Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
1 God is our refuge and strength, •
a very present help in trouble;
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, •
and though the mountains tremble in the heart of the sea;
3 Though the waters rage and swell, •
and though the mountains quake at the towering seas.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, •
the holy place of the dwelling of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her;
therefore shall she not be removed; •
God shall help her at the break of day.
6 The nations are in uproar and the kingdoms are shaken, •
but God utters his voice and the earth shall melt away.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us; •
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
8 Come and behold the works of the Lord, •
what destruction he has wrought upon the earth.
9 He makes wars to cease in all the world; •
he shatters the bow and snaps the spear
and burns the chariots in the fire.
10 ‘Be still, and know that I am God; •
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth.’
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; •
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[ Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
Sermon on The Feast of Christ the King
Who is this King we celebrate today? Who rules our hearts? What will our King say when he comes to visit us? Will he utter the same words as Jeremiah?
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord.” But “I will raise up [true] shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.”
This month we have all been worried about the shepherds around the world, haven’t we? With the US election and Brexit, this question about our King is right at the top of our concerns. We are worried that the Prime Minister will do what is best for the whole country. We are worried that the President-elect of the US will be a reasonable man and act in a considered way. We are worried that the language and the sound-bites of all the campaigners will be moderated into thoughtful policies and actions for the good of the world.
However, don’t we cry out with Jeremiah, “Woe to us!” because we fear for the world? We hope that the true shepherd of souls will come to save us. I suppose the question our anxiety poses is – who cares for our souls here and now? Who can save us and the world in which we live? No politician, you could say, is inclined for such altruistic work as this in our experience, for who would take on the world and our souls? Who is the King who will take on such responsibility?
We christians say Jesus Christ is that King. All of the season of ordinary time, that long green season, has been leading up to this feast. We have considered all sorts of topics as preparation for the coming of Christ as King. Next week we begin the real Advent, when we prepare for the coming of Christ the King as an incarnate, real, flesh-and-blood man who reveals the divine as an integral part of our world – the beginning and end of all being.
Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.
This King of ours is greater than any shepherd the bible speaks about. This King cares for his flock in a way no shepherd we know can. What politicians – those modern shepherds of the people whom Jeremiah tells us “destroy and scatter the sheep” – what politicians will take away all our fear? What leader will encourage the dismayed or find those who are missing? I know of no person in a position of authority who acts like this King, Jesus Christ. Even our friends fail in these difficult tasks, so how can we expect the people in Westminster, Beijing, Moscow, Washington, Toronto to do any better? What we expect of this King is so very different to what the world expects.
But Christ, “the image of the invisible God” is our hope. Christ is the cause of our creation and we will find our completion in Christ. That is the King we have, the King who has ordered all the thrones, dominions and powers: he orders all the rulers in the world. What a King this first-born of creation is!
This King of ours is all-powerful, and all-merciful for we have learned about the miracles, the teachings and the grace of our Lord through the ordinary time of Trinity.
Now we must celebrate our King.
“In Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
The mercy of God is in the story of our Lord Jesus Christ and we have been telling that story since Pentecost in various ways, haven’t we?
Our gospel reading today tells us of the promise Jesus made to the thief, who acknowledged his wrong-doing and confessed Jesus to be innocent, in other words he acknowledged the Lamb of God slaughtered for the sake of the world. The promise, “Today you will be with me in paradise” has been spoken to us as well as to the thief, if only we would acknowledge him to be our King just like the thief hanging there. The promise is foreshadowed by Christ’s “making peace through the blood of the cross”, that blood which is at the heart of so many of the world’s religions but, more importantly, forms the core of so much christian theology, beginning with Paul as we read in our epistle for today.
Our theology has been so shaped by the blood of the cross, that we have forgotten the purpose of that blood – reconciliation, that making of peace. I think that, if we were to remember the saving purpose of that blood, our faith could be so much more in the world. Jesus “came into the world to save sinners” or to “make peace” – that is the aim of so much of the liturgical expression of the Book of Common Prayer – “to pass our time in rest and quietness”.
We should see the blood shed as the nurturing of peace, like the gardener’s blood and bone fertiliser. It does work, but it is hidden from the sight of all of us. We stand with stained hands wringing them over the state of the world and our lives. But as we squeeze our hands in penitent grief, we should be aware that the blood of the Lamb of God is cleansing them – that we, like the martyrs, will stand in robes whiter than any white we now know, when we gather in that heavenly city of God. – However, we must be faithful, and faithful does not mean merely reciting our creed by rote, rather it is living that faith, by our making that peace which the world cannot give. In fact, it may mean that our own blood might be shed for the sake of salvation – not for our own sake, but for the world’s, just as the martyrs sacrificed themselves to testify to the world about God in their own violent times where peace seemed to be as far away as it does in our time. Our faithfulness is a life-long and life-threatening fact. Why else would we celebrate this Christ the King today? That is what we christians do in the world – we stand when others falter, we carry when others collapse, we pray when others cry, we groan like Paul when all has been silenced – we pledge our allegiance through our actions to Christ the King. What better mode of celebration of our King could there be? How else can we care for the souls of those around us than by witnessing to our faith in word and deed? How else can we show that our King is Jesus Christ than by imitation, as the tradition has espoused since the beginning of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church? As the apostle says somewhere, “Be not merely hearers of the Word of God, but be doers of that Word” in the name of Christ the King.