The Limited Rule of Human Leaders

Every pastor and writer has been seeking appropriate words to interpret the post-election malaise or ebullience, and each seeks to galvanize empathy, healing, and ways forward for the common good. One of our pastors sought to help frame the varied emotions of our congregation, and her willingness to speak to the range of feelings was constructive.

I think it is very helpful that less than two weeks after the election we celebrate the Reign of Christ on November 20. Winding up the Christian year, this Sunday illumines the God’s ultimate sovereignty over human affairs. Human rulers will come and go, while God’s providential governance endures.

The prophetic text warns shepherds who scatter the flock, negligent in their leadership, that God will not tolerate their evil doings without correction (Jeremiah 23:1-4). “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall executive justice and righteousness in the land” (v. 5).

 

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The Benedictus from Luke echoes the prophecy, promising that
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78-79).

The long awaited mighty savior will embody God’s mercy and liberating power.

A third lectionary reading reflects the post-resurrection awareness that in Christ, God’s purposes of redemption will be accomplished. Probably an early hymn, Colossians 1:15-20 portrays the extent of Christ’s rule.

 

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Christ is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation; for in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through Christ and for Christ. Christ is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together. Christ is the head of the body, the church, and is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that Christ might come to have first place in everything. For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Christ God was pleased to reconcile to Godself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross.

The sweep of eternality is in evidence here. Through Christ, God creates the enduring structures of governing, and those temporal “thrones, dominions, or powers,” which may function in opposition to God’s rule, will not endure. God’s reign, however, will establish justice and peace.

 

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God is not absent from the temporal machinations of human rulers, and their power is not absolute. Besides the checks and balances of our constitutional system, God works for good with those who love God and are called according to God’s purposes. And we can be assured, Christ does not have to run every four years and does not have term limits.

 

Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders to work for the common good.