|Minister's Sermon - Sunday 25th November 2018|
|Rev Sue Keegan von Allmen|
|Sunday 25th November 2018 10.30am|
Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14
This week I learnt two new words. Jomo and Fomo. They’re listed in the Oxford and Cambridge online dictionaries as words. But they’re really acronyms. Jomo means the joy of missing out, and fomo, the fear of missing out. And they were both in an article written by Stuart Jeffries in Friday’s Guardian. His headline was, “Black Friday will miss me by. I know the Joy of Missing Out.” But he went on to say, that “Fomo rises exponentially from now to the end of the year, as we begin our descent via the hellish portal of Black Friday towards the moment when we celebrate what – be still, irony – turns out not to have been the birthday of Our Lord.” He continues, “The society-wide pressure, always intense throughout the year, is to achieve what we assume everyone else is experiencing – perfect happiness…” (1) I’ll come back to that later, but for the moment I want to change direction, and focus on today. On the last Sunday of the church year. The Sunday before Advent. The Feast of Christ the King. The feast-day was established by Pope Pius 11th in 1926. He felt Christians were being lured away from Christ by increasing secularism. And choosing to live in the “kingdom of the world” rather than in God’s kingdom. 1926 was a time of political instability following the first World War when monarchies were feeling threatened. But it was also a time my Grandparents always talked about with great joy. Gran was a flapper girl - she always had the body to carry it off - and Grandpa loved the freedom of not being as restricted as he’d been in his younger days. Including choosing not to go to church! We live in a very different time, where being a Christian is a choice, rather than a cultural expectation. Yet the world we live in, is even more secularised and the pressure to acquire and conform to expectations, greater than ever. And many more people live with the fear of missing out.
The title Christ the King, can feel like a two-edged sword, because the bible offers us several different images of kings. There are those – including the one painted by our reading from book of Daniel – that reinforce ideas associated with earthly kings. Of power, might and majesty. Fear and awe. And then there’s the image of today’s Gospel. Of Jesus standing before Pilate, with a calm dignity and a humility, that seems far removed from the events that will take place later that day. This is not what we expect of a king. The passage is the second scene in Jesus’ trial before Pilate early on Good Friday. The first scene began when Jesus was brought to Pilate’s headquarters, and he asks the Jewish officials what they wish to charge Jesus, with. They simply say Jesus is a criminal. We know that they’ve long sought ways of arresting and killing him. And they want to have Jesus put to death for breaking religious law. But because they can’t do it - only the Romans can - they take him to Pilate. Today’s reading begins at the point when Pilate goes into his headquarters and speaks with Jesus. The question he asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews,” is a different from his conversation with the Jewish leaders. Being a king is a political rather than religious charge. For Pilate could not care less whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. But he does care, if he is a challenge Roman rule, because it is responsibility to ensure it is maintained. But when Pilate asks Jesus “what have you done?” Jesus does what he’s done throughout John’s Gospel, and doesn’t answer him. Though what he says - “My kingdom does not belong to this world…” should have reassured Pilate. And shouldn’t surprise us, because it’s what the author of John’s Gospel has been telling us, right from the beginning. Back in chapter 1 on the second day of Jesus’ search for disciples, Jesus called Phillip, who went and found his brother Nathanael and told him that Jesus was the one spoken of by Moses and the prophets. Later, when Nathanael met Jesus, he said, “Rabbi…You are the King of Israel!” We see what this means throughout John’s Gospel. It’s clearest when Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey rather than seated triumphantly on a horse, and when he kneels to wash the disciples’ feet. Not everyone sees this. But that isn’t surprising, because in his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus says no one can enter (or see) the kingdom of God unless they’re “born from above.” For me, new birth implies a number of things, that aren’t always associated with being born again. And I think it’s less to do with what we believe, than where we place our trust, and how we live. For it’s in these qualities of Christian character, the qualities we see in Jesus’ life - not just in the trial – that we glimpse God’s kingdom. In her lectionary blog for this week, Karoline Lewis says, what “Pilate misses, what most of the world misses, and what… might pass us by… [is that] Jesus’ Kingdom was never a place but a perspective, never an established rule, but a stated reality of how to live life, never a fought for hierarchy, but… a way of interpreting the world and embodying [that interpretation] in everything we do.” (2) So, if God’s kingdom, is a perspective. A way of living life. A way of interpreting the world and of embodying that interpretation. What might it mean for us? As Christians? And as a church? I want to say two things. The first is about what we do. The second is about who we are. Together, they reveal which kingdom we belong to, and whether it’s the kingdom of this world or God’s kingdom.
