What kind of king?

This is a sermon for the feast of Christ the King, given in the “church next door.”  The Scripture it references is Colossians 1:11-20.

I don’t know how much of the internet commentary on the American election any of you have been watching, but amidst the many moments that have made me very glad to be Australian, there have been some real moments of humour.

One satirical piece I saw was purporting to be a letter from the Queen to American citizens, graciously offering to put them out of their misery, and allow them to become her subjects again.  The twist in the tail of it, for me, is that while a monarchy might not represent much democracy or freedom, it is at least assumed to be relatively benign and mostly harmless.

In the same sort of way, it’s sometimes tempting, I suspect, to think about titles like “Lord” and “King” for Christ and think that they represent something of the same thing; a relationship with Christ in which he is assumed to be distant, relatively benign and mostly harmless.  That they might have meant something heavier to people centuries ago, when everyone knew what it was to live in feudal obedience to Lords and Kings, but that today, when Kingship has no real impact on day-to-day life in a place like Melbourne, it’s become a bit irrelevant, and that using this kind of language almost plays into the stereotype of religion as a hangover from medieval times.

It might surprise you, then (as it surprised me) to find out that a feast day for “Christ the King” began as recently as 1925; why begin such an observance at a time when Kings generally were in decline?

In 1925, in Italy, fascism was on the rise.  Democracy had just been abolished.  The question posed to all Catholics – because Christ the King was originally a Catholic observance, which Anglicans and others adopted later – but the question posed by this new feast was sharp and clear: where do you stand?  With fascism or with Christ?

That’s a question which doesn’t date.  Political movements come and go, but on all sorts of questions, each of us would do well to consider from time to time where we stand.  We gather together to support one another as we live out our commitment to stand with Christ, and we have a chance to think about that a little more deeply this morning.

What can we say about this Christ whom we call King?

I think we get some good insight into that from the reading we heard today from the letter to the Colossians.  They were a community of people who had chosen – over against their culture – to stand with Christ, and Paul and Timothy wrote to them to encourage them and deepen their understanding of what that meant.

So this passage emphasizes for us that Christ is our creator.  All things have been created through him and for him; including us.  Christ’s work on the cross is not out of keeping with what has gone before; but even as He originally made us, through the cross He continues His work in us, bringing it to fulfillment.  His work on the cross brings all of creation a step closer to its ultimate perfection.

There is no doubt in this passage that Christ is God Himself.  All the fullness of God dwells in Him.  That, combined with the fact that Christ created the world, gives us another important understanding: Christ is supreme over all the world today.  There is nothing in existence which is more powerful than He is.  There is no other ruler which can withstand Him.  There is nothing, ultimately, which can get in the way of His purpose.  On the cross it seemed that Christ was weak and abused unto death, and yet He rose, and He has the triumph over all hatred, fear and evil.

Just for a moment, consider those dominions and powers mentioned in the letter, which Christ is above.  Paul and Timothy haven’t spelled it out in great detail, but it seems that these refer both to spiritual realities and to human ones.  These are things which – like everything else – are created in and for Christ and whose true purpose is to serve Him; when that purpose gets bent out of shape, that’s when they become agents of evil. Evil isn’t a popular word, but it’s one that we need to take seriously as part of the landscape of our faith.  It’s a mistake to think of this in over-spiritualised terms; Scripture talks about Satan, but most of us meet him not in visions but in the very concrete realities of human oppression, injustice and hurt.

Even the church, which is described here as the body of Christ, can participate in that evil when we forget that our purpose is in and for Christ.  Over against that very solemn warning, though, we need to be encouraged that although these kinds of powers have some limited authority now, it is the work of God in the cross which gives our existence its ultimate shape and end.

As this reading talks about the Church as the body of Christ, it tells us that ultimately, we belong to Him, and not to anyone else.  We have our origins in Him, and also take our identity and our unity from Him.  We aren’t always good at unity, but wherever we are reconciled and at peace with one another, that is a true expression of what it means to be Christ’s body.

What then?  What does it really mean to stand with Christ, to have him as our King?

We actually started our reading this morning in an odd place; although it begins by saying “may you be made strong,” and so forth, it’s a continuation of a thought from earlier in the letter, where they say that “we have not ceased praying for you,” and in fact the first part of our reading is their description of their prayer for the Colossian Christians.

Here’s an insight, then, about what it means to stand with Christ; to pray for one another, not as a one off, but as a way of life.

Paul and Timothy prayed for the Colossian Christians to have strength, and they saw that strength as coming from the glory and power of God.  Glory has two important aspects to it; the sense of light and beauty, and also the sense of praise and honour.  It reminds all of us today that praising God, also, is part of what it means to stand with Christ.  Notice also the emphasis Paul and Timothy place on giving thanks; that goes together with praise.  This is one of the reasons why it is helpful for us to meet together to worship God; on our own it is difficult to maintain the habits of praise and thanksgiving to God, but together we help and encourage one another to do so.

Paul and Timothy talk about our being made fit to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  There is a sharp distinction here; in their minds we can be under the power of darkness, or in the light of Christ.  This is another way of considering where we stand; there’s no option here of a twilight in between place.  The good thing about this for us, is that God has enabled us to share in the light; it’s not up to us working on our own, but allowing God to work in us.   It is God who gives us the freedom and the power to live in the light.

To stand with Christ, then, also means allowing God to work in us, so that we can experience His light.

We commit to standing with Christ in His Kingdom, being assured that all other kingdoms, all other allegiances, all other loyalties will pass away; ultimately no other power will stand in the presence of the power of God.  Choosing to stand with Christ means allowing ourselves to be part of God’s kingdom, and to share in the sure promise of eternal life.

Paul and Timothy write that the Colossians “have been transferred” into Christ’s kingdom, to belong to God and to live in fellowship with all the reconciled people of God.  Today we are reminded of our own transfer in just the same way.  We have been given some important insights into what standing in that kingdom means: continuing prayers of praise and thanksgiving, prayer for and unity with one another, allowing God to work in us, and trusting in God for eternity.  Today, on the feast of Christ the King, I hope we can hold on to all of these as blessings in our life together.

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