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christ the slain king: faithfulness in a world of effectiveness

On Sunday night I delivered the following sermon at a wonderful Uniting Church here in Sydney. I was told to speak about something that was burning on my heart.

Since I didn’t have time to memorise much of my sermon beforehand, I wrote much of it down. This means you get to read it! (Huzzah!)

Though I haven’t been able to post much lately this sermon represents some of the things I have been thinking about. I hope it challenges and comforts.

We come to the end of the year, for many of us a time of exhaustion.

For those who have done their best to walk the path of discipleship such exhaustion is compounded by the weariness of the pilgrimage more generally.

Perhaps it is providence that we find ourselves entering into the Christmas season where we join with the Magi, also suffering exhaustion after their long journey, in asking “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matt 2:2)

Stained glass window at the Melkite Catholic Annunciation Cathedral in Roslindale depicting Christ the King with the regalia of a Byzantine emperor. January 2009 photo by John Stephen Dwyer, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Melkite-Christ-the-King.jpg

In fitting with this the lectionary cycle this week reflects on the theme of ‘Christ the King’ as we again celebrate his coming. For those feeling the strain of walking the road of discipleship what hope and encouragement comes from reflection on this theme? As we will see, the encouragement offered to us by Christ as king is often not what we want, though it is what we need.

What does it mean for our discipleship that Christ is king?

Colossians 1:15-20 [1]

He is the image
            of the invisible God
the firstborn of all creation
            for in him were created all things
            in heaven and earth
            things visible and invisible
            whether thrones or dominions
            whether rulers or powers
            all things have been created through him and for him

And he is before all things
            and in him all things hold together
And he is the head
            of the body, the church

He is the beginning
            the firstborn from the dead
            so that he might come to have first place in everything
                        for in him all the fullness
                        was pleased to dwell
                        and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself
                        all things
                        whether on earth or in heaven
                        by making peace through the blood of his cross

This powerful statement of the identity and meaning of Christ is well rehearsed amongst Christians, but often without much in the way of reflection on what it may have meant to Paul’s audience.

Place yourself in their world, a world colonised by images of Caesar: Read the rest of this entry

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legalism vs. witness: moral claims in christian discipleship

It can be difficult to navigate the tension between the danger of legalism and raising the expectation of Christian discipleship to a high level.

There is no place for legalism in Christian discipleship. All of our kingdom-oriented action is enacted out of faithfulness and gratefulness on the basis of what has already been achieved in Christ. But of course none of this means there are no imperatives in Christian discipleship.

I know that personally I have been accused of pedalling legalism. As regular readers would be aware, I am passionate about and active in areas of social justice. At times I have offered prescriptions as to what I believe are just actions as we attempt to live in faithfulness to the gospel in the world. These prescriptions occasionally lead to accusations of legalism.

In saying this, I would wager that the same accusers often prescribe different standards of, say, sexual fidelity. Not that I am against fidelity (in fact I think it is quite revolutionary in our consumer culture!), but it does beg the question as to whether some would view such fidelity as a form of legalism.

Whose legalism? becomes a relevant question.

The Denial of St Peter by Gerard van Honthorst (c. 1623)

What, then, is legalism? Read the rest of this entry

the revolutionary humility of faith

What if faith itself is a challenge to the arrogance of our modern world?

We live in a world that esteems certainty, of knowledge beyond doubt. But the arrogance of Enlightenment reason has been shown to be, in so many ways, naive.

None of this makes knowledge bad; quite the opposite, knowledge is beautiful. But like beauty, knowledge is not easy to pin down.

Faith is, in part, an acknowledgement of our inability to really know many things with certainty.

Now when I say faith I don’t mean mere belief, Read the rest of this entry

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