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Sermon: Eucharist - Christ the King

Sunday 23rd November 2014
Cathedral Eucharist
Ephesians 1.15-23
Matthew 25:31-46
Download Recording (MP3, 14.9M) Download


Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…

(Matthew 25.34b)

+ In nomine Patris…

A kingdom is prepared, prepared for you and for me, from the foundation of the world. What a bold promise, what an expansive vision!

It is literally a cosmic vision, because when Jesus says, ‘from the foundation of the world’, in Greek it is apo katabols kosmou, literally from the foundation of the cosmos.

This kingdom isn’t a rescue plan cobbled together to fix a broken world but is the fullest expression of the creation that is being unveiled, and in which we are participating here and now.

The kingdom for which we pray, ‘thy Kingdom come’ is here and now, close at hand, this kingdom of the renewed creation. That is the trajectory of the New Testament, of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and the vision of his glorification in Revelation: as the letter to the Ephesians puts it, ‘God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come’ (Ephesians 1.20, 21). This is cosmic stuff and yet earthed in this world.

The description of the kingdom in our gospel is at the moment of judgement. The Greek word used for judgement is one that doesn’t even need translation: krisis. The crisis, the judgement, appears, on the face of the parable, to be a simple sorting out, a black and white verdict: you sheep there, you goats there.

But it moves us from the black and white of a simple morality, that of goodies and baddies, sheep and goats, to probing questions of the fruits of faith and the culture in which we have been shaped as disciples of Christ.

The word ‘culture’ is used in a variety of ways most typically around the social patterns and norms of certain groups: gang culture; high culture; popular culture; youth culture; church culture, British culture. All those expressions of culture are subject to critique.

Human culture is awaiting perfection, and is not there yet. It is based on founding myths that have a hold on the culture concerned and invariably are derived from violence. 

So we can speak of Christ-culture, not as another competing culture, but where we go beyond assumptions about human culture where a tribe or group prevails over another, where the weak are trampled on and scapegoats created.

A culture is also something that is about growth. So something like penicillin grows in a culture if put in a petri dish.

It is in both senses of the word that we should explore culture on this Christ the King Sunday. What do the social patterns and norms of those who live Christ-culture look like? How does being part of Christ-culture shape relationships, business decisions, the way in which we love, work and live? And then, what does growing in Christ culture involve, what are the conditions that shape that growth?

So what is the petri dish for the culture of the Kingdom, this Christ-culture? It is the world. Christ-culture can only grow in the world. And the foundation of God’s purpose in the world is the church and her worship. As the Letter to the Ephesians says, ‘And [God] has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all’ (Ephesians 1.22, 23).

This Christ-culture grows and is shaped by the Holy Spirit who breathes life into our thinking and speaking and acting so that we come to the Father to inherit the kingdom prepared for us since the foundation of the world.

The kingship and glorification of Christ begins on the Cross: pinned above his head are the words, ‘Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews’. It is a parody on the part of Pontius Pilate an earthly ruler, but is the deepest truth. The Cross of Christ is at the heart of this gospel. It reveals the krisis, the judgement of our action and faithfulness to Jesus Christ. This is exemplified as Jesus hangs on the cross with two thieves hanging either side of him. Two men whose culture has brought them condemnation and death: one thief stays true to his culture and ridicules Jesus; the other moves from that culture and pleads, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ (Luke 23.39-43).

Our worship is a knocking on the open door of God’s kingdom. Liturgy is the word we use for the culture that shapes who we are as we worship; liturgy is Christ-culture which grows our consciousness of God’s forgiveness. That’s why Sunday by Sunday our liturgy begins with our confession of our sin and the declaration of God’s enduring forgiveness.

Next we grow in Christ culture by attending to scripture. Hearing the Bible fosters our growth in Christ-culture by our listening to the ongoing story of God’s capacity never to abandon us to own culture, but to grow us into his culture of lavish and indissoluble love.

Then the taking and breaking of bread fosters the culture of unconditional offering to and receiving from God. In that we have become again the body of Christ by feeding on Christ. We become yeast, itself a culture, in the world. It is this that drives our ethical thinking, speaking and acting in the world.

So the final place of the growth of Christ-culture has to be where we start: in the world. This where we encounter the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and naked, the sick and the prisoner to be visited: it is in precisely those people and places that the Crucified King is to be found: when you did it to them, you did it to me.

He’s found in famine and drought; in people sleeping on the street or being trafficked around the place; he’s found in the Ebola victim and hostage held captive. Thanks be to God for those who minister to those people in those places: they’re showing us radical Christ-culture: the Kingdom.

The world today, now, is the petri dish in which Christ-culture grows and the Kingdom comes, otherwise it is not the culture of him who loves the cosmos so much that he sent his Son. This culture grows us into the image and likeness of Christ and we become who we were made to be, children and heirs of the Kingdom.

“Jesus Christ the Universal Saviour and King”: this is a declaration of cosmic proportions yet rooted in the world; a declaration that heralds God’s capacity to transform and overturn human culture; a declaration that means we seek out Christ and find him revealed in our world, in our worship and in the broken, forgotten and neglected.

Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…

(Matthew 25.34b)