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.
Today is the last day of the liturgical calendar and as is tradition in the church we are celebrating the festival of Christ the King.
On this day we are reminded in the words of Paul’s letter to the Colossians of the preeminent place which Jesus takes in the order of creation and in the life of the church. He is the source of dominions and powers and authorities. He holds all things together and is over all things.
As Australians we may struggle with the notion of authority and power and the idea that God is over us. We prefer the idea that Jesus is our friend, he is our buddy our mate. Yet despite this view we still place authority and dominion and power somewhere in something or someone and this has consequences.
Today is also Abolition Sunday, a day on which we reflect on the current state of slavery in our world. In this we are challenge to look beyond the horizon of our immediate and might I suggest more than comfortable existence to the sources of our prosperity and to the plight of others.
For me I have a deep appreciation that the two themes have been brought together because our resistance to God’s reign is not new and our misunderstanding of God’s authority does not lead us into greater freedom but ultimately into less as we become less and less who we have made to be as God’s creatures.
To help understand this I want to take us back into the Old Testament for a moment to the book of first Samuel, to Samuel 8, a time at which Samuel had become very old. Here is what it says:
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5and said to him, ‘You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.’ 6But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to govern us.’ Samuel prayed to the Lord, 7and the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.’
The rejection of God’s reign over us and the preference for human sources of dominion can be traced back nearly 3000 years. And at the time that the people asked for a King, for human sources of authority, God clearly and strongly warned the people of the consequences.
The trend of this preference for human sources of dominion and authority I believe finds its ultimate expression in the rise of humanism through the enlightenment when rather than kings we all became masters and mistresses of our own existence. The phrase “it’s my life” which no doubt many of us have uttered is an expression of our denial of God’s reign and a preference for our personal dominion over our existence.
Yet through 3000 years of history we can see that there are consequences to the choices we have made in our excise of power and dominion over the creation and over each other.
There are many avenues to explore in terms of consequences but on this day as we remember Abolition Sunday I would want us to consider how we have turned people into commodities. In business term we speak of human resources reducing the creative gift of life found in a person to what the can do or offer. The most extreme form of the commodification of people is the exploitative practice of slavery.
We have already heard a little bit about the extent of the problem of slavery in the world in the video I showed earlier in the service. And, it could be easy to distance ourselves from these issues but as people who often ignorantly benefit from the exploitation of others today we contemplate the consequences of our preference to rule our own lives.
During the week as I researched for today I found an online survey to help people understand how they might be benefitting from slavery. The result which came back for me was not surprising but is certainly shocking. According to the survey I have 67 slaves working to sustain my lifestyle.
You may think this is unrealistic or a somewhat silly survey but this morning I have given you an image on a card. There are a range of different cards with images of coffee and chocolate, of rice and fish, of cotton and clothes, of jewellery and accessories, of smart phones and gadgets. These products are representative of a bigger list of products which you or I may purchase, often cheaply, without realising that they may have been produced by someone who is defined as a slave or even a child.
We are embedded in systems of exploitation which are difficult for us to see unless we really look up from the immediacy of the problems and issues we face and look behind how a product reaches the shelves at the price it does.
Thinking of just this one issue we begin to understand the complexity of our rejection of God’s reign and the consequences of our misguided exercise of dominion.
Returning to the Colossians passage I quoted at the beginning we were reminded that as the church Jesus is our head. Or to be more frank God is in charge. 3000 years and more of humans choosing kings and dominion in our own lives coalesces into the events of Jesus life as he comes among us.
One of the traditional appellation s for Jesus is that he is our king. But Jesus kingship is not about exercising an authority or dominion which subjugates or exploits others. In fact, shockingly Jesus kingship is exercised in such a way that rather than exercise his divine power over other he accepts the way of the cross and the rejection of God’s rule in human lives into his own life.
The scene from Luke's gospel we read is a part of that longer story known as the passion narrative. Jesus accepts the human rejection of God into himself and so also accepts the misguided use of power which we as human beings exercise over each other. His suffering is an identification with those who suffer.
The good news of course is that Jesus resurrection is God’s declaration that our rejection of his power and dominion is not the last word and will not be our undoing. Jesus resurrection provides a new hope and a new future for all humanity.
Here we can truly declare as we read in the Psalm, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” God is a refuge for we who cause the suffering of others and choose to exercise our dominion poorly. God is a refuge for we who are at times exploited by others and for those who on this day find themselves to be slaves.
As people set free by God’s love we are constantly called to challenge the systems of this world in which participate which exploit others. The issue of slavery and the way it is woven into the fabric of our existence is no easy issue but as God’s people who bear the reconciliation of all things within us it behooves us to witness to God’s love and the reign of Christ in our lives by speaking out for others and declaring God’s love.
The good news on which we lean is that Christ is ultimately the King, the ruler of all things and the giver of a new life to the whole creation and all humanity despite our rejection of our God’s rule with all its consequences. Let us cling to this hope as we are constantly being transformed to be God’s people in this world.