The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Last Sunday after Pentecost
Today we need to hunker down, draw the curtains, bolt the doors, and pull up a pew. We must talk quietly among ourselves. Don’t let this get out, but today the church celebrates the Reign of Christ in all creation. If people out there catch wind we’re in here talking like this, they’ll wonder if we have stopped taking our medications, or maybe need to start. “Your Christ reigns? Yeah, right. So where is this reign? Your talk is crazy. Have you checked the world lately? Doesn’t look like he’s done such a hot job.”
Seven churches receive John’s letter of his visions called the Revelation. It’s written in a time when Christians were being persecuted – hauled into court, put on trial for being loyal to Jesus and not the emperor. Some were being put to death for their faith. John writes to a beleaguered people who need a divine shot of hope. The writing is subversive, symbolic and secretive – apocalyptic, written are for us, on the inside so the earthly powers won’t understand. Apocalypse focuses on the end, the future God will bring – and brings a glimpse of that end into the present moment for those who suffer, fear, and are under siege, face death – folks a lot like us. Apocalypse says God has matters under control up there. So down here – hang in there, because these present times don’t last. And actually, if word got out – earthly rulers would fall over laughing.
“Grace and peace,” John brings, “from him who is, was, and is to come,” reminding the church the God who begins all, is at the end, the Alpha and Omega, is present with us now, all at the same time – now wrap your mind around that one. God delivers a greeting to the church through John a simple, yet potent word, “grace.” God wants them to remember in their trials and suffering the freely given, unconditional love that forever holds us – through good times and bad. And living under the reign of God’s grace brings peace with God, frees us from fearing God, and draws us into God’s peace so we can be at peace with one another. That’s heart core of true peace. To the world, such talk is just plain crazy. They might say – “So show us the signs of which you speak. We don’t see much peace.”
John continues with a hymn of praise to Christ to remind us when tough times threaten us – whose we are. Remember you belong to the one who remained faithful to God, even unto death; the one in whom God reveals death is finished; the one who reigns over all earthly, cosmic powers and rulers. Now that is crazy talk. “So where is he?” Those powers and rulers look pretty well entrenched.
Under God’s reign Christ transforms people like us into royalty – a kingdom of priests. We are signs of Christ’s reign ourselves – signs to oppose any power or force that claims rule over us. Some of John’s church members died because they worshipped Christ, not the emperor. As priests in Christ we reconcile others to God; work for justice, serve others, love enemies and everyone, and transfer God’s gift of grace and peace to us into relationship with others. That’s dangerous – to live as if God’s reign is already winning in a world that won’t pay attention. And honestly when the world looks at us, need the powers and rulers worry?
And now John raises our eyes above to glimpse the future God brings: “Look! He is coming with the clouds.” To know what God is doing, has done, will do – can empower us with hope, not fear for living in the present. But some Christians can’t swallow the idea that God really does love and forgive. They want Jesus to come back all right, but as a warrior, a powerful king of violence to destroy his enemies, which just happen to be theirs, too. I believe such thinking is blasphemous to the God of loving kindness and mercy. For John will soon talk say of Jesus, the Lamb of God who comes – a symbol of sacrifice, reconciliation, forgiveness, and new life that God gives for everyone. Will all accept? I don’t know – maybe if they see God’s reign in us, they might be inclined to believe. Even those who pierced him; all the tribes of the earth will cry out, when they finally see Christ, wail in disbelief for what they have done, and are doing, that in spite of our evil, God loves them, even us, anyway. Under Christ, evil is transformed, suffering and death are ended; and all of us receive not what we deserve, but God’s gift of forgiveness, love, and healing of our souls and relationships. God’s reign has come and is to come not by power, threat and violence – but by love and forgiveness. The “not yet” for this world has been revealed now.
Kent Keith wrote long ago: Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments – a list lost, but found tacked to Mother Theresa’s office bulletin board after she died. Keith writes a short revelation – a vision of a conversation between God and a Christian. “Who will live in the New Jerusalem?” God’s reply: The New Jerusalem is for all my children. “But not all believe in Christ” something I hear many Christians ask. God’s reply in this visionary conversation: When they see Christ reigning in Jerusalem, they will understand who Christ is, and they will believe.
You and I know and live in Christ’s reign already. Maybe our talk is not crazy, but the good news the world longs to hear. Christ’s reign that is coming has already begun in us, and through us flows into the world. And as crazy as it may sound to some: we know and trust that one day every knee will bow, every tongue confess Christ as Lord.
So let us sing out joyfully and confidently the everlasting doxology even when times are lousy: to him be glory and dominion forever – and mean it. Amen and Amen!