A Sermon by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson

Psalm 93

John 18:33-37

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen. He was standing in the sea. The shore of his island behind him. His lectern – the lectern on which sat the words of his speech to those gathered in Glasgow at the COP26 summit – also stood in the sea. His nation’s flag was fluttering in the breeze. “Climate change and sea level rise are deadly existential threats to Tuvalu and low lying Atol countries.” The foreign minister of Tuvalu, Simon Kofe, said. “We are sinking but so is everyone else. In Tuvalu we are living the realities of climate change and sea level rise. As you stand watching me today at COP26, we cannot listen to speeches when the sea is rising around us all the time. Climate mobility must come to the forefront, we must take bold alternative action today to secure tomorrow”[1] In a radio interview on our own RN Breakfast program, though, Simon Kofe posed a question for experts in international law: “If a country is submerged, does it still have nation status?”[2]

“If a country is submerged, does it still have nation status?”

We are thinking about nations, well, kingdoms, today, aren’t we? We might not consult the international lawyers, though. We might wonder what the scriptures say.

“The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice: (the Psalmist says)

 the floods lift up their pounding.

But mightier than the sound of many waters, than the mighty waters or the breakers of the sea:

 the Lord on high is mighty” (Psalm 93:4-5)

The floods have lifted up O Lord … Climate change has caused the uplifting of floods in many places, caused bushfires and storms in others, but for the people of Tuvalu and the low lying Atol countries and for many of the people of our own Torres Strait Islands, the water is moving in a different way. It is rising slowly, but inexorably. It is rising so determinedly that, unless the world community responds to climate change as we hope upon hope that it must, within fifty to one hundred years this question will hold the truth:

“If a country is submerged, does it still have nation status?”

In this morning’s psalm, Psalm 93, the floods do not have the final voice:

But mightier than the sound of many waters, than the mighty waters or the breakers of the sea:

the Lord on high is mighty

The Lord on high is mighty. And so we gather this Sunday, at the close of our liturgical year, to celebrate the Feast of Christ the King and to ponder the idea of the Kingdom of God. Scholars tell us that word for kingdom in the language of the New Testament, Greek, basilea, is not so much about a geographical place, an island or group of islands like the nation of Tuvalu, or an area of land on a large continent with boundaries and borders, as it is about the reign of God, about a world where God’s love, God’s guiding presence, God’s forgiveness, God’s delight in and longing to heal all God has created is the abiding influence.

The gospel reading we are given as our guide this Sunday is from Chapter 18 of the Gospel according to St John, John’s account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. We see Pilate question Jesus about his being a king and we see Jesus respond back with his own questions.

Jesus says to Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ (John 18:36-7)

Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

We know well Pilate’s reply. His question, actually. “What is Truth?” He said. The abiding sign of the kingdom is the presence of truth, the hearing of, the speaking of truth. And of ones who hear Jesus’ voice. We are reminded in John’s Gospel of Jesus imaged as Shepherd, a symbol of a king for the people of Israel. Do you remember on Good Shepherd Sunday we heard him say of the shepherd?:

“The sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:3-4) 

We hear Jesus’ voice. Those who glimpse belonging in the kingdom of God know, just a little, his voice. And we would each have words of Jesus, stories of Jesus in which he speaks which mean a great deal to us. It may be a healing story like the story of Blind Bartimaeus that we read a few weeks ago. Jesus said to Blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Searching for Bartimaeus’ truth, helping him find the desire of his heart … for this child of God, to be given his sight. It may be the wonder of his stories, his parables. Those tales that puzzle us, delight us, trouble us, tell the truth in strange ways. Stories told with the skill of the consummate teacher who only longed for us to know, to know the love and the presence of the God he knew as Father. The story of the Prodigal Son – reassuring us that whatever we have done and however little remorse we might feel, God is standing with open arms to gather us home. Or the story of an encounter, such as we heard one morning this week, of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, climbing up his tree, longing to see Jesus, told very clearly mind, that Jesus must stay with him at his home this day. “But do you know about me?” Zacchaeus probably said. “It’s OK, I know about you,” the one who is all about the truth would have said, “I still want to stay at your home today.” And he helped Zacchaeus to face his truth and find freedom from it, in it, through it.

It may be his words at the direst time, at his trial, at his death. Truth spoken, cried out in fact, of the fear there, the physical and emotional anguish there, of desertion even by God, it seemed at the time, there. It may be that hearing Jesus’ voice present there comforts and accompanies us in our trials, our most painful times, our death, even.

“My kingdom is not from this world,” Jesus said to Pontius Pilate at his trial. We might wonder about the kingdom of God. About its other-worldly-ness, about whether it is present at all. We might look about us at all the struggles of things, climate change, human violence, the pandemic, and the not unexpected natural worries and sickness we experience ourselves and we see in the ones who are close to us. We might look at these things and wonder about this kingdom. We are told by spiritual writers that it is a kingdom that is “now and not yet”. That is here but not completely here. And we might ask Jesus about that.

He told parables to help us glimpse the kingdom. I think my favourite is the parable of the mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, he said. And I like to imagine a patch of soil, bare, with no seeds in it. And, then, to imagine a patch of soil with just one mustard seed in it. And feel the difference. Feel the hope in it. Feel the expectation. Feel the presence of God in it. Perhaps the kingdom of God is like that.

And, so, as we face the truth of questions of our daily lives, and of our very existence, we face them in the presence of the one who the psalmist calls the Lord, our feast this day calls Christ the King, we might call God, or even Love.

“If a country is submerged, does it still have nation status?” asked the foreign minister of Tuvalu, Simon Kofe.

If a life is submerged will its truth still be held in love?

One thing we know. It will not take the deliberations of international lawyers to help us know this. That if our land is submerged beneath the sea, or if someone we love is submerged by the struggles of their lives, in the reign of God we will be known and loved and remembered. Yes, Mr Kofe, your nation exists in the heart of God, in the kingdom of God. We exist in God’s eyes and mind and heart always. That is the truth of which Jesus spoke. That is the truth.

[1] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-11-10/tuvalu-minister-makes-cop26-speech-from-sea/100608344

[2] https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/tuvalu-could-be-uninhabitable-in-50-years-due-to-climate-change/13626284