Today is a Sunday where I am preaching locally and so what follows below is our complete service. You may feel free to say every prayer and sing every hymn or simply to skip to the sermon in the middle and the commissioning at the end (which is still kinda part of the sermon).
Call to worship
Come let us gather in the name of Christ the King He is the image of the invisible God He is the firstborn of all creation In him all things in heaven and on earth were created He himself is before all things And in him all things hold together He is the head of the body, the church He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead Through him God reconciled all things to himself By making peace through the blood of his cross
God of our ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, blessed be your name! You have raised up a mighty saviour for us in the house of David. You have spoken to us through the prophets of old promising to be our refuge and strength and a very present help in trouble. Therefore we have no fear, though the world may change all around us. We have gathered together this morning so that we might serve you without fear, in all holiness and righteousness. We long to be in your presence now, in this present moment, and for all of our days. Oh God, come to be among your people!
Jesus is the light of the world
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it
Hymn – How Great Thou Art
Invitation to Confession
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practise the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. So let us confess our sins to God, knowing that he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Prayer of Confession
Prince of Peace, God of Love, who makes wars cease to the ends of the earth, who destroys the weapons which we create, forgive us for not following in your footsteps. Forgive us, O King of all Heaven and Earth, for our warlike ways. May we learn to be still and patient. May we trust that your tender mercy will bring a new day of peace to the earth. May your light shine upon us as we sit in darkness, in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace. Amen
Words of Assurance
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Hymn – Be Still, My Soul
Sermon The Prince of Peace
Today is the last Sunday before Advent and it is called Christ the King Sunday in the liturgical calendar. Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation and the readings given in the lectionary for today speak about who this king is that we are waiting for.
The language of kingship and lordship makes many people uncomfortable today and so I would like to start my sermon by exploring that traditional language and trying to explain why it’s one of my favourite metaphors for God.
Jesus was born into a world of kings and lords who were constantly fighting with one another in their struggles for power. King Herod wanted to have the baby Jesus killed because he saw him as a threat to his title as king.
Above Herod was the imperial Roman order which had occupied the Jewish homeland for decades before Christ came. Jesus’ claim to kingship first challenged Herod, which almost led to his death, and then his title of king challenged Caesar himself, which did lead to his death on the cross.
It was into this world of kings that Christ was born and it was against this cultural backdrop that his Lordship was understood. The prophets of old had spoken of a coming messiah, one who would bring peace to Israel and liberate her from those who wished to oppress her.
There are numerous examples of how this king was described in the scriptures. Take for instance this verse from the prophet Jeremiah:
“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. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.“
This tradition was carried into the New Testament in many places. In the reading we had from Luke, Zechariah is acting as a prophet within this tradition. He speaks of his son John the Baptist and how he will also be a prophet in the manner of Elijah.
The Israelite people had grown weary living under corrupt kings and longed for someone to liberate them from the bondage of their rulers. Before Rome came to oppress them there was Babylon. Before Babylon many of their own kings had been corrupt as well.
Before that they had been slaves in Egypt under the rule of Pharoah. People were hungry for a king who would bring justice and peace instead of war and oppression.
It seems to me that one of the most relevant writings of the prophets in anticipating the coming of Christ the King is 1 Samuel 8. Samuel was a wise judge who acted fairly and treated people well. When he grew old he made his sons judges in his place, but they did not live up to their father’s name.
They accepted bribes and acted unfairly. The elders approached Samuel and asked him to name someone as king to rule over the people in the same way that other nations at the time had. Samuel was troubled by this idea and so he took it to God in prayer. God responded to him saying,
“Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only, you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
God warned the people that appointing a human being as king over everyone else was a kind of idolatry which would lead them into ruin. Samuel did as God asked him and warned the people about what would happen to them if they named one man as king over all the rest.
He warned them that the ways of this king would be greedy and selfish. He would make slaves of the people and take over their orchards. After describing all the ways in which a selfish king might oppress his people Samuel ended by saying,
“And on that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you on that day.”
This is the sort of kingship which the world has always been familiar with. Right up until the present day those with power have continued to oppress the powerless. This is the way of worldly kings.
But, if we back up just a little to what God said to Samuel, we can see that there is another kind of authority which we can call king. God said to Samuel, “they have rejected me from being king over them.”
