Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sermon: Third Last Sunday of the Church Year

12 November 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 17:20-30 (Job 14:1-6; 1 Thess 4:13-18) (Alternate One Year)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

“The kingdom of God does not come with observation…. The kingdom of God is within you.”

The kingdom of God is like no other kingdom, country, empire, or nation in history. This kingdom doesn’t appear on any globe or map – it is borderless. And yet, it encompasses the entire world and crosses all borders. This kingdom has no flag, no constitution, no parliament, no official language or currency. It includes all flags, all constitutions, every form of government, is comprised of every tribe and tongue, and is the richest kingdom in all of history.

The kingdom of God has outlived – if not toppled – tyrannies and dictators for two thousand years. Every attempt to overthrow this kingdom has ended in destruction and humiliation for the aggressor. The kingdom of God exists peaceably with those governments that don’t attack it, and yet, the kingdom of God has elevated the life of citizens of every nation and culture.

Every citizen of the kingdom of God is a former slave who has been liberated from bondage by a King’s ransom. Every citizen of this kingdom is himself or herself a king. Each citizen carries a baptismal passport that entitles him to full access to any place in the kingdom – even direct access to the Sovereign Himself.

To become a citizen of the Kingdom of God doesn’t require any paperwork, any bribes of government officials, or any tests. There is no waiting list, no green card, and no need to surrender one’s current citizenship in any state or nation of the world. There is a loyalty oath, however, known as the Apostles Creed. To be a citizen of the kingdom is to submit unconditionally to the King.

This kingdom, though ancient, powerful, and granting benefits that no other kingdom can provide, and though the kingdom of God is the largest human organization on the planet – comprising of some two billion people, and though this kingdom has outlived every attempt to destroy it – this kingdom is the laughingstock of the world.

For this kingdom appears weak and without power – seemingly lacking armies, weapons, riches, and territory (when in fact, the kingdom of God has all of these in measures that make even the mighty Roman Empire look like a tiny village in the middle of nowhere).

For the kingdom looks like the King. The King Himself comes across as weak and appears to lack armies, weapons, riches, and territory. The King was put to death by a worldly government, and the sign above His head mocked His very kingship. The King sits on a throne, wears a crown, and bears symbols of His authority in His hands. But His throne is not soft and velvet, but crude and bloody. His crown is not made of gold, but of thorns (the same thorns that mankind brought on himself after the fall in Eden). And instead of an orb and scepter, this King has bloody holes in His hands, which are, in the words of the hymn: “those dear tokens of His passion.” Indeed, these battle scars are symbols of His victory over the Evil Empire that is older than mankind itself.

So is it any wonder that so many do not see this kingdom, that it is hidden from them, clouded by their own lack of faith and covered up by their own expectations? The Pharisees want to know when this kingdom is coming. Jesus tells them their problem is that they’re looking for it. It’s not something you can see with your eyes. This kingdom is “within you.” It is hidden. It is not like the tottering kingdoms of the world that depend on military might (that eventually fails), on natural resources (which are eventually depleted), on political leaders (who inevitably become corrupt), or on worldly wealth (which is eventually spent or stolen). But such a kingdom is what the Pharisees sought.

It’s also what we sinners seek.

We rebel against our King when he calls us to be humble (for in our minds, great kingdoms are arrogant). We don’t want to hear Jesus when he tells us to store up our treasures in heaven (for we like the “prosperity gospel” and the “theology of glory” that makes promises that Jesus doesn’t make). We don’t like it when our King orders us to be servants, instead we want glory and domination over anyone and everyone. And the last thing we want is a cross of our very own.

Look around this embassy of the kingdom of God. We’re all sinful, we’re all mortal, none of us in this sanctuary are movers and shakers on the world stage. We’re not powerful in the eyes of the world. Even compared to other churches, we’re a pretty sad and sorry lot. In this church, we have people who are penniless, people who are suffering, people who are dying. We have people who are trapped by sins, people who are lonely, people who are stuck in bad family situations. We’re hardly the glorious image of a mighty kingdom – and yet, this is what our Lord tells us we are.

