Sermon, Feast of Christ the King, Sunday 26 November 2023 – Joseph Steadman

Today is the Feast of Christ the King, or – as our Roman Catholic friends call it,
with characteristic flair – the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the
Universe. It’s the final Sunday of the Church’s year, and the culmination of what
has become known in the last century or so as the Kingdom season, which we
have been observing here at St Mark’s.

There’s a temptation, I think, when we think of the Kingdom, to think about
what happens next—we begin with the feast of All Saints, then the
commemoration of All Souls, and then of course Remembrance Sunday. And the
readings we hear have a distinctly eschatological flavour to them—especially this
year, when our readings come from the Gospel according to St Matthew, whose
account of Christ’s teaching ends with the vivid vision of the Last Judgment we
heard a moment ago.

But if we focus on what happens next, there is a risk that we might forget about
what happens now. Because we are not called simply to wait around until God
brings the Kingdom to us. Rather, we are called to cooperate with God in bringing
the Kingdom closer—day by day, and year by year. After all, Jesus Himself taught
us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”.
That’s an idea that John F Kennedy, who died sixty years ago this week, echoed
at the conclusion of his inaugural address. He said, “let us go forth to lead the
land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth
God’s work must truly be our own”.

Now, by this point you may be wondering why I’m the one standing here in the
pulpit this morning. Well, as many of you will know, I’m one of the
Churchwardens here. And that means that it’s my job – along with Jane, Colin,
and many others – to make sure we can keep doing what we do at St Mark’s.
So, in the next few minutes I’d like to persuade you that one way of working to
bring the Kingdom of Christ closer is to consider providing financial support for
what we do here.

I’m going to start by saying something about what funding parish churches need,
then talking about why what we do here is important, and finally identifying howyou can help, by asking you to do three practical things—perhaps think of it as a New Year’s resolution for the turning of the Church’s year.

What? It might surprise you to know that parish churches receive no central
funding—nothing from the Government, nothing from the Church of England.
In fact, it is parishes who are asked to provide a lot of the central funding for the
church, through contributions to the Common Fund. In 2024, the amount we need to provide is £91,300, which reflects the cost of supporting and housing a parish priest, training the next generation, supporting diocesan schools, and funding the Diocese itself. And the day to day running costs of everything we do here are roughly the same again. Then, of course, there are the one-off, often eyewatering, costs that come with maintaining a historic building.

It is only through the generosity of our congregation, friends and neighbours –
with the help of income-generating activities like the nursery and the café, and
William’s work with the Diocese in Europe – that we have historically been able
to meet those costs.

Why? Now, I hope you will agree with me that what happens here at St Mark’s is
important. You probably think it goes without saying. But sometimes, I think it’s
worth saying these sorts of things out loud.

Our worship here offers a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven. Through our
worship, we bear witness that at the very foundation of the universe is a force of
love so generous, so powerful, so abundant, that it overwhelms every human
brokenness, overpowers death, and still continues to flow—as we will sing in a
moment, “sin and death and hell shall never stifle hymns of love”.
And that love is what underpins the ministry we offer. One of the wonderful
things about the Church of England – for all its faults – is that it seeks to be a
Christian presence in every community. St Mark’s is here for the people of
Primrose Hill and the surrounding area. Every so often a survey comes out
showing that regular church attendance is falling—though looking around today,
you wouldn’t know it. But I don’t think that needs to worry us. Because St Mark’s
is here when people need us. It is here at important moments in the life of the
nation, to make space for people’s feelings and to be a focal point for the
community. It is here at important moments in people’s lives – when a baby is
born, when a couple marries, when a loved-one dies – not asking whether they’re
part of the club, but generously offering care, comfort and compassion. And it is
here at other times, too, when we might not even realise it’s needed—a moment
of quiet contemplation when someone is having a difficult time, the unexpected
joy of an inspiring piece of music, or something as simple as a coffee and a pastry
on a cold Sunday morning.

And that same love overflows into the world as we are sent out each week “to live and work to [God’s] praise and glory”. In a moment I’ll come back to how we
do that, because – frankly – that’s way more important than money.

How? But first, I said I would tell you how you can help, and that I’d ask you to
do three practical things as your New Year’s resolution. So here they are.

1. The first practical thing is easy. There are leaflets at the back of Church called
“Leaving a Legacy”.
Pick one up, take it home, and read it. That’s all.

2. The second practical thing asks a little more of you. If you haven’t already set
up a standing order for regular giving, might you consider starting one? You
can find our bank details at the beginning of your service booklet. It’ll take
perhaps five minutes, maybe with an extra minute to email William with your
Gift Aid details. But it will make a real difference. And if you have got a standing order in place, might you consider updating it? You may have set it up several years ago, and in the meantime the cost of everything has gone up—you could even use the Bank of England inflation calculator to work out the new amount, if you want to be scientific about it.

3. The third practical thing is the most demanding, but it also potentially has the
most impact. (This is where I put my barrister hat on.)

Please, if you haven’t already, think about making a Will. It is the only way to
ensure that your wishes are carried out after your death—otherwise, the rules
of intestacy will apply and that will very probably not be what you would have
wanted. It needn’t be expensive, or complicated – and the legacy leaflet has
details of low-cost and free will-writing schemes – but it is vital.

And once you have made provision for your loved ones in your Will – or if
you already have a Will you’re happy with – I’d like you to consider leaving
a legacy to St Mark’s. It’s inheritance-tax-free, and if you leave 10% or more
of your estate to charities – including St Mark’s – the rate of inheritance tax
on the rest of your estate is reduced to 36%. It’s a win-win.

If you do decide to leave a legacy to St Mark’s…

First of all, thank you.

Second, it would be really helpful if you could let William know, in complete
confidence.

And third, please make sure you actually execute it properly! You need to sign
it in the presence of two witnesses who then sign it in your presence, otherwise
it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

So—three practical things. Read the leaflet, think about your standing order, and
make a Will.

I hope I’ve persuaded you that providing financial support to St Mark’s is one
way you can participate in bringing the Kingdom closer. Colin, our Treasurer,
would probably be happy if I stopped there. The rest of you might, too, since I’ve
probably already gone on longer than I was supposed to.

But I am going to carry on a little longer. Because not everyone has money to
spare at the moment, and many people will have other causes that are near to their hearts, and – anyway – there are far more important things than money.

Turning back to this morning’s readings, we have a blueprint for how we can
bring the Kingdom closer.

In this morning’s Gospel, the ones who inherit the Kingdom are the ones who
have treated others as they would treat Christ himself. St Matthew records the
words of Jesus: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my
brethren, ye have done it unto me.” And that in turn means asking how Christ
would treat them. It means returning something of the ridiculously generous,
outrageously self-sacrificing, totally revolutionary love of Christ to those in
need—the ones He calls His brethren.

And in the New Testament reading, St Paul writes that the church is Christ’s body.
Combined with the Gospel passage we heard, for me that calls to mind a reflection attributed to St Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Spanish mystic, although it was probably actually written in the late 19th century. It goes like this.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

In a few minutes, we will each come forward to receive Christ’s sacramental body. As you do so, I’d like to invite you to join with me in reflecting on how you can answer the call to become Christ’s body on earth.

How will your feet walk to do good?

How will your hands be a blessing?

How will your eyes look compassion on this world?

And then, when we sing our final hymn, I’d like you to pay attention to the words
of the third verse. It asks two more questions, which you might like to think about as you go out into the world this week.

And if your answer to those questions includes giving some money to St Mark’s?
Then thanks be to God.

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