My family didn’t take many long road trips when I was growing up. My dad was a salesman who spent many of his days traveling, so vacation for him meant being able to stay home. But, occasionally we did all pile into the family station wagon with the wood paneling on the sides for some extended period of time, and there are two things I remember from those times.
One of them is the games of “I Spy” that my brothers and I played together. Maybe you played that game yourself with your own siblings, or with the children among your extended family and friends. Someone starts by saying, “I spy with my little eye…” and then gives a clue—”I spy something red”, “I spy something round,” “I spy something that begins with a “b.” Then the other players ask yes/no questions—Is someone wearing it? Is it small? Can you eat it?—until someone guesses what it is. I’m sure my parents preferred listening to a couple rounds of “I Spy” to the second thing I remember from those car trips: a continuing chorus of “Are we there yet?”
Those two experiences are just as common in our faith journeys today as they were in my childhood road trips. Especially today, as we observe Christ the King Sunday, they touch on two aspects of our faith: the conviction that Jesus reigns in the world now in ways we are able to glimpse, and the knowledge that the full coming of the kingdom is a destination we have yet to reach with an unknown ETA.
Paul, or possibly someone writing in Paul’s name, addresses his letter to the Church in Ephesus. For the sake of convenience and tradition, we’ll assume the author was Paul. (On a side note, the ruins of Ephesus are adjacent to the town in Turkey that you’ve recently heard about because of its 7.0 earthquake.) Although it’s addressed to the Church in Ephesus, it doesn’t seem to deal with any particular problems among the Ephesians. So, the letter was likely intended to be passed around all the churches of the region to reinforce what they had been taught about the Gospel.
The letter begins with Paul reminding his readers of what the first followers of Jesus (Paul included) had received by God’s grace: adoption as God’s children through Christ Jesus, redemption through his blood, forgiveness of their trespasses, knowledge of God’s plan to gather all things in Jesus, and an inheritance of hope. The Ephesians too, when they came to believe, were marked by the Holy Spirit as those who would receive those same gifts.
But they still have some growing to do. They still aren’t seeing the whole picture. So, Paul prays for them. He prays first with gratitude about them—about the faith they have and the way they express it. Then he prays for them: that they will come to know God even as Paul knows God. He prays that they, too, will receive the spirit of wisdom and revelation that Paul has received. He prays that this spirit will open the eyes of their hearts so that what has been made known to Paul about God’s plan for the world will also be made known to them.
He prays that their opened eyes will enable them to “know.” This “knowing” is not simply an intellectual understanding; it comes through seeing or by perceiving with any of the senses. It’s not an abstraction; it’s a knowledge rooted in personal experience. In this cosmic game of “I Spy,” Paul prays that the Ephesians will come to know through seeing what he sees. He wants them to see and to know the hope to which God has called them. He wants them to see and to know what are the riches of the inheritance they have been promised. He wants them to see and to know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power.
This power is what raised Jesus from the dead and made him Lord and King over all that is in heaven and on earth—over every person and every institution that makes false claims to power and authority—now and forever. Then, God extends this power to Christ’s body, the Church. Paul wants the Ephesians to know the power of God which is at work in them, and in us. Paul wants us to know in our very blood and bones that Jesus reigns through the power of God, right here, right now. Paul wants us to see it, to hear it, to feel it.
But the problem is that we also know what’s going on in the world around us. We see the headlines about violence in war-torn countries and unrest in our own troubled cities. We hear the pleas of healthcare workers who are exhausted and sick and discouraged. We feel the anxiety of our turbulent political situation, of worry about climate change, of the uncertainty around the virus and all the far-reaching social impacts it has. We may feel like we’re on a journey toward a promised land, but when we look at the world around us, we are likely to say, “We’re not there yet.”
It’s true that the kingdom over which Jesus reigns has not come in all its fullness. That’s a destination that still lies somewhere on the road ahead, and when we will get there is unknown. But, the kingdom is also a present reality—a reality we affirm on Christ the King Sunday. We affirm the presence of the kingdom that we see around us and the reality of the kingdom which we see only with the eyes of our hearts. We affirm the existence of the kingdom we are working for and towards, even when we struggle to see evidence of it. We declare that God reigns, even in the face of institutions and societies and governments that do not hunger and thirst for righteousness. We spy, with the eyes of our hearts, a kingdom over which Jesus is Lord, now and in the age to come, even when we only have clues as to what it will be like.
What are those clues? To paraphrase Matthew 25 (the Gospel lesson for this day), Jesus says, “I spy the kingdom in every place where I was hungry and you gave me food, where I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, when I was a stranger and you welcomed me, when I was naked and you gave me clothing, when I was sick and you took care of me, when I was in prison and you visited me.” The kingdom is spied in every believer who loves the Lord our God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbors as themselves. The kingdom is spied in the Church whenever it acts with humility and love as Christ’s body in the world, with him as its head.
Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the Christian year. Next Sunday, we begin a new year with the first Sunday of Advent. Christ the King Sunday is a day for looking back at where we’ve been and what we’ve done, and it’s also a day for looking forward.
We look back at what we’ve done to further the goals of God’s kingdom. We ask ourselves how have we made the kingdom easier to see here on earth, in our time. We also look forward to what we will do in the future. What will we do to affirm that the kingdom of God is a present reality, brought near to us in the body of a little baby born in Bethlehem, exemplified by the life of a traveling preacher, and secured for us by Christ’s death and resurrection? How will we keep the eyes of our hearts open to the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may see and know more clearly the hope to which God has called us, the glorious inheritance promised to us, and the power through which God is working in us?
On this Christ the King Sunday of the year 2020 in your faith journey, what do you spy with your little eye? I spy something that begins with God’s love and grace for all humankind and all of creation. I spy a people, who have been redeemed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I spy a community that reveals the kingdom which “is” and is working towards the kingdom which is “not yet.” I spy a King, who is above all rule, authority, power, and dominion, not only in this age but also in the age to come. Amen.
~~ Pastor Carol Williams-Young