God is supposed to be the king, not any human being, and this is because God is always good. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and that is why we need to be wary of giving complete authority to anyone other than God.
Where the kings of this world manufacture drone strikes and nuclear weapons, Christ the King makes swords into ploughshares. As the psalmist said in our scripture reading this morning,
“The Lord makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations; I am exalted in the earth.’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
God tells us to be still immediately after telling us to destroy all our weapons and then we are reminded that God is our refuge. The kings of this world rely on weapons of war to keep them safe and to secure their riches, but the Prince of Peace calls us to be still instead.
It is in stillness that God and the angels are with us. Even though the world may provoke us, we do not need to jump to arms. For Israel, this was a call to patience and to peace. It was a reminder that God is God, which means that we don’t have to be.
As with all things in the scriptures, this can also be understood in spiritual terms as relating to our thoughts. The short passage from Psalm 46 “be still and know that I am God” is often interpreted in spiritual terms.
The literal meaning is about fighting battles with bows and spears, but the deeper, more subtle, meaning is about having stillness in our heart. If we allow our hearts to be ruled by tyrants then we lose our way.
It is when Christ is made King within our hearts that we are able to know peace. God has reconciled all things to himself and brought peace through a cross of self sacrifice rather than a vanquishing sword.
In like manner, if we try to govern ourselves by means of violence we will end in ruin but if we seek salvation in the grace of self sacrifice we will find the peace which surpasses all understanding.
The wisdom of God sounds like foolishness to the world, and peace sounds impossible when the kings of this world speak, but in the end we are actually safer when we are still and let God fight our battles for us than when we surround ourselves with impenetrable defences.
It is from this place of stillness that we are able to make wise judgements like Samuel. His heart was not chaotic with the glory of conquest and the lust for treasure.
Because of his inner stillness he was able to bring stability and peace to his community. Christ was already the king of Samuel’s heart. When he turned inward in prayer he could take refuge under God’s mighty wings.
The instruction to “be still and know that I am God” speaks to us of two pitfalls which can stand in the way of peace. The words “be still” are a warning against anger, which is like a turbulent storm over the seas of our minds. The words “know that I am God” warn us against pride, which is like a fool who believes he is king.
Anger and pride are what keep us from the peace of Christ. We lose our inner stillness when we are aroused by anger and we lose our humility when we forget to let God be God. These two vices, anger and pride, are the kings which we allow to rule our minds when we have rejected God as our king.
Just like Herod and Caesar, if anger does not crucify Christ within us, then pride eventually will. But we cannot try to defend Christ with a sword like Peter did, slicing and stabbing at those who would threaten us.
Rather, we must pick up our cross and follow Christ. We must empty ourselves of all pride if we wish to know peace, for it is humility which allows us to hear one another and to set aside our anger.
It seems there is little peace to be found in the world today, much like the world into which Jesus was born. We seem to be divided against one another and even against ourselves.
There are so many debates between what we have mysteriously named the left and the right and it seems like most of the time both sides are coming from a place of anger and pride.
We have appointed false kings to rule over our hearts and we have turned against our neighbours whom we are supposed to love. May the tender mercy of our God dawn from on high and break upon us.
May it shine upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Amen
Hymn – Come Let Us Sing of a Wonderful Love
Prayers of the People and Lord’s Prayer
Say some prayers for the world and end it with the Lord’s prayer.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen
Hymn – Take My Life and Let it Be
Commissioning and Benediction
To have Christ as our king is to do as he instructs us to do. In John’s gospel, Jesus the King of the Universe, gives us a commandment which we are to follow. He says,
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
And so, dear sisters and brothers, if we wish to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven, we must become like Christ. The way in which we submit our wills to the King of Peace is by undertaking love.
God is love and so this commandment which Christ gives is really an instruction to become like him. The princes of war and greed keep their subjects downtrodden in the dirt, but the Prince of Peace lifts his subjects up into heaven with him. He lifts us up by making us like him. This is expressed so well in that seemingly enigmatic statement from the first letter of John.
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
When the eternal authority of love is revealed, it makes those who see it more loving. To see Christ is to become like Christ and to become like Christ is our ultimate destiny. The glory of God is the human being fully alive.
And so I will leave you with this final reading from the first letter of John. This is what it means to serve Christ the King, this is what it means to be a part of the Kingdom of God.
“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate a brother or sister are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” Amen
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