Christ The King: of the world, and of creation
Location: St Alban the Martyr, Golders Green parish church
Brian Cuthbertson, our Head of Environment and Sustainability, was the visiting speaker at St Alban the Martyr, Golders Green parish church, on Sunday 25 November 2018.
St Albans has just signed up to Eco Church and wanted to hear more about the environment and sustainability, on the festival of Christ the King. Brian spoke as follows:
Christ the King
I would like to refer to all three passages read to us this morning.
First of all, here is a brief extract from Revelation 1: 1-7:
“The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place … Jesus Christ … is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
“Look, he is coming with the clouds, and “every eye will see him … so shall it be!”
We live in troubled and troubling times, to put it mildly! The world is fractured, even tortured. We want to know how things will turn out. We hope they will all work out for the best, but we find that often they do not. So where can we look to for hope?
The Bible contains many prophesies, though some of them are obscure and hard to understand. Revelation, this last book in the Bible, by a figure known as ‘St John the Divine’, is definitely one of these.
However, Colossians 1: 15-20 (our Epistle) adds to the picture painted by the Divine, of Christ’s status, and His programme for the world:
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible … All things have been created through him and for him … God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
It was long believed that Colossians is one of Paul’s letters. We’re not so certain now that it’s his, but I hope you’ll agree the authority of the author’s words is self-evident.
The main themes shared by these two passages in Revelation and in Colossians – and others too – are clear:
Christ is both Ruler and Reconciler of all. He is indeed King, Christ the King!
He has a great programme for the redemption of all things. At God’s chosen time this redemption will be triumphantly concluded, and Christ’s rule will be asserted for all to see.
So how might that allay our fears for the present and the future, near and far?
In St John’s Gospel Ch 14, Jesus is quoted as saying “Let not your hearts be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me.”
What will God do?
Yet we do not underestimate the suffering many are going through in today’s world. Is this worse or better than at other times? It’s hard to say.
But how are Christ’s words comforting for the victims of war, for children and families fleeing burning villages, for the lines of refugees crossing continents and seas in their seemingly endless streams of misery? Closer to home, for the single mum still waiting for her first Universal Credit payment, unable to buy food for her baby tonight?
What will God do to set things right? What will He do? How, what, when? We feel such questions to lie at the heart of our existential pain, the challenge that this poses to our faith.
Revelation says Christ is ‘coming soon’. “Believe in God, believe also in me”, said Jesus.
But ‘soon’ in God’s terms may mean we have to be patient, while ‘what’ and ‘how’ leave infinite possibilities.
We are however assured that God will do what is right. As Abraham put it long before: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Yet what God did after Abraham posed that rhetorical question wasn’t necessarily very pleasant! Check it out in Genesis chapters 18-19, if you are so inclined.
I dare to say – it is not going too far to say – that from our point of view, God’s credibility is at stake when we put our trust in Him. And God knows that. Can and will He deliver? God will do what God will do; that may not always seem comfortable, or what we wished for. But our ultimate security in His will must provide enough assurance from day to day, for us.
God’s redemption of His creation
Now all of that is the essential context to the reason you’ve invited me today: my position as the Diocese’s Head of Environment.
There are many worries concerning the environment bearing down upon us. The environment is God’s creation, ‘by Christ for Christ’. How will He deliver it from the threats that it faces? From climate change, our rubbish in the oceans, species extinctions, depletion of the resources we depend on? These threats are unprecedented in their range and scale, and they are escalating every day.
God will do right, and He will do what He will do. But that does not relieve us of responsibility for our own actions. We should offer ourselves as channels for His plan of redemption. To be clear, we are speaking of the redemption of all creation. ‘All things’ – yes, things as well as people – Colossians is clear about that. Seals as well as souls.
Our practical actions which we need to undertake may be great and may be small. Action on every scale is needed! Not just words but deeds.
The Church of England and the Diocese of London are taking a lead in this matter, sometimes strong, at times faltering.
In your church, your Vicar has chosen the environment as a special theme, and you are taking action in many ways.
Churches can and should participate in Eco Church (as you are now), also in the Diocese’s Climate Action Programme and other initiatives. I shall be delighted to support your PCC, your wardens, any one as an individual. Everyone has a part to play. Please see me! I am very approachable; see the Diocese of London webpages or email me.
Truth and the facts
But first and foremost, we need to agree on the truth of the claims made by a multitude of scientists and others (indeed by every reputable government on earth).
Are we making a fuss about nothing? No, I think we are not. People including politicians are playing fast and loose with the truth these days. We have fake news, alternative facts and the rest. Clear statements recorded yesterday are denied today.
What we need is truth. God’s truth, the truth we must place our trust in, if life is to be set on any firm foundation.
The facts of global warming and climate change, in particular, are repeatedly challenged and denied; but yes, they are facts. Of course there are ups and downs in the weather at different times and places. But local anecdotes and personal feelings are not enough.
For on top of these variations we see a new trend, over the whole world, which is very clear and very strong. I can tell you the evidence is overwhelming that it is happening, it is caused by human activity, and it is very very dangerous. No other explanation stands up to scrutiny. (I could go on a long time about all this, but for now I will spare you a lecture in atmospheric physics!)
Suffice to say, we have to act, and there are useful actions we can take. Our churches along with everyone else, need to play a full part in trying to deal with this momentous problem. That means government and big business, but not just them – we are all in the same boat, and we must all do what we can. We must not give in to apathy or despair.
I say all these things to myself as well as anyone else. I am as much subject to human frailty as anyone: whether in thought, in belief or in action. Let us encourage one another!
Finally, we come to our Gospel reading, John 18.33-37, which quotes Jesus:
“The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me….”
What is truth?
Then Pilate asks his famous question “What is truth?” He does so in a shoulder-shrugging manner. Yet he asked the right question, perhaps the key question for our times as well as his!
We need to recognise and affirm the essential status of truth – a contested thing in today’s world, about climate change and the environment as well as our Lord’s kingship and the cut and thrust of current affairs. These and all other truths are an indivisible and coherent whole – however much they may be denied, or imperfectly perceived. Any attack on any truth is an attack on all truth, and therefore on Christ’s authority.
Let us rely on the truth, and act upon it. Rely on God and in Christ. Act with confidence, perseverance and trust in Him.
“To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”