Dan 7:9-10, 13-14; Rev 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
Last night we celebrated Thanksgiving with our son and American daughter-in-law. We have enjoyed seven years of sharing this celebration, formally held on the fourth Thursday in November, but celebrated by us more conveniently at a weekend close to it! It commemorates the 1621 settlement and first harvest of the Pilgrim Fathers in Plymouth, Mass. Like us at our harvest festival, they thanked God for his gifts: for preserving their lives in their new country and for the harvest to see them through the year. For us this is the last Sunday of the church's year: next week sees the start of Advent and our cycle of life and worship begins again. So it is appropriate for us also to look back and give thanks, to have a bit of a "Thanksgiving" for our year as the church in Salcombe. You will remember the ups and the downs, the sorrows and the joys that I have missed; I look forward to starting this new year in your company, to sharing the life of this, our community, together. But, today is also the feast of Christ the King, and this is a very real parallel with the Pilgrim Fathers' Thanksgiving - and one which I can fully share with you: we, all of us, are also giving thanks for a new country, a new Kingdom, a new creation - the Kingdom of Christ the King, established by his life, death and resurrection in the first century.
In your pew sheet is the reading from Daniel - both of them, prophet and priest! "To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples and nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed". And? So what? This is the twenty-first century and what has changed? What does it mean to acknowledge that Jesus is King, "the ruler of the kings of the earth"? His life, death and resurrection inaugurated new creation/new Kingdom - "he made us to be a kingdom". What does it mean? It often doesn't feel like that! One look at news - disasters, injustice etc. (Headlines - bring a couple of news clips!) Equally we do see signs of the Kingdom. Some are brought to our attention in the news: the nurses and doctors who risked their lives in Africa treating Ebola patients; the individuals who take food to migrants at the barbed wire barriers at Calais.
Some signs are closer to home: the lifeboat crews who brave the elements to save seafarers; individuals who visit the housebound and the sick. Our present is the overlap between past and future - between the fallen world, the world that was broken by sin and the Fall, and the fully redeemed world, the world which will be restored when Christ the King returns at the end - we live in "the already but not yet"! We are children of God by baptism, but we are still imperfect - we still fall short! Jesus in his life, death and resurrection has redeemed us, but as he said, he has planted something like a mustard seed - not quite like the mustard seeds we plant with cress for summer salads, which only grow so high, but seeds of a much bigger, tree-like bush: "which, [Mark tells us] when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." (Mark 4:31-32).
We are here to nurture that shrub, to water it and to feed it (during secular famines), to keep it warm and dry, protected against the stormy winds of popular opinion, to aid its growth, which will not be complete until Jesus comes again "on the clouds" (Matt 26:64) to gather all creation into himself (Rom 8). Perhaps we should see ourselves as gardeners, if we have green fingers; or as builders, labourers for the building. Jesus' kingdom is in this world but not not from this world - it rejects (the power structures that appear to rule our society) - the power of individualism and consumerism, the cult of celebrity, the insidious influence of corruption. Jesus did not try to establish his rule by force of arms - although many of his followers were eager to do just that. Jesus established his Kingdom enthroned on a cross, crowned with thorns - a throne of humiliation, a crown of torture - lifted high for all to see and marvel at. His Kingdom will never grow through violence, or fundamentalism, but through humility, gentleness and meekness.
So practically, what do we do? How do we help to build this Kingdom? We have a responsibility to try - we (or our godparents on our behalf) acknowledged Jesus as Lord and King at Baptism - "Do you submit to Christ as Lord?" In so doing we promise to to follow the rules of Christ's country, to submit to his way of Kingdom building; he explained them in the Sermon on the Mount (look them up in Matthew chapter 5): we value others above ourselves, welcoming the stranger; we stand with those who suffer, sharing their pain; we speak out for justice in the world, for the fair distribution of the earth's gifts; we forgive our neighbour when they do something annoying, like park in our space when we have a car full of shopping to unload; we won't take offence, but will try to smooth the waters; we will not be ashamed to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, to our friends, in the pub, at work.
Each word of welcome, each cup of coffee, each offer of help, is a stone set in the building of the Kingdom. At the end of the book of Revelation we are told: "On the foundation stones of the heavenly city are written the names of the apostles of the Lamb" (Rev 22:14). We are sent out to build on those foundation stones; each time we put someone else first, ahead of ourselves, we are helping to build the Kingdom. And so when we have shared Holy Communion together we give thanks and pray: "Send us out in your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory. Amen."