Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King on 22nd November 2015 at Fordingbridge.
Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge for the Feast of Christ the King on 22nd November 2015.
Play “All you need is love” by the Beatles.
“All you need is love”. It is extraordinary that having chosen to use this song before the attacks in Paris it should be preceded by an excerpt of the Marseilleuse, the French National Anthem. I want to use this refrain of the Beatles (which of course shows my age) as a theme for this morning’s sermon. Following the service in the Cathedral last Saturday we are commissioned to launch the partnership action plan which has been in the making for the past year or so, having started with a parish conference in 2013. Thus the focus of our reflection this morning is on the Mission of Jesus. Now the Mission of Jesus and the Mission of the Church find its origin in the Mission of God. And herein lies a great mystery because it throws us back to ask the question “What is the Mission of God?” Put more simply, “What is life all about?”-no big deal.
I want to suggest that the Beatles had the answer, “All you need is love”. Countless people-philosophers, poets, musicians and composers, artists, philanthropists, reformers-all contribute to reach out for a meaning to the big question, “What is life all about?”-“What is God’s purpose for humankind?”
I want to suggest that God caused the world to come into being by an act of conscious loving. God made no conditions on that creation, it was an unconditional act of love. It was a risk but a beautiful risk. Whatever else we make believe or think about the purpose of the universe and our part in that universe, we are faced with the utter graciousness of God’s unconditional love for all his creatures including humankind. If that is the Mission of God then it is also the Mission of Jesus and the Mission of the Church of which you and I are a part.
Today that is the question which lies behind the partnership action plan. The way in which we take this plan forward is to be informed by our answer to this question. St Paul in his famous verses from his first letter to the Corinthian Church might have written this to us here today,
“If I beaver away at the parish action plan but do not have love, I gain nothing”.
It begs the question “how do we lovingly put this plan into action?” What constitutes a loving action plan as opposed to one without love?
I want to suggest that the life of Christ demonstrated how the purposes of God’s love found their fullest expression. He is our example. When we examine his life what kind of loving do we find? The establishing of a kingdom of love in the hearts and minds of all people.
Unconditional, costly, humble, forgiving and inclusive.
Love is unconditional. Most of us when we give compliments to other do so on the basis what the other person has achieved. “What a pretty dress.” “I do like your hairstyle.” “You have made a good job of painting that fence.” “Well done you-a Grade A is brilliant”. Unconditional responses are rarer “It is really great having you in this team”. “What a lovely congregation you are”. I guess the ultimate unconditional compliment is “I love you”. That is the ultimate compliment God paid us when the world was called into being. What conditions shall we impose on the action plan through our mistrust and fear? Shall we build in securities which will prevent taking risks and trusting others? We surely will because of the frailty of our human nature.
At the moment some in our world have been blinded by hate and the consequence is fear and terror for the people of Paris, in Syria, Egypt, and Beirut and so the list goes on. And the reality is that whilst God may hate the deeds of the perpetrators they remain loved.
Love is costly. Most of us have had and will have our hearts broken because we love and have loved. Loving is a risky business. The greatest risk has been taken by God in bring the world into being. Jesus reflects that act of sacrificial giving in risking his life to promote God’s kingdom of love for all people. He shows us how painful loving can be by losing his life in the most horrific manner-a horror matched on the battle fields of our world. How shall we measure the cost of putting the action plan into motion? Will it be by risking spending our church finances until it hurts? Will it be by personal sacrifice of time and skill? Can we risk failure in the eyes of the world? Shall we stand up for the most marginalised of our world for fear we ourselves shall be ridiculed?
Love is humble. I am not talking about the obsequious humility of Dicken’s Uriah Heep in ‘Great Expectations’. I am talking about a humility which honours others’ differences, which seeks to know and listen intently to the other, and which is prepared to set aside our own ego in the service of other people. I know-how hard is that? Jesus warned the disciples that their personal power was to be used to empower others not as a weapon for repression and bullying. The church in its time has and still does render some groups in society voiceless-the struggle goes on for gay, lesbian and transgender Christians and women’s ministry. What does a humble church look like when putting our plan into action.
Love is forgiving and inclusive. I recently quoted some words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the Wednesday Communion Service which are so powerful. Remember his work for the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” In South Africa after the fall of apartheid. He preached these words at a sermon in Pasadena:
“God’s family has no outsiders. Everyone is an insider. When Jesus said, ‘I, if I am lifted up, will draw…’ Did he say, ‘I will draw some, and tough luck for others’? He said, ‘I, if I be lifted up, will draw all, ‘All! All! All!-Black, white, yellow; rich, poor; clever, not so clever; beautiful, not so beautiful. All! All! It is radical. All! Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Bush-All!…Gay, lesbian, so-called straight; All! All are to be held in the incredible embrace of the love that won’t let us go.”
Again hear the words of Antoine Leiris, the young man who talked so movingly about the death of his wife Helen in the Paris bombings:
‘You will not have my hatred’ he wrote: “On Friday evening you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.”
“I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God for whom you kill blindly made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife is a wound in his heart.
“So no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.
“You would like me to be scared, for me to look at my fellow citizens with a suspicious eye, for me to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You have lost.
“I saw her this morning. At last, after nights and days of waiting. She was as beautiful as when she left on Friday evening, as beautiful as when I fell head over heels in love with her more than 12 years ago.
“Of course I am devastated with grief, I grant you this small victory, but it will be short-lived.”
“I know she will be with us every day and we will find each other in heaven with free souls which you will never have.
“Us two, my son and I, we will be stronger than every army in the world. I cannot waste any more time on you as I must go back to [my son] who has just woken from his sleep.
“He is only just 17 months old, he is going to eat his snack just like every other day, then we are going to play like every other day and all his life this little boy will be happy and free.
“Because you will never have his hatred either.”
Shall the working out of our action plan pass the Tutu test or the Leiris Test?
Above, below and through all, love is our connection with the deepest part of ourselves, with others and with the mystery of God. Creation set us up for this connection; in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, love is re-established as the hope for humankind to be re-connected with the mystery of God; and Christ’s body the Church is but one channel for connecting people to love’s mystery. Week by week the church throughout the world in all its many guises breaks God’s word and God’s bread as a sign of that hope and love, and upon which we can feed.
On this celebration of the feast of Christ the King, on this day when we are commissioned as the body of Christ in this place to take forward our action plan, may we remind and take to ourselves the heart of God in Christ’s gospel of love which is unconditional, humble, forgiving and inclusive and provides us with an eternal blueprint for establishing God’s kingdom, that is the rule of love in the hearts of everyone everywhere , unconditionally-for in the immortal words of the Beatles, ‘All you need is love’.