Whose Reign is it, Anyway?

Scriptures: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

Bulletin-TL 11-24-2019 YC P29

Let us pray: Now, O Lord, calm us into quietness. In this autumn season, take us to that place within you that heals, listens, and molds our longings and passions, our wounds and wanderings, and transform us into a more holy human shape. For it is in you that we live and move and have our being.[1] Amen.

Three years ago on Christ the King Sunday I was struggling with letting go of my romantic notions of what a realized Kingdom of God in the here-and-now should look like. I just wanted somebody like Jesus to take over and make everything right – end homelessness and hunger, cease all war and violence, make peace between all the races of the world and establish a kingdom of peace that has no end. We all probably feel that way now and then. I confess I am finding it hard to believe that such a kingdom can even exist, anymore.

However, what if I could learn to shift my perspective from an externally imposed politically reality – for example, a modern day Pax Romana – for something else that presupposes an internal transformation which then governs my every external word, work, behavior, and service to and for a greater good? Hold that thought for a moment.

The other name for this final Sunday in the liturgical calendar is Reign of Christ. For me, the somewhat antiquated term “reign” also evokes, at least at first, sensibilities of some sort of temporal power structure. “Kingdom” and “reign” both seem to reflect a power hierarchy; with “kingdom” definitely also including male-dominated overtones. New Testament Scripture, which was written in a time that was overwhelmingly oriented in empirical male hierarchical political existence, speaks into this context. I have come to appreciate that for post-modern contexts, however, these are troublesome outdated orientations, and leave some theological holes that need to be addressed.

For us today, there are no kingdoms left intact (if there ever were) that exhibit the idealized notion painted for us in romantic Arthurian and related literature of a Hebrew-inspired understanding of the monarch’s role in serving the people. Recall from a Hebrew context, the LORD is supposed to be the head, which originally also meant no monarchy at all. Ideally it was supposed to be a Theocracy. Unfortunately, theocracy didn’t work for the people, who petitioned their titular head – who in those days was a prophet, not a king – over and over for a king so they could be like all the other kingdoms around them. God eventually capitulated. But – and here is the qualifier – it ended up not working; and it doesn’t work in post modern contexts, either.

Moving to romantic literature of the King Arthur of Wales kind or later depiction through historical fiction of Queen Margaret of Scotland, we find a reflection of earlier biblical dreamers where the monarch cares deeply for the whole of the land and people over which she or he rules. Both echo what, in theory, monarchies as they are supposed to be looked like. Even King Arthur himself sat at the Round Table with others of the kingdom to determine the best way forward for the people as a whole. Even Queen Margaret herself bathed the feet of peasants with her ministrations in her capital city.

In light of the tendencies of modern nationhood to reflect even less such idealized and romantic views of royal servanthood, I am deeply troubled. How do I preach on the reign of Christ when the whole idea of kingdoms and powers and principalities in world has fallen out of fashion? How do I preach on an elevation of Christ as head of state when contemplation of the Trinity reveals no such hierarchy of power at all? Richard Rohr has some thoughtful words which I will repeat:

There’s no seeking of power over in the Trinity, but only power with—a giving away, a sharing, a letting go, and thus an infinity of trust and mutuality. [2]

I would be remiss as an educator if I did not point out that mutuality is one of the key markers for healthy, vibrant intergenerational formation, along with reciprocity and accommodation. What if we were to pair those markers with Christine D. Pohl’s four practices that sustain communities?[3] Her four practices include: gratitude as a way of life, making and keeping promises, living truthfully, and practicing hospitality. The resulting combination may be as close as I can come to describing what “reign of Christ” amongst us might look like today.

Isaiah was trying to train Israel to be just such a community. With his injunction to be a “light to all nations” in chapters 42 and 49, he attempts to steer Israel into just such a role model. Unfortunately, as history has shown for all people within the Abrahamic faiths, we have continued to prefer our own way rather than bear witness to the Light behind all lights, the Soul within all souls.

So where does that leave us today? In the midst of seeming chaos from all sides, name calling and accusations of scheming and poor conduct at the highest levels of political reality, I would like to claim for all of us that God is not done with us yet. Remember who is the real head? Christ. And Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us all. We, who are children of God sisters and brothers to Christ, are still being trained to be a light to all nations. As we move into the Advent season preparing to remember the mystery of Christ’s incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, we are already instruments of God’s light. We are the heirs of all that would be considered best from the idealistic and romantic visions of nationhood. We are already heirs in and with Christ, Christ’s hands and feet in this world. We are called to be servants in a world desperately in need of witnesses to a deeper reality.

