Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton for the Churches of the United Benefice of Holland Park on Sunday 20th November 2016; Christ the King

Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton for the Churches of the United Benefice of Holland Park on Sunday 20th November 2016; Christ the King

If you had placed a £5 treble stake this time a year ago for Leicester City to win the Premier League title, for Brexit to happen and for Mr. Trump to become US President, the £15 stake would have won £12 million! What this tells us is that new leaders can emerge very unexpectedly. We live in uncertain times.

What does this have to do with this Sunday when we celebrate the feast of Christ the King? The answer, as you would expect from a preacher’s rhetorical question, is quite a lot.

The Feast of Christ the King was inaugurated by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and has since been adopted by other churches, including the Anglican Church. Pope Pius was deeply concerned about the rise in anti-clericalism, the opposition to the power and influence of the clergy, especially in politics.

The year before Lenin had died and in Italy, the socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti had been murdered by Fascist hirelings and ushered in Mussolini’s dictatorship. Britain under Prime Minister Baldwin had its fourth different Prime Minister in just over two years. And in 1925 Hitler published Mein Kampf. So you could say, there was plenty to be worried about.

Pius XI was compelled to remind the world of what true leadership, leadership in Christ’s own words (John 18), “not of this world” meant, that it should be celebrated and remembered so to inspire the world and its leaders.

The Feast is held on the Sunday before Advent, at the end of the church’s year. We draw together all that has been and give thinks for the enduring kingship and leadership exercised by Christ over the world. It is also, I suggest, a time for resolutions relating to our allegiance to Christ.

So that it where we have come from, and how the Feast of Christ the King came about.
Let us now turn to where we are now and then look at where we wish to go.

Where we are now?
The Gospel reading, the story of Jesus being mocked and taunted on the Cross, is the Lectionary’s chosen reading for a very good reason, because it related to the Kingdom or Christ. One of the things I am learning is that we should always be thankful for in our prayers for the insightfulness of the Lectionary’s chosen readings for each Sunday.
Today’s Gospel, I suggest, shows us where are positioned in the Kingdom.
We know the story of the two thieves on the Cross, either side of Jesus, very well. In fact many of us will have read it many times.
The taunting thief and thief who penetrates the secret of Jesus’ lordship.
Where are we positioned in the argument between the thieves?
The Cross said the spiritual writer Simone Weil, is one of two pivots of the Christian faith. The other is the Holy Trinity. One is perfect affliction and the other is perfect joy.
The thief who defends Jesus is situated somewhere in the land that sits between the Cross and the Trinity. His revelation allows him to be drawn into the inner joy that is the Holy Trinity. The thief who mocks Jesus is beyond the Cross, outside the safe and comfortable fold of the Good Shepherd (remember our first lesson from Jeremiah).
And we too, here in St. George’s, who, like Mary Magdalene on the first Easter morning, acknowledge Christ as “my Lord and my God” dwell in the fold of Good Shepherd, positioned between the cross and the Holy Trinity. We are not conceited or self-righteousness – I hope not. We recognise our imperfection and we try to live in obedience to Christ and out of love for his leadership and example.
The world that fails to recognise Jesus as Lord is somewhere between the Cross and the thief who mocks Jesus. That world may not mock Jesus in the way of the thief but many in the world are indifferent to His leadership.
Jesus’s style of leadership is different. We his servants honour and obey Him, not through fear but through love. His leadership shapes our hearts. How many of today’s leaders are loved and shape hearts? Mirror hearts, yes, but shape?
These new leaders. There is a message for us and it is this. In this age, where it is all too easy to be on “transmit” rather than “receive” we should listen carefully to understand the reasons why people have chosen them to lead.

Where are we going?
To this question, I have to say that I am optimistic. I am optimistic because, the contrast between many of today’s leaders and Jesus is so marked that I believe this jolt will cause more people than ever before to come to appreciate the qualities of Jesus’ kingdom.
And I am optimistic because we know that God is gracious - and a loving God, and the Cross and the Resurrection tell us that suffering is not the end of the story.
Last Sunday I attended Remembrance Day at Lavenham. In the beautiful early 16 century church were gathered many current members of the armed forces, including representatives of United States Airforce, still stationed in Suffolk. Their compatriots were based at Lavenham airfield in the Second World War and flew almost 200 missions over occupied Europe.
I could not help but wonder what the current US airmen might be thinking on this first Sunday after the 2016 US presidential election. The address was given by the head of the local Lavenham Salvation Army, the current leader of the same unit whose band piped my grandfather and great uncle and their territorial unit to the local station at the outbreak of the First War.
I found myself giving thanks for the enduring nature of Christ’s church, for the Kingdom of Christ, that suffering is not the end of the story, that we too will be with Christ in paradise, and that by making His kingdom known, heaven grows bigger on earth.
And I believe that in a hundred years hence, the Remembrance Day in Lavenham will still being commemorated.
The coming year is one of many potential leadership changes. In the next year Germany, France, Holland, and Austria all have general elections and the US and UK will be led respectively by a recently installed President and Prime Minister.

To conclude
The Feast of Christ the King this year is our chance to receive anew the inspiration of Christ and give thanks for Christ’s unique leadership, for His example and love and for the inner joy that Christian faith and the sacred mysteries provide. Our prayer is that those who dwell in the land between the Cross and the mocking thief will be drawn towards the Holy Trinity. We pray that the gift of Christ, through our lives and example, may become more widely known in the coming year, among our leaders and those they lead.

Father Peter Wolton
Holland Park Benefice