From a Kingdom to a Kin-Dom: Pondering our Call
to be the Church on Reign of Christ/Christ the King Sunday
2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 100; Revelation 1:5-8; Matthew 25:31-46
Sunday, November 25, 2018 — Reign of Christ Sunday
Knox-Metropolitan United Church — Regina, SK — Treaty 4 Territory
If we here this morning, were to be asked, and to be given the following two choices — Is the aim of church to produce nice people, well behaved, good citizens, or social deviants? I wonder how we would respond.
I won’t ask you respond, because I’d wager that while we might find the choices (or the lack of choice really) way too constricting—our instincts might push us to the former.
I’d like to make the case this morning, for the church as a breeding ground for much needed Social Deviancy—which I think would look really hilarious on a church mission statement, even more so as a motto for a Sunday School.
Marcella of Rome was born in 325 CE into the upper echelon of society in the capital of the Empire, which by this time had adopted Christianity as its official religion—which I note because mere decades prior, to be openly Christian in Rome could lead to persecution, but by her birth it was an added level of status!
Renowned for her beauty and riches, she married a young aristocrat, who died seven months after their wedding. Rather than re-enter the lavish Roman social scene, Marcella began a community of women who had no interest in marriage. They filled her palatial home and formed therein likely the first urban monastic community, serving those who suffered, living communally, and honouring their autonomy as young women.
In 410 CE the Goths, under the leadership of Aleric, sacked the city of Rome, and legend holds that when they spied Marcella’s estate, so large that they assumed therein would be treasures unmatched—she told them that she had nothing, for she preferred to “store her money in the stomachs of the needy than hide it in a purse.”
While today she is celebrated as a Saint, venerated in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Traditions, her feast day falling on January 31, frankly in her time she was considered a Social Deviant — for her refusal to play the role in “proper society” appointed for her, and even worse, corrupting others to do the same.
Across many traditions, the Christian Church marks this day as “Christ the King” or, “The Reign of Christ” Sunday, and as far as holy days or feast days go, its on the newer side—it was established first by the Roman Catholic Church in 1925 to fall on the last Sunday of October, and therefore to immediately proceed “All Saints’ Day”—and then in 1970, was moved to the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent (the four Sundays leading up to Christmas), which is where we find ourselves today.
When the Revised Common Lectionary (which is the name of the cycle of readings we follow week in and week out on a 3 year rotation) was adopted by Protestant Traditions, this day came as part of the package.
So what then, exactly, are we invited to celebrate in marking this day as special or significant?
Because that’s the point, I would suggest, of these holy days or feast days or special Sundays, to draw our attention, in the context of worship, to particular, and sometimes peculiar aspects and invitations of our tradition.
What does it mean for us, to call Christ the King or to celebrate the Reign of Christ?
We’ve alluded to the concept of kingdom already this morning.
Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…
Within Liberal traditions like the United Church of Canada, we tend to have an uneasy relationship with images associated with God, with Jesus, or with the church that speak of triumphalism and imperialism—and not without good reason —for we’ve come to recognize the damage and violence done in the name of God, and often in using the name of God, as a tool of empire, of domination, assimilation, and exclusion—systemically, sometimes through legislation, and sometimes more insidiously spread through the reinforcement of exclusionary norms, and the stigmatization of that which “we” who inhabit social locations of privilege and power have named as “non-traditional”.
Now, I should qualify my previous statement that “we’ve come to recognize to the damage” —because that is not entirely accurate. More precisely, we have come to recognize that damage has been done, have realized that we’ll never fully understand how that has affected others, but have committed ourselves to being open to listen, and to engage in processes of reconciliation and repentance.
Our reading today from the book of Matthew, one of the appointed passages for the celebration of Reign of Christ Sunday, offers a paradoxical imagining of the concept of Kingdom.
With dramatic language, an image is painted of a throne and ruler and a gathering of subjects, some who are welcomed into the inheritance of a kingdom, because they served the physical needs of the hungry, the sick, the prisoner (it’s worth pausing there), and the stranger, and in so doing, mystically, they served the king.
“Truly I tell you,
just as you did it to one of the least of these
who are members of my family,
you did it to me.”
Does this phrase indicate that the wealthy and well off are therefore not part of the family of the king? The wording seems to indicate this—and while our desire for inclusion may incline us to spin this, what if it means what it means, but implies that it is through downward solidarity that those of means are adopted into this family?
Marcella, rather than playing the game of social status expected of her as a wealthy citizen of Rome, the game of upward aspiration, the game dictated by the hierarchy of empire (of kingdom), betrayed the structure, and sought kin-dom instead, sought connection and built family.
Next week, the Christian Church begins its year anew with the season of Advent—a season of anticipation and waiting. It is a season that easily falls into sentimentalism, but actually properly understood, begins in darkness with light dawning only slowly— one candle at a time.
When Reign of Christ was moved from the end of October to the end of November, to be the last Sunday before Advent, it was during an interesting time in the recent history of the Roman Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council ended in 1965 with what was considered by many to be a democratization and liberalization of the Catholic Church—decried by many conservatives as a foolhardy attempt to be more open and accessible at risk of betraying orthodoxy—right belief and practice.
However, from within the non-European Centre of the church it was considered not far enough. In 1968, the Bishops of South America held a conference in Medellín, Columbia in which they affirmed their conviction of God having a preferential option for the poor, their insistence that poverty and hunger were preventable, and that the need to mobilize the Gospel as a tool to equip the people of their continent to liberate themselves from the “institutionalized violence” of poverty.
Depending on which of these schools of thought one came from, the settling of Reign of Christ as the final Sunday before Advent could mean very different things. Throughout the narratives of his life, one of Jesus’ greatest acts of disobedience was sharing food and drink with the ones considered outsiders—a revolutionary act because it robs the power of those who benefit from the narrative that certain elements of their society are less than human.
Dinner parties may as such not take down Empires like Rome, but they do rob them of one of the more pernicious weapons, division, and the belief that liberty is found at the expense of the other rather than within shared struggle and solidarity.
So many of Jesus’ words and actions, subversive parables, counter cultural sermons challenged again and again the divisive practice of dehumanization and the divisions it reinforced, confronting those with ears to hear of the challenging message of shared humanity—of a depth of connection that was always there, but was hidden, ignored or perniciously denied.
This thread of Jesus’ ministry is so strong, and once you see it in one place, you see it everywhere, to the extent that many theologians have noted that to understand what Jesus means by Kingdom, might be better understood as a Kin-dom—as connection between those who have been separated often by the hurtful intentions of one group against another, yet challenged to recognized and repent, and invited into a ministry of reconciliation.
In the waters of baptism we are invited to affirm the undeniable worth and wonder of each person – to name them as beloved child of God – and in the ethic of living out the reign of Christ, in calling Christ King, in praying for this Kin-dom, and living into it on earth as in heaven, we seek to live that reality for all people, especially those who find themselves most excluded, most ignored most marginalized.
But to close perhaps I might suggest once more, that the Church does not exist to form nice people, well behaved good citizens – but invites us into conspiracies of social deviancy – aware that even in the society we live in today that there are systems and patterns of dehumanization and to name where the equality breathed into all things by Creator, and our oft ignored connection to the natural world has broken down, or been denied, and to refuse to comply; to name where we have been complicit, to recognize and repent, and to watch, hope, and pray for new ways of being to emerge, and to take the first often risky and tentative steps to walk in new ways together, with unlikely companions.
For we celebrate the Christ as an unusual sort of King
We pray for a Kin-dom on earth as in heaven.
For in life, in death, in life beyond death,