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Suppose a King is about to go to war – Canon Maggie McLean, Missioner

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Preacher: Canon Maggie McLean, Missioner

Title of sermon: Suppose a King is about to go to war

Date/time/service: Sunday 13 March 2022, 4pm, Choral Evensong 


Our first reading tonight contrast two kings, father and son. The first models the kind of sovereignty God asks of those anointed to be King. It is a reign of service in which the rights of the poor and needy are upheld. In which there is no violence and where innocent blood isn’t shed. Addressing the son, the prophet mocks the attitude that successful kingship amounts to having finer buildings than those of his father. The son has missed the point.

In Old Testament times, Kings were a separate kind of human being. They had a direct relationship with God. As it was said in this era, the king represented ‘the living law’ – with power and responsibility to match. God used the prophets to rein in this power when it was abused, and the King stopped listening to God and ignored the justice and duties that belonged to royal office.

If at times we feel that stories in the Bible are remote or irrelevant, I think we need to think again. We don’t have to look far in our world to see the tragedy of power that has little or no accountability. Where authority brings ‘oppression’; ‘robbery’; ‘violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow’; where ‘innocent blood is shed’.

In the prophet’s oracle God says: ‘Is not this to know me?’ – ‘to judge the cause of the poor and needy’.

In Ukraine we see today the complete disregard for the poor and needy. In a brief period of time, people are living in what have been described as ‘Medieval’ conditions. No electricity, little food and medicine, a lack of heat in a land where snow is falling. I don’t think we need to ponder very long on the question as to what Jeremiah would make of these actions. While I recognise the dilemma for leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church surely there are some words of prophecy that this moment demands? The former Archbishop Rowan Williams wrote a letter to The Times last week expressing people’s amazement that the Church has entered Lent with no criticism of what is happening in Ukraine:

Orthodox Christians engaging, at this season of all seasons, in indiscriminate killing of the innocent, insanely reckless attacks on nuclear facilities… the unashamed breach of ceasefire agreements, and an attack on one of the most significant Holocaust memorials in Europe.

He concludes that it is not too late for the Church to intervene. But will it?

In our second reading Jesus tells his hearers: ‘suppose a King is about to go to war’.

The parable Jesus tells is about repentance. The idea that no one in their right mind would take up arms against an all powerful God. Instead, reflecting on their circumstances, they would send a delegation to meet the King and negotiate a peace. In other words, knowing our own weaknesses and failings, we should repent and seek God’s forgiveness rather than try to oppose this overwhelming force.

But, thinking of Ukraine, we must ask what happens when the price of any peace you might be offered in this life, is simply to surrender? When accepting defeat means the loss of statehood and independence. In reality, as President Zelensky made so clear speaking to the UK Parliament, the choice is either annihilation or resistance. Ukraine is choosing the latter.

Not every King is willing to negotiate terms. Not every authority is reasonable. Not every use of force is ethical, or moral or justified. We should be hopeful – but not naïve. There are ‘kings’ in our world who do not recognise the value of peace or the claims of people who are poor and in need. Leaders unafraid of spilling innocent blood. Heads of State who seem to feel that they have no accountability to God or anyone else.

Jesus tells us that we each have a cross to carry in this life. There is sacrifice in the confusion of this world, and following a God who seeks justice does not come without cost. It may be that the extensive sanctions now in place will demand some sacrifice from all of us. As we play our part in upholding the needs of the poor and the needy there may also be sacrifices to help and support people who have lost their homes and livelihoods. It feels that this year we are all being asked to share in a Lent which, in our prayers for peace and the sacrifices that help others to live, will draw us closer to the justice God seeks for the world.

Along with us, I hope and pray that the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church consider this deeply, and that they will decide to speak prophetically. It is their job and it is their calling.

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