And so the world looks at us and laughs.

The kingdom is not visible to the eye, but must be grasped by faith. The eye sees only water, but faith sees a holy bath that washes away sin and gives eternal life. The eye sees a bread wafer and a cup of wine, but faith sees the miraculous and holy body and blood of God. The eye sees a man standing in the pulpit talking to us, but faith sees the supernatural Word of God breaking our chains and nourishing us unto eternity. The eye sees a humble minister forgiving us, but faith sees Almighty Jesus opening the gates of heaven for us.

Look at the individual citizens of this kingdom. The world sees a sinner, but faith sees a saint. The world sees a person one day closer to death, but faith sees a person one day closer to eternal glory.

“The kingdom of God does not come with observation.”

And yet, it will eventually be observed. As St. Paul proclaims: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.” The kingdom will not always be hidden from the eyes. It will not always be visible only to faith.

Our Lord warns that when the kingdom does become visible, when the Son of Man is “revealed,” that is to say “unveiled” – it will be like lightening flashing from one end of the sky to the other for all to see. It will be like the raining down of fiery brimstone on Sodom. Those who do not believe, who reject Jesus, who deny his kingship and scorn his kingdom of the Church will see it all revealed to them before their eyes. It will be a horrific revelation.

But to us, dear Christians, we who confess Christ, we who come to this place week after week to increase our faith, we who have been ransomed by the King – this revelation of the kingdom will be beautiful. It will put before all of our senses the glory that has been hidden from us. In due time, sin will finally disappear forever, our flesh will be restored to its original glory, our graves will be opened, and we will once again live. We will enjoy life without end. This will be visible! Our senses will have an eternity to enjoy the wonders of a world before the fall; a paradise with no sickness, disease, sadness, or death; a kingdom without corruption and intrigue.

And though this kingdom has not yet been revealed, dear brothers and sisters, that kingdom is here indeed. And though the kingdom cannot be observed with our eyes, this kingdom does indeed have what every other kingdom has: armies, weapons, riches, and territory.

The armies are the angels, archangels, and the hosts of heaven, the apostles, martyrs, and saints from every time and place – as well as all the baptized warriors of faith presently on earth. The weapon of the kingdom, its only weapon, the One that trumps all others is the Word of God. The riches of the kingdom – in which we share – is the treasure of heaven, glorious material things of extravagance and beauty that do not wear out and are not destroyed by warfare, theft, and vandalism. The territory of the kingdom is the new heaven and the new earth – very real physical places ruled by a very real physical King.

But most importantly of all, this kingdom has what every kingdom must have: a Monarch. Our King is also our Redeemer. Our King is also our Servant. Our King is also our High Priest. And our King is also our all-availing Sacrifice. And even as we await the full revelation before our eyes of this Kingdom – we see it by faith. It is fitting that we show the image of our King at every opportunity, to place the crucifix before our eyes and the eyes of all who come into contact with us, to show the world that He is indeed the King of the Universe.

He rules his domain from a cross, wears a crown of thorns, and blesses his subjects with raised hands that bear the glorious scars of the defeat of our enemy. The crucifix is our standard, and the sanctuary is our embassy. In this kingdom, we don’t pledge allegiance to a flag, but worship the King in the flesh and confess Him in the creeds. This King eats and drinks with us, and speaks to us through his ambassadors. He has adopted us all as royal sons.

And today, dear friends, the King has a proclamation for me to read to you. These are not my words, but His. They are sealed with His blood and signed by His cross. The Lord of the Universe has asked me, rather has commanded me, to proclaim this to the citizens of the kingdom in this place, and to continue doing so, until He returns. Hear this royal fiat, this edict from the throne, and know that it is true:

“I forgive you all your sins…

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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