What is that deeper reality, you may ask? That is a very good question. Again, I will quote Father Richard Rohr, who has become one of the leading thinkers in the Age of the Spirit that is emerging. He writes,

Christianity is a lifestyle—a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we made it into an established “religion” (and all that goes with that) and avoided actually changing lives. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history and still believe that Jesus is “personal Lord and Savior.” The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.[4]

Jill Duffield, editor for the Presbyterian Outlook, connects the reign of Christ to our passage from Luke. She writes,

Here we are in 2019 proclaiming that Jesus is Lord not only in our hearts, but over all that is seen and unseen, regardless of the evidence to the contrary. Here we are in 2019 preaching that amid all the consumerism and politicking, the income inequality and division, the food-laden tables and tent cities, Jesus reigns….

Jesus, labeled king of the Jews in irony and as a means to further humiliate him, is gawked at by the crowd, scoffed at by the leaders, mocked by the soldiers and derided even by the criminal who hangs beside him. Jesus, the king, remains passive, acted upon through most of these verses, hardly like any earthly monarch. And that is the point. Jesus is like no earthly ruler. Jesus is the antithesis of dictators, bullies and power brokers. King Jesus does not coerce or intimidate, use violence or bribery to get his way. The One who rules heaven and earth hangs powerless on the cross for the sake of the ones hanging beside him, both the criminal who recognizes him and the one who blasphemes him. He takes on the sin of the spectators and the scoffers, the mockers and the deniers. Jesus’ reign of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony comes by way of the cross, ushered in through solidarity with the helpless and those who suffer unspeakable cruelty and pain. Christ the King is like no other. He came not to be served, but to serve. He came not to stand apart from the least of these, but to take their place. He came not to puff himself up but to pour himself out.[5]

I stand in humble awe, that one such as Christ, could, would, and did indeed stand up to power in truth, live his life for others, and die defending the defenseless…indeed, the very convicted of this earthly life.

With thanks to Carolyn for bringing it to my attention, let me suggest for your own study this Advent season Walter Bruggemann’s Names for the Messiah. Bruggemann suggests that there are still some redeeming qualities of kingship we can glean from our Hebrew ancestors in the faith. To pique your interest, here are few insights Bruggemann’s study will address:

First, it is not surprising that fatherly imagery, in a patriarchal society, came to be a compelling way to speak of God. Second, it is not surprising that the fatherly tasks of God were assigned to the king who is seen to be “Son of God.” Third, it is not surprising that such fatherly usage is awkward when connected to Jesus, who is the “Son” and not the “Father.”[6]

Jesus himself, a Jewish Rabbi born of a Jewish family descended from the ancient kings of Israel’s golden age, is especially understood interpretively and subversively as Israel’s king in the Gospel of Matthew. Shifting into Advent next week, the Matthean Gospel, and Lectionary Year A, it is particularly fitting that we begin to listen to all Matthew’s Kingdom of Heaven language and imagery from beginning to end.

But for this week, this Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday, perhaps you and I both need a good word from the Lord about how to understand Christ’s kingship in a time in history when Monarchies are scarce and our own democracy troubled. Again, I turn to words from the past:

Perhaps the difference between Christ the King and the Reign of Christ is [this]: removing from hierarchy and entering mutuality. Kingship includes so much baggage around hierarchical and political power, whereas mutuality is focused on love.

This gives me great hope and comfort, for it also gives me a true vision of how we are to relate to all others we encounter on this earth: in love. To participate in the reign of Christ is to be one with Christ’s love, extending it to others, receiving it from others, and touching the deepest chords of being with strands that reach out connecting us one to another, with God our Maker, Christ our brother, and the Holy Spirit who sustains all of us and all Creation at the center of our interconnected souls.

Prepare ye the way, my friends, for once again Emmanuel comes….[7]

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

 

 

[1] Adapted from a poem by Ted Loder in Guerillas of Grace, Prayers for the Battle (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005).

[2] Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2016).

[3] Christine D. Pohl, Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011).

[4] Richard Rohr, “What Is the Future of Christianity?,” accessed November 19, 2019, https://email.cac.org/t/ViewEmail/d/DC4BBB4D9F89F4CA2540EF23F30FEDED/53A3B3508247B7D9C5EC08CADFFC107B.

[5] Jill Duffield, “Christ the King Sunday — November 24, 2019,” The Presbyterian Outlook, accessed November 22, 2019, https://pres-outlook.org/2019/11/christ-the-king-sunday-november-24-2019/.

[6] Walter Breggemann, Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Pres, 2016).

[7] Scott Crane, “Christ the King or Reign of Christ?” Sermon, delivered November 20, 2016, accessed 11/20/2019.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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