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“Where Christ Reigns”
Revelation 1: 4b-8
November 21, 2021
Christ the King Sunday
Today is Christ the King Sunday, the day we celebrate that Christ is the head of the church, the one who gives the church all that it needs for its life and mission. We hear discouraging statistics about the church, that membership is declining, worship attendance is dropping, that the culture wars are taking a toll on commitment to church.
But here is the good news! The church has always faced struggles and trials, always battled against the way of the world, always turned to Christ when others were following culture. Some have speculated that the church in the U.S. today is more like the early church than it has been in decades, with Christians becoming the minority in an increasingly hostile culture.
If we were to look for a passage that would give us hope and encouragement for the church, we could do no better than this passage from the book of Revelation, which is our lectionary epistle text for today.
Revelation was written to people who were experiencing difficult times. Like other parts of the New Testament, Revelation is a letter that was meant to be read aloud in worship. It was written to seven churches in Asia, in the area where the Western coast of Turkey is today.
In the years before this letter was written, there was a war in Israel between the Romans and the Jews, and in the aftermath, many Jews and Christians left Israel and settled in other areas. It was a time of transition and vulnerability for the young church, as it struggled to maintain its identity in a hostile world. The Roman government expected loyalty to both the Roman leaders and the false gods they worshipped. Christians found that their neighbors were suspicious of them, because they did not play by the same rules that everyone else did, refusing to bow down to Caesar and call him lord, refusing to worship the idols of the Romans. Their neighbors shunned them, mocked them, would not do business with them, and might even report them to the Roman authorities. If a Christian were called before the authorities and failed the loyalty test of acclaiming Caesar as lord, he could be put to death.
Those early Christians were discouraged, frightened, despairing of what the world was coming to.
In response, a well-known early church leader named John wrote this letter. It is full of symbolism and imagery that seems bizarre to us, but was easily understood by those in the early church. One scholar, George Beasley-Murray, said that when we read the book of Revelation, we need to think about a political cartoon.1 Our political cartoons contain images, pictures of elephants and donkeys, a bearded man wearing a top hat with stars on it, and other pictures that when we see them, we get it! The images are powerful to us, and we understand exactly what message is being conveyed. But someone from another culture would not understand the symbols, nor would someone who lives a thousand years from now. It’s the same with the symbols in Revelation. Although they are difficult for us to understand, the early Christians knew exactly what John meant.
The passage we heard this morning is the introduction of the letter. In the beautiful greeting, we find three descriptions of Jesus: the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. For Christians being challenged in their own witness, persecuted possibly to the point of death, these were encouraging words!
Jesus was the ruler of the kings of the earth! It might seem that Caesar had all control, but Jesus was stronger still. His power was greater than Caesar or any other earthly king, for his kingdom has no end.
What a wonderful reminder for the early Christians, and for us today, that when we wonder what the world is coming to, when we despair of the future and feel that things are out of control, we can be assured that Christ is the one true King, and that he holds all power in his hands.
So if Christ is King, where does he reign? The masses around us do not acknowledge him. The kingdoms of this world do not follow him. Like Pilate in our gospel passage this morning, much of the world is oblivious to Jesus’ identity. “So are you a king?” Pilate asked with wonder.
And Jesus responded, “My kingdom is not of this world . . .My kingdom is not from here.”
So where does Christ reign? We see the answer in this passage from Revelation. Revelation affirms that Christ “loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father.”
He “made US to be a kingdom.” What an amazing thought! In a world where this is much confusion and uncertainty, we—believers who have been loved and forgiven by Jesus—we are the Kingdom of God. We are where Christ reigns. And thus our lives should bear witness to the reign of Christ within us. We should live differently than the world around us, because the kingdom of Christ is not like this world. In the kingdom, the first are last, the rich are poor, and the meek inherit the earth. In the kingdom, when someone strikes us, we turn the other cheek, when someone steals our shirt, we give him our coat also. When someone hates us, we love him; when someone persecutes us, we pray for her. When someone wrongs us, we forgive him.
