Can Christ be King if we become a republic?
A thematic sermon by Nathan Nettleton, 26 November 1995
In a world where boh monarchy and presidential democracy have lost touch with the needs of the people, Christ shows a Kingship that is expressed in solidarity with our suffering and raises us to roayl dignity.
So, Charles is unfit to be King, and Diana's been getting a bit of nooky on the side. Is anybody surprised? The only surprise is that an insider decided to actually say it in public. The British royal family has never been a role model for how to live a well balanced personal or family life. They sit at the top of a class structure that is founded on and inseparable from concepts of elitism, inequality and ostentatious wealth. However much we may like or admire particular members of the royal family, and however much we may enjoy the pomp and ceremony of royal gala occasions, the British class system that they represent is in principle exactly the same as the Indian caste system which pretty much everyone I know finds abhorrent.
The consternation caused by Diana's interview this week gave some stunning insights into the repressive psychology of Britain's ruling classes, and for an analysis of it, I recommend to you Peter Ellingsen's article in Thursday's AGE. He points out that Diana breached the cardinal rule of the upper crust by saying what she actually felt. The very notion of being an upper class Brit is tied up with the stiff upper lip and a public school system that encourages pretence. And as Ellingsen writes, it is astonishing that in the closing stages of this century, a country's elite can still believe it healthy and desirable to mask reality and believe image preferable to truth.
Those who defend the monarchy on grounds of the importance for national morale of their fairy tale weddings and polished properness have, in my opinion bought into a fantasy that says that role models are those who have concealed their shortcomings rather than those who have acknowledged and overcome them. I for one admire Diana's courage in breaking free from the double life that conceals psychological and relational failures for the sake of maintaining the image of the ruling culture. And as one who considers obscene a system where your pedigree at birth determines where you can fit in the political and social systems, I hope that the hole she has torn in the facade does hasten the demise of the monarchist system.
But having said that, I must admit that I'm not that impressed with the alternatives on display either. The American presidential system has a number of striking similarities in practice to the British royalty system. The main difference is that instead of your birth pedigree determining your social and political potential, your wealth does. It would be virtually impossible to rise to president in the US without either enormous personal wealth or the patronage of the extraordinarily wealthy. Hypocrisy and duplicity are just as evident in the upper echelons of American politics as they are in the British elite. Everybody accepts that dishonesty and unfaithfulness are as prevalent in the White House as they are in the Palace, but unless they are caught in the act like Richard Nixon, America too prefers the image to the reality. Although many church people might disagree, I actually prefer the Australian attitude to the sexual antics of our politicians. Bob Hawke lost no votes for his admission of adultery and I would rather see an honest, warts and all prime minister than a morally white washed fake.
But that said, Australia's version of democracy has lost the plot too. Despite the appearance of democracy, our system has been hi-jacked by the political machinery of two major parties, and it is almost impossible to get elected unless you are willing to say only what is acceptable to one or the other of them. The loss of idealism and vision and the increasing cynicism about the party system has led to a continuing decline in the quality of people seeking political power, and when the cycles of comings and goings leave a real dearth of talent on one side, you can end up with the present situation where a tough talking advertising man can run a virtual dictatorship with hardly a wimper of opposition.
The power of the system to perpetuate itself means that our politicians can get away with paying no more than lip service to the interests and aspirations of ordinary people. A Paul Keating can tell a student protester to go and get a job while presiding over 9% unemployment. A Jeff Kennett can can shape a government's economic strategy around a gambling industry that is ripping the guts out of the finances, self esteem and family life of ordinary people. I personally don't advocate the outlawing of casinos, but I will be at the rally in two weeks time to protest the unqualified promotion of the casino by a government that is closing schools and hospitals to save money, and I hope you'll all be coming with me.
So, in light of that litany of political disasters, what are we to say on the Festival of Christ the King. As much as comparing Jesus Christ to Henry VIII or the future King Charles or William makes me cringe, Christ the President, Christ the Prime Minister, and Christ the Premier all make me want to chuck as well. But the assertion that Christ is King was never meant to be a comparison to the secular images of power. It was meant to be a stinging critique of empires and governments.
