Enjoy these reflections about this week’s appointed stories from the revised common and narrative lectionaries, with potential insights about discipleship, mission, innovation, and stewardship.
Sunday November 21, 2021: Revised Common Lectionary- Christ the King Sunday (Year B)– Last Sunday after Pentecost- Lectionary 34
First Lesson: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Second Lesson: Revelation 1:4b-8
Gospel of John 18:33-37
And just like that, the church year has come to a close. Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday marks the end of the liturgical year, and the end of our lectionary journey through Year B with the Gospel of Mark and some added wisdom from the Gospel of John. We pick up this week with some of the same apocalyptic themes from last week and that will appear in the First Sunday of Advent next week. But my hope is that through these stories, we might sense hope, God at work, and the truth that God’s ways and presence with us is different than a human conception of power, kingdom, or reign. Let’s see where the stories take us.
Our first lesson comes from the prophet Daniel, chapter 7. It’s broken into two parts, so we’ll consider it as such. We read, “As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issues and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment and the books were opened” (Daniel 7:9-10, NRSV).
This reading from Daniel offers an image of God as “Ancient One.” As a revered judge with fire. This might be a math lover’s text. “A thousand thousands served him.” And, “ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.” In terms of discipleship and stewardship there’s not much here. But it does serve as a nice beginning place to think about the many different images of God we might imagine and see, especially at the end of a church year and the beginning of a new one. Do we see God as an all-powerful king as might be connoted by the name of this Sunday, “Christ the King?” Do we see God in Christ as someone who reigns in power and glory as might be implied by “Reign of Christ Sunday?” Or do we see God in Christ as more of a friend, who sees us, knows us, and is with us in relationship? Or, perhaps some combination of all those and other possible images and roles.
The prophet continues, “As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14, NRSV).
These images continue as Daniel offers images of God and the divine that are probably only matched in the scriptures by those offered by John in Revelation. But here we hear more about authority, power, and responsibility that is entrusted to one who “came to the Ancient One.” He is given: dominion, glory, kingship… To some, even to me at times, these images might be comforting- implying that God is omnipotent, omnipresent and all-powerful. But to others, these don’t really describe God, at least perhaps, God’s abundant and abiding steadfast love. In terms of stewardship, they seem to imply a God we are in servitude to, instead of in response to or in relationship with. Unless, our conception of what an all-powerful or what all-powerful God is and wants to be known and understood as?
The second reading this week comes from Psalm 93. The psalmist proclaims, “The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved; your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the Lord! Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore” (Psalm 93, NRSV).
“The Lord is king.” Images of majesty and strength are present throughout this psalm. What I appreciate today in reading psalm 93 again is the declaration of who God is and what God has done. Within this we hear that God “has established the world; it shall never be moved.” That echoes Psalm 24 which we heard two weeks ago on All Saints, where we hear that “The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it…” This is a stewardship lesson about who God is, and whose we are, God’s. God is “from everlasting,” and “more majestic…” In thinking about this on Christ the King, I think this psalm might be a connecting point for pointing to who God is, and who then that means we are. For God is creator, sustainer, reconciler, provider, entruster…
The list is long. Or more simply as Revelation tells us, God is Alpha and Omega. But as such, God wants life to go well for us. God wants to be in relationship with us. God invites us to be in relationship with God and with our neighbors. And God provides for us- so that we might have life and have it abundantly, and so that we too might be able to join with God in some of God’s on-going work of caring for neighbor, stranger, and all of God’s beloved children and creation. If you think about it like this, that’s pretty majestic, isn’t it? On top of the majesty of the beauty of creation, there is the majesty of the beauty of vocation, relationship, service, and love in action. Perhaps something along these lines would make for timely and powerful reflection on this last Sunday of the church year, this last Sunday before Advent officially begins, and with a nod toward Thanksgiving later in the week too?
Our second lesson comes from the beginning of Revelation. We read, “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:4b-8, NRSV).
“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come…” If you need words to begin your preaching this week, well, there you go. Typically I begin my messages with “Grace and peace from God in Christ who is with you, for you, and who loves you…” But I might be tempted to quote directly from the beginning of Revelation this week. I love that this is included among the Christ the King readings this week. For in this we hear a beautiful description of Jesus. The one “who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom…” This is God’s work. For you and for me. What is our response? Joy and gratitude. So as follows, we can’t help but join with John the writer of Revelation in saying, “to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.”
This text also reminds us that God is timeless. Beginning and end. The one who was there and created at the beginning, the one who is God now, and the one who is to come too in the future. This is important as we understand discipleship. It’s not a stationary thing, but a constant growing relationship. One where we are in relationship with God who has been, continues to be, and will also be- with, for, and loving us. So we are invited into relationship and called to follow. And in so doing, we are invited to witness to God’s mission and work. To join in as stewards of God’s love and all that God entrusts. And to join in with God, to witness and even experiment to discern and sense what it is that God might be up to and inviting now. We do all this, with trust that these words from Revelation are true. That God has been, is now, and will be, forevermore.
Finally, the Year B cycle’s last words of the Gospel don’t come from the passion according to Mark as might seem fair, but from John’s much longer passion account. We find ourselves in the headquarters where Pilate is questioning Jesus. The stage is set, and Jesus in this account points to who and what is kingdom is.
John writes, “Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?‘ Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?‘ Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?‘ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice’” (John 18:33-37, NRSV).
In asking Jesus if he is a king, Jesus responds instead, “My kingdom is not from this world.” He makes rational sense in explaining how this could not be. Because if it were, he would have people rising up. Instead Jesus repeats, “my kingdom is not from here.” The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven is something that far surpasses human understanding and conception. It far exceeds our wildest dreams and imagination.
