THE JOYFUL POWER OF HIS DELIVERANCE

Sermon delivered on the Sunday Next Before Advent (Feast of Christ the King) the 20th November 2016 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the St. Alban's congregation of the Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands in the service of the Holy Eucharist.

Scriptures: Jeremiah 23: 1-6     Colossians 1: 11-20     S. Luke 23: 33-43

Col 1:12f "The Father has qualified us to share (made us fit to share in) the lot of the saints in the Light, rescuing us out of the authority of the Darkness and transferring us to the kingdom of His beloved Son."

QUALIFICATION
There is considerable emphasis today on whether a person is qualified sufficiently for the job that he undertakes. Teachers and doctors, medical staff and lawyers as well as many others have to possess certificates of various sorts before they can hope to be hired. Yet paper qualifications are not everything, which is why the job interview is regarded as important. Typically there is a process set up first to shortlist the perhaps twenty applicants for a particular position, mostly on the basis of what they have submitted on paper, and then to interview the resulting list, to determine which of them is the most qualified.

QUALIFIED TO RULE
This Sunday, the Sunday Next Before Advent, has since 1925 in the West been called the Feast of Christ the King, and our readings today bear on the subject of the qualification that concerns all churchmen very much - what qualifies someone to be in Christ’s Kingdom? From the Old Testament lesson comes to us the question of what qualifies someone to be in a leadership position on earth in God's Kingdom. From the Epistle to the Colossians comes to us the assurance that the Father has qualified us to share in the “inheritance of the saints in light”, as he puts it, by delivering us from the dominion of darkness and transferring us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. St. Paul briefly and broadly states how that deliverance was effected: the Image of the invisible God, the great Lord of the Cosmos and the Head of the Church, in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, reconciled to God all things, making peace by the blood of His cross. The reading of the Gospel describes some of the awful details of that bloodied peace-making by the King that was rejected by His subjects, at the beginning of which one lost and dying criminal was reconciled.

DEMANDS OF LEADERSHIP IN GOD'S KINGDOM
In most societies up to modern times there was no separation of the religious and the secular. The King was the anointed ruler of the people of God set apart for Him by covenant. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of the rulers of the kingdom of Judah as "shepherds". We might be used to thinking of religious leaders under that imagery, but here it is used for the rulers of state, because these were called to be the rulers of the chosen people, as well as both civil and religious authorities who are assumed to be under the king's authority. Jeremiah refers to the people of Judah as taken away and scattered around the Babylonian empire, evidently after Nebuchadnezzar's sieges of Jerusalem in 597 and 587 B.C. The prophet Jeremiah regards the kings and their officials as having themselves largely brought down this nemesis upon their unfortunate people. The strictures of Jer. 23 that they had not attended to the people's needs probably refer particularly to Zedekiah and his officials. We can infer from this how important it is for someone in a leadership position on earth in God's Kingdom to be able to take action based on spiritual depth and principle, and to resist short-term pressures. This would apply to a godly person in any position of authority, including that of government today, particularly in a Christian country, and of course it would apply to those in church leadership at every level.

JESUS THE MODEL SHEPHERD
Jeremiah does not dwell for long on the failure of the shepherds of Judah, however, because his prophetic sense that from David’s line the Lord would cause a new shoot to spring was strong. He thought of this as a king that would be a good shepherd to the scattered flock that had once more been gathered and brought back to their fold. It is clear to us that what qualifies such a person as a good ruler would be his likeness to our Lord Jesus, his ability to be steadfast under attack, his unselfish love and care for his people, and his ability to take action based on spiritual depth and principle rather than on apparent advantages in the short term. The New Testament perspective, of course, sees this messianic expectation fulfilled in Jesus Himself, and those following after who are given roles in the Body of Christ to fulfil are thereby given an immense privilege and responsibility.

QUALIFIED BY FAITH, BAPTISM AND THE POWER OF GOD
St. Paul in our text today from Colossians 1 states that those joined to the Church of Jesus Christ by baptism and by the power of God are qualified in a particular way. They are made fit for a particular part they must play. That part is to share the lot of the saints, which I think in St. Paul's mind principally means the early Jewish believers, of which he himself is an example. From what he says, St. Paul has their persecutions in mind. So St. Paul is saying that these Gentile believers have been made fit to share the lot of their Jewish fellow-believers, fit to share in their persecutions. St Paul has prayed that these Gentile believers may be strengthened with a power that corresponds to the Divine might, so that they can endure and be patient. Presumably the endurance and patience he speaks about reveals the context of persecution. But St. Paul goes further. The strength of the divine power is to enable them not only to endure and be patient, but to do these things with joy, giving thanks to the Father who has enabled them to step up to the plate and play their part.

TRANSFERRED FROM A KINGDOM OF DARKNESS TO THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST
St. Paul goes on to explain the significance of the change that has fitted them to share their fellow-believers' lot. He explains that they have been transferred from one dominion to another, from the dominion of the Darkness, as Paul puts it, to the kingdom of God's own beloved Son, and then St. Paul explains at length the relationship of this King who is declared in the Gospel, the King who is new to them, to the whole creation and to the Church. In relation to the creation He is first-begotten, and in relation to the Church He is the head of the body. Moreover, in relation to God, all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell in Him.

QUALIFIED FOR PERSECUTION
It was no less important for these new Gentile Christians than it is for us to keep this perspective on Christian living in mind. We should not think that the grace and the peace of Christianity means that we are less called to endurance and patience than if we were not believers. On the contrary it is as St. Paul says: we are given a special yoke that enables us to carry much heavier burdens as easily as if they were lighter. That is exactly what the joyful endurance and patience are all about. Again, that joy that he speaks of is only possible to maintain with an active sense of Christ's kingdom. This is something that on the whole, we modern Christians are lacking in. That may be why the staying power of the Western church has often proved thin. Those churches of the world who know persecution to a horrifying level, on the other hand, are those whose active sense of Christ's Kingdom, of the new age of the Resurrection and of the day of the Lord, is often strong, and that enables them to carry those levels of persecution with a joy that often eludes us in the West. As our text reminds us, our qualification to share the lot of the saints depends on the work of the Father rescuing us out of the authority of the Darkness and transferring us to the kingdom of His Beloved Son. We can hardly maintain that we are members of that kingdom if our minds are telling us that such a kingdom is a figment of imagination.

THE POWER OF THE TRANSFER REVEALED THROUGH THE DIFFICULTY
The more we find making the right choice and doing the right thing for the sake of Jesus Christ difficult, the more we are to thank God and to have joy in Him, because the difficulty of the task or the situation shows us the measure of the power of that bloodied peace-making by the King who was rejected by His subjects, to qualify us for our transfer from the kingdom of Darkness to the kingdom of Christ; indeed such power assures us that the promise is real that He will not give us more than we can bear.

QUESTIONS

1. If matters of state are "separate" from those of the church, is it right to apply religious principles of leadership to the leaders of a modern state? Is it more helpful to think of church and state as distinct rather than separate?

2. What bearing does being "qualified to be persecuted" have on a situation where overt persecution is minimal?

3. What are some characteristics of the Kingdom of Christ, and how does being members of it affect and "qualify" us?