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The King and I

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sermon for the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity using the propers for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Hierarchy is everywhere. Somewhere along the line, we are in some chain of command as the army might phrase it. We have authority over some people; some people have authority over us. We may not like it; we may even try to rebel and ascribe to some form of anarchy, but we cannot escape the fact that someone has authority over us and has the lawful right to use that authority whether we like it or not.
We are right to be suspicious of this thing called Authority. For time immemorial, Authority has been used to exert control over people and compel them to do and to suffer great miseries and hardship. This is true, even for the best of reasons. Brexit is happening for the reason that voters have given the Government authority to pull us out of Europe. Many of us are unhappy about that.
We often see that having someone with authority over us as a bad thing. We see our individual freedom to choose being taken away or diminished in some way. We have to pay taxes. We have to go to school and be taught things that the Government says we must be taught. We have to obey speed restrictions. We mustn’t park there… We didn’t choose to be governed this way. We didn’t choose to be put into this society. Why should we go along with it if we don’t want to?
We know full well what would happen if there were no system of government. Human nature would take over and William Golding makes a persuasive case for what would happen in The Lord of the Flies. We know that, in order to live together, we have to allow ourselves to be governed.
Indeed, St Paul is telling all Christians, each one of us, that although our King is in Heaven, yet we must recognise His authority when he sets up governments over us. We Christians are not to be anarchists, but rather to play our part in what is good for all people around us. We cannot convince people of our Salvation under the Kingship of Christ if we are seen as rebels and revolutionaries. Yes, there may be unjust laws in direct contradiction to God’s commands. If there are, then we must in good conscience disobey but accept willingly the punishment that comes from such Christian disobedience.
However, St Paul is not just talking of human authority. He is talking of “higher powers”. What might they be?
Other things have control over our lives beyond the choices of our society. We need to eat and sleep, so our own biology often puts limits on what we can do. The laws of physics explain why we cannot walk on the ceiling or through walls. The laws of science just describe how the physical world works around us and yet, we often try to contravene them. Biologically, at the level of every cell, a person is generally either male or female, and nothing can be done to change one to the other. Biologically, we cannot cheat death. Even the great saints had to eat or sleep occasionally. The basic idea that no-one can be in two different places at the same time means that if both parents work, they will need someone else to look after the children and that this choice will impact how their children will grow up.
These are the basic rules of Creation that God has given us and without them, we simply wouldn’t be who we are. We have to accept the facts of our world as God created it, and the facts about ourselves as God created us. Too often we wrap up our sense of self-worth with our wants and desires. Often we hate ourselves because we can’t live our lives the way we want to live them. However, St Paul is saying that our worth is not bound up in our free will, our worth is determined by God’s love for us. There is no worth in being superior or inferior to someone else because all authority comes from God.
To be honest, the greatest challenge we face as individuals is to accept ourselves truly as being creations of God on His terms and His alone. This is so difficult and may take us a lifetime. For some people it is impossible which is why we need to love them for who they are so that they can see themselves for themselves. What is impossible for Man is not impossible for God.
We have to admit it: we are not the kings of our own lives. The more that we see our individual worth in what we can and cannot do, the unhappier we will become. The more we do what God wants us to, and the more we shape our lives around the person of Jesus Christ, then the less hold this world will have over us and the greater our happiness in the wonders of God as He really is.
We can make a start on this by approaching Him in the Blessed Sacrament and truly receiving Him as He really is so that we can be Who we really are, happy and content under His authority.

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