In thinking about preaching this week- perhaps preaching on the very concept of the kingdom or kin-dom of God might be timely. What is this kingdom? Words fail. But signs of it breaking into our midst do not. Signs like that where the hungry are fed. Where the poor are satisfied. The lost and the lonely are seen and welcomed. The homeless are given shelter. The hurt, provided compassion. The vulnerable, cared for. The refugee, welcomed. Where the lion lays down with the lamb. Where the rich do not have too much, and the poor do not have too little. But where there is enough, as God provides. And all are in relationship with all.
This sort of kingdom challenges everything of our world and understanding of our world as is. It scares those in power. The very thought of it might well have been the reason Jesus was arrested and crucified. But such is the way of God. There is change. There is reversal. But why? Because of love so deep that it transcends all human brokenness, division, and conceptions of what is fair and right. God’s sense of justice and righteousness is one grounded in inclusion, forgiveness, reconciliation, and of course salvation.
Jesus knows his mission. The mission “to testify to the truth.” He knows, that “Everyone who belongs to the truth, listens” to his voice. This is where our lives as disciples and stewards commence. We are entrusted with Christ’s mission. We are entrusted with a call to discipleship. We are entrusted with a call to stewardship for the sake of our neighbors. It is for this, and for a vision where all have a place around the table and at the heavenly banquet, and where all might be welcomed and fed, no questions asked, where everyone receives, tastes, and knows that “The Lord is good,” which Jesus is willing to go to and through the point of death on a cross for you and for me.
There is good news, people of God, this week. There is tons of Good News. Jesus’ work and mission isn’t about the lies of scarcity or the lies of Christian nationalism which seem to run rampant in our world right now. No. It’s to counter it- fully on every argument and potential merit. For Jesus’ work and mission is about a Kingdom or Kin-dom of relationships with one another. Where questions are welcomed. Where doubt is okay. Where you and I, and everyone else, no matter how we might appear, no matter what baggage we might bring, no matter how much of a sinner we may all be, we are all welcome, seen, known and loved. The ways of God are not of this world. So our life together as disciples and stewards really is possible with God. Thanks be to God for that, and for the hope and peace that surpasses all understanding.
Wherever the texts might take you this week may that hope, peace, and presence fill you, and may they along with God’s promises sustain you and be made known through you for God’s people.
The Narrative Lectionary keeps on moving this week, as we find ourselves with the prophet of Isaiah. It might seem like a week early for Advent, but here we are with one of the richest Advent or really actually Christmas texts we might hear in the other lectionary. Isaiah 9, the story about a Child who is born. I think it’s a perfect image for this Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. God enters this world incarnate, not as some powerful omnipotent being with all power and authority, but rather as a vulnerable child. What a beautiful story we all know well so far. Let’s pick it up with fresh ears and wonder about what we see and sense now anew.
Isaiah writes, “But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” (Isaiah 9:1, NRSV).
What a hopeful beginning. Hearing, “there will be no gloom for those were in anguish,” hearkens back to the images of hope and comfort we might cling to as we did a couple weeks ago with All Saints. The prophet here is giving us reason to have hope. Good News is coming. In this coming, the one who is to come “will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” This just sets the stage though for the prophecy itself in verses 2-7.
Without further introduction, Isaiah prophesies, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:2-7, NRSV).
This text is so full. It’s full of images of God’s work and mission. It’s full of imagery which helps depict who God is, who the Messiah will be. It’s full of the story of God’s on-going redeeming and saving work for you and for me. And it’s full of the story that invites us in- to come and see, to follow and grow as disciples, and to share and serve as stewards.
God provides. That might be the first take away. God provides hope and purpose. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…” For this and so much more, God’s people respond gratefully and joyfully. For God has “multiplied the nation,” and “increased its joy.” For this the people “rejoice” as with “joy at the harvest.”
God restores and comforts. “For the yoke of their burden… the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.” The pains and weights of this world have been lifted. God knows them, and takes them on. And they no longer hold down or weigh down God’s people. Those in power who oppress, will no longer do so with God. For that is not the way of God’s love and promise.
The good news that we might know as Christmas becomes clear with the prophecy and promise, “For a child has been born for us…” All of this and so much more has been done and is given and provided, “for us.” That’s for you and for me. That’s a gift and pure grace, which we could never earn or deserve. But one we receive gratefully and joyfully, and are called to share widely and abundantly and not hoard stingily. For “a son given to us,” God comes as one of us to be with us. And through whom as “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…” we know more clearly still who God is and whose we are. The beauty in this text, the imagery for the kin-dom of God is rich. Timely for Christ the King Sunday, and for setting the stage in any context for the Advent season.
This kingdom is established and upheld with “justice and righteousness.” This is one thing to note too if trying to explain the significance of this day of the church year, and how Christ the King and the Kingdom of God is vastly different than any human conception of kings, kingdoms, power, and authority. (See my thoughts on the RCL texts above, specifically related to the reading from the Gospel of John for more on this.)
The included gospel verse for this week is John 8:12. There we read, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12, NRSV).
Isaiah talks about how the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. John picks up this theme and runs with it for a whole gospel. And Jesus here declares with the famous “I Am” statement that that light is he. Bringing full circle God’s mission, and providing clarity of its purpose and work of this presence and light- for you and for me.
Good stuff abounds in these readings this week. Whatever catches your attention and draws your imagination, may God’s love and promises be real for you, and shared widely and abundantly with and through you. -TS