Yr A – Reign of Christ ~ Ephesians 1:15-23
If you follow the liturgical calendar (and we do) you will know that this week is called Reign of Christ Sunday, or Christ the King Sunday. There are some (perhaps many) in our beloved United Church, who have real issues with this language. For them, the concept of a king or a kingdom carries the ugly baggage of oppression, or subjugation, or patriarchy so they reject the language of Christ as a king and instead try to substitute the clever word “kin-dom” in its place. I wonder if that would make this Christ the Kin Sunday? Hmmm…
As you know, I love to celebrate new made-up words so you’d think that kin-dom would appeal to me – but I’m not really a fan – and I’ll tell you why.
Kin-dom is generally understood to be about belonging, caretaking and community. The idea is that the kin-dom of God is a realm where we’re all kin – one big Christian family. And while that sounds like fantastic, Christian kinda stuff I’m afraid that for me it misses the mark of what a kinGdom is about.
A kin-dom is made up of kin – equals – contemporaries. It suggests a flat organizational structure rather than a hierarchy. That’s fantastic and entirely appropriate if we’re talking about the church – about the kin-dom of humans.
But we’re talking about God here.
God is God, and we’re not.
This desire for a flat kin-dom seems, to me, to be a desire to remove elements of authority, or lordship, or surrender from our spirituality.
I think the problem is that we all know of monarchies (or powerful empires, or governments) that exercise ‘power over’ instead of ‘power with’. Those are all human examples – and we all know about how power does bad things to most humans.
But God’s kingdom, Christ’s reign, is never about coercion and subjugation – it’s all about relationship and empowerment.
The reign of Christ means the realm of Christ, the plane on which spirit operates, the ocean of love in which we swim.
We’re not talking about a physical geography – we’re talking about a profoundly rich metaphor describing a perception field.
God’s kingdom is a way of seeing – a way of perceiving – something you’re immersed in always but can’t quite grasp – until you read Ephesians 1:18-19 (we’ll get to them in a minute!).
In God’s perception field, God’s kingdom, God’s Presence is the air we breathe, and God’s love is our lifeblood. But again, we’re not God.
God is God.
We are not in charge of God’s kingdom – which is more than just a kin-dom.
How we interrelate with one another is certainly a kin-dom of humans – but the ocean of love in which we’re swimming is a kingdom – God’s kingdom.
And in God’s kingdom Christ has power, and authority, and lordship.
The earliest confession of faith in Christianity was to say that “Jesus is Lord!”
It was super-political, and rebellious, and revolutionary because if Jesus is Lord then Caesar isn’t – and Caesar insisted on being called Lord!
And if Jesus is Lord, and not Caesar, then the empire of power-over is supplanted by the kingdom of God, and the world is turned upside down (or should I say right-side up?).
Between disliking hierarchy and loving our self-importance and sense that ‘no one’s the boss of me’ we struggle with Lordship.
But if Christ or God or Spirit doesn’t reign for you (or in you) then who or what does?
If you say you do then you’ve made yourself god – and that is nothing but trouble.
If you say no one or nothing reigns over you, well, you’re mistaken.
That great theologian Bob Dylan said it brilliantly – You gotta serve somebody.
I went into this more than I originally wanted to, but I really think this distinction is essential. If, for whatever reason, the language of kingdom is something you just can’t abide, then I hope you can find another metaphor better than kin-dom to describe this sacred perception field that is the realm of God’s Presence. Kin-dom is great for us humans – but it falls short for describing the power and presence of the divine. At least for me it does. Your mileage may vary.
I’m laying out this groundwork so painstakingly because I want us to really be able to dive deeply into Ephesians 1:18-19. But first, verse 17.
Paul prays that God might give us “a spirit of wisdom and revelation as (we) come to know God”.
Wisdom isn’t just knowledge; it’s a special kind of knowledge that implies deep spiritual understanding and maturity.
And revelation is about what is unfolding before us – being present to the moment and discerning God’s awesome presence permeating it.
Paul wants to help us see that this is about an orientation, an attitude – a spirit of a new way of perceiving.
Perceiving what? God’s kingdom!
And why is this a good thing?
Paul says (v.18), it’s so that – my favourite bible words! – “so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know…” certain things.
What a fabulous expression that is – the eyes of your heart. It’s poetic.
We know this intimately – our hearts ‘see’ or perceive things differently than our heads do.
My heart sees things my head can’t.
