The Adventurous Lectionary – Christ the King/Realm of Christ Sunday – November 25, 2018
2 Samuel 23:1-7
Today’s scriptures invite us to consider God’s relationship to politics and culture as well as our own personal lives. If Christ is “king” or “ruler,” what does that mean in real life and every day decisions regarding our domestic lives and political policy? Does the way of Christ have sovereignty in the affairs of nations? Should we model our personal and corporate lives after Christ’s way of life, including our voting? Should we ask our representatives to follow Jesus’ way in national and local policy?
There are some who call for our nation to return to Christian values. They are clear that expanded health care, contraception and Roe v. Wade, teaching science in schools, marriage equality, support of transgender people, hospitality to undocumented persons, and pluralism go against God’s plan for the United States, and must be legally proscribed. There are others who affirm pluralism and also want the best of faith values, not necessarily just Christian values, to motivate the quest for liberty and justice for all and care for the planet. Yet, are such values recommended in this text? Or, is there something more nuanced at stake, fidelity to God’s way while recognizing the limitations of our own viewpoint and the sovereignty of our native land?
I Samuel records David’s last will and testament. He audaciously asserts that God is speaking through him to the people and the words he is channeling involve God’s covenant with the house of David and his descendants. God has made an “everlasting covenant” with David’s descendants, which will never be broken. Twenty-first century Christians may wonder what such a covenant means: Does it involve solidarity with the state of Israel? Does it suggest, as the apostle Paul asserts, that God’s spiritual covenant with the Jewish people is eternal and that God’s salvation belongs to Jews as well as followers of Jesus in terms of the Jewish tradition but not necessarily the State of Israel? Is it much larger in scope, pertaining to God’s covenant with the faithful of all times and places?
Psalm 132 continues the theme of God’s covenant with David, and counsels the people to be faithful to God’s promises to David. God has chosen the Jerusalem Temple as God’s holy place and it shall not be moved. Still, it is clear that neither I Samuel nor Psalm 132 give a blank check to David’s descendants, the state of Israel, or those who support Israel. Righteousness is demanded of those who follow in David’s footsteps. While we cannot formulate a foreign or defense policy on these passages, they suggest that Israel’s survival is important to God; they also suggest that Israel is called to be just to its neighbors, the Palestinians. God’s unique relationship with Israel is a call to justice and consideration of the needs of Palestinians, along with Israel’s national sovereignty.
Revelation describes Christ as universal, the alpha and omega, the origin and goal of all creation. The cosmic Christ encompasses all humanity and Christ’s sovereignty may lead to regret and grief but ultimately to the salvation of humankind. Christ’s power trumps political powers. Political potentates and bloviators will come and go, but God’s realm endures forever.
Today, it is clear that in our quickly-moving interdependent world, we are connected with one another. There is no place to run or hide from political decisions or our complicity in injustice. It is also clear that the biblical tradition, especially the prophets and covenantal writings (including God’s covenant with David) are profoundly political and economic in orientation. What happens in the marketplace matters because our decisions shape the destinies of God’s beloved children. Politics matters because it limits or expands the spiritual opportunities of our most vulnerable companions. Economics matters because it influences the fate of the earth and the spread of the gospel.
The question is not one of abandoning the world, but being involved in the world without succumbing to its values. Paul asserts, “be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” “This world” has much virtue, but it is also polarizing on all sides, exclusivist, perpetuating of racism, sexism, and in and out group status. This world prefers opposition to contrast, and looks toward extremes rather than the common ground. In such a world, we must advocate for our vision of the future and our highest social and political ideals without demonizing our opponents. We must relativize our own position, recognizing its limits, while looking for value in those who oppose us. The prophetic imagination of alternative realities must inspire us to treat those who oppose us with the same care that we treat those for whom we advocate.
All systems, even the Davidic line are relative and subject to self-interest. Yet, the systems can be transformed to be better reflections of God’s love for the world and God’s desire that every child have sufficient housing, a healthy diet, quality education, and a safe place to grow.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over 45 books including “I Wonder as I Wander: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Madeleine L’Engle,” “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-Filled World,” “The Work of Christmas: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Howard Thurman,” and “Process Spirituality: Practicing Holy Adventure.”