Minister: Rev. Lee Spice
Theme: Inside Out – Reign of Christ
Anthem: You Are Mine – Hayes
Stay after church for a bowl of chili and our screening of the Pixar film “Inside Out” in the Sanctuary after service.
November 20 – Inside Out: Reign of Christ Sunday
Jeremiah 23: 1 – 6 and Luke 23: 33 – 43
I have a confession to make. Today, we are observing the day of the church year called Reign of Christ Sunday, and I’ve never really liked that day.
In years past, I’ve tried to avoid this day….my usual trick is to decide to have a week of study leave and get another minister in to handle the issue.
But, here we are.
I guess the primary reason is the whole kingly Jesus thing. When we talk about the reign of Christ, I imagine Jesus on a kingly throne, issuing benevolent orders and ruling the world. That whole triumphal thing bothers me. At the end of the service, we’ll sing a hymn that kind of reflects that triumphal tone, and I, for one, just can’t sing it if there isn’t another way to think of Christ’s reign.
When I think of that whole triumphal thing, I think of the attitude of the Church over the years, where its servants took literally the words to go to all the nations, baptizing in the name of Christ. In Christ’s name, the Crusades were fought, countries were conquered, lands were colonized and people were subjugated.
In North America, documents from the Popes in the 15th Century gave rise to the Doctrine of Discovery, which meant that any lands that were not inhabited by Christians were able to be “discovered” and claimed in name of the Christian monarch. The pagan inhabitants of the land might be given the opportunity to convert, or else enslaved or killed. The Christian Doctrine of Discovery was the start of everything that is wrong between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. And it was because of some kind of entitlement because Christ is King.
This entitlement and colonization are sometimes subtle, but they are real. More than likely the structural colonization is so complete that it becomes invisible.
Here’s a small example. Our local concert band played at a Remembrance Day service in Black Diamond last week. It was solemn and respectful, and some of the local clergy said the prayers. OK, I know that all of the local clergy are Christian, but I’m pretty sure that not all of the soldiers who died were, and really sure that not everyone in that room was. And I know that we are called to be true to our own faith and own roots, in fact, I was wearing my clergy collar as a sign of respect, but I have to admit to you that I winced every time I heard, “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Over and over again, the Christian clergy invoked Christ’s name, and it’s not a bad thing, except that it seemed that no one thought of there being any other faith in the room.
That service bothered me, because, despite however the Christian church has historically interpreted scripture, I don’t think even our Lord Jesus would want to take the top seat, first in line, above everyone else. Remember, he was the one who said, “the last shall be first?”
So maybe we should take a look at the realm over which Christ is reigning. And take a look at the kind of reign that Christ proposes.
The reign that Christ proposes did not begin with acts of power. No, instead, it begins with a Jewish baby, born in a time of political oppression to poor parents. It begins with that grown man preaching about a kin-dom that is already among the people – a kingdom of justice, which is the closest translation for the Hebrew word that is often read as righteousness. He ate with outcasts and hung out with those on the bottom rungs of society. The realm of God, according to Jesus, is one where the poor and the grieving are blessed, where everyone is fed, and where children know the secrets to the kingdom.
His words and actions disrupted the Pax Romana – a truce that was held in place with coercion, corruption and brute force. And so he was executed. Murdered by the powers.
Our shepherd is a crucified Lord. The moment of crucifixion – where most would say that the story is over – was the moment of transformation…the moment where God, The Holy One, was the most present. That moment of utmost vulnerability and disaster was the turning point. The point of death, and then resurrection.
Our faith tells us that we, too, can die to our old lives and rise as a new person. The Apostle Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live. Yet not I, but Christ, lives in me.” The path of Jesus is one that sees God’s greatest work being made in moments of vulnerability and weakness – of brokenness giving rise to new life.
A while back, I went to a conference called Why Christian. The premise was pretty simple – every guest speaker talked about why they are Christian. Here are a few one-liners:
From Nadia Bolz Weber – It’s OK to be the ones who need God. Our jagged edges connect us to each other. We are tormented by our humanness, as if a spiritual Pinterest board were continually mocking us. The self that God has a relationship with is our actual selves. Our shepherd never holds auditions. Jesus knows me by all the ways I need him.
Rachel Held Evans, who comes from an evangelical background, says that God has a super-annoying habit of using people and communities that we don’t approve of to transform us.
We heard a story of a young trans man coming to the acceptance of himself when he realized that God accepts him for who he is. As he says, “I blame Jesus.”
And we heard a story of a woman on death row, transformed by the love of Christians who fought for her, whose last words as she was strapped to a table and killed by the state were, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.”
Christ’s realm should never have been invoked in the Crusades. The name of Jesus Christ should never have been raised on the banners that colonized this land or any other.
The Reign of Christ, as I see it, is a triumph of transformation through disaster, and justice for those who have never had it. The kin-dom is the world as it would be if God were in charge. Jesus’ kingdom was recognized by children, tax collectors, working people, sinners, and a thief next to him on a cross.
Christ’s realm, as he said, is already among us. He is reported as saying that the peace that he leaves us is not as the world gives. Not a peace achieved with guns and power, but a peace achieved between people and the world and ourselves. The Indigenous way of saying this is “All My Relations.”
And while we are on the topic of All My Relations, I believe that the world of which God dreams includes people of all cultures and all religions that seek justice and peace for the world. Jesus is our shepherd – let me go out on a limb and say that it is not required that he is everybody’s shepherd. Maybe it’s not even required that we all be sheep! But maybe we are all on the same patch of green grass, and maybe we are on the same path.
In one week the church will enter the season of Advent, the church prelude to Christmas in which we anticipate the birth of Christ into the world. Sadly, the malls seem to already be there.
Every year I hear about Christians complaining that Christmas is under attack, and they swear to take it back, which conjures up visions of cheery people lobbing “Merry Christmas” bombs wherever they go. “Merry Christmas!” Boom, take THAT you Winter Festival. Or Festivus. Or whatever.
I don’t think it’s a big deal. Sure – let’s wish each other Merry Christmas. Let’s claim that. Let’s sing those Christmas carols, and claim them back from the malls.
But let’s also be aware that not everyone celebrates Christmas. Really, how is someone wishing us Happy Holidays an attack on our faith? And, truly, I don’t think that Jesus would get miffed because not everyone wants to come to his party. Again, as much as we place Christ at the head of the church, he is an unlikely monarch. A shepherd. A servant. The crucified and risen Lord.
At the very end of this service, we will rise to sing of Jesus’ triumph. It’s a hymn from the 18th Century, when I suppose the thought of a pluralistic multifaith world was felt to be against God’s plan. We will sing, “God’s kingdom cannot fail; Christ rules o’er earth and heaven.” I hope that when we do, the kin-dom that is evoked is one in which Christ leads us, the Christian sheep, to a deeper understanding of the realm of God.
In the meantime, we will sing another hymn – one that explores the idea of this crucified Lord, lamb and shepherd, mighty and humble, an everlasting instant.
Following Christ is living in a paradox. Even so, may he lead us to the fulfillment of the kin-dom of God.