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christ the slain king: faithfulness in a world of effectiveness

On Sunday night I delivered the following sermon at a wonderful Uniting Church here in Sydney. I was told to speak about something that was burning on my heart.

Since I didn’t have time to memorise much of my sermon beforehand, I wrote much of it down. This means you get to read it! (Huzzah!)

Though I haven’t been able to post much lately this sermon represents some of the things I have been thinking about. I hope it challenges and comforts.

We come to the end of the year, for many of us a time of exhaustion.

For those who have done their best to walk the path of discipleship such exhaustion is compounded by the weariness of the pilgrimage more generally.

Perhaps it is providence that we find ourselves entering into the Christmas season where we join with the Magi, also suffering exhaustion after their long journey, in asking “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matt 2:2)

Stained glass window at the Melkite Catholic Annunciation Cathedral in Roslindale depicting Christ the King with the regalia of a Byzantine emperor. January 2009 photo by John Stephen Dwyer,

In fitting with this the lectionary cycle this week reflects on the theme of ‘Christ the King’ as we again celebrate his coming. For those feeling the strain of walking the road of discipleship what hope and encouragement comes from reflection on this theme? As we will see, the encouragement offered to us by Christ as king is often not what we want, though it is what we need.

What does it mean for our discipleship that Christ is king?

Colossians 1:15-20 [1]

He is the image
            of the invisible God
the firstborn of all creation
            for in him were created all things
            in heaven and earth
            things visible and invisible
            whether thrones or dominions
            whether rulers or powers
            all things have been created through him and for him

And he is before all things
            and in him all things hold together
And he is the head
            of the body, the church

He is the beginning
            the firstborn from the dead
            so that he might come to have first place in everything
                        for in him all the fullness
                        was pleased to dwell
                        and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself
                        all things
                        whether on earth or in heaven
                        by making peace through the blood of his cross

This powerful statement of the identity and meaning of Christ is well rehearsed amongst Christians, but often without much in the way of reflection on what it may have meant to Paul’s audience.

Place yourself in their world, a world colonised by images of Caesar: Read the rest of this entry

imagining: the most revolutionary thing we can do

A few days ago I posted a song of mine, entitled “Imagining”, on the Art of Resistance website. I thought I would post it here also:

Here is the blurb I wrote about the song: Read the rest of this entry

what is an “empire”?

Since the inception of this blog there has been a lot of talk about “empire.”

Now, discourse about “empire” is anything but unique to this blog, for it has been a common theme in theological discussion for a long time now.

I am aware that this language about empire is not familiar to everybody. Indeed a number of people have recently asked me the question, “what is (an) empire?”

The term empire is often used by people, especially those with a heightened social conscience, to simply denounce systems and institutions that they find dissatisfactory. Such a use of the term is rather haphazard and imprecise, leaving it vulnerable to baseless usage. Equally common is for people to define empire according to its characteristics (violence, economic exploitation, propaganda), but such characteristics generally tend to represent more a description than a definition, and are helpful but not sufficient. Read the rest of this entry

transforming society

“Students of social change tell us that it is better to aim at consensus within a strategic minority rather than to waste time and breath at soliciting the conformity of the majority. Since a movement for change involves vision and sacrifice it is not possible to start with the many. Very few people can see ten steps ahead of them. Most are too enclosed in the realities of the present to be able to imagine an alternative future. It takes a lot of imagination to believe that with the coming of Christ, a new order has come into being.”

Melba Padilla Maggay, Transforming Society: Reflections On The Kingdom And Politics, (Quezon City: Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture, 1996), 121-122.

talkin’ ‘bout your imagination

To know me is to know that I struggle with life as it is.

I am constantly frustrated.

Not with other people as much as with myself and my own life. My good friend Greg calls it dissonance between the internal and external; that is to say, there is a tension between what I feel and see on the inside and what actually happens in the external world.

This too often leads to deconstruction of the external. But there is only so long that the deconstruction piece can go on – it has to lead somewhere else, otherwise there is nothing left to deconstruct.

And the truth is there is somewhere else to go, even if we haven’t seen it. But of course very few of us have ever been taught to use our imaginations. Knowing that there is something bigger and better is a torturous experience when your imagination has been slowly sucked from the self by a sterile-but-seductive social system.

In the preface of his amazing book The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann, quoting Frederick Asals (who in turn is analysing Flannery O’Connor – complicated I know), writes;

The imagination, O’Connor discovered, might accomplish much more; it might become the channel of visionary awareness … For O’Connor, as for Aquinas, it is the imagination, with its roots deep in the human unconscious, that is the link between the depths of the self and the unseen reaches of the universe, that can reveal to finite man his apocalyptic destiny … the imagination for her is as dangerous a force as any named by Freud, for what it opens to, in those shattering climaxes when it achieves release, are the unwanted visions that ravage the lives of her protagonists.

… as the institutional guardian of the prophetic Word, the church has hardly been hospitable to the individual voice crying, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

… Far from denying the body and the senses, the asceticism in the later fiction (of O’Connor) works consistently to affirm them, to release them from the false consciousness of her protagonists in order to experience reality. But reality, to the prophetic mind, is always double: “This world, no more shadow of ideas in an upper sphere, is real, but not absolute; the world’s reality is contingent upon compatibility with God.” For O’Connor’s sacramentalism, it is the natural world that becomes the vehicle for the supernatural, and her characters’ literal return to their senses becomes the means of opening their imaginations to receive it.

Suffering is central to the prophetic consciousness. “The prophet is prepared for pain. One of the effects of his presence is to intensify the people’s capacity for suffering, to rend the veil that lies between life and pain.” … This ascetic imperative in O’Connor is a part of that prophetic consciousness….

As a writer of fiction, Flannery O’Connor simply had no interest in – no imagination for – “a socially desirable Christianity.”

Concrete, passionate, and imaginative, prophetic in its form, prophetic speech is nonetheless “a sharp sword,” conveying a vision “designed to shock rather than edify.”

Moderation is a delusion, and only extremists are in touch with reality.

It has been a long time since I read anything that made my heart jump as much as those words, but reading them is like a much needed breath of air. My desire is that God would give to me and others the courage to use our imaginations in a way that bridges the deepest parts of the self and the outermost reaches of the universe, to have the Spirit of God working in us to prophetically imagine something different, bigger, greater.

And before anyone becomes concerned that I am advocating extremism, know well that such extremism is that of love and imagination, not violent action.

The truth is that I desperately want to be inspired, and to let my imagination run in freedom to create a world in which I and others want to live. I know that others feel the same. Perhaps together we can imagine a different reality.

May stars flood your dreams, and may we see something beyond what we ‘know’. May we breathe deep breaths and feel the beauty of the universe. May we become in touch with reality. May we become compatible with God.


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