When Will and Kate came to Montreal in 2011– that’s Prince William and Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge, I waited for three hours for just a glimpse of the royal couple. At first the police separated the crowds into two distinct camps – sheep and goats – as it were – the pro-royalists to the north, with banners of ‘Kate we love you’ – and the anti-royalists to the south with ‘Vive le Québec libre’. Eventually – unlike in the Gospel – we were all put together in one unruly crowd.
It made me realise that only a very bold preacher would dare talk about monarchy in a sermon in Québec, and for an Englishman to speak about it would be foolhardy indeed – well, I am that bold and foolhardy Englishman. Let’s talk about monarchy!
No doubt some of you – in this diverse and inclusive congregation – think monarchy is a jolly good idea, and what makes Canada greater than other nations not too far away – which perhaps it is and perhaps it does – and no doubt some of you think it smacks of class privilege and inequality – which of course it does. But then Jesus isn’t a King because he was elected or because he merited it – that would be the heresy of adoptionism and we don’t want to stray into that – Jesus is King his father was King David or God or both. If that’s doesn’t get you class privilege, what does?!
But, as I was preparing this sermon and my gentle stroll across a Canadian political minefield – I had a rather cheeky thought. What if Jesus is a constitutional monarch?
You see there’s a really big disconnect in the feast of the reign of Christ – Are monarchs are a sign of stability and strength – a good thing which we want to keep hold of, or are they a sign of abuse, power and oppression – a bad thing which we want to get rid of.
Old autocrats like King Henry VIII – who beheaded his wives and send his enemies to the gallows, are a bad thing, and none of us want to go back there.
And yet, most of our words about Christ the King are about Jesus having total dominion and power and rule, – judge, jury and executioner – just like King Henry VIII – but a good version, of course.
Now either being an autocratic king is a good thing – in which case our parliamentary democracies are all a terrible mistake and the slippery slope into anarchy – and King Henry VIII was just a very bad king in a very good system, or an autocratic ruler is a really bad thing – and even thought Jesus is – of course – superbly wise, a just and good king, he is nevertheless making the best of a very bad system. The pieces just don’t seem to join together.
Or at least they don’t join together so long as we’re stuck in the 16th century with Henry VIII. They do start to work if Jesus is a constitutional monarch.
And – the more we look, the more we see that what the New Testament says !
King of Kings and Lord of Lords – but not as we know it.
Jesus is hailed a king when he enters Jerusalem – but he is riding on a donkey and he’s going to his death.
Jesus is a king when he stands in front of Pilate – but his kingdom is not of this world, and in a strange reversal of what King Henry would have done – it is the king – not the subject – who goes to the gallows.
Jesus will judge the world – but he will do so with a bench of 12 other judges sharing the decision – you will sit on thrones and judge the 12 tribes of Israel he tells the apostles.
And unlike King Henry– but perhaps not all that far away from Queen Elizabeth’s strong sense of duty – Jesus came to serve and not to be served.
And then in his most striking constitutional saying ever – Whatever you bind will be bound, whatever you lose, will be loosed … It’s the sort of thing that Queen Elizabeth might say with despair to her various prime-ministers.
In the end she signs the laws whether they are good laws or bad and whether she likes them or not ……. Whatever you bind will be bound, whatever you lose, will be loosed …
But is that what God does? Is that what Christ the King does?
Does Jesus just sign off on bad laws just because he has to?
Well – yes. – for the time being at least – that’s the problem of the human condition.
God does not micromanage creation – it has been put into our hands to use or abuse as we see fit. – and we do. God does not step in and say enough is enough, I’m just not going to let you do that… We destroy the climate and bomb the innocent – and God lets us make our own decisions – with a very heavy heart I am sure. God acts like a constitutional monarch.
And this is fundamental to our Anglican view of Church which is catholic in its sacraments and spirituality, but protestant in our independent streak to make up our own minds and speak for ourselves.
We are not children of a controlling father, and we are not passive sheep of a controlling church – we are grown up, adult Christians in the big wide world of our own making. We don’t blame God – or the church – for our own mistakes and for our own bad decisions or for the mistakes and bad decisions of previous generations – just as we don’t blame the Governor General for signing Stephen Harper’s laws on behalf of the Queen.
A constitutional Jesus – compels us to grow up and take responsibility for ourselves and our world. Terrifying – but true. We don’t just occupy a church or a world someone else has made – we are the living stones that make the building – each stone has our name on it – have a look over coffee.
But before we become totally revolutionary communists and kick out the monarch altogether – religion is not a one-sided democracy either. Christ may be constitutional – but he is still King. The partnership is real and two way – the biblical story is always one of partnership and cooperation.
Abraham and Sarah co-operative with God’s plan.
The prophets to tell Israel to co-operate with God’s plan.
The Virgin Mary co-operates with God’s plan and Jesus is born.
The disciples co-operate with Jesus and work as a team on a mission.
We cooperate with the Holy Spirit – and the Holy Spirit cooperates with us.
It’s sort of obvious that we can do nothing without God, but God chooses to do nothing without us either … that’s cooperation – and it puts a lot of pressure on each one of us as living stones building a building.
It makes our prayers – our prayers for peace, our prayers for one another, our prayers for ourselves, our prayers for healing and wholeness – and even our prayers for miracles – not just a polite wish list of things we want God to do, but the very means and – the only constitutional means by which these things can happen.
Or to put it another way, to misquote Donald – it takes two to Tango – if we don’t pray, then God does not make it happen. It’s a terrifying responsibility, a constitutional partnership with God.
During Advent we will be praying more visibly. Some people will in the Chapel over there after communion and will be praying with people individually. If you like you can ask prayers of thanksgiving or prayers for concern or other. It will be simple, and cooperative – our partnership with one another, and for one another and our partnership with God.
More about that later.
The end of this sermon – however – is the money in our pockets. For the quarts, nickels and dimes, the loonies and toonies we buy and sell and live with each day are a daily reminder that Elizabeth is still the Queen of Canada.
And, in some sense, religion – all religions and value systems – is the moral money in our pockets. The values we live by and by which we trade ideas and decisions with other people.
Our Christian money – as it were – has the image and likeness of Jesus on it.
The moral and spiritual currency we use – the words of Jesus and the prophets, our stories, teachings, sacraments, and traditions are the currency we use to make our daily decisions and our value judgements about what is right or wrong. You could say Christianity is the currency we’ve invested our life savings in.
And today’s gospel reminds us that it matters where we invest.
It matters how we make our moral decisions: indeed the strength and worth of our moral currency – the strength and worth of our religion matters.
In the end, when the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will sit on the throne of his glory, and all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
You know the rest of the story.
The test – as you see from this rather hard Gospel – is not whether it makes us feel good. The test of the spiritual kingdom we want to belong is the civilisation it produces – food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothes for the naked. By their fruits you shall know them.
And the test of good monarchy – the king or queen whose face we want to see on our coins – the sovereign rule we choose to live under, is, I think, in many ways the same test: service and sacrifice for the common good, a partnership which helps people grow and take responsibility for their own lives, and a dominion of justice for all, peace for all, of selfless, sharing, compassionate love for all. That’s the kind of country I want to live in and the kind of heaven I want to go to.