The Reign of Christ

November 22, 2020

Series: November 2020

Category: Faith

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Today's Scriptures

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing.  Know that the Lord is God.  It is he that made us, and we are his; we are God’s people, and the sheep of his pasture.  Enter her gates with thanksgiving, and her courts with praise.  Give thanks to God, bless her name.  For the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness to all generations.

Ephesians 1:15-23

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know God, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe, according to the working of God’s great power. God put this power to work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and seated him at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And God has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

 Today's Teaching 

"The Reign of Christ"

Jan Richardson is a gifted pastor, artist, and writer.  I have shared some of her poetry in worship before.  About 7 years ago, her husband, Gary, died unexpectedly following complications from surgery.  On the one-year anniversary of his death, Richardson wrote some reflections about hope.  As she recalls having waited with hope during Gary’s initial surgery and then during the two emergency surgeries that followed, she writes, “Hope is a hard word for me these days.  What is the use of hoping when hope comes to such a pass?” All the hope in the world did not prevent her husband from dying.

In the days and weeks that followed his death, Richardson remembers people seeking to stir her hope by talking with her about the sometimes unknown ways of God – that perhaps Gary’s death was part of some larger plan and a bigger mystery that we cannot yet understand, but that will all become clear one day.  Richardson writes, “It’s not that I’m not interested in the bigger mystery, or in knowing that I might have a better grasp of it someday. It’s just that someday is not, in itself, sufficient to get me through this day, to move me from one moment to the next in this world where Gary is not.”

I have certainly felt this way over the last several months – hearing promises about a return to normal “someday,” but not seeing a lot of progress “this day.”  I have not had anyone close to me die during this pandemic – either from COVID or from anything else – but I know that many of you have.  And even if you have not experienced a death, we have all experienced loss.  I wholeheartedly believe that someday, it will get better.  Someday the sense of loss will diminish.  Someday we will not have hundreds, even thousands of people dying daily from COVID in this country. Someday we will be able to be present, in person, with our loved ones.  But what do we do to get through this day?

Richardson writes, “In the midst of my grief, what I know is that hope, inexplicably, has not left me. That it is stubborn. That it lives in me like a muscle that keeps reaching and stretching, or a lung that keeps working even when I do not will it, persisting in the constant intake and release of breath on which my life depends.”

Hope is stubborn.  Hope does not leave us.  I think this is the hope about which the Apostle Paul writes (or, more likely, someone writing as Paul), in this letter to the Ephesians.  “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know God, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you …”  This is not a hope for someday in the future.  This is not a God who is waiting to reveal God’s self to us later on.  No, says the writer, may we come to know God right now.  May our hearts be enlightened and may we know the hope to which God has called us in this very moment.

God is present and active in our lives all the time.  Additionally, the author of this letter reminds us that Christ is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”  Nothing – no thing and no one - has more power in our lives than the love and the hope of God in Christ Jesus.

This particular Sunday is the last Sunday in the Christian calendar year.  Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, which begins a new year for Christians.  This Sunday is traditionally referred to as “Christ the King” Sunday, or “Reign of Christ” Sunday.  I will admit, that language is a little uncomfortable for me.  It seems rather hierarchical, not to mention patriarchal.  We just don’t have a lot of experience with kings in the year 2020.  However, for people in Jesus’ time who were dealing with the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire, the idea that Christ reigned in their lives – not the humans who were making their lives miserable – must have been incredibly freeing.

After the election season we just had, I think celebrating the reign of Christ can be equally freeing for us.  Almost half of our country is not happy with the result of the election.  Likely more than half of our country is not happy with the hatred and division that our country has experienced both pre- and post-election.  In the midst of all of this dissention, it is important to remember that neither Biden nor Trump has the ultimate power in our lives.  No, it is Christ who is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.  Regardless of who is president, or who is serving in the Senate or in the House, Christ reigns.  And because of that, I truly believe, we can and we must move beyond the divisions that we are currently experiencing in our country.

Which brings me back to hope.  This section of the letter to the Ephesians ends by noting that Christ is the “head over all things for the church …”  The Greek word used for “head” here is “kephale.”  In this context, kephale most likely means “source” rather than “authority.”  Instead of thinking of Jesus ruling over us as the head in “headmaster,” it makes more sense to think of kephale as the head in headwaters. Consider the image of a spring that flows into and becomes a river. It is the spring that is the source and substance of that river.[i]  Christ reigns in our lives not by being some sort of unrelenting dictator, but instead by being our unending source of abundant hope and love.  And, that source feeds not just me … not just you … but all.

The writer of this letter offers a prayer that the Ephesians may come to know God, that the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened so that they may know God’s hope.  Coming to know God and God’s hope is a process – a life-long process.  How are you doing on the journey?  I will admit that there have been many times during the last several months that hope has seemed a distant vision for me.  Too far off in the future to really comprehend.  And yet, I have also experienced moments of great grace and of unexpected blessing.  That is the journey.  That is how we come to know God.  In fits and starts, along this bumpy road of life.  It is not always easy.  It is not always obvious.  But, Christ does reign.  Christ is bigger than any one of us.  Christ is more powerful than any of our human conflicts or disagreements.  And Christ, our head, the very source of our lives, does bring us hope always.

I want to close with a poem by Jan Richardson titled, “Blessing of Hope.”

So may we know
the hope
that is not just
for someday
but for this day—
here, now,
in this moment
that opens to us:

hope not made
of wishes
but of substance,

hope made of sinew
and muscle
and bone,

hope that has breath
and a beating heart,

hope that will not
keep quiet
and be polite,

hope that knows
how to holler
when it is called for,

hope that knows
how to sing
when there seems
little cause,

hope that raises us
from the dead—

not someday
but this day,
every day,

and again

and again.[ii]

Quote for Continued Reflection, Meditation and Prayer

“Great books are written for Christianity much oftener than great deeds are done for it. City libraries tell us of the reign of Jesus Christ, but city streets tell us of the reign of Satan.”
~ Horace Mann