November 25, 2012

“Not Much For Monarchy”
Revelation 1:4b-8

Many men have imagined republics and principalities that never really existed at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is for what should be pursues his downfall rather than his preservation; for a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good. – Machiavelli, “The Prince”

Last summer, in case you didn’t notice, was Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee. This extended event celebrated her 60th year as monarch of the United Kingdom, that is sixteen sovereign states, and another sixteen that claim her as ‘regent.’

Monarchy, by definition is a form of government in which its sovereignty is represented in a single individual, a queen, or a king. Forms of monarchy differ widely based on the level of legal autonomy the monarch holds in governance, the method of selection of the monarch, and any predetermined limits on the length of their tenure. When the monarch has no or few legal restraints in state and political matters, it is called an absolute monarchy, and in some cases, usually negatively, an autocracy.

Apart from the fervor over diamond jubilee plates and teacups, parades and honors, there were (and are) some folks who oppose having a monarch. Even a monarch who appears to jump out of planes with James Bond. I have been thinking about monarchy in general, and the Reign of Christ in particular; and I have come up with three reasons to oppose the monarchy.

The first reason is that: Royal prerogative gives extensive, unaccountable power to the executive. This power allows the ruler to insist upon their own way! For a time there may be resistance offered. But there are ways to bring into line those who choose to ignore the basic fact that the ruler can do whatever they believe is right and best for their subjects; and that this action is not within the control of those same subjects. Who would want to live like that? Why this sort of monarch could pardon whomever they wish, they could bless some and not others, all without any input from us.

The second reason is: The monarchy interferes in our day-to-day life. If the monarch insists upon ruling all of Her territory, and if that territory which belongs to her includes everything, including subjects and non-subjects, then there is no escaping either rebellion or conformance. I suppose it might be best, easier, to take the path of least resistance. But for this monarch it seems as though insubordination is a lot easier than compliance. Particularly for subjects hell-bent upon autonomy, for ‘rugged individualism,’ it is hard to support a monarch whose reach extends into every aspect of life.

The third reason is: The monarchy makes it impossible to separate church from social action. The problem with this is that the monarch, then, exerts influence over our actions. We might be forced to consider what the best ethical or moral goals are, including the control of one’s own fortune, as opposed to waiting to see what is best for me. If the monarch is identified as the ruler of all of creation, and if this monarch is also identified as the ‘supreme being,’ in the best and most faithful sense of that phrase, then it is not possible to say that I am going about “…the pursuit of happiness,” without also implying that this is an action on behalf of this ruler’s world. It is never only the subject’s work. It is kingdom work.

Even though we Americans are fond of autonomy, as in nobody can tell me what to believe, nobody can force me to do anything, even though we are not fond of monarchs of any kind, God rules every aspect of our world. Heaven’s rule, God’s rule, is thus to be put into practice in the world, resulting in salvation in both the present and the future, a salvation that is both for us and, through the church, for the wider world. If we are not about putting into practice this kingdom project, rescuing people from the powers that enslave them so they may be rescuers, then we must ask which monarch we serve.

God intends for us to so participate, to be citizens of His kingdom, that our obedience (our allegiances) might require us to share in the work of reconciling all of creation. This text from John of Patmos is the introduction to God’s rule being launched on ‘earth as it is in heaven.’

We have no right to change this petition into a belief that what is meant is the ‘hereafter.’ When, in chapter eleven, John hears the thundering voices in heaven, they are singing “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever.” This petition means what it appears to mean. God in Christ is the ruler of all creation, and that rule begins here and now.

See John of Patmos did not believe that the world was getting worse and worse, nor did he believe in progress. He did not believe that we could somehow transform the world by our own efforts. John believed that God would do for the whole creation what he had done for Jesus at Easter. His subjects are called to participate in this work.

Now the reason for this insistence upon action is not to suggest that it is action that is decisive, it only reveals our true allegiances. All too often we like the idea of something better than the reality of it. “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” But we are people of the Incarnation, which means embodiment, and for us as the body of Christ it means that we are about his work in the ‘real world.’

When Revelation was recorded, At the time of this writing, the persecution of Christians was in full swing. So this John, a prophet, as in one who has insight into the present, more than predicting the future, writes to seven churches who know of the emperors wrath. So before all the talk about tribulation begins, the readers are reminded of a different ruler. This ruler is not Nero nor is it Decius. This ruler is God, God in the form of the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.

It is a ruler who does have ultimate authority, and answers to no one. It is a ruler who interferes with daily life; who opposes a do what feels good for me motivation. This is a ruler, for whom service to their kingdom is not compartmentalized into some nice ceremonial or ritualistic act. Every day, in every way, this ruler’s subjects live for Him; for all belongs to him, all that is will one day be reconciled to him.

Finally, and most importantly, as I suggested to the children, this monarch is just what we need. He didn’t and does not force us into anything, nor boss anyone around, but through his love and gentle bands of peace he calls us his own.