Sermon for Christ the King 2014

Sermon preached on 16 November 2014 by Kelvin Holdsworth from Kelvin Holdsworth on Vimeo.

Well, I wonder how many of you have met the Queen. Or indeed any other head of state. For in a congregation that is as diverse as this one, we have people here from a variety of places – some from republics of various kinds, some from constitutional monarchies and some from states with forms of government that verge on the tyrannical. Some of us have always known some form of democracy. Others have come to this country seeking that form of government and the liberties that go with it. Some here want to change the way we are governed either by changing the configuration of the United Kingdom or by moving away from principles of hereditary succession and moving towards a system where the head of state is elected by the people.

And how seldom the church thinks about the different forms of rule that even the people gathered here will have encountered.

But I wonder how many of you have met the Queen.

The Feast of Christ the King is a bit of conundrum and quite tricky to preach on.

We often presume that the Feasts of the Christian Calendar have come to us from the mists of time, worked out long, long ago. But the reality about this feast day is that it dates back only to 1925 and was instituted for decidedly modern reasons by an Italian Roman Catholic church trying to stem the tide of secularism.

All of a sudden a Feast was created which emphasised the image of Christ the King. Now that image of Christ as King certainly existed before that but it was a novelty to make a festival out of the monarchical images of Christ that we can find in the Bible and focus on his kingliness and majesty.

We would be well to proceed with some caution with such a festival.

Not all the political movements in Europe in general and in Italy in particular in the 1920s were benign. We should be a little wary of a feast which seems to focus on something that is very political and all about God being seen in terms of power. Monarchy can’t be anything but political in one way or another these days.

But I wonder whether you’ve ever met the Queen.

The thing that should make us wary of seeing God through imagery that is all about power and dominion is that though such images are found in scripture they do seem to get subverted along the way.

We are used to images of God as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

We get plenty of that in Handel’s music.

The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, And of His Christ And of His Christ And He shall reign for ever and ever. King of kings and Lord of Lords. Forever and ever hallelujah! Hallelujah!

And not just in Handel either.

For we worship knowing that the head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now. A royal diadem adorns the mighty victor’s crown.

In a few week’s time we will be hearing of those who went looking for the Christ child and presumed that he would be born in kingly majesty. They found him not in a royal palace but famously in a manger in a stable.

And at our other great high feast the one whom we worship as king was placed not on a throne but on a cross. And crowned not with gold but with mocking thorns.

The king of kings who rides in triumph gets derided by Good Friday.

Whatever kingship that Jesus was honoured with was a very odd, hostile, unfriendly kingship indeed.

And in any case, he seemed to subvert power almost by instinct. For the last will become first and the first will become last.

Though as I’m standing here speaking, I find myself wondering whether you’ve ever met the Queen.

One of the questions that I never really found an answer to when I was in the United States of America on sabbatical a couple of years ago was to find out how American Anglicans could be happy singing Rejoice the Lord is King and Ride on Ride on in Majesty in a country which overthrew the monarchy years ago.

I didn’t quite get an answer to that though I did get an insight on election day when they re-elected President Obama and someone said to me, “You know, if the Queen was standing in this election she’d have wiped the floor with him”.

We can overthrow political systems but it isn’t quite so easy to overthrow the longing in the human heart for a bit of pomp and circumstance and for the fantasy that you can have a form of government which is somehow untouched by day to day politics.

But never mind America and never mind President Obama – I wonder whether you have ever met the Queen.

I have.

I’ve met the Queen on one of her many visits. She was opening a new academic building and I was invited to have tea with her. Well, me and another 400 people.

But I met the Queen.

And I remember two things about the experience. Two questions really which are the questions that I want to leave you with on this feast day.

The first is what she said to me. She said, “And what do you do?”

And the second is the question that everyone I met asked me for weeks – “What is she like?”

There have been various attempts to redefine or reframe the feast of Christ the King – our own Calendar is a little squeamish about it referring to it in some of our liturgical books not as Christ the King but the Feast of the Reign of Christ. I’ve even heard this day referred to as the Feast of the Commonwealth of God.

I can understand why.

But I want to reframe it today around those two questions.

“And what do you do?” said the Queen to me.

I recognise that question as being the same question that Jesus is asking in his story of the sheep and the goats.

And what do you do?

It is a profound question. And Matthew’s telling of it seems makes us face up to the fact that religion isn’t just about what we think or feel. Nor is it just a private matter. It is concerned with what we do and presumes that is a reflection of who we really are.

