Reign of Christ / Last Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 29), 25 November 2018

November 25, 2018 | by Bruce Epperly

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2 Samuel 23:1-7 Psalm 132:1-12 Revelation 4b-8 John 18:3-37

Celebrating the Reign of Christ seems anachronistic in our pluralistic age.  While we can affirm Christ’s sovereignty in our own lives, we must recognize that Christianity is but one of many spiritual options today.  We must also recognize that revelation is global and that other spiritual teachers reveal the Holy to us. Indeed, many of us might be described as inter-spiritual or hybrid spiritual in our integration of practices from various religious traditions.  

In pondering the meaning of the Reign of Christ, how do we affirm, with John B. Cobb, Christ in a pluralistic age?  How do we see Christ as spiritually supreme for us, while honoring other spiritual leaders and learning from their insights?  Moreover, how can we claim the Reign of Christ in a world which is becoming increasingly divisive and whose leaders seem hellbent on planetary destruction? Christ’s reign often seems powerless compared to today’s potentates and demagogues. Christ is still crucified – pushed to the margins – by Pilates and religious leaders in our time who identify Christ with national and religious exceptionalism.

The final oration of David (2 Samuel 23:1-7) proclaims that God has promised an everlasting covenant with the House of David. God speaks through the ruler, in spite of his ambiguous moral character, and God will continue to speak through his descendants. But, the nature of God’s speaking is contingent on their recognition that while God is present in the nation’s history, the nation’s vocation is to go beyond nationalism to bring God’s light to the whole planet. The Reign of Christ does not supersede God’s revelation to the Jewish tradition but transforms and expands the revelation to touch the whole earth. Any form of anti-Judaism is an anathema to those who claim Christ as their sovereign. Wholistic Christianity embraces its Jewish heritage and the insights of the prophets and sages of Israel along with God’s presence in every authentic religious movement.

Psalm 132:1-12 describes the Jerusalem Temple as God’s dwelling place. While few preachers focus on Psalms in their sermons, Psalm 132 identifies the Temple as a “thin place,” transparent to Holy One and a place where divinity and humanity meet. Jerusalem’s unique place does not nullify other places of revelation, but this sacred space awakens us to sacred spaces everywhere.

Revelation 1:4b-8 speaks of Jesus Christ as the Alpha and Omega, the all-encompassing revelation of God, whose power is embodied in those who make him their spiritual center. The words of Revelation 1:4-8 are both poetic and anticipatory in nature. Our faith is not in a literal “coming with the clouds” – akin to the end-times “rapture” – but in the embodiment of Christ’s values in our imperfect world. Those who crucified – and still crucify – Christ will wail in regret when confronted by their turning from God’s way, but there is still hope that they will say “yes” to God’s Shalom. We look for something more than a “left behind” scenario and its vision of planetary destruction and lost souls. We need to act as if the whole earth can be redeemed even if appearances seem contrary to our hope. This is not illusory thinking on our part, but trust that God’s providence will outlast the forces of death and destruction and that God’s ultimate aim in history is redemptive, without exception. The Reign of Christ takes root whenever we seek God’s realm “on earth as it is in heaven” in seeking to transform this world to reflect Jesus’ values. This can happen outside of Christianity whenever persons and movements seek to live by the values of love, justice, and earth care.

The encounter of Jesus and Pilate recorded in John’s Gospel (John 18:3-37) presents an alternative vision of rulership. Jesus’ “kingdom is not from this world.” Jesus’ realm is all-embracing and transcends every national or political agenda. Neither the restoration of first century Jewish sovereignty nor making America Christian again reflect Jesus’ realm. While recognizing the sacramental nature of life and the good that institutions may accomplish, Jesus’ realm prophetically critiques every political and religious institution, including our own. No movement can claim to fully represent God’s way; nor can any institution claim ultimate loyalty. The Reign of Christ is always more inclusive than our particular denominations, doctrines, rituals, or sacraments.

Pentecost begins with wind and fire, and a spirituality joining unity and diversity. Pentecost concludes with an ever-expanding vision of Jesus’ ministry. Our visions of Christ must be cosmic as well as intimate. Following Christ challenges us to be humble doctrinally in the context of a multi-billion year, multi-billion galaxy cosmos. Yet, the grandeur of the cosmos points us to a Love that centers every creature and seeks to redeem all creation, one moment at a time.  

My childhood Baptist faith talked about making Jesus “Lord of your life.” While that language no longer suits me, the Reign of Christ reminds us to align ourselves with God’s vision and embody that vision creatively in terms of our world, trusting God’s vision to guide our way. When we align with God’s vision, we experience abundance that is more than we can ask or imagine.

Bruce Epperly is Pastor and Teacher at South Congregational Church, UCC, Centerville, on Cape Cod, MA, and professor in the D.Min. program at Wesley Theological Seminary. He is the author of over 40 books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God, Process Spirituality: Practicing Holy Adventure with God, and The Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh.