Sunday, 21 November 2010

Hail King Jesus!

Readings: Jeremiah 23 v 1-6
               Luke 23 v 33-43

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
What is a king?
That’s certainly been a topic of discussion this week, with the announcement of the Royal Engagement.
I’m sure some of you are already tired of hearing about it – especially since William and Kate’s engagement was no sooner announced than there was talk of where and when the wedding would be, how soon they would be crowned king and queen and even how soon they would have children.
Not to mention all the commemorative tat that is already being talked of and the anticipated boost in the fortunes of the few remaining Staffordshire pottery businesses.
While, meantime, real news, is shunted from the front pages and the world stops turning.
Not the most helpful or positive portrait of a king.
Today, in the church, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday.
It’s the last Sunday of the church year.
Next week, Advent Sunday, marks the beginning of the new church year when the cycle begins all over again.
Recognising Christ as King seems a good way to end the church year.
So this IS as special day.
As well as celebrating Christ as King, today we mark the beginning of Guild week - The Guild motto – Whose we are and whom we serve – recognises Christ as king.
And we are also asked to mark this week as Prisoners week, reflecting on all those incarcerated at this time and those who serve and minister to them.
Jesus had a very revealing conversation with the two prisoners who were crucified alongside him at Calvary.
Even in the throes of death himself, Jesus threw one of the prisoners a lifeline.
To the prisoner who was repentant, who recognised Jesus for the king he was, Jesus said “Today you will be with me in paradise” 
THAT is the kind of king whose reign we celebrate today.
A king who sees individuals.
A king who has compassion on all who suffer.
A king who extends grace that is truly amazing.
I wonder how many of you can tell me WHO is prisoner number 24601?
Of course, it’s Jean Valjean from Les Mis.
That wonderful show, that’s been doing the rounds over 25years now, sharing wonderful music AND a wonderful story.
The story is set in Paris of the 1830s, amidst poverty and rebellion.
Jean Valjean, having served 19 years in prison for stealing bread, emerges angry and embittered.
His theft of silver candlesticks from a church finds him once again in a brush with the law.
But then, something really stunning happens:
The Bishop ( who could have him locked up again in an instant) gifts the candlesticks to Jean.
JEan is shown a remarkable and totally unexpected act of grace.
Jean Valjean goes on to make something of his life:
He builds a successful business and becomes mayor of his town.
Many folk have come to depend on him.
However, somewhere along the way, he has broken the terms of his parole, the law catches up with him and Jean Valjean becomes, once again, prisoner 24601.
It’s the opposite of that that we see Jesus doing in his encounter with the prisoners executed alongside him.
He raises them from the ranks of common, nameless criminals.
And, out of his grace he promises one of them: You shall be with me in paradise. 
It’s hard to see Jesus as king, when his sovereignty took him to a cross.But the kingship of Jesus confounds all our notions of that role.Jesus is a king who rides a donkey, as we sang earlier.Jesus is a king who frees prisoners and bestows worth on those whom society has written off.Jesus is a king who gives a name to the nameless.
Who kisses lepers.
Who washes feet.
A very different king.

The end of a year is usually a time for taking stock.
And that would be a useful thing to do this Sunday, the last week of the church year.
In case you haven’t noticed, for the past year, our gospel readings have been mostly from Luke.
We’ve followed Jesus through the eyes of the author of Luke’s gospel.
Each of the gospel writers tells the story slightly, sometimes VERY differently.
For Luke, the things that are important about Jesus are:
Jesus’ humanity,
the role of the holy Spirit in the unfolding events of Jesus’ ministry
and the joy of faith.
Luke is keen to emphasise how human this Son of God is from the outset.
Luke emphasises Jesus’ warmth and compassion with stories of how Jesus always had time to stop and interact with the people he encountered.

The Holy Spirit has a huge role in Luke’s telling of events.
Luke wants to make it clear that everything that happens, from the birth of Jesus to his death and then beyond that to the life of the early Christians, Luke tries to show how all this was planned, all this was the unfolding of God’s will.

Joy is also a theme of Luke’s gospel.
IT is clear that, for Luke, faith, once found was a source of excitement and joy.

