How is this compassion, this reign of God expressed? Well, last Monday, thanks to wonderful work by our centre wardens, Mothers Union, and hospitality team, we welcomed a large, varied and distinguished gathering to St Luke’s, for the installation of the Battle of One Tree Hill memorial cross and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags. That is all part of our continuing journey as a community and another wonderful example of the generous and inclusive faith of this particular parish. We hope that those new additions will complement the other aspects of our shared history and our continuing mission in this city. If you have not had a chance to reflect on the memorial cross, do have a look. For the artist, Uncle Colin Isaacs, has done a wonderful job in bringing together many elements of our Australian story. Indeed, two aspects strike me powerfully in relation to our theme and readings for today: firstly the way in which Uncle Colin has used the two arms of the cross differently but in a reconciling manner; and, secondly, the strength and poise of the central warrior figure. These are pointers towards better understanding, both Christ the King and the Reign of Christ, and today’s two New Testament readings.
In the case of the Battle of One Tree Hill cross, the vertical arm of the cross represents Aboriginal story and culture, and the work of the Spirit (pictured there as a creator snake). The horizontal represents later-comers’ story and culture, and other ways of connecting to this land and its spirit. In a similar manner, we might view the Reign, or Kingdom, of God, and today’s Gospel story as one arm of the Christian faith: perhaps the horizontal arm, concerned with our immediate and down-to-earth struggles. This is vital part of both our Christian message and ministries. We need however to bring this together with the other, vertical, arm of Christian faith: namely the Kingship, or Lordship, of God, expressed so powerfully in today’s second reading from the letter to the Colossians. Jesus Christ, we might say, is both intimately involved with everything we experience and also the warrior king through whom we, in God, are reconciled and triumph over all our adversities.
Does the first reading we hear today (Jeremiah 23.1-6) act as a synthesis between king and kingdom, and between the import of our two New Testament readings, do you think? That would be too facile a conclusion. Yet there is something in that passage which unites both the horizontal – the immediate and down-to-earth struggles of our world – and the vertical – the power and primacy of God. Jeremiah’s words speak of the pain and adversity of the people of God, scattered like sheep thanks to their own betrayals of love and the leadership of false shepherds. It does not gloss over these struggles. Yet it affirms that God will raise up not just a new leader, but a new form of leadership which enables justice and peace to be shared and nurtured by all, through wisdom and fair dealing.
I have been intrigued, admittedly with some shock, by the choice of a new leader in the USA. It seems to me that many of the people, as in Jeremiah’s text, clearly feel scattered and in need of change. So they have chosen, as it were, a new king, in the hope of salvation. For a new leader is certainly one arm of a new politics. I wonder however whether the people have quite sorted out the other arm. For a king is judged by the quality of their kingdom, the godliness of their reign, not only by their charisma, power and position. Of course that is a hard ask for any politician, even those who have a Christ-like message of justice and fair dealing for all. We need therefore to pray for today’s politicians and we need to keep working for the reconciling of kingship and kingdom, power and God’s compassion. For only in Jesus Christ are these things truly reconciled.
For, to conclude, taking up Jeremiah’s core image, why, do you think, do shepherds come to the manger in the Christmas story? A little child at The Glennie School answered that question for Penny the other day. ‘It is because Jesus was the Good Shepherd’, she said. How right she was. If we celebrate Christ as King today, as the ultimate power in all things, it is because he exercises a reign which is that of a true shepherd: caring for people with justice and with the amazing mercy of the crucified one. In Jesus Name, Amen.
by Jo Inkpin, for Christ the King/Reign of Christ, Sunday 20 November 2016