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Sunday 24 November 2019: The Reign of Christ/Christ the King


Christ the King!

Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43


By Laurence Twaddle

Minister of the Church of Scotland in Geneva

Context: an English-speaking Presbyterian Reformed Church whose congregation is made up of many different nationalities and denominations – a dynamic community with new people arriving and others moving on almost every week

Aim: to remind the listener of just how counter-cultural the Christian vision is and how it stands in stark contrast to the way in which the world usually operates, and the measures it usually applies

Scotland has had quite a selection of kings over the centuries. You might get to live in a castle and such … but … it was certainly a high-risk occupation, at least in the early years of Scotland’s story.

Between 843 and 1058 A.D. the record went like this …

Constantine I – killed
Donald II – killed
Malcolm I – killed
Indulf – killed
Dubh or Duff – killed
Culen – killed
Kenneth II – killed
Constantine III – killed
Kenneth III – killed
Duncan I – killed
Lulach – killed.

You just can’t see people queuing up for the job …

Whatever we may think of the institution of the monarchy – and there are those historians who do see it as a necessary evolutionary historical force for effecting change and maintaining order – the reality is that kings, and to a lesser degree queens, have been around for a very long time …

And we all know what we want from a king … a good king … if we are going to have one … We want fairness. We look for restraint and integrity, wise judgment, a commitment to the ways of peace, respect for the citizens and their needs … We look for someone who will be consistent and dependable, and who will safeguard those things we value: the faith, the culture, the uniqueness of nationhood.

And we know all too well the signs and portents that reveal a bad king. If he is capricious and cruel – liable to sudden random acts of petulance and favouritism … someone with vaunted ambition and pride whose aggression leads the nation into costly military disasters … a king who is corrupt and self-serving – that sort of king is to be feared. The people who throng the streets to celebrate the coming of a loved and respected king – will not offer such devotion to a king they fear and, in their hearts, despise.

It used to be easy to work at this image – to break down the constituent parts of ‘kingship,’ and understand why the great churches and cathedrals would choose to have huge frescoes and wall hangings depicting Christ the King! Expressing all the aspirations and clichéd elements of kingship: sceptres and thrones, orbs and crowns … And the church, in those times, could deal with that proud, triumphalist imagery of power for it reflected a church that had become a power in the land, enjoyed the trappings of status and dignity.

Entire cathedrals – like the astonishing one in Liverpool – were built to celebrate the idea of Christ the King …

Those who told the story of Israel’s speckled history, were pretty ambivalent about kings and kingship …The jury was out for a for long time as to whose idea it was to have a king at all!

‘What need,’ says one Old Testament strand, ‘does Israel have of a king … when we have the Lord himself to guide us, protect us and lead us? Indeed, what an insult even to suggest that we become like all the other nations, and opt for this concentration of power on one, all too frail and human, individual …’

‘The king is appointed by God!’ says the other strand. ‘How else can you explain the success and security brought to the nation by David: the splendour of the reign of Solomon with his Temple and his palaces? Proof positive that God was in favour of this political development.’

Nothing, however, prepared them for the king who came riding on a donkey; the king who had
no army
no palace
no weapons
no money
no throne!
This king – whose kingdom was not of this world – and who reigned in love and weakness, from a Cross, his crown of thorns digging deep and sore into his brow. This king was impossible …

If you were a betting man or woman … what odds would you give that
this broken shell of a man
this utter flop
this complete failure
this reject
might make any impact on the world? This is the world’s biggest loser …

This is where it is so demandingly a matter of FAITH … to believe in his kingdom
in spite of the Cross, or because of it …
in spite of the weakness, or because of it …
to believe in the strength of his way of love
to change us
to change the world
to believe that his death will unlock the way to life …

You can almost hear the gearbox scream in protest as the world’s values are thrown into reverse.

Whatever the history books say about how the world is ordered, how things unfold … there is an alternative. There is another kingdom: and another kind of king: the way of forgiving love, the way of selfless devotion to God. Apparently, that’s how you save the world …

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