The Reign of Christ – what are the images that come to mind when we hear these words ? Have we a notion of what the kingdom of heaven is really like? Or are our imaginations the captive of Michelangelo’s art work, and the hymns of our childhood.
Holy, Holy, Holy, runs the second verse of the hymn I first learned, “all the saints adore thee/ Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea/Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee/Who were, and art, and evermore shall be.”
None of that makes much sense anymore to us or anybody else for that matter. And as a vision of the kingdom it hasn’t proved to be all that appealing. So where can we turn? We could try the Bible. This is the point in the Natural Church Development process where we’re supposed to answer that the Bible is important to us!
The Prophet Zechariah, in the year 518 B.C., wrote about the Reign of Christ:
Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city…Old men and women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets (Zech8:3-5).
Jesus, you will remember, rode into that city on a young donkey and they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, young and old, they came out to meet him shouting “Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!” Continue reading
By celebrating the feast of our patron Saint St. Margaret we get Matthew’s gospel of the sheep and the goats a week early! You might think lucky us…..or you might not. It all depends who you think you are in the story. This is one of Matthew’s more powerful tales and many better than me have preached on it.
In front of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. told the faithful, just weeks before his death, how he wanted to be remembered. “ If Christ is the ruler our lives, then my Nobel Peace Prize is less important than my trying to feed the hungry. If Christ is King, then my invitations to the White House are less important than that I visited those in prison. If Christ is Lord, then my being Time magazine’s ‘man of the year’ is less important than that I tried to love extravagantly, dangerously, will all my being.” Sounds to me like Martin knew a thing about being a follower of Jesus. Continue reading
It is 100 years since the start of the First World War and since 1919, people have stood silently – on November 11th and, like us today, on the nearest Sunday before – to remember the dead of that War that was to end all wars, of the world war that followed it, and the wars that have followed those. There has been a shift in the last century. In 1919, those who had died were almost all – even then not all – servicemen, those who had gone to the front to serve their country and fallen. And a big part of it is still about that: remembering those who joined – and join – armies and navies and air forces and are sent to fight, and who have given up their lives in that cause. We remember those who died, for their sacrifice, but also all those who fought, for the terrible cost to them personally because of the things that society requires them to do, and then live with, in its name in war. But because in war society requires of its servicemen and -women that they do these terrible things, and because through the twentieth century the consequences of those expectations have increasingly been experienced also by those who are not members of the armed forces, it seems to me fitting that we remember today also all those others who died in war: in bombing raids, those civilians who lost their lives simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Harvest Thanksgiving. A wonderful feast day in the church that is a “left over” of sorts from another time. Harvest Thanksgiving was once a day to Thank God that there was enough food in the cellar to make it to spring, or if it had been a bad year to pray that God would provide what the cellar wasn’t going to be able to. Clearly, an important day in the life of the 19th century Church but what is this day about in the 21st century? With food as close as the refrigerator door – what are we doing; still celebrating Harvest Thanksgiving ? What have we to be truly thankful for ?
Our working understanding of the Cross and its significance to Christian life dates back to a few dusty old Theologians. St. Anselm who was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 1093; St. Thomas Aquinas who was born in 1225; and our dear old Protestant friend John Calvin.
If you went to Wikipedia to get a grip on this development you’d read this…..
A Sermon on Matthew 16:13-20
Simon said to Jesus ‘You are the Messiah’. Jesus said to Simon, ‘You are the Rock’. This is a story of how we discover who Jesus really is – and how in answering that question we are never the same again. Jesus takes his disciples to the northern borderlands, to a place with a significant name. It was called Caesarea Philippi. That’s to say the first part of the name was the name of the Roman Emperor, Caesar, sometimes known as the living Son of God, the self-styled saviour, protector and deliverer of his people. The second part is named after Philip, ruler of the region, lapsed Jew and puppet of the hated Romans. You may recall Philip’s wife went off with his brother Herod Antipas, the story that led to the death of John the Baptist.
The Gospel this morning is the account of a mountaintop experience. It is Matthew’s account of the transfiguration, read on the last Sunday before Lent. It marks a significant shift in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has gone up on a mountain and he’s taken his senior administration with him. Peter, James, and John, the same three he will ask to stay awake with him in the Garden of Gethsemane before his execution. He has been teaching, feeding, and healing. He has made quite a name for himself and for the disciples that are at his side. If it was today they’d have been on talk shows and T-shirts and YouTube by now. But on this day, Jesus, Peter, James, and John, steal away by themselves, up on a mountain top, to retreat perhaps, take a break from the crazy pace of life down below, the crowds, the suffering, the hungry, the poor, the arguments with the local clergy and keepers of the law.
We hear Jesus preach this morning, Let your light shine before others. Do not resist evil. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, you’re to turn and offer up the left. If they ask for your shirt, you give em your coat to. If they press you for one mile, you’re supposed to go two. Give to those who beg from you, and love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In a word, we’re supposed to be perfect, Jesus says, just like God is.
You’ve heard me confess before that I don’t care so much for Matthew’s Gospel – I really don’t care for this sermon either. They create an ideal to which I know I am unable to achieve. And which one of us sets out to be a failure every morning?
“Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures— either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete.”
Sometimes Christianity can be a bit of an airy fairy business. Other times it’s more like a two by four to the head – a good hard body check to the soul. This morning we’re in for the later. “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures— either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete.” And what did those prophets have to say about God’s Law? Well Isaiah is pretty clear: This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. This Isaiah preached that message of social justice to the winners of Israel. The cream of the crop who’d made it back home to Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon. They’d come home to Jerusalem to be met by the offspring of the losers who the Babylonians knew they could leave behind because they’d never amount to anything. These were the folks that the children of Israel were called to share their food with, invite into their homes, and clothe. And we think we have it hard!
If we are to take the Gospel of John seriously we have to admit that it presents us modern folk with quite a challenge. We like our theology done from the bottom up – from the human to the divine. John took the traditions he received and wrote them from God’s side. His approach has been called the theologizing of a human drama – the telling of how a man speaks and acts who is literally inebriated with the divine. John’s faith in Jesus has become our faith in so much as we affirm the Creeds and their insistence that Jesus was fully a human being and fully divine being – the Word of God in the flesh. Never not a human being, never not the divine Word of God.
It’s this knowledge that helps us make sense of how quickly the titles for Jesus come in the reading this morning. Messiah (v.41), the one spoken of in the law and the prophets (v.45). It’s this retelling from God’s side that helps explain disciples who act quickly, impulsively and follow Jesus. And it explains how Jesus can give a human being a new identity simply by speaking a word a title on Peter as the gospel closed to our hearing this morning. There is a divine mystery being played out in the telling of John’s Gospel. Clement of Alexandria writing in the very early days of the Church called John’s gospel a spiritual gospel. We enter another realm when we engage the Gospel of John. Many before us have found it to be fruitful ground for their relationship with God, in the building of a strong faith. John told stories about Jesus from God’s vantage point. So maybe we’d grasp the depths of who Jesus is to us and our world.
So we tell stories….