Monday, 26 November 2012

For thine is the kingdom

I think it might surprise and shock some of us to learn that you are taking part in a subversive political act today; We are more used to thinking of ourselves as pillars of the establishment – though it really shouldn’t.
Jesus himself was executed because he was a political threat to the status quo. One of the things that is firmly attested in the gospels is the charge against him that led to his execution – “The King of the Jews”
The logic is obvious. If you owe your loyalty to God – if you believe that the final authority in your life is vested in God and the person who lived that belief out most fully in his life, Jesus, who then bids you to do the same and follow him down the same path, then warning signs go off in the corridors of the worldly powers.
Because if Jesus is your Lord, if Jesus is your king, then Caesar is not, the high priest and the Roman overlords are NOT. Their power and authority is undermined. You can appeal against their dictats because your source of authority lies elsewhere.
The same is true today. To say that Jesus is Lord or that Christ is King means that your ultimate loyalty lies not to Queen Elizabeth II or to any political party or to any Nation or political ideology but to the God revealed in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. A God who commands love. To say that Christ is king is a dangerous subversive act. To some that may be shocking news.
Centres of worldly power have been trying to deal with and accommodate and neuter this challenge ever since. Communist countries usually just tried to ban all religion. Another ploy is to say that politics and religion don’t mix – that Christianity is not political and politics and power must be allowed to operate without any interference in their schemes and Bishops are always getting told to stay out of politics.
What we have tried to do in Britain is shackle state and religion together as we have done in the UK where the head of state is the supreme Governor of the C. Of E. and our Bishops are part of the law making establishment because they sit in the house of Lords. Effectively they are trying to say that the state is God’s mouthpiece so you must give that loyalty you might otherwise give to God, you must give to us because we are doing God’s will. Because God and the state are one and the same thing.
The ramifications of that uneasy relationship may become apparent very soon if parliament legislates to force equality onto the C of  E and force us to accept women Bishops. Interesting times.
In declaring himself Christ’s representative on earth and declaring his pronouncements infallible that is exactly what the Pope does. He usurps God’s role and his religion becomes a wordly power in its own right in direct competition with the Kingdom of God. One of the prime movers of the reformation and the breaking away from Rome wasn’t so much Henry 8th’s desire to re-marry – that was just a symptom, but the far bigger question. Who has authority in this country – the king of England or a foreign potentate? It was the rise of the Nation state in Europe that led all European countries to re-define their relations with the Pope, even loyal catholic ones.
The Orthodox accomodate themselves to earthly state power with their theology of “symphony” where they are allied very strongly with a people or Nation and their leaders. You see that very well in Russia nowadays where the church becomes fiercely nationalistic – one of the uglier traits of the Orthodox church. Churches in the East are very definitely Russian. Greek. Serbian, Romanian etc. and fiercely support their ethnicity.  You cannot slide a piece of paper between Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox church nowadays.
But all of those contingent forms of relationship between Christianity and earthly power are plainly not what Jesus stood for. They all seek to avoid what Jesus really meant.
So If we want to take the title “Christ the King” at all seriously then we are a collection of subversives whose final loyalty lies with the way of divine love rather than the contingent authorities of Monarchy, country, parliament, nation. It lies in the character and nature of God as revealed in Jesus.
This topic caused one of the few major falling outs and source of tension I had with the British embassy in Bucharest.  One very thoughtful man in particular was challenged by this notion. He been one of Tony Blair’s advisors in the run up to the Iraq war and now works for NATO in Brussels. The tension is real and current.
One of the best hymns that sum up this odd state of affairs is the hymn “I vow to thee my country”
The first verse is standard stuff about loyalty to the nation, and there is another verse rarely seen that is even more militaristic and Nationalistic but the last verse introduces the concept of a higher authority than Queen and country.
The second verse goes like this.
And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
We all have competing loyalties in our hearts. The question is, when we say Christ is King – do we really mean it?

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