Since I started curating (in an ecclesiastical sense), I haven’t had as much time as I had hoped (ha! naive) to write this blog. But recent events, and the prompting of a college friend, have poked me to get on here and to write again. For the last few months, I have seen us edge closer and closer to a precipice whereby all kinds of evil will be unleashed if we, and more specifically, the Church, fail to speak out and do something to stop the degradation of our Western society.
The Brexit vote occurred in the week that I was ordained. No one thought that we would actually leave the European Union, but that was the vote. People were hurt. People are hurt. And yet, despite a surprise result over Brexit, no one saw the election of Donald Trump as the next US President to be a serious consideration.
Well, here we are. Brexit and Donald Trump are not really what I want to speak about. What I really want to speak out about is how these two events have been coat hangers for hatred and division.
I don’t know much about American politics (and to be honest, I only know a little bit about British politics, as do all of us). I know that Christians can vote for all sorts of parties and leaders and decisions with genuinely good convictions. We live in a world that by its very nature is broken and so the systems we put in place are also that; broken.
I get why Christians want to “protect the rights of an unborn child” but I don’t get why Christians are happy with the idea of the registration, and therefore the ostracisation, of muslims.
I get why Christians want to preserve marriage as being between one man and one woman (which many of you know I am in sympathy with), but I don’t get why Christians are silent when the LGBT community are being harassed and abused.
I get why Christians want to be patriotic, but I don’t get why Christians are xenophobic.
We are told as followers of Jesus to honour those in authority – in other words, to be good citizens. But we can only do that best when we apply the teaching and example of Christ to our lives in how we conduct ourselves as citizens.
For the evangelical church (of which I count myself) to be quiet or worse, silent, about the rampant xenophobia, sexism, racism and hatred of the LGBT community which exists both in the USA and the UK is an absolute disgrace. We are a people who ourselves are foreigners and exiles (1 Peter 2) and as such we should be identifying with those who are being treated as alien. We are to live not according to the world’s way of doing things but to the rule and reign of God almighty (Romans 12:2).
Many will use that verse to which I allude to justify their apathy and even promotion of the hatred and division that exists, but I say this verse should tell us that it is only through the love and grace of Jesus that we are to operate, (including whether we agree with people’s living arrangements or not). It doesn’t mean that we have to compromise our beliefs about things such as marriage, but it does mean that we have to treat every human as being made in the image and likeness of God. It means recognising that it was for them that Jesus came and desires to be saved.
If we fail in this, we don’t only degrade our neighbours to a status less than human but we also degrade ourselves. It’s time for the evangelical Church to wake up and smell the coffee. We must act now, or there is a growing possibility that history may repeat itself with all its swastika and blood red.
Last Sunday was Christ the King Sunday, the time of the year when the Church remembers the Kingdom of God and the rightful rule of Christ. The gospel reading for the day was Luke’s account of the crucifixion.
In the first half of the text, Jesus is nailed to a cross. Even as he hangs there dying, Jesus cries out: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” He is right, of course. The crowd know what they are doing. They don’t know that they are putting to death none other God himself. They don’t know that their actions will play a role in the new salvation story that God is making possible. They don’t know that future generations of believers will love and admire the cross as sign of love and forgiveness. Yet still, Jesus asks for them to be forgiven.
Here we see the ugliness of sin and the consequences of our evil and wrongdoing being taken on by none other than the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus bears the burden of the punishment for the world’s rejection of him, and as he’s doing so, the power of his love, mercy and grace is shown in full view.
In these words, we receive a glimpse into Jesus’ own heart. When humans are behaving cruelly; when humans are turning away from who Jesus is; when humans are found at their very worst, Jesus’ desire is that we turn to him for forgiveness. We can be sure that turning to him will result in our sins being forgiven, and a welcome into the glorious kingdom of God. But at the present time, where are we? I have a genuine fear that we may be scoffing with the crowd.
Jesus is crucified with a criminal to his right and a criminal to his left. One of the criminals mocks him because Jesus claims to be the Messiah, yet can’t even save himself from the cross. The other criminal rebukes the first criminal recognising that they are getting what they deserve. And then he says about Jesus, “But this man hasn’t done anything to deserve what they are doing to him.” He turns to Jesus and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” As the criminal turns to Jesus, the words of forgiveness are declared: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
On Christ the King Sunday, we remembered the just and gentle rule of King Jesus in our lives. And we give thanks that his rule is not like that of kings and rulers we’ve known in this world’s history. Even in this current political climate, and with all the devastation around us, it is important to hold on to the fact that followers of Jesus belong to a kingdom that is not of this world.
By this time next month, we will be singing Christmas carols that remind us of Jesus’ birth. They will remind us that he was born to save us from sin and bring us into his eternal kingdom. As that popular line from the Messiah says: “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ.” We recognise that Jesus is on the throne in the present, no matter what may be happening around us.
And yet, we look forward to that future time when Jesus will return to the earth to fully establish his Kingdom. And what a kingdom it will be! It will be a kingdom where every citizen has received Jesus’ love and forgiveness. It will be a kingdom that establishes justice and brings evil to account. But until we see the full glory of that kingdom, it is our job as Christians to help in the building and preparing of it in the world around us by following Jesus closely in our daily lives.
I suggest part of that is standing up to be counted when fellow humans are being persecuted. They are made in God’s likeness and they need to know the love of the Saviour. Racism, homophobia, xenophobia and sexism have no place in the Kingdom of God. We will have to give account of our advocation of it or our apathy to it if it is present in our lives.
The life and ministry and message of Jesus teaches us that the “King of kings” comes to this world to establish his rule in an entirely different manner than any other king or ruler has ever done. He doesn’t use armies and weapons, he doesn’t use intimidation and coercion. He doesn’t use political posturing and manoeuvring. Instead, he rules with love, grace, forgiveness and justice in equal measure. As heirs to the Kingdom promise then, it’s time we did the same.