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Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures:
Reign of Christ Sunday: Jeremiah 23:1-6, Luke 1:68-79, Psalm 46:1-11, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43
Thanksgiving Day: Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 100:1-5, Philippians 4:4-9, John 6:25-35

I’ve included two sets of readings this week. Many churches focus on Thanksgiving this coming Sunday, the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day.

In the year of worship around which the lectionary readings is organized, Nov. 21 is the Reign of God Sunday (often called Christ, the King, Sunday). It’s not only the last day of the season following Pentecost; it’s the last day of the church year. Nov. 28 starts a new church year with the First Sunday of Advent. The church year culminates with a celebration of the Spirit of Jesus permeating and informing (reigning in) all of life.

Christ, the King, (or Reign of Christ) Sunday reminds us that the political powers of this world are not the final authority for believers. In my theology, Christ does not exercise power and authority exercised as dictatorial monarch, but as an inner personal guide persuading the heart. I think of Reign of Christ Sunday as a celebration of God’s vision, shown in Jesus, of a new community in which the ideals for which we all long reign.

Most of the readings for Reign of God Sunday refer, in one way or another, to God, or Jesus, as king. Jeremiah looks ahead to days when the Lord “will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 23:1-6) In one of the Gospel lessons, Zechariah, a priest, speaks at the circumcision of his son, John (known to us as John the Baptist). “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go to prepare his ways . . .” (Luke 1:76) Those hearing the words would probably have thought of the hoped-for messiah. Zechariah goes on to speak of a “dawn from on high” breaking “upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide out feet into the way of peace.” (vs. 78) The other Gospel lesson, also from Luke, takes us to the crucifixion, where the sign of Jesus’ cross says, “This is the King of the Jews.”

The Psalm speaks of God being “in the midst of” Jerusalem,” “the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High,” where his power over the nations which “are in uproar” is apparent. (Psalm 46:4-6) “He makes wars cease to the end of the earth,” saying “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” (vss. 9-10)

The reading from Colossians paints a picture of what some call “The Cosmic Christ.” It uses a string of striking images to picture the Spirit of Christ as the glue which holds everything together. A key phrase is “in him all things hold together,” followed by the declaration that “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was please to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20) Taking all the imagery seriously, but not literally, I picture the Spirit of Christ as the beating heart of the Cosmos. The Love he represents is what keeps things going, what informs history at its best, what moves us on toward the fulfillment of the highest visions and dreams of God.

The readings for Thanksgiving Day, not surprisingly, focus more on a spirit of joy and thankfulness. The passage from Deuteronomy gives instruction for a harvest festival when “first of all the fruit of the ground” is offered in thanks to the Lord. (Deuteronomy 26:2) The occasion is their entry into the Promised Land. They give thanks for “a land flowing with milk and honey.” (vs. 9) “Then you . . . shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.” (vs. 11) We could dwell on this history of conquest behind their possession of the land. We could wonder if too much emphasis is put upon the abundance they have enjoyed, rather than upon the deeper values which have also been God’s gift to them. Still, when we give thanks, we need always to remember that food and shelter, basic sustenance, strength which carries us through hardship, are things to be remembered with deep appreciation.

Psalm 100, a favorite of many, is filled with exuberance. Consider the words and phrases: “a joyful noise (vs. 1), “gladness” and “singing” (vs. 2) “thanksgiving” and “praise” (vs. 3). Are such things at the core of our celebration of Thanksgiving? Undergirding them is the declaration, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (vs. 5)

Philippians, too, calls for rejoicing, indeed, repeats the instruction to “rejoice.” “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) It instructs to “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (vs. 6) The context is “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,” the passage concluding by exhorting the reader to focus upon “whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,” i.e., “anything worthy of praise.” (vs. 8)

Both sets of readings seem to call us to focus not on surface things, whether they be earthly power or material wealth. Pay attention to, give authority to, be thankful, for the things that matter.

The Gospel lesson from John, which follows the story of the feeding on the five thousand makes it very graphic. Don’t focus on “food that perishes.” Instead work for “food that endures for eternal life.” (John 6:27) Eternal life here is not just some future reality. It is the result of bread “which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (vs. 33) We find at the end of the reading that Jesus (or Jesus’ living Spirit) is that bread—“the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never by thirsty.” (vs. 35)

Among the many ways in which people have understood and comprehended and experience “Jesus,” one is as a Spirit of eternal love, enlivening the entire cosmos, undergirding human interaction and relationships, bringing salvation (wholeness, healthy functioning) to all that is. What could matter more?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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