Sermon on Christ the King 2018

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.

Verse 36.

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.

He said.

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.






A week at St Barnabas: some highlights!

  • It began with the admission of 7 children to first communion on Sunday. A joyous landmark in their journey of faith.
  • On Sunday evening we had a concert with music and reflections centred around the Sufi philosopher Rumi- with a chance to hear an oud; the ancestor of the lute.
  • Riversdale Primary featured a lot this week.St Barnabas has long had links with our local school- both my predecessors, David and Bertrand, having been governors- and on Monday I took an assembly there and chaired the Governors’ meeting in the evening.
  • The next day I accompanied Amy, the head-teacher, to a meeting with Wandsworth councillors, where the progress of the school and Amy’s leadership were widely praised.
  • Meanwhile Claire was busy in the office and planning for the first evening of the Night Shelter on Friday.
  • Tom Tillyard’s team were hard at work restoring the church, with Mark Kennett doing some amazing masonry repairs. Meanwhile Steve from R&S roofing was investigating the recurring leak from the parapet above the vestry window.
  • Just before 9am on Thursday The Mayor and Royal Marines joined about 200 students from Southfields Academy for the annual Remembrance Day event around the war Memorial. This is always a moving community event; which is then followed up by a further act of remembrance at the Academy. It is always good to hear about the ambitions of the students too.
  • Later on Thursday there was a meeting of the clergy representing the 4 churches, where future plans were discussed and Joy’s leadership of the Youth Group was commended. We also picked up the mince for Friday’d chilli, kindly provided at a large discount by The Village Butchers.
  • On Friday we welcomed staff from Glassdoor Shelter for the homeless, and at around 6 pm our first guests arrived, although some found it very difficult to find our church! Thanks to the team- Claire, Caroline,Jane and Helen. We confidently left the Night Staff to it at about 10 pm. All went very well.
  • Saturday morning saw our annual All Souls Service, with about 60 people in attendance. Thanks to Charles who played the organ and Margaret for organising the refreshment team.

A great weekend at St Barnabas

Thanks for all who helped  with the Quiz night which raised funds for our building project and the Ibba Girls’ School. On Saturday about 60 children and adults attended our second Messy Church event. And our brilliant concert on Sunday was not well attended but that did not stop the quality shining through, with one of the performers suggesting that in terms of atmosphere and acoustics we beat many of London’s famous venues.

National Director of Health and Wellbeing for Public Health England at St Barnabas

About 70 people attended a conference at St Barnabas on Tuesday at which Professor Kevin Fenton was a speaker. We are partners in the Wandsworth Coproduction Network which aims to develop community- centred approaches to health and well being. Representatives of  Wandsworth Council, academics ,leaders of  voluntary organisations and charities, and church leaders and leaders in the Muslim Community were all present for a morning of reflection and discussion. We saw films about Somali women sharing expertise in healthy cooking, Mosques delivering family therapies and The New Testament Assembly pioneering fitness classes for men in their middle years. All these projects are community led initiatives to help tackle mental and physical health issues at an early stage. Projects good in themselves but also a practical response to stretched NHS budgets.

Professor Fenton is an inspirational figure who has years of experience combating the spread of HIV in the USA and has a profound understanding of the role of social context- particularly housing and healthy food availability- in people’s all round well-being and the powerful part that community groups can play in changing the mind-sets and practices of politicians and health professionals.

One of the unexpected highlights for me was a conversation with one of the Muslim leaders present who enjoyed the chance to be inside a church!

An afternoon in New Scotland Yard

I had not been arrested and neither was I being interviewed about nefarious deeds in the parish. I was there because I needed an ID card for when I turn up at Wandsworth Police Station for meetings of the Independent Advisory Panel. Getting through security was an enjoyable version of negotiating the similar systems at Heathrow- everyone was good humoured and friendly, partly no doubt because the security team considerably outnumbered its sole customer. I did need to convince them though that I really did have nothing on me apart from a passport and a set of keys and I really wasn’t trying to smuggle a minute mobile phone into the building!

Faith Schools: Real concerns and ridiculous exaggerations

The journalist Catherine Bennett likes to be challenging and often succeeds, but in an article in the Observer at the weekend she ventured into the territory of insult and slur. Her underlying theme was ‘ never mind any Trojan horses in Birmingham, the real problem is faith schools per se.’ But in making her case she slipped in a completely unwarranted suggestion that Prince Charles would probably be perfectly happy with an Islamic State, and implied that one of the capital’s most prominent church schools is teaching ‘ creationism.’

The irony is that she was only able to think she could get away with that by assuming the ignorance of her readers. She cited a section 48 report on the school which said that students at the school are ‘ able to identify the contribution of a number of scholars to the Design argument for the existence of God’, as an example of ‘ irreversible  indoctrination.’

Bearing in mind that Charles Darwin was also well acquainted with such scholars before he made his own mind up, that Francis Bacon- the man with a good claim to being the inventor of the scientific method- was another of their ilk, and as was Isaac Newton, this is  a very weak argument. If the school is indeed teaching about such scholars and , very correctly, reserving discussion of them for Religious Studies classes, surely it is fulfilling its role very well.

It makes me wonder  if the writer has not inherited an unacknowledged stain from fundamentalism herself. The one that fears knowledge as a dangerous fruit, perilous to the picker!