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Admirer or Follower?

On the last Sunday of the church year, before Advent starts next week, our Lay Minister, Alison, asked us to consider if we are an admirer of Christ, the King, or a follower. Which are you?


You may not realise it, but today is the last Sunday for quite some time that you will see the green altar frontal, so carefully & faithfully placed every week by Julia or Eleanor, our altar guild. Today marks the end of the cyclical Church Year. Next Sunday, when, God willing, we celebrate Catherine’s arrival as our interim priest, we will be starting the Church Year again, marked by the first Sunday in Advent.

Advent is a time when we are called upon to reflect on the humble birth of our Lord and Saviour, on his sacrifice, on his descent to earth to become a human, to live as one of us. And so, our altar frontal will be changed to one of dark blue, to signify a time of preparation for Christ’s Nativity. Today is the last day in the longest season, the Sundays after Pentecost, sometimes called “Ordinary Time” when we have used our green altar frontal, when we have reflected on the “ordinary” life of a Christian, and our responsibilities in the world.

Many of the church’s yearly celebrations have gone on for centuries, with over a millennium of tradition and history enriching them. They mark the events of Jesus’ life: his birth, his journey to the cross, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his sending of the Holy Spirit to remain with us. We tell these stories in our church calendar, year after year. They shape us in a multitude of ways as we become part of the stories—and they become part of us.

And today, the last Sunday in Ordinary Time has been designated as the Sunday when we celebrate “Christ the King”, a feast day that dates back all the way to…1925. Yes! This tradition is not even 100 years old, yet it came at a time in the world where God seemed to be losing ground. The devastating First World War had been fought, and the powers of nationalism and secularism were rising. Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King to lend courage to Christians whose faith might be flagging, to remind nations that the Church has a right to freedom and immunity from the state, and in hopes that leaders and nations would be bound to give respect to Christ.

We look at today’s world and I believe we still desperately need the reminder that Christ is indeed King. It may not seem so, when we look at the chaos of war and mistrust and hatred, but it is so. And this truth should influence the way we live our lives, the focus of what we do, and how we behave. And as we live out the truth that Jesus is Lord, as we love each other and all who we meet, as we show that Christ’s table is open to all, then we will be reflecting Christ’s Kingship.

The community in Ephesus had been doing just that and it had been noticed. The author of the epistle was impressed by the word-of-mouth reputation that the community had for having faith in the Lord Jesus and demonstrating that faith in love. They didn’t just get together to do nice things for other people and talk about Jesus on occasion. Instead, they believed that Jesus is risen and sits at the right hand of God, and they had experienced God’s power in their lives. They were changed. They were transformed, and this transformation informed every single thing they did, individually and as a community. They were a people who knew their destination. They had a goal and because they knew what direction they were going they were people of hope. In our modern times, we sometimes get the meanings of ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ confused, but not the Ephesians. They knew that faith means you entrust your life to Jesus today, in the present tense; and hope is about the future, about where our present trust in Jesus eventually leads: to see him, in his full glory and Kingship, at the end of time.

So what does it mean, to live under the Kingship of Christ? It means that we stop being admirers of Christ, and start being followers. And this is the difficult searching question that is posed by our Gospel reading: are we admirers of Jesus or are we followers? The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard describes the difference like this: “The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe. Though in words, phrases, songs, he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes Christ, he renounces nothing, gives up nothing, will not reconstruct his life, will not be what he admires, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires.” Becoming a disciple of Jesus is no easy task. Many throughout the ages have admired Jesus, but far fewer have chosen the sacrifice of following.

This quotation from Kierkegaard really speaks to me because I honestly fear that sometimes I find myself in the “admirer” camp, afraid of giving up my comforts, afraid that reconstructing my life will be too painful, will ask too much of me, will mean I have to do things I don’t want to do. And that is something I have to face, and work out with God, just as you have to face it yourselves.

There is a question, or a meme, or whatever young people call it today, that occasionally pops up on Facebook “Sometimes I want to ask God why there is poverty, famine, and injustice in the world when God could do something about it, but I’m afraid that God might just ask me the same question.”

As Christians, we believe that God has full claim on our lives. We are coming into the season of Advent next week and are reminded that God loved us so much that he became human—became one of us—so that we would fully understand what that claim was and how deep the love goes. How do we translate this love to others? Jesus tells us in our Gospel today that when we feed or welcome or give clothing or visit the sick or those in prison that we are, in turn, feeding, welcoming, clothing, and visiting him. When people respond to human need—or fail to respond—they are responding or failing to respond to Jesus himself.

We know this, don’t we? We know that living under Christ’s Kingship calls on us to give of ourselves, to be willing to help others, to be willing to be a little less comfortable so that we can serve our King in the guise of others. We know that we are called not to be admirers, but followers, of this God-become-man Jesus. But it’s hard. It’s hard because we have become a little too comfortable in the lives that we lead, and we don’t want to give up that comfort.

I can offer no easy fixes, but I know that the so-called “prosperity gospel” does not have a place in the true Kingdom of Heaven. God does not necessarily reward us with riches and good fortune and good health if we follow him. We don’t amass good things through being part of the Kingdom. Listen again  to those words from Ezekiel: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

We thought it was just a judgement between sheep and goats, but no, the sheep themselves will be judged: will be asked if they butted and pushed their way to the front, with no thought for their companions on the road.

Did we care for everyone we met? Did we make ourselves uncomfortable for the sake of making someone else comfortable? Did we make sacrifices for the Kingdom?

I’m not going to tell you what you should be doing: as I said earlier, that is between you and God. But just a small nudge: Advent is the season of new beginnings, when traditionally Christ Church has thought about Stewardship, how we use our time, our talents and our wealth for the service of the church and what the church does. We are lucky enough to have Catherine coming for six months, but we still are looking for a more permanent priest. This can’t be done unless we all pull together and prayerfully consider how we use the gifts – of money, of talent, of time – to further God’s Kingdom in the world, both within these walls, and outside of them.

Take time out with your God to find out what God is asking you to do. And then pray for the strength and the humility to do it.






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