Reign of ChristC, 2016
A Liturgy is also available
‘CHRIST’ OR ‘JESUS’. AN ON-GOING CONVERSATION...
Many people today find the traditional name for today’s Lectionary theme
to be problematic - Christ the King Day.
In our egalitarian culture, the concept of kingship rings a note
that is artificial for most, and offensive to some.
But being on the edge of the ‘baby boomer’ generation
I do remember a king or two...
Elvis, known simply as ‘The King’...
Graham Kennedy, known as the King of Australian TV...
So let’s play around with this day and its title for a while.
And to do so, I guess I want to talk about the ‘historical Jesus’
rather than the traditional ‘mythical Christ’.
Bishop John Shelby Spong is well-known
for his questioning of a doctrine-based Christianity.
In one of his earlier books he said we needed a new God-definition
that resonated with the humanity of Jesus. Spong wrote:
“What I see is a new portrait of Jesus... I see him pointing to something he calls the realm (or kingdom) of God, where new possibilities demand to be considered... I see him inviting his followers to join with him, to walk without fear beyond those security boundaries that always prohibit, block, or deny our access to a deeper humanity” (Spong 2001:131).
Tony Kelly is an Australian Catholic theologian.
He too has written several books over the past 30+ years,
most of them helping to shape an Australian theology.
In a sermon in his book, Seasons of Hope, published way back in 1984,
Kelly spent some time also commenting on the life of the ‘historical Jesus’.
Let me share some of his thoughts. And I will use Kelly’s four categories:
• Jesus of the gospels
• Jesus rejected all factions
• Jesus adopted the powerless ones
• Jesus liberated God
As they are only thumbnail sketches, they will be brief.
(i) • Jesus of the gospels
The gospels present Jesus as a man of startling, fascinating freedom.
He interpreted the traditions of his people in a most liberating way.
In his presence values were radically reversed.
Any law or tradition had to be relativised
so the real love of God for struggling human beings
would be made clear.
In a world of exclusive segregations,
he was remarkably accessible and hospitable.
As more often than not as guest, he shared the sacred fellowship of the table
with all types and classes.
(ii) • Jesus rejected all factions
In such a world of factions and intrigues Jesus
would eventually disappoint every group
that tried to capture him for its purpose.
He disappointed the Zealots, hell bent on freeing the Holy Land
from the pagan occupying power - the Romans.
He disappointed the Pharisees, a devout minority
dedicated to the maintenance of the distinctively Jewish way of life.
He disappointed the baptists, because his way
was in sharp contrast to the thundering asceticism of John.
“To the devout, he was irreligious. To the learned, he was untutored. To the revolutionary, he was too idealistic. To the priests, he was a meddling layman. To the aristocratic establishment, he was a cause for alarm” (Kelly 1984: 112).
(iii) • Jesus adopted the powerless ones
No one really had room for him except those whom no one cared about...
Those whom he called the poor,
the 'lost sheep' of Israel.
These are decried at different times as:
the diseased and the crippled,
All those his society had excluded as it used its religion to dehumanise itself.
In such company, however, Jesus seems to have made God real
in a way that the traditional religion of his day could not.
Again Tony Kelly suggests:
“A kind of springtime of religious awareness radiated from him” (Kelly 1984:112).
(iv) • Jesus liberated God
Jesus’ way of life implied that God was not really interested in
or even your sin.
He was happy with your trust, or the word traditionally used, faith.
If you had that, you had everything.
Since Tony Kelly published his sermon ‘Dangerous Memories’ on Jesus,
there have been many books published specifically on the ‘historical Jesus’…
Robert Funk’s Honest to Jesus and A Credible Jesus. Fragments of a Vision.
Marcus Borg’s Jesus. Uncovering the Life, Teachings and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary.
And more recently, Lorraine Parkinson’s Made on Earth. How Gospel Writers Created the Christ.
To name just a few.
All important books.
Because, I reckon, how we see Jesus affects how we see christianity.
Some years ago I was part of the ABC TV program ‘Compass’.
The particular edition was produced to celebrate 30 years of the Uniting Church in Australia.
And I was asked to participate as a representative of the 'radical' or 'progressive' end of the UCA.
Also on the program was one of my clergy colleagues
(from the conservative neo-orthodox wing) who was very strong
on a christianity based on creeds and ‘right’ doctrine…
That the object of faith or religion, is belief. Right belief.
And what we believe is in the bible and in the creeds and in the tradition.
I tried to suggest, equally strongly I admit, that past creeds have their place...
And that place is not in the 21st century! Instead I suggested that
what was important today was the way we are christian:
having trust with Jesus, not trust in Jesus.
Not set ‘belief’, even though what we believe is important,
but as ‘way’, as ‘trust’, walking without fear,
daring to be surprised by life... where the 'status quo' is disrupted by the
"experience of new events... and a new integration of what formerly existed with the new events" (Peters 1992:320, Peters 1997:483).
The suggestion was not always welcomed.
Both in the program and in eMails and discussion groups afterwards!
So this day, 'Christ the King Day' in traditional language,
or the 'Reign of Christ Day' in a bit of a modern re-write,
or the more radical 'Jesus and his Kingdom of Nobodies Sunday' of John Shuck,
is really an ongoing conversation about
how we see Jesus and how we see christianity.
And in our multifaith community, I reckon such a conversation is really important.
I hope you might think so, as well.
Kelly, A. Seasons of Hope. Christian Faith and Social Issues. Blackburn. Dove Communications, 1984.
Peters, K. E. "Empirical theology in the light of science" in Zygon. Journal of Religion & Science 27, 3, 1992, 297-325.
Peters, K. E. "Storytellers and Scenario Spinners: Some reflections on Religion and Science in light of a Pragmatic, Evolutionary Theory of Knowledge" in Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science 32, 4, 1997, 465-489.
Spong, J. S. A New Christianity for a New World. New York. HarperCollins, 2001.