Following these three important themes for Luke, then, this Sunday we can celebrate in Jesus:
A human king who always has time for others.
A king who is filled with the Holy Spirit, who is part of God’s plan, from the beginning of time.
A joyful king, for whom faith is exciting, never dull.

It is this king that we have been journeying with this past year in the church.

A king who has time for you and for me.
Who gets right in beside us and sticks with us, always holding out grace for us.

A king who sees our place in a bigger picture and who helps us fulfil out part in God’s plan.

A king who never lets things get dull but who keeps on tossing something else our way to lift us and keep us guessing what’s next?

I wonder which of these elements have touched you this past year?
Which aspect of Jesus has been most evident in your life?
Is it the Jesus who has time for you?

Is it the awesome Jesus who reminds you of the unique role you have to play in history.

Or is it the unpredictable Jesus, who keeps things exciting and often fun?

Perhaps it is all three.

But it’s likely that even if we have encountered Jesus this past year, as human and compassionate.
Even if we have been conscious of the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives nudging us to fulfil our unique place in the church and in the world.
Even if we have enjoyed the excitement of faith that always hold surprises this year.
Still it is unlikely that we will have thought much about Jesus as King.
His mirroring of kingship is so unlike any other king we have known or heard about.

From his birth in poverty in a stable to his coronation  with a crown of thorns lifted up on a cross, Jesus is a very unlikely king.
Yet on this last Sunday of the church year we are being asked to hail Jesus as king and celebrate his reign.
Even if all the images are wrong.
Even if he confounds our stereotypes of a king.
Celebrating Jesus reign is something we can happily do today.
For in the reign of Jesus – folk are seen and valued as individuals – each unique, each treasured, each with an important part to play in God’s plan for the world.
Prisoners – of all kinds are given names, not numbers and are freed from whatever it is that binds them and prevents them being whole.
In the reign of King Jesus we are encouraged to find again joy in our faith – a joy that is always new, instead of the old, predictable patterns that we have fallen into.
The Reign of Christ.

All this brings us way back to the beginning of Luke’s gospel – when Jesus set out his stall – and outlined the basics of his kindom:
Jesus said: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. HE has chosen me to bring good news to the poor, sight for the blind, liberty for the captives – to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is come.

And so we have come full circle.
We have seen, through Luke’s gospel this year, those kingdom values being lived out in Jesus, all the way to his death.
Next week we get ready to take another gospel and begin all over again to welcome Jesus’ birth.

But, today, we celebrate Jesus as king and his reign among us.
We celebrate being part of a kingdom in which WE are valued.
A kingdom in which WE have a part in God’s plan.
A kingdom in which WE are invited into a joyful and unpredictable faith.
that IS a kingdom we want to be part of.
And Jesus’ is a king whose reign we want to celebrate.

So whether the thought of a British Royal wedding leaves you hot, cold or indifferent, today we do have something to celebrate –
A king who counts each of us as special.

A king who calls each of us to play a very important part in the kingdom – a part that only we can play.

A king who promises joy and excitement in the journey of faith.

A king for Guild members and prisoners alike.
A king whose reign depends on you and me playing our part.

So before we begin advent.
Before we get caught up in the Christmas rush this year.
Let’s pause today to celebrate Jesus as king.
Let’s take a moment at this the end of the Christian year to sit with Jesus at the cross before we rush on again to welcome him into the stable.

In the words of Graham Kendrick:
The king is among us, his spirit is here
Let’s draw near and worship, let songs fill the air

And now he is giving gifts to us all
for no one is worthless and each one is called

Our king, lifted up on a cross, was still filled with compassion and freed the prisoner who cried out to him.
Our king promises to be right beside us, helping us to carry  whatever weighs us down today.
Jesus the King knows each of us and calls us by name.
Jesus the king calls us to fulfil the special part that is ours to play in the kingdom.
Jesus the King promises us an unpredictable ride and joy in our faith.
Today, we hail King Jesus.


Nik said...

Liz - formatting's out in the first section...?

Dot said...

What a great gift you have~given by the Holy Spirit~to open our eyes to different understandings~what a King, indeed!Hallelujah.....and thanks be to God, for you and your ministry.

liz said...

Nik, thanks - think I've managed to fix it.
Dot - cheers for your totally unbiassed comments.LOL