Nov. 21, 2021 (Reign of Christ)

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and ever-living God, you anointed your beloved Son to be priest and sovereign forever. Grant that all the people of the earth, now divided by the power of sin, may be united by the glorious and gentle rule of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

9As 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.
10A stream of fire issued
  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.
13As 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.
14To 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.

Psalm 93

1The Lord is king, robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and | armed with strength.
  The Lord has made the world so sure that it can- | not be moved.
2Ever since the world began, your throne has | been established;
  you are from | everlasting. R
3The waters have lifted up, O Lord, the waters have lifted | up their voice;
  the waters have lifted up their | pounding waves.
4Mightier than the sound of many waters, mightier than the breakers | of the sea,
  mightier is the Lord who | dwells on high.
5Your testimonies are | very sure,
  and holiness befits your house, O Lord, forever and for- | evermore.

Revelation 1:4b-8

4bGrace 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, 5and 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, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
7Look! 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.
  8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Christ Monogram with Alpha and Omega, Christian Catacombs-Sousse, Tunisia

John 18:33-37

33Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate 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?” 36Jesus 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.” 37Pilate 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.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

I have been singing the chorus to “Ride on King Jesus” in my head all week, preparing for Christ the King or reign of Christ Sunday. A few years ago the song leaders at our regional church conference led a workshop during which they taught us this gospel, in four-part harmony: “Ride on, King Jesus, No man can a hinder me, Ride on, King Jesus, ride on, No man can a-hinder me.”

Explaining what the song meant to the first people who sang it, one historian wrote, “The enslaved people had a powerful imagination that was captivated by the notion of having a king who was powerful enough that absolutely no one could “hinder” him. If Jesus could not be hindered, then they felt agency in their own lives as well, giving them hope. Some versions of this life-affirming song add, “He is the King of Kings, He is the Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ, the First and Last, no man hinders me”! This song captures the aspiration of the hearts of enslaved peoples. Jesus was born a baby, yes, but he was also a king, recalling his triumphal, un-hindered entry into Jerusalem (Eileen Guenther/CMH. “Ride On, King Jesus.” ).

I never know exactly what to do on Reign of Christ Sunday, a festival that can only be traced back to 1925. It is about the end of time which sounds gloomy and dour. But today is about imagining the world as it could be, as God intends it to be. The reign of Christ is breaking in. It is already and not yet here. Reign of Christ is about hope, the hope that enslaved people put in a King who no one could hinder, the hope we have as we wait for Jesus to be born in the manger, the hope we embrace as we imagine what Canyon County could look like for all of its residents. It is the hope that is ours when we ask what future do we imagine? We do well to listen to our various scripture passages for the day.

In Sunday School, many of us learned the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.  But Daniel was also a dreamer. Grand associations of kingship fill Daniel’s dream. He dreams of the ancient one riding the heavens. Daniel imagines an eternal lord receiving dominion, glory, and service. He says, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” The future is firmly in the hands of the one seated on the throne.

In the book of Revelation, we see a similar ruler. This one is a faithful witness of glory and power. He is “the Alpha and the Omega,” the beginning and the end, the one “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” This king is a liberator, but he is a strange one. This king challenges just about everything we associate with kingly power because the one seated on the throne is a lamb, not the first animal we connect with power and glory.

These two visions from Daniel and Revelation can make us gasp and make our hearts skip. The books of Daniel and Revelation were both written for people oppressed by the forces of empires—first the Hellenistic Empire and then the Roman Empire. Kingship and the reign of God ends up having a whole lot to do with turning things on their heads, subverting the power of empire, and bringing a new order. Daniel and Revelation are both talking about the judgment of the nations—history’s end.  

The word “end” points to the heart of Reign of Christ Sunday, and not merely because we are at the end of the church year and Advent officially begins next week. “End” means the passing away of what is. It means a transition so pronounced that we can say, “Things will never be the same.”  Facing “the end” means that we must finally recognize our attachments to what is now. This most often happens when some event or illness makes us face our mortality, but a text like today’s can have a similar effect. Ultimately, we must recognize our limitations as mortal human beings. 

In the scene today Pilate hears Jesus say, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Soon after this, Pilate sends Jesus to be crucified. According to Pilate, Jesus is guilty of treason against the Roman Empire. I do not think Pilate does this because he fails to understand Jesus. I think he sends Jesus to be crucified because he does understand Jesus. 

