God is Not in Control

See the source imageSUNDAY OF CHRIST THE KING

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93
Revelation 1:4-8
John 18:33-37

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.

“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.” John 18:37.

This coming Sunday we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. This feast day, which marks the conclusion of the church year, is relatively new to the church calendar. The Roman pontiff, Pope Pius XI, instituted The Feast of Christ the King in 1925 for the universal church in his encyclical Quas Primas. He saw the ascendancy of nationalism as a denial of Christ as king and viewed with alarm the rise of dictatorships in Europe and the captivating allure of their autocratic leaders. This nine decade old proclamation is as relevant now as then, given our president’s open embrace of nationalism, his enthusiastic support among white Christians and the shameful failure of American Christian leaders to name this lie for the heresy it is. For more on that, see my post of July 27, 2017. Protestant churches using the Revised Common Lectionary also observe Christ the King Sunday (titled Reign of Christ Sunday by some). These include my own church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as well as the Church of England, the Anglican Church in North America, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ and the Moravian Church.

By ending the church year with a confession of Christ as King, we remind ourselves that history has an end and the end is Jesus. The day will come, St. Paul tells us, “that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:10-11. Yet care must be taken in proclaiming Jesus king. As Jesus points out to Pilate, his “kingdom is not from this world.” That does not mean that the Kingdom of God is somewhere other than here and now. Rather, it means that the reign of God is not government as we know it. It is not imposed by the consent of the governed, by rule of law, by force of arms or by any other coercive means. God’s sovereignty is of a different order. God rules the world through the power of God’s Word spoken through the prophets, the apostles and, in the fullness of time, in and through his Son. God’s weapon is the persuasive power of the Holy Spirit working repentance, faith and reconciliation. God overcomes the world by loving the hell out of it.

You have no doubt seen bumper stickers boldly asserting that “God is in control.” I guess that is supposed to be comforting, but I don’t care much for that expression. Control is something you exercise over your lawn mower or automobile. It is not something you exercise over someone you love. When somebody calls you a controlling parent or spouse, they are not paying you a complement. Nothing ruins friendship, marriage, family and community quite as effectively as someone’s desire to exercise control. Arguably, God could come with a show of force, as he does in the Left Behind books, and impose God’s will on earth as in heaven by sheer might. But that would make God little more than Caesar on steroids. God does not want to reign over creation in that way.

All of this might appear to gainsay the sovereignty of God and make God look weak. But, as the Apostle Paul points out, it is this very “weakness” of God that is actually God’s power-a power that finally overcomes all others. I Corinthians 1:18-25. The cross of Jesus redefines for all time the meaning sovereignty. For this reason, I do not believe that God engineers events in history so that they occur in accord with some predetermined plan. I do not believe that the murder of six million Jews was part of God’s design or intent. Nor do I believe that God wills cancer, auto accidents, hurricanes and earthquakes. Is God triumphant over all of these things? To be sure, but God’s triumphal victory is a strange kind of victory. God’s power is God’s patience. God does not fight fire with fire. That only results in a bigger fire. God refuses to be drawn into the vortex of retaliation and retribution in which we are enslaved. Instead, God responds to the wastes of our wrath with forgiveness, an offer of new life and eternal love. God does not clobber evil. God simply outlasts it. Against God’s eternal determination to save us, our stubborn resistance finally runs out of steam. That might take some time, but God is nothing if not rich in time. The redemption of all creation is too important a job to rush.

In a world where only the ruthless seem to rise to the top, it takes faith in what is yet unseen to confess Jesus as king. In a world where our leaders insist that there is not enough to go around and urge us to grab what is ours and cling to it with all our might, it takes faith in God’s eternal love to keep looking for signs of a kingdom in which all are fed, cared for and free. In a world that keeps telling us that the “only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” it takes faith to beat swords into plowshares. Disciples of Jesus are called to live a “perpetual spring” in the midst of winter. Here is a poem by Amy Gerstler to that effect.

In Perpetual Spring

Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies
and trip over the roots
of a sweet gum tree,
in search of medieval
plants whose leaves,
when they drop off
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they
plop into water.

Suddenly the archetypal
human desire for peace
with every other species
wells up in you. The lion   
and the lamb cuddling up. 
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,
queen of the weeds, revives
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt
there is a leaf to cure it.

Source, Bitter Angel: Poems, (c. 1990 by Amy Gerstler, pub. by New York: North Point Press).  Amy Gerstler (b. 1956) is a graduate of Pitzer College. She holds an M.F.A. from Bennington College and is currently a professor of writing at the University of California, Irvine. Previously, she taught in the Bennington Writing Seminars program, at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California and the University of Southern California’s Master of Professional Writing Program. Gerstler has authored over a dozen poetry collections and two works of fiction. She has also produced numerous articles, reviews, and collaborations with visual artists. You can read more about Amy Gerstler and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

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