Well, I received a phone call at 8.30pm yesterday asking me if I was free to help out, so apologies if this is a little ill-thought out!
There is a bumper sticker somewhere along the lines of “He who dies with the most toys, wins.”
The aim of the game of life is to acquire as many toys – a cars, partners, clothes, jewellery, money – as one can. The winner is the person who dies with the most.
On this account, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates could be the greatest. But then again, Pharaoh Khufu’s pyramid is still standing as a memorial to his power and might 4500 years after Khufu passed away, and it’s still drawing tourists to it. That’s a high mark to beat! They say if humans disappeared overnight, one of the few structures to survive the onslaught of nature would be that pyramid!
Or perhaps the answer of who is greatest is closer to home: King Charles III is said to have private wealth of some £600 million – though John of Gaunt, who lived 700 years ago and is a distant ancestor of King Charles, in modern money had a net worth of around £100 billion.
Who is the greatest? Khufu? John of Gaunt? Charles? Elon?
If you don’t have that much money, maybe you are more like the disciples of Jesus, squabbling over who they thought should be considered the greatest among them. When you don’t have money, you often use another currency to show how good you are – maybe the disciples were arguing over how many hours they spent praying, or who could preach the longest (maybe I could win that…!).
And Jesus replied “you have not understood. It’s not about being great. I have come not to be served, but to serve”.
Yesterday at the coronation of King Charles III, we saw a spectacular show of power. King Charles has the power and authority to declare war. Our brave servicemen and women are loyal to the sovereign (thankfully not the government!). And yesterday we saw the massed ranks of some of the forces that Charles can call upon. It was a display to the world that you don’t mess with Britain; you don’t mess with the King.
And in this world, where dictators invade other countries, and steal billions from their own people; where other dictators threaten nearby countries and global war; in this world, you need to be wise as serpents. Until the Kingdom of God is fully here, peace is secured for us because burly men are prepared to do violence on our behalf to keep us safe should the need arise.
The Christian church works to bring peace into this world. It is the mission of each and every one of us, if we call ourselves Christian, to try and bring peace to this world. But until the world submits to the lordship of Jesus, peace will not happen. That is why the gospel message is REPENT, turn from your ways, and follow Jesus. Obey Jesus. Only by doing that will the world find a new way of living.
And that is the great juxtaposition we saw yesterday. In the midst of the glory, pomp and power, where the world’s leaders and representatives had gathered to honour King Charles III, we had the monarch, the sovereign, the source from whom authority comes in this realm, submitting all of it to the authority of God. All the power of the world, handed over to Jesus.
The King was presented with the Bible, and told:
“to keep … ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes.”
Charles was given the Bible. He was offered it. God’s Word, offered to him, as it is offered to us:
“receive this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.”
The Bible, which tells us to flee worldly wealth; to serve one another, to especially think of the poor and suffering; is not going to help anyone increase their earthly glory. It instructs us that in this life humility is the path God leads us on.
The monarch, having been pointed at the Bible, then answers this question:
“Will you…cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?”
Yet if you use your power to cause Law, Justice and Mercy to be executed, you will deprive yourself of many opportunities for self-enrichment!
The monarch was then given a sword with the words “receive this kingly sword…a sign…of justice; not of might, but of mercy. …With (it)…do justice, stop the growth of iniquity, protect…help and defend widows and orphans…”
In the midst of the ancient Abbey, surrounded by the most powerful people on earth, Charles III was told to only fight to protect the weak, widows, and orphans.
The coronation thus shows us a new way of being King. Yes, there are palaces, grandeur, homage and lots of money. This is the ‘world’ part – it is needed as part of this corrupt and fallen world. Dictators will only pay attention to myriads of soldiers marching.
But King Charles III, at the heart of the ceremony, as the disciples were, was commissioned for a servant role by Jesus. Yes, he has power. But it is not for him. It is for the widow, orphan and victim. The coronation is a Godly contract: you, Charles, are given power and authority. But in return, you must fight all your life for the cause and welfare of those who have so little.
You, too, if you are a Christian, have been given a commission. As Charles embodies the nation, we too were in that coronation. We too are commissioned to use our power, influence, money for the benefit of the orphan, widow and victim of injustice. We are commissioned to serve.
I believe King Charles III has shown and modelled to us in his past campaigning to reduce emissions, in his construction of a town that is beautiful and well-designed, in his advocacy for sustainable farming, that he has been somewhat of a maligned prophet. That is what happens in this world. When you stand for the principles of God, you become a target for those in opposition.
We will face persecution for doing right, but we have been commissioned to go forth for our King’s King. We have been given the gospel message, calling people to repent, to stop their selfish ways and to follow the humble way of Jesus, speaking for the poor and lonely.
He that is greatest, let him be as the servant.
Let us pray for ourselves and for King Charles as we embrace this call to serve.