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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Reign of Christ, Year B
Celebrating Community
South Sydney Uniting Church
November 25, 2012

Psalm 93; 2 Samuel 23:1-7; John 18:33-37


“Is the brutalisation of the weak by the strong just what happens behind closed doors, when families, orders, tribes and forces self-police? Is it, in short, inevitable?” asks Elizabeth Farrelly. “Because it’s not just sex, or violence, or corruption, though those are bad enough. To my mind, this kind of abuse is theft. The child abused by a priest isn’t just sexualised, degraded and humiliated. As surely as Roberto Curti was robbed of his life by spontaneous official torture, the abused child is robbed of his or her budding trust in authority and, by extension, the world. Children are very moral animals, with an intense and intuitive feel for justice. To be betrayed and defiled by the supposed source of truth and goodness leaves a child truly broken hearted. In the case of grubby planning decisions, politicians are the slimy adults and we the broken hearted children, but the destruction is similar. We are the victims of systematic environmental theft” (Elizabeth Farrelly, “Developing a tale of comeuppance”, SMH, 21/11/12).

I’ve been thinking on Farrelly’s words for a few days. Power corrupts, she laments. Without an alternative to abusive power we are doomed to fear and hopelessness. One way out is by way of the victims of abuse – by way of their courage and by way of their critique of the systems of abuse. Michael Mullins, editor of Eureka Street, made a decision last week not to publish an essay on media bias against the Catholic Church. He wrote: “Any hope that the Church has of being a credible witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ depends upon its ability to accept its current humiliation and give glory instead to the sexual abuse victims whom it has humiliated.” God be with you

Celebrating the Feast of Christ the King, or the Reign of Christ, has nothing to do with a triumphalism which glories in our own credibility, success or status. It reorients us on a different kind of triumph, a hidden glory, a subversive rule – what one theologian calls a “weak power” or a “power of weakness” (John D. Caputo), weak yet pervasive and ultimately persuasive. Another theologian refers to an indomitable “subjectivity” in the world; a resistance to objectification of all kinds. I like that. I see it in Jovana’s mural artwork: the eyes through which the creation looks back at us.

Without an alternative to abusive power we are doomed to fear and hopelessness. Pilate simply wants to establish whether the person before him presents any threat to the stability of Roman rule. Pilate is not particularly interested in guilt or innocence, right or wrong. And Jesus makes little attempt to allay Pilate’s fears of revolution. If anything, his answers are provocative. His assertion that his kingdom is not of this world and that his followers have no need to fight to protect him are a bold challenge to Pilate. In a sense Jesus is saying: “Yes, there is a revolution, and there is nothing you can do about it because it is not vulnerable to the only sort of power you have at your disposal.” Jesus doesn’t try to argue that when people give their allegiance to him, Rome shouldn’t feel any threat.?? It is equally clear, however, that Jesus is not about setting up an opposing rule to that of Rome which would operate on essentially the same understanding of the nature of power and the imperative to keep the people in submission.

Without an alternative to abusive power we are doomed to fear and hopelessness. The emphasis placed on David’s background as a shepherd is no accident. The image of the shepherd is the most frequently occurring theme in the Bible’s presentation of the ideal king. The shepherds lived in the paddocks with the sheep, leading them from one good feeding place to the next and protecting them from all dangers. The image of the shepherd who was so devoted to his sheep that he would protect them with his own life was an ideal invoked (for and against David) to describe what a king should be.

When John has Jesus say to Pilate, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”, there is a link to Jesus’ description of himself as the good shepherd: “He goes ahead of them and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (10:4); “They will listen to my voice and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (10:16). ??

In John’s Gospel the image of Jesus as king is a complex image that is played with in an ironic way. Jesus is dressed up in a purple robe and a crown of thorns and called “king” while beaten by soldiers. He is still dressed up as a joke when Pilate questions him about his status. John is interweaving these three images – the imperial king of domination, the shepherd king who lays down his life, and the mocked and humiliated “joke king” – and challenging us to think carefully about what we are saying when we use such language to speak of Jesus (Nathan Nettleton).

Without an alternative to abusive power we are doomed to fear and hopelessness. We’re here today, I believe, because we have experienced an alternative – because we have experienced something of the credibility, something of the trust that makes life in community possible.

Let’s complete the homily together. You’re invited to come to the altar-table and select a card with a word having to do with Christ the King. As I read again the Gospel from John 18, you’re invited to write an additional word or two on the card. Your new word/s might echo the word you’ve chosen, or might critique or complicate the word you’ve chosen. For example, you might choose the word “Realm” and then add the words “of impossibility” or “of mercy” or “of light”. When we gather at the table to receive the sacrament of the Reign of Christ, we will bring our cards. After Communion we may read aloud the words we have chosen and written – and hear the one poem we have composed in celebration of community. The poem will be our Prayer after Communion …