The Adventurous Lectionary – Christ the King/Realm of Christ Sunday – November 21, 2021
2 Samuel 23:1-7
For many progressive Christians, the Reign of Christ Sunday smacks of religious and political imperialism. It suggests that Christ is the ultimate authority and Christ gives us authority to lord it over persons with whom we disagree as well as persons from other faiths. There is a danger in thinking you have the fullest measure of truth. It may lead to persecution, denunciation, and violence. Rather we would do well to think of Christ’s truth as universal in ways that open us to truth wherever it is found, whether in a laboratory, fossil field, observatory, or the rituals, doctrines, and ethics of other faiths. Without surrendering our right to proclaim our good news, we need to look for good news in other spiritual traditions as well as the “secular” world.
Today’s scriptures also 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 everyday 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 the Christian values they cherish and assume are ultimate in nature. 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. Some of those who promote Christian values are also anti-vaccination, masks, and scientific discovery. Some religious absolutists have joined Jesus to Trump, assuming that Trump values are also Christian values.
Others see the reign or realm of Christ as an ever-widening circle of hospitality, truth, and salvation. They believe that we can 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. As the prophets proclaim, ighteousness 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 for those who turn away 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.
Interrogated by Pilate, Jesus proclaims that his realm is not of this world. These are challenging words and need further examination. Do they mean that Jesus’ realm is unrelated to the hardscrabble world of politics and culture? If so, the best course of action for Jesus’ followers is to retreat from all political and economic involvement. Throughout the ages, many have fled the cesspool of civilization to live monastically and maintain an island of purity in a world headed for shipwreck. Or do Jesus’ words challenge us to a type of relativity in relationship to culture, economics, and culture, born of the recognition that no cultural system fully reflects or will ever fully reflect God’s realm of Shalom?
At the very least, in the world of politics and economics, proclaiming the Reign of Christ means that no system is ultimate. Conversely, every system, including American capitalism and democracy is subject to critique. A faithful Christian must question authority and require leaders to lean toward truth and fact, not prevarication and fancy.
Today, 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 binary 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.
There is a moral and spiritual arc, running through history, and challenging every historical, political, and economic system. 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 all persons receive respect and justice and every child have sufficient housing, a healthy diet, quality education. (For more on faith and politics, see Bruce Epperly PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS.)
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, spiritual guide, and author of over 60 books including MYSTICS IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY; WALKING WITH FRANCIS OF ASSISI: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM; PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; 101 SOUL SEEDS FOR PEACEMAKERS AND JUSTICE SE