And what was she like?

What was the Queen like?

The question I was asked again and again after meeting her.

And what is God like?

The question we should not be surprised that others ask us if we are in the business of meeting with God here or elsewhere.

What is God like?

Like a king? Well maybe.

Like love. Like compassion. Like truth. Like hope. Like justice. Like joy. Like peace. Like the Way. Like the very essence of life itself.

I wonder…

I wonder if you have met the King.


  1. Julie Mansfield says

    Kelvin, I follow your blog and I often find your conversations on facebook a lot of fun. But often, too, I don’t really understand what you are saying – such as your last paragraph there; ‘Like love. Like compassion. Like truth. Like hope. Like justice. Like joy. Like peace. Like the Way. Like the very essence of life itself.’ It sounds wonderful but what does it actually mean? Are you saying that the word, ‘God’ is a synonym for other worthwhile words which already have meanings I do understand?

    • What a good question.

      No, I’m not saying that, or at least not quite. I would say that we can’t describe what God is like in language, but one of the closest ways we can come near to talking about God is to talk by analogy – to talk about what God is like.

      The bible is full of times when people use analogy and metaphor to describe the reality of God which we can never completely comprehend.

      In this sermon I’m saying that whilst God may be like a king, God is also like a lot of things that one doesn’t immediately associate with kingship and monarchy. That string of words that you picked out in the sermon are all ways that the bible uses to speak of God. I was using them to do the same.

      Does any metaphor contain or enclose or sum up what we can say or know of God. The answer is always no.

  2. Joy Jones says

    I loved your sermon. And have subscribed to your blog.

    No, I have not met the Queen, but I have met the King! And continue to get to know Him more and more every day. His love, peace joy, truth, etc.

    Our priest in North Carolina, said on Sunday, that
    it was hard to tell the difference between sheep and goats.
    Since you live in Scotland, you see a lot of sheep and goats….why did Jesus picked those animals?

    • Thanks for your comments, Joy.

      Actually, I don’t see that many sheep and goats in Great Western Road in the middle of Glasgow. I do see sheep when I drive in the countryside but very rarely goats.

      I think that it is the case that in the Middle East, sheep and goats are pastured together and do sometimes need sorting out. Here in Scotland, sheep and goats (especially wild goats) look very different. However I think in the Middle East, that’s less true.

  3. Julie Mansfield says

    Kelvin, I’ve only just found your reply! Thanks so much for bothering. I really mean it. I thought you must have just ignored it. Yes, I see what you are saying but… I would say that all those meaningful words in the Bible about what God is like only make sense in the context of understanding who God is. ( i.e. that He came into being as the personification of the worldview of the marginalised Hebrew people, later taken up by Jesus, just as all of the other communities of the ancient Near East had gods representing their worldviews. I study with this bloke here ) What I am trying – !! – to say is that God obviously cannot be everyone’s ‘truth’, ‘joy’, ‘justice’ etc because in society there are contradictory ideas about what these things are.

    • Are there contradictory ideas about truth, joy and justice?

      I’m not so sure. Surely we can still speak of these things as though they had some commonly understood meanings.

      • Julie Mansfield says

        oh absolutely there are, Kelvin. Just one of many examples: these immigrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Their truth and joy and justice is to be allowed to come and live here. Many folk here get their truth, joy and justice in seeking to put in controls. Whose truth, joy and justice is right? As I see it, the god of the marginalised Hebrews would side with the immigrants but I’m not sure about the Church…

        • I was speaking about God, not ethics. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot that is interesting to say about the two, but they are quite different I think.

          The fact that people disagree about how to show love. does not, to me at least, negate the assertion that God is love.

      • Julie Mansfield says

        Oh absolutely there are contradictory ideas, Kelvin. Just one of many examples; these immigrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Their truth and joy and justice is to be allowed a place to live and thrive. For many folk here, their truth and joy and justice depends on keeping out as many immigrants as possible because they affect housing, medical care, schools etc. As I see it, the Biblical god of the marginalised Hebrews is on the side of the immigrants…

        • Julie Mansfield says

          sorry I didn’t see your reply! My difficulty is that you use words as if they have a universal meaning. E.g. love is not a neutral word. there are many different types of love such as conservative paternalistic love or socialist love or non-marginalising love. They are all love. How can God be them all?

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