Friday, April 18, 2014

Jesus Christ and His Reign

This Sunday, our church will make one final affirmation as we conclude our series on what we believe. We believe in Jesus Christ and his reign! It’s a shocking, countercultural statement to make, although most of us have lost touch with that.

But look at some of the story from Scripture – an embarrassing teenage pregnancy, a poor peasant couple forced to flee as refugees to Egypt after the birth of their baby, and King Herod’s slaughter of Jewish baby boys in a unsuccessful attempt to put an end to this new King. It doesn’t sound like a royal story. But this is the story of Jesus – a Messiah who goes to the poor and marginalized over the rich and powerful, a Savior who is rejected by the very people he is there to save, and a King who reigns from a bloody cross.

If we call ourselves Christians, this is the story we hold as true, and not just true, but the definitive bedrock of our life stories. At least, that’s what we say.

When I was in the ordination process in The United Methodist Church, which is a long and challenging journey, one of the questions I had to answer for the Board of Ordained Ministry was this, “How do you interpret the statement Jesus Christ is Lord?”

It takes going back to a governing system much different from our own to put understanding to this statement and yet it is the foundational affirmation of faith in the New Testament. Paul goes so far as to say that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).

In the governing system of the ancient near east, where Jesus was born and lived, there were those in power, like governors and kings, and they were often addressed as “Lord.” To call a poor, homeless, rebellious rabbi “Lord” was to pledge allegiance to a very different system than the one the world could see and touch. It was to risk your life as a citizen of the kingdom of God, rather than a subject under rule by Caesar.

A great way to get rid of Jesus is to make him out as a distant spiritual possibility, like a great historical figure or a warm, fuzzy feeling you get when singing your favorite praise song. But when you recognize Jesus as the Lord of your life, when you allow him to take up room, stake a claim on you, and take charge, it changes the dynamic. No longer is God a convenient genie, stashed in a pocket until we need to make a wish, what often may pass for prayer. Instead, Christ takes the lead in your life, reorganizing priorities and changing things so that you are living as a citizen of the kingdom of God, no matter what your earthly papers may say.

When we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ this Sunday, we affirm that God is triumphant! God has the final say. Christ is victorious over death, such that we need not fear even the grave.

It’s a difficult reality to live out every day. On Sunday we confess Jesus is our Lord, but what happens on Monday? There’s a simple way to figure out where our allegiances really live – take a look at your calendar and your check book. Where do you spend your time and money? That’s where you’ll find your heart, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34).

So as we look forward to Easter Sunday, considering giving your Lord and King more than your words, more than an occasional Sunday morning presence, more than a logical assent to the idea that there is God. Give Jesus your whole self, your full commitment, and unswerving loyalty.

I’m looking forward to receiving our confirmands, those youth who have spent several months in fellowship and learning, into the kingdom. Through our ritual, they’ll renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of their sin. They’ll accept the freedom and power God gives them to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. They’ll confess Jesus Christ as their Savior and promise to serve him as their Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

They’ll be taking a bold step into the kingdom of God. I pray we all have the courage to follow!

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