The reign of God was breaking through even then—through Jesus’ ministry among the people. What exactly is the reign of God? This reign of God is not just a reshuffling of this world’s power structures as they are. Jesus is not seizing the Emperor Caesar’s throne in order to replace Caesar. Jesus is not leaving Caesar or his generals in exile to plot a return to power. That would have been more than enough for Pilate to send Jesus to the cross.  But Jesus’ plan is far more radical.  Jesus is not seeking a throne in the world as it is. Jesus is inaugurating the end of this world.

To be clear, I am not talking about the destruction of the planet.  This is crucial to understand in the wake of the Left Behind series and other stories that send a similar message. Destruction of the planet does not make sense from a biblical perspective. There is a clear mantra in Genesis 1.  Each part of creation is deemed “good.” And when God made humankind God said it was “very good.” And the most famous Bible verse reminds us that God so loved the world that God sent the Son that we might have abundant and eternal life. God does not intend destruction for Creation or for humankind.

So, what do we mean when we talk about “the end of the world” in Daniel, Revelation, and the gospel?  We mean that a sharp transition is on the way.  Pilate liked the world ordered by empires. He did not like Jesus’ plan for a transition. Someone who likes the world ordered by empires will probably receive the news of the world’s end as very bad news, at least initially.  

We long for change, for daily changes and for big structural and systemic changes. Have you ever spelled out or drawn your vision for our larger community? One of my favorite writing exercises was for a poem whose title was Borrow My Vision. Borrow my vision and you will see, and I had to write all the things one could see in my picture of Canyon County as it could be. The next prompt was, “with my ears.” What sounds could we hear? Whose voices would we hear if the reign of God came fully to our region? Then “with my mouth,” “with my arms,” “with my mind,” “with my feet,” “with my heart.” Each one of us has within us a vision of the world and our locale as it could be if the reign of God was fully realized. 

This is a powerful exercise because it opens up our imaginations and helps us picture what we are working towards, not just what we might want to fight against. What are the small and large images, smells, and sounds percolating in your imagination as you dream about our region as it could be?

This week I have also been humming to myself Joy to the World, which is of course traditionally a Christmas hymn. However, it also fits today’s festival perfectly. It is so ingrained to us to imagine the Christ child while singing the first verse, but what if we imagined it as a prayer for the end of the world as it is, for Christ’s reign to come fully now, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king; let every heart prepare him room and heaven and nature sing.” The third verse imagines the world as it could be, “No more let sin and sorrow grow nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow.”

Every week we pray the Lord’s Prayer together and we ask for God’s kingdom to come. And each time two or three of us gathers, Jesus is come.  Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Christ is come—in the bread and wine, in the words “given for you for the forgiveness of sin.”  Christ is come when a baby is brought to the font and made a child of God, a member of the body of Christ, even when the infant has no idea what is happening. Every time we proclaim the Good News that the world of empires is passing away, and God’s dream for Creation is breaking through even now, Jesus is come. When we proclaim that Jesus alone is Lord, Jesus’ reign breaks through. Amen.  

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Eternal God, you hold firm amid the changes of this world. Hear us now as we pray for the church, the world, and everyone in need.

A brief silence.God, you sent your Son Jesus to testify to the truth. We pray for preachers, missionaries, evangelists, and teachers who carry your forgiveness and love to the world. Fill their words and actions with compassion and kindness so that your truth will shine. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God, you sent your Son Jesus to liberate all of creation. We pray for all living things longing for the freedom to flourish, from ancient trees and wild grasses to endangered animals and rare insects. Give human beings compassionate hearts to care for them. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God, you sent your Son Jesus to lead us into the way of peace. Direct the members of international alliances in choosing a nonviolent path toward the future. Give them the humility and wisdom to make just decisions to benefit all. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God, you sent your Son Jesus to make us into your own people, set free to serve you. We pray for people who serve the well-being of others, especially ministries in our community (local social ministries or agencies may be named). Renew them in their work. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God, you sent your Son Jesus to rule in all times and places. We pray for the friends of our congregation who are unable to join our worship in person and for all who are sick and suffering (especially). Join their prayers with ours and unite them with us in the body of Christ. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God, you sent your Son Jesus to be our beginning and our ending. We give thanks for those whose lives have given us a glimpse of Jesus’ reign of justice and peace. Empower us to join their witness. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God our hope and strength, we entrust to you all for whom we pray. Remain with us always, through Jesus Christ, our Savior.Amen.

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