Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reigning as Christ

I gave the following as a faculty devotion. It's been edited for posting here.
“As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame”
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

What we do is consistent with who we are. Each creature does what he is--acts outwardly what he is inwardly. And who we are, Hopkins says--if we are that just man of grace (that man justified, or made just, by grace)--is Christ.

So who are we? Christ. And what does Christ do? Well, he reigns.

I want to think about what it means to be Christ--both in a big, cosmological sense, but also in the very small sense of being Christ at our school and in your classrooms. I want us to think of ourselves as Christ’s hands and feet in a way that is more tangible, physical, and actual than just metaphorical.

When St. Paul says that we are members of Christ, he doesn’t mean it like being members of a gym. He means it like body parts. And it’s much more than a metaphor.

In 1 Cor 6:15, St. Paul asks, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” The context here is sexual immorality--St. Paul is suggesting that sexual immorality is not just a moral wrong. It’s not just that it brings shame to yourself or to the Church or even to the reputation of Christ. It’s that you are sullying the body parts of Jesus. That's his actual argument! He continues, “Shall I then take the members of Christ”--the body parts of Christ--“and make them members of a prostitute? Never!”

What you do with your body, you do with the body of Christ.

Later, after the famous passage on all the different parts of the body--the ear complaining that is not eye, and so forth--Paul tells the Corinthian church, “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (12:27). The Church is Christ’s physical presence in the world. In a tangible, actual, and literal sense, the Church is the body of Christ.

And what does Christ do in the world? He reigns. In all circumstances and situations.

The great Anglican theologian E. L. Mascall writes that in his obedience, Christ’s “divine dignity is not diminished but manifested; when he stands before Pilate, it is he, not Pilate, that is the judge; when he is nailed to the Cross, he is reigning from the tree."

I love that picture. At our church we used to have an altar cross that depicted Christ on the cross in royal regalia--Christ triumphant, yet on the cross. It was confusing and, frankly, it was a fairly ugly thing as a piece of artwork. But I loved the reminder: Christ reigns, in all circumstances and situations.

And we, as the body of Christ, are called to make manifest the reign of Christ. In Luke 22, in the midst of the Last Supper, Jesus’ disciples start to squabble over who is the greatest. Jesus rebukes them for buying into the world’s vision of lordship and authority. In contrast to that, he says, “I am among you as the one who serves.”

I’ve always thought of Jesus’ statements on servant-leadership as primarily about personal morality. To serve is the right thing to do--the kind thing to do. And of course that’s true.

But that’s not Jesus’ reasoning in this passage. After he tells them that he is among them as the one who serves, he then tells them why they need to understand greatness correctly. It’s because, Jesus tells them, “I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom.” These knuckleheads are going to be in charge of a kingdom! He tells them that they will “sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Understanding leadership in God’s terms rather than the world’s matters not simply because that's the moral thing to do--but because doing so anticipates and makes manifest the kingdom of God.

In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul more explicitly draws out the connection between the reality of the kingdom--the reality of Christ’s reign--and the dirty practicalities of everyday life. In chapter 6, just before he says that our bodies are members of Christ, Paul tears apart the Corinthians for the internal failures of their church. They’re failing to exercise proper church discipline. “Purge the evil person from among you,” he says.

And then he notes that they are taking lawsuits to non-Christian courts instead of going before the saints. “Or do you not know,” he says--his tone suggesting utter flabbergastion--“that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels?"--we will judge angels--"How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!”

That’s pretty astonishing, all of it.

Why should Christians be settling their disputes “before the saints”? Because it’s an anticipation of our reign in the kingdom of God!

Our charge, then, is to be Christ--in our homes, in our relationships, and in our classrooms. Our call is to make the kingdom of God manifest in those classrooms.

I am not at all sure exactly what that’s supposed to look like--which means that I need to root myself deeper in Christ, right? And that in turn means to be rooted in the word of God and in the life of the Church.

I do know that it’s a magnificent and terrifying calling, to be Christ in our classrooms--to reign as Christ in our classrooms. To treat our students as Christ would. To speak into their lives as Christ would--Christ, who loved perfectly, and who did not hesitate to speak hard truths to his followers.

I’ve been thinking about that a little bit lately. We all know how hard it is to respond in love to students who behave in unlovable ways, but I think we all know that’s what Christ demands of us--to love those who seem unlovable, to see them through the eyes of Christ. But I think it’s easy to forget that Christ’s example throughout the Gospels is not just one of affirmation. It’s also one of accountability, and when we avoid telling our students--and each other--hard truths because it’s uncomfortable, we are failing to love just as much as when we lose our tempers or act out of spite.

So to reign as Christ means to be the mouthpiece of Christ to our students--and to settle the petty disputes among them with the wisdom of Jesus, since we will one day be judging angels.

Our charge, ultimately, is to shape our classrooms into little outposts of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Let’s read that poem just one more time...