Our Presbyterian theology says, “The Church of Jesus Christ is the provisional demonstration of what God intends for all humanity . . . a sign in and for the world of the new reality God has made available to people in Jesus Christ. The new reality revealed in Jesus Christ is the new humanity, a new creation, a new beginning for human life in the world.”2 In an article on that statement, Paul Hooker, a Presbyterian pastor and scholar, said, “That language is powerful! It says that God has chosen the church—the likes of us—to show the world what human life can be, ought to be, and—most important—will be. And it says that when the world is looking for what it means to live as God wants life lived, the world comes looking to us.”3
“The world comes looking to us.” We, the church of Jesus Christ, are charged with demonstrating what the kingdom looks like. We, the church of Jesus Christ are charged with being the kingdom!
A woman was running late, in a huge hurry, and she was hoping to make it through the stoplight ahead that had just turned yellow, but unfortunately for her, the man in front of her decided to stop, rather than go through the yellow light. She slammed on her brakes, which caused her to spill her coffee and drop her cell phone, and she was furious. She was banging the steering wheel and screaming in frustration, when she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer.
The woman had not realized that a police car was right behind her. After checking her ID and verifying she was who she said she was, the office came back to her car and said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry for stopping you, but I had feared this was a case of grand theft auto.”
“Grand theft auto!” the woman exclaimed. “Why in the world would you think that?”
The officer replied, “Well, you see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, making rude gestures to the guy in front of you, and cursing a blue streak at him. I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do’ bumper sticker, the ‘Follow Me to Church’ bumper sticker, and the Christian fish emblem on the trunk . . . Well, naturally... I assumed you had stolen the car!”4
What do others see when they look at us? Are our lives bearing witness to the reign of Christ? When people look at us, do they see the kingdom?
I am thankful for the ways members of this church live as kingdom people: For the Deacons who are so faithful in visiting the sick, the homebound, and those in care facilities. Retirees who could spend all their time golfing or traveling, but who instead are packing weekend food for kids at our local schools, knitting prayer shawls, volunteering in ministries like SERVE, SON and BEACON. People with busy careers who put in long hours but still make time for the church and its ministries, adding to long days by coming straight from work to bell practice or choir rehearsal or meetings of the Session and Deacons and ministry teams, and spending Saturday mornings mowing the church lawn and tending the grounds. For the generosity of the church family, as you heard from Angie this morning, in giving so generously and faithfully. Members of our church who bear witness to Christ in their daily lives each and every day, by being kind, loving, gracious, and forgiving.
When you do these things, don’t underestimate their power. These are ways that we manifest the kingdom of Christ. In our words, in our actions, in our everyday lives—all that we do shows the reign of Christ in our lives.
There once was a little boy who wanted to meet God. He knew it was a long trip to where God lived, so he packed his backpack with cupcakes and several cans of root beer and started on his journey to meet God.
When he had gone about three blocks, he saw an elderly woman sitting on a park bench watching the pigeons. The boy sat down next to her and opened his backpack. He was about to take a drink from his root beer when he noticed that the woman looked hungry. So he offered her a cupcake. She gratefully accepted it and smiled at him.
Her smile was so wonderful that he wanted to see it again. So he offered a root beer as well. Once again the woman smiled at him.
The boy was delighted!
They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling without saying a word.
As it began to grow dark, the boy realized how tired he was and wanted to go home. He got up to leave but before he had gone no more than a few steps, he turned around and ran back to the old woman, giving her a big hug. She gave him his biggest smile ever.
When the boy arrived home his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face. She asked, “What has made you so happy today?”
He replied, “I had lunch with God.”
Before his mother could respond he added, “You know what? She's got the most beautiful smile in the whole world!”
Meanwhile, the woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home.
Her son was stunned by the look of peace on her face. He asked, “Mom, what has made you so happy today?”
She replied, “I ate cupcakes in the park with God.”
Before her son could reply, she added, “You know, he is much younger than I expected.”5
The kingdom of Christ is within us, and when Christ reigns in our hearts, others meet God in us. Like the early church, we are called to be different than the world, to be loyal to Christ our King. So may all that we do manifest the reign of Christ, for Christ has made us to be his kingdom. In the name of Christ our King, Amen.
Rev. Dawn M. Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church