My heart can perceive the kind of kingdom that my eyes have never seen because humans have always found ways to mess their kingdoms up.
1:18-19 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know:
what is the hope to which he has called you,
what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and
what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
These verses are filled with simple sounding but richly evocative and complex poetic words. With enlightened hearts:
- We can know that we’re called to hopefulness. We’re called to a spiritual sense and orientation that is built on trusting God.
- We can know of the riches, the blessings, the benefits of God’s inheritance. Inheritance; not something you earn – it’s something you are given, and it’s because of a relationship.
- And we can know great power that comes through seeing and perceiving God’s kingdom with our hearts.
The way one is inspired to live, and move, and have being in this kingdom of love can be summed up in one word: Élan.
I love this word.
If you live with élan you live with energy, with style, with enthusiasm, with a vigorous spirit, with confidence, and flair, and liveliness.
I don’t know about you, but my sense is that out there such things are in short supply these days.
The world is suffering, but we’re living with élan!
Because we’re called to a spiritual orientation built on trusting God.
And because we experience the freely given and abundantly overflowing blessings and benefits of knowing, and being known by God.
And because our calling and blessings give us power and courage to live transformed lives in a manner that confounds those who inhabit the kingdoms of this world.
Paul shifts back into language more familiar to his audience, and more problematic for us, as he talks about how Jesus is at God’s right hand with power and authority, and the nations will be under his feet, and we, rightfully, start to get squeamish.
We don’t want Christian triumphalism. We don’t want to be just another empire. I’m sure Paul means to convey that Jesus’ power is the polar opposite of the power of the Empire, of Caesar, but he uses the same language.
So what do we do with this?
I say we should lean into the metaphor and dive deeper.
Paul’s saying, “I know your experience of power and authority has been bad. I know that empires and kingdoms have treated you unjustly, building themselves up at the expense of the other.”
The marks of such kingdoms are well known – greed, corruption, self-centredness, callousness, devoid of compassion, or empathy, or humanity.
God’s kingdom is what the world looks like turned right-side up. God’s kingdom is generosity, sharing, selflessness, compassion, empathy, respect, dignity, justice, and love – not just for yourself, or your kin, but for everyone – even the ‘other’.
The problem is that until we have the eyes of faith – the eyes of our heart – the eyes that can perceive what is far beyond the purview of the optic nerve – we can’t really see anything except the flawed human kingdoms of the world.
But once a new perception field has been opened to you – through a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you grow ever deeper in relationship with the Holy One we call God – then your view of the world takes on a whole new understanding – and that has beautiful consequences for how you live.
If you’re a resident of the kingdoms of this world, you are required to act in certain ways: adhere to the culture, play the game, get ahead, acquire assets, work your way up, look out for number one.
But if you’re a resident of God’s kingdom, then a whole new way of being opens up for you, and you’ll live the way that Jesus embodied and invites us into. One that flies in the face of the world’s ways.
We do this as individuals, but also together.
We live this Way as a Church, following Jesus, AND also embracing that we are not the one calling the shots.
The simple metaphor Paul uses is our physicality. He says it’s like Jesus is the head and we are the body. These things are intimately connected and interdependent. Head and body function together, but no one should confuse one for the other.
And this body, this Church, doesn’t just take barked out orders from a disembodied power-hungry head who sits on some far away throne.
No, we’re connected – we’re one body with Jesus as our head.
And Paul says this body is filled with the fullness of him who fills all in all.
There can’t be a more intimate, relational kingdom than that!
Jesus is a different kind of king – and he reigns in a different kind of kingdom.
Those of us who inhabit (and inherit) this kingdom are not subjugated, oppressed, or coerced in any way.
We are filled with the fullness of the one we call brother, friend, AND Lord and saviour.
And that revelation, that wisdom, that transformation, that Spirit-infused way of perceiving the world inspires us to live with such élan – with energy, and style, and enthusiasm, and a vigorous spirit, and confidence, and flair, and liveliness.
Our praise song today sang exactly about this.
Show me the heights and the depths. Show me the length and the width.
Fling wide the doors of my chest. Fill me with the fullness.
Let your love rise, fill me with the fullness.
Friends, we who have received the gift of perceiving, and opening ourselves to, and immersing ourselves in God’s realm of love are called, and blessed, and empowered – are filled with all the fullness of God – SO THAT we can live different – live like Jesus, live with élan.
May it be so.