One of the reasons Christians were so viciously persecuted by the Roman empire was because their assertion that Christ is Lord and King was understood very clearly to imply that Caesar was not worthy of such titles. The festival of Christ the King was only added to the church calender in 1925, and part of the impetus for it was that Mussolini had been ruling Italy for three years, Hitler's Nazi Party was on the rise and the western world was gripped by the great depression. In the face of the rise of dictatorships, in the face of the pushing of religion out of the social sphere and into the private, Pius IX called on the church to assert that nevertheless Jesus Christ is King of the Universe and reigns for ever and ever.
And we have as much cause to need to assert that now as then. In the face of yet another French nuclear test this week; in the face of the assassination of another peace maker; in the face of royal commissions and royal interviews that tell us that our leaders are frauds; in the face of Jeff Kennett telling us to go back to church and be piously spiritual, we will assert that Jesus Christ is King of the Universe and that we will not submit unquestioningly to the will of any other. They can put a crown on the casino all they like but the only crown to which we will offer up our lives and our destinies will not be the biggest game in town but the strongest name in earth and heaven, Jesus Christ who comes to us in a crown of thorns.
I will not call Charles my King until he's ready to take on the crown of thorns for his people. And as the church, we must not stop criticising our kings, presidents and premiers until they fulfil the measures of kingship called for by the prophet Jeremiah, to be as caring and protective as a shepherd among the people, to deal wisely and to execute justice and righteousness in the land. I don't think I've heard even their most ardent supporters compare Paul Keating or Jeff Kennett to shepherds.
There are perhaps three essential attributes to the Hebrew and Christian concept of Kingship. The first is captured in the name Emmanuel that is used of Jesus, meaning God with us. The true King is one who journeys with his people. He does not sit in a palace and decree the direction of the journey, he journeys with the people. If there is a wilderness to be passed through, he leads the way. If there is a battle to be fought, he is there in the front line. If there is an execution to be faced, he is hanging there among the executed. According to what we heard from the gospel of Luke, it was hanging on a cross among criminals with thorns stuck on his head, journeying all the way in solidarity with the guilty and condemned, that another dying man recognized Jesus for who he was and begged acceptance into his kingdom.
Secondly, the scriptures call Christ King because he is creator. The King is one who brings forth beauty and who gives life to what he has shaped. One who acts to ensure that the world is worth living in, that we means to life and fullness of life are available to all.
Which leads us to the third attribute of true Kingship. The King is the one who brings about justice. The psalms and the prophets repeatedly call for earthly Kings to emulate God's example and be justice makers. Even before Israel chose their first King, God warned them through the prophet Samuel that a King would lord it over them, tax them harshly, and promote inequality and injustice. And that's exactly what most of their Kings did, and what most kings, emperors, presidents and premiers have done to this day. But when we say Christ is King, we offer our allegiance to the one who will not rest until every cup is overflowing, until the pathway to fullness of life is open to every man, woman and child of every race, class and culture.
In declaring our allegiance to Jesus Christ as the only King, we are saying "no" to any social system that divides us up into lords and commoners. But note carefully how Jesus brings an end to such inequalities. Jesus does not say there will be no more royals, he says there will be no more commoners. We will all be royals. Psalm 8: You crowned humans with glory and gave them dominion over the work of your hands. Psalm 113: God raises the poor from the dust and gives them a place with princes. 1st Peter: you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood. Christ the King raises us up to reign with him.
Not only are we to refuse to bow to any power that does not model itself on the Prince of Peace and King of Justice, but we are in fact to model those attributes ourselves. We are to be Kings and Queens in the world, Kings and Queens who create beauty and peace, who make justice, and who take on the crown of thorns to journey with those who suffer and who have not yet found their dignity as royal people under the Kingship of Christ. The reign of Christ has begun. We have King who not only lays down his life for us, but who raises us up and enthrones us as his people of royal dignity to share his glory for ever and ever.