My musical tastes have always been a bit out of step with fashion and time. When, in the mid 70’s my contemporaries were endlessly celebrating the wonders of Genesis , I was playing Elvis records in my bedroom, and I didn’t appreciate the Smiths until they had long split up. Now like a lot of people of my age I am so disengaged from popular culture that almost every person described as a celebrity arouses no trace of recognition in my brain.
But very occasionally the topic of David Bowie comes up and my eccentric preference for his acting over his singing. An opinion which rests almost entirely on the time he played Pontius Pilate in Michael Scorsese’ s The Last Temptation of Christ. Particularly that scene we heard about in the gospel just now. The encounter between Jesus and Pilate.
In the film Bowie’s coldness and remoteness perfectly captured the gulf between the world Pilate inhabited- of political power, Imperialism, personal ambition, and keeping the peace, not because it is virtuous but because it is convenient – and that of Jesus, from Pilate’s perspective, an uneducated lowly provincial with some odd and dangerous religious ideas.
The idea that Jesus could be a legitimate king or have any right to talk about truth would have seemed to Pilate, utterly absurd.
But here we are, celebrating the feast of Christ the King, as millions of Christians are today all around the world, and that careerist Roman is only remembered because of his role in Jesus’ trial and execution.
I want to home in on one phrase I that Gospel as a starting point.
My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is my kingdom is not from here.
It is worth remembering that when Pope Pius X1 instituted the Festival of Christ the King in 1925, the spur for it was the end of the First World war and its aftermath. In particular the rise of nationalism and the use of violence.
He rightly saw that there was a fundamental contradiction between the church’s understanding of the kingdom of God, and the modern political religions which made nationhood into an idol and dehumanised all others and outsiders to bolster national identity; so their rights and very existence came into question. He had witnessed what has already happened to the Armenians in Turkey and prophetically feared more to come.
But what is the kingdom of God? Because it too is an idea that can be subverted.
It has been used to identify the church as an institution as God’s domain, to bolster conformity and obedience.
The resurgence of white supremacism in the USA has often been accompanied by a belief that the racial inequalities of nation are God sanctioned.
There have been Christians on the left who have at least flirted with the idea that the kingdom of God is a future socialist paradise.
It is both challenging and liberating that Jesus, when he spoke about the Kingdom of God, did so most of the time in parables.
We have to think about it, we have to seek under God to live it out in our lives, but we are saved from ever thinking that it is a political system that can be found or made on the earth.
One example of holding to the kingdom of God was the courageous life of the very recently canonised Archbishop Oscar Romero- it only happened last month.
You might remember that he was gunned down by government backed militiamen whilst celebrating mass in his cathedral in El Salvador in 1980.
He was killed for criticising the government for its brutal suppression and arguing that the historically created inequalities in the country were part of the problem. He took no political line and supported no political party, but he did speak up for those who were most vulnerable and asserted the primacy of love.
Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can.
For Romero, peaceful witness to human solidarity was key. De insisted all are entitled to love and respect, because all are literally in the same boat. Struggling, vulnerable human beings, whether powerful politicians or children sleeping in doorways.
The Feast of Christ the King is a perfect moment to seek to re-orientate our lives to the values and priorities of the kingdom. That vision of God, which we can only partially and humanly realise in this life, because it is transcendent.
There is no easy list of rules that can be ticked off.
In St Mark ‘s gospel we read of Jesus repeatedly saying how precious it is to seek and glimpse the Kingdom of God.
In St Luke’s Gospel we are given the picture of the banquet, where are all are invited, to sit and eat together, in the host’s presence. The host is God himself and whenever we come together to share the Eucharist, we are sitting together, with all our differences, celebrating that human solidarity that Romero was talking about.
Only in St Matthew do we get clear guidance on how to be. Not what to do, but as I say how to be; to have one foot in God’s kingdom.
In the famous beatitudes in the sermon on the Mount, we get something totally at odds with the coldness and self- centredness of Pilate. We get the lived truth which Christ represented.
To be able to grieve and to have a forgiving and a humble heart.
To show mercy and forgiveness.
To be hungry for the right way to live.
To make and build peace.
To be willing to put your head above the parapet for the sake of others and your convictions.
Hatred and totalitarianism; Self, family or nation always first whatever the coat to others. None of these have any room in the Kingdom of God, for which we pray every time we say the Lord’s Prayer.