what we receive from Christ.

We are also subjects of a kingdom, and that means that sometimes we will be called upon to do things or go through things for the sake of the kingdom, and for the sake of others. That is also a part of being a part of Christ’s kingdom. It is not always going to be about us, but, just as Jesus himself had to, there will be times when we will have to go through hardship for the sake of others.

You see it’s an upside down kingdom. Jesus went through crucifixion to bring us into his kingdom. He suffered for his subjects; not something you see much of in earthly rulers, and so if he asks the same of us, then we should be prepared to walk in his footsteps. He is, after all, Christ, the King. Amen.

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