Sunday, November 25, 2018

Thought for the Week: November 25, 2018

I gave the Thought for the Week on RTHK Radio 3 this week.  This is the transcript with a link to the audio in the RTHK Programme Archive.

Thought for the Week: November 25, 2018

Jesus, when questioned by Pilate as to whether he was a King, replied, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’  Pilate, in an attempt to get Jesus to be more forthcoming, continued his questioning by asking, ‘So you are a King then.’  ‘You say that I am,' replied Jesus.

We can perhaps understand Pilate’s exasperation and frustration and even share it.  After all, scholars are all agreed that central to Jesus’ message and ministry was his proclamation of the kingdom of God.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that he was brought before Pilate accused of claiming to be the King of the Jews – a charge, if proven, that meant the death sentence.  Pilate realized, however, that whatever Jesus may or may not have been, he was not a threat to the authority of Rome.  Jesus’ accusers persisted, however.  The rest, as they say, is history.

My kingdom is not of this world,' he had told Pilate, and yet he had taught his disciples to pray, ‘Your kingdom come - on earth as it is in heaven.’  At first sight, at least, there seems to be something of a problem here.  How can we pray for something to come ‘on earth’ that we are also told is ‘not of this world’?

Many Christians think that the prayer for God’s kingdom to come on earth is to be answered by Christians themselves.  We are to establish God’s kingdom by working for peace and justice.  The idea, however, that God’s kingdom on earth is to be established by human effort, apart from being mistaken in its optimism – as previous attempts in history have shown all too clearly – although being well-intentioned, are a form of blasphemy.

There is only one person who can establish God’s kingdom on earth and that is God himself.  Christians don’t – or shouldn’t – work to make it happen in the present; they are to pray for it to come in the future.  Again, as Jesus said, the kingdom is not of this world; it must come from another world.  Of this other worldly kingdom, Christians are even now citizens, and, like the kingdom itself, they themselves are not to be of this world either.  The accusation, of course, is that this makes them too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use.  Would that that were true!  The problem with Christians is that they are not heavenly enough.

The reason I am talking about this is that today in the Church’s calendar is the last Sunday of the Church’s year.  It is the Sunday when the Church celebrates the Feast of Christ the King.  Next Sunday is the start of Advent when we will begin to prepare for Christmas and the birthday of the ‘One born to be King’.  Traditionally, however, Advent is first and foremost not about events in the past, but of that time in the future when God’s other worldly kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.

Pilate in his exasperation said to Jesus, ‘Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.’  Many earthly rulers have thought that their power was absolute and all-encompassing.  Christians know that it is not.  They wait for God’s kingdom to come, but they also know that even now rulers on earth only rule with God’s permission.  It is a permission that is temporary and comes with an expiry date.  We may not now see all things subject to him, but we will.  Until then, we pray as Jesus taught us, ‘Your kingdom come.’

‘Amen.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus.’

Thought for the Week

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