1Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2Therefore, 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. 3Then 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. 4I 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.5 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. 6In 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.’7 Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt’, 8but ‘As the Lord lives who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.’ Then they shall live in their own land.
9 Concerning the prophets:
My heart is crushed within me,
all my bones shake;
I have become like a drunkard,
like one overcome by wine,
because of the Lord
and because of his holy words.
10 For the land is full of adulterers;
because of the curse the land mourns,
and the pastures of the wilderness are dried up.
Their course has been evil,
and their might is not right.
11 Both prophet and priest are ungodly;
even in my house I have found their wickedness,
says the Lord.
12 Therefore their way shall be to them
like slippery paths in the darkness,
into which they shall be driven and fall;
for I will bring disaster upon them
in the year of their punishment,
says the Lord.
13 In the prophets of Samaria
I saw a disgusting thing:
they prophesied by Baal
and led my people Israel astray.
14 But in the prophets of Jerusalem
I have seen a more shocking thing:
they commit adultery and walk in lies;
they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that no one turns from wickedness;
all of them have become like Sodom to me,
and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.
15 Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets:
‘I am going to make them eat wormwood,
and give them poisoned water to drink;
for from the prophets of Jerusalem
ungodliness has spread throughout the land.’
16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you; they are deluding you. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17They keep saying to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to all who stubbornly follow their own stubborn hearts, they say, ‘No calamity shall come upon you.’
18 For who has stood in the council of the Lord
so as to see and to hear his word?
Who has given heed to his word so as to proclaim it?
19 Look, the storm of the Lord!
Wrath has gone forth,
a whirling tempest;
it will burst upon the head of the wicked.
20 The anger of the Lord will not turn back
until he has executed and accomplished
the intents of his mind.
In the latter days you will understand it clearly.
21 I did not send the prophets,
yet they ran;
I did not speak to them,
yet they prophesied.
22 But if they had stood in my council,
then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way,
and from the evil of their doings.
23 Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? 24Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. 25I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ 26How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart?
11May 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 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabledyou to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for 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. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He 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. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and 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.
33When 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. [[34Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And 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!’36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,37and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ 40But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘king’?
A crown? Wealth?
Who do you think of when you hear the word ‘king’?
I’ve heard some say Elvis Presley!!
But what is a king?
Modern dictionaries tells us it is a “male ruler of an independent state, especially one who inherits the position by right of birth”.
The words in Hebrew and Greek melek (MEH-lekh) and basileus [basileuv"] generally designate the person who holds supreme authority over a nation or city.
Kingship is an ancient institution, originating in the 4th millennium BCE (or perhaps even slightly earlier) and I’m reliably informed that the terms "king" and "kingship" occur over 2,500 times in the Old Testament and 275 times in the New Testament. We can read, of course, about the early monarchs of Israel in the Old Testament books of Samuel and Kings.
Kings in many ancient cultures, bore superhuman (and occasionally divine) reputations. Most of us will be familiar with the doctrine of the ‘divine right of kings’ which asserts that kings derive their authority from God, being chosen and anointed by him and playing a key role in linking heaven and earth.
In the ancient world kingship and deity were closely associated. In Egypt the king himself was regarded as a deity. To the Samaritans the king was agent of the gods. In Babylon the king served as priest. In ancient Israel kings had a judicial function but also had a special role in religious affairs, taking charge of religious policy making and having an important part to play in organized worship. The kings of Judah controlled the worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Kings could pray on behalf of the nation and issue blessings in God’s name.
Yet we live in times (don’t we?) when many of us, not least those of us who are women, struggle with notions of kingship, and when many are uncomfortable with the concept of monarchy or the idea of authority and power being concentrated in the hands of a single individual. People are troubled by hierarchy and the abuse of power that kingship down the centuries has often come to be identified with.
I guess that’s hardly surprising when a quick canter through history throws up kings like Ivan the Terrible, Herod the Great and King John – the latter, for those who don’t remember, being made famous by the Robin Hood legend - a greedy, violent, cruel, lecherous king who imprisoned and killed anyone who threatened him and who ordered every priest, bishop and abbot to leave England!!
To quote Frederick the Great;
They say that kings are made in the image of God. If that is what he looks like, I feel sorry for God.
In the ancient Near East the hallmarks of a just king were the possession of wisdom and the execution of justice and righteousness. But if you know your Bible you will know that kings of the Davidic dynasty, just like the list of kings I referred to earlier (as well as members of our current royal family), often failed to live up to high expectations!
Israel’s image of a king and indeed of God was often that of a shepherd thinking of his own needs last and the needs of his herd first. (a shepherd image features in our reading from Jeremiah today.)
But the supreme sovereign, the ultimate king, as a reading of the psalms (e.g. Psalm 97) reminds us, was God, and that title of God as king was taken by early Christians and used of Jesus. And its Jesus’ kingdom we hear spoken of in our reading from Colossians and in our gospel reading.
But how helpful is that concept of kingship to our understanding of Christ when kingship over the centuries has so often been equated with misogyny, oppression and inequality? How are we to understand the image of Christ as king in our 21st century context? How does it fit with us enjoying a personal relationship with Jesus?
The answer of course lies in the fact that Jesus is a different sort of king. His kingship is very different to anything that went before and radically different from our worldly notions of kingship. He tells us himself in John 18:36 ("My kingdom is not of this world").
Jesus turns the notion of kingship and world order completely upside down, re-defining concepts of power and authority. A king who came to serve rather than to be served, he is a king who serves the lost and raises the weak, a king who is present amongst the poor and alongside the oppressed, a king who is companion to strangers, to prisoners and to the sick.
It is in Jesus Christ that God returns to reclaim his sovereignty over the whole world by himself sharing the pain and suffering of his people.
Christ’s kingliness is related to his death. He is king because he walks the path of suffering and death and triumphs over it. His crucifixion is the means by which he comes to be king not just of the Jews, as that sign hung above his head announced, but king of the whole world.
And we are told we can share in his kingdom by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger and being alongside the oppressed and the outcast.
Today we celebrate The Feast of Christ the King, a festival first introduced into the Western church calendars in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in response to growing nationalism and secularism, both issues which have dominated our political and social discourse in recent times. With that in mind we might to pause to reflect on why continuing inclusion of this festival in our church calendar is so important.
Nowadays, thanks to another pope, the festival falls on the last Sunday of the church year before the new year begins in Advent. Just as the secular New Year is a time for new resolutions, it seems to me that the start of the new Church year is a good time for us, as Christians, to reflect on the conflict between the non-godly things that the world would have us worship and the values which Christ calls us to honour. It is a fitting time to resolve to live as Christ asks us to.
If we love God, if Christ is our King then we will surely love as He loves us and live as He taught us. That means reflecting upon our priorities, our use of time and the extent to which we follow our personal ambitions and desires rather than responding to Christ’s call to care for each other, to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and stand alongside the oppressed and the imprisoned.
As I near the end this sermon I’m going to repeat the words of another “king”, from whom I have drawn inspiration over the years, Martin Luther King:
If Christ is ruler over our lives, then my Nobel Peace Prize is less important than my trying to feed the hungry. If Christ is King, then my invitations to the White House are less important than that I visited those in prison. If Christ is Lord, then my being TIME magazine's "Man of the Year" is less important than that I tried to love extravagantly, dangerously, with all my being.”
(I Have a Dream, 191)
It is my prayer today that we all cast aside those other things which may have dominated our lives and commit instead to loving extravagantly and dangerously with all our being.