I’ll begin with what we do, because it’s being made concrete in Dexter and Jackie’s presence, with us today. They’ve come to tell us about two of the ways, the things we believe about the people God has given us to live amongst, are being put into practice. Dexter has already told us about the Street Pastors in Chandler’s Ford. And Jackie is going to tell us about chaplaincy at Asda and Challenor House a little later on. Through each, the churches in Chandler’s Ford are saying, that every person God has created matters. That people do not have to come to church to matter. That the church is concerned about people who never darken our doors. And may never will. They express something the former archbishop, William Temple, once said about the church. “The Church is the only organisation that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it.” (3) He was writing in 1942 about his vision of what a just post-war society would look like. He was passionate about economic and social reform, that would make life better for the poorest, and he’s credited with helping lay the foundations of the welfare state. His understanding of the church is shared with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor, who was involved in the plot to kill Hitler. This is recorded in his letters and papers from prison. “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others... not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men (and I’ll add women) of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” Bonhoeffer’s understanding that the church is called to be “not dominating, but helping and serving,” is a particularly good description if God’s kingdom on this Sunday. For God calls us to engage with the world, in ways that offer love and the possibilities of new life, that God desires for everyone. With humility, without dominating, or imposing.
And it’s those characteristics, that Christians need to embody in our lives, when we’re in church, and when we’re not in church. The way we do things matters. The way we listen. The way we help. The ways we care. The way we offer service that enables people’s hearts, minds and spirits to be nurtured. Through relationships that do not create dependence or demand that people give something back, but that offer depth, meaning and security, not in status or possessions, but trust in God and each other. And by demonstrating that it is possible to live in ways that move beyond the fear of missing out to the joy of missing out! I know I’m not saying anything new. We all know that being a Christian means we’re called to live like Jesus. But the practice is often much harder. Both within the church and outside it. There are times when our lives, our character, our choices, do not reflect Christ’s way. When we’re aware that we’re living in ways that reflect the kingdoms of this world. And I know that’s especially hard for parents with children as they look forward to Christmas. Yet this is exactly why Pope Pius 11th felt the need to remind Christians, that the kingship of Christ was not the sort of kingship known to the world, but of a different order. In recent years, the Methodist Church has needed to do the same, ‘though rather than establishing feast days we’ve published conference reports and produced guidance! None of them have expressly said that they’re about Christian character, or what it means to live in God’s kingdom rather than the kingdom of this world, but they are. “Living with Contradictory Convictions,” provides resources to help the church address deep theological differences, and disagreements. “Positive Working Together” has been produced to help combat bullying and harassment and manage conflict. There’s the “Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit” to help churches respond to legislation promoting equality, and challenging discrimination on grounds of race, gender, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation and age. As well as safeguarding policies, introduced to protect children and vulnerable adults, victims of abuse, and to enable those with convictions to share in the life of the church. The world is more complicated than it was in 1925, but legislation and guidance such as this reflects the conviction that each person is made in the image and likeness of God, and that God’s desire is for all to share life in all its fullness. But the fact that they’re needed, is a reminder of just how hard it is to live out the values of God’s kingdom, whilst we also live in the world.
So how do we embrace the values of the kingdom? How do we follow Christ the King? And how do we move from fear of missing out to the joy of missing out on the world’s way of doing and acquiring things? Here are three suggestions. The first comes from the report on “Living with Contrary Convictions.” It invites us to resolve “to engage with each other openly, honestly, prayerfully and graciously; to treat each other with respect and dignity, recognising the sincerity of the faith of those who may see things differently; to seek to learn from one another as we travel together…; to renounce all language and behaviours that attempt to coerce others to change their views or beliefs;…” Another, is a practice from Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual exercises, which he calls the “Presupposition.” He suggests that when we have different views, we should listen to them, with generosity. Hear them in the best possible light even if we don’t think we agree. Listen with wonder. Accept what is said with openness, generosity and graciousness. That doesn’t mean we should ignore abuse, ridicule or violence. That calls for a different response. And it doesn’t mean we have to think the same and agree with each on everything. But when we’re sharing our views, there should be space for everyone, for when all are open, generous and gracious, the church will thrive. The third suggestion is from James Alison, who wrote this about contemplation, which includes prayer and meditation. “Contemplation is a certain sort of seeing… we always learn to see through the eyes of another… The desire of another directs ours seeing… When we talk about contemplation in a Christian context we are talking about a specific sort of seeing. We are talking about learning to be given our desire through the eyes of another. The other is Jesus, the Word of God… we are being taught to be loving onlookers at what is by the One who is calling into being and loving what is.” (4) The desire we are being given through prayer and meditation is Christ’s. The desire to live as Jesus lived. The desire to have his character. The desire for fullness of life for all God’s people, for ourselves, for our family and community, and for strangers.
Practices like these three, help us live in God’s kingdom, rather than the kingdom of this world. They shape us. And our lives. So that it is more and more consistent with the values of the kingdom of God. With the way of life Jesus modelled for us. But they’re also more than that. They’re the way people – those we meet on the streets as well as those who visit us in church – will see God’s kingdom as it’s embodied in our lives and relationships. And they’ll help us get over the fear of missing out. Enable us to support each other as we teach our children the same. So that when we do get to Christmas, we will celebrate the birth of Our Lord, in ways that are consistent with his life. And experience the joy of missing out! Amen.
Sue Keegan von Allmen
The Guardian Journal Friday 23rd November 2018 p4
James Alison On Being Liked 2003,1-2