Thursday, 17 November 2016

Christ the King: Too Political?!

I have been accused of being too political in my preaching at times and it has been said to me that preaching has no place engaging with politics.

Yet that accusation in itself is a political statement and on this day which is traditionally known as Christ the King our readings make it very clear that our faith has a political edge.

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians Paul makes the grand claim that in Christ “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through the blood of the cross.”

This claim of God over all things is one that is hard to wrap our heads around but I have little doubt for the ancient community who were under the rule of the Roman Empire they heard this statement as one of hope. 

The Emperor and his claims to divinity, and the power and might of his Empire, were trumped by the maker and sustainer of all things who walked among us in Jesus.  God was bigger than the ruling power of Rome.

In these words, which add a cosmic dimension to Jesus’ presence in the world, we hear a clear echo of John 1: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was in beginning with God, all things have come into being through him and without him not one thing has come into being.  What has come into being in him was light.  And that light was the light of the world.”

This cosmic claim concerning Jesus Christ had clear political implications.  The citizenship and the first loyalty of the early Christian community was determined by their baptism not by the Emperor.

Paul says to the Colossians that, God “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.” 

To be transferred into another kingdom, a coming kingdom, a rule and reign of God, not determined by place and time but by allegiance to God set the early Christian community over against the Roman Empire.

God is the God of all things and in Christ God was reconciling all things to himself.  There is no place in this universe, there is no time in history, there is no political system that does not sit under Christ’s reign.  This is clearly a political claim as much as it is a claim over our human existence.

Just as this set early Christians up to be in conflict with the Empire, and subsequently led to the persecution of Christians because they would not acknowledge the Emperor as a God, so too it sets up a conflict for each one of us with the society in which we live.

Where does our citizenship lie?  This is a politically charged question and to say otherwise is naïve and more than that it is to deny the sovereign rule of God over our lives. God has transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.

I have spoken before to you of my personal sense of homelessness as an Australian.  Through my study of history and the transient nature of my upbringing I came to have a deep sense of unease.  This unease was grounded in the reality that as an Anglo-Australian I belonged to a history of a people who had disregard for the sovereignty of the first peoples of this land, and mind you of many other lands as well.

Yet this homelessness was not restricted to my Australian heritage but to that Anglo heritage that stretches back through the centuries of conflict between the Scots and the English, and between the Saxons and the Normans, and between the Normans and Celts, and so on and so forth.  With so much talk of nationalism in recent years and what it means to be Australian I am continually driven to find my identity, and my political identity in Christ.

Being Australian is a mixed blessing – we live in one of the best places and times amongst some of the most prosperous people ever, but we should never ignore that others have paid a deep and terrible price for our prosperity even if we are not personally aware of this.

Being transferred by baptism into the kingdom of the beloved Son sets a new political context for my life which must and can only transcend the relatively recent historical concept of the nation state.  It must and can only transcend our party political system – beyond Labor or Liberal or Green or Family First or One Nation.  None of these is truly reflective of the kingdom of the beloved Son.  Despite the fact we may wish it were so and that we might even identify glimpses of that kingdom in some of their policies.  The reality is that all governments fall short and we are citizens, as Jesus says, of a kingdom that is not of this world.

Our citizenship in this kingdom is shaped by the life of Christ and the Spirit of God at work within us.

It is a citizenship that connects us to the work of God in Christ which is to reconcile all things to himself.  All things on heaven and on earth.

The values of this kingdom are exemplified first and foremost in Jesus’ words from the cross, “Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Forgiveness and mercy and love and grace.  The preacher and scholar Scott Hoezee says of this kingdom, “forgiveness is the coin of this realm.”

To be a citizen of the kingdom of the beloved Son is to know that God forgives, that you are forgiven, and that I am forgiven, and that God’s deepest desire is to share this forgiveness in order that all things might be reconciled to God in Christ.

This is a hard teaching to accept and it is even harder to live.  When we see those gathered around the cross the executioners, the onlookers, the dicers, the scoffers, the mourners, the thief who scoffed and the thief who appealed for mercy, and the Centurion who declared Jesus’ divinity we are left wondering what does Jesus prayer mean.  Who does not know what they are doing? Who is forgiven?

Apart from the one thief no future of reconciliation is made known – but for that one we know and share his hope: “today you will be with me in paradise.”

The judgement of this world and the political power that takes away life, cannot triumph in Jesus’ kingdom for he is Lord of both the living and the dead.

It is this hope that fills us baptised people, as people transferred into the kingdom of the beloved Son and causes us to rethink how we live and to whom our loyalties lie.

God has made a sovereign claim over our lives and because of this all of the segregation and separation of nation from nation, tribe from tribe, language from language are dissipated as on the day of Pentecost.  This is the politics of God and we are called to be citizens first and foremost of that coming kingdom which is shaped by Jesus Christ, who is our Saviour, our Lord and our King!

15He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
16for 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.
17He himself is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
18He 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.
19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
20and 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.

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