Saturday, November 08, 2008

Sermon: Trinity 25

8 November 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 17:20-30 (Ex 32:1-20; 1 Thess 4:13-18)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There is an old saying: “Seeing is believing.” But just because a saying is old doesn’t make it true. In fact, the Scriptures define belief differently, as recorded in Hebrews, wherein belief is described not as seeing, but rather as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

In other words, if you can see it, it isn’t faith. Faith is, in that sense, blind. To live guided by faith is a little like flying a plane based only on the instrument panel. It takes faith in one’s gauges and equipment to be able to rely on something other than one’s own eyes.

Jesus tells us about this kind of unseen belief when he proclaims: “The kingdom of God does not come with observation… for indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” This is at the same time the most frustrating and the most comforting thing about the Christian faith!

It frustrates us not to see God’s Kingdom with our eyes. Like the “certain Greeks” in John 12, we “wish to see Jesus.” But instead, our eyes see bread and wine. We want to see the Glorious Zion, but instead our eyes see ordinary towns and cities. We want to see angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, but instead we see each other in this church.

We want so desperately for God’s Kingdom to be visible among us that we will even create idols. The children of Israel made a golden calf, and we Americans have our own false christs promising heaven on earth right up to election day. We Christians especially ought to know better than to put our trust in princes or to believe that any politician of any party represents the Kingdom of God. For our Lord Himself said: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Furthermore, we want to be heroes in this kingdom, but instead we are seen as anything but heroic. We want the world to admire us, but instead we see the world scorn and ridicule us. We want the Kingdom of God to have earthly power, but time and again we see the Church marginalized and weak. And yet, our Blessed Lord assures us that the kingdom is within us.

And as frustrating as that is, what did our Lord just say? Did He say: “The kingdom might be within you?” Did He say: “The Kingdom is somewhere else?” Did He say: “Keep working, and maybe some day you will earn a place in My kingdom?” No, He tells us the kingdom is within us. And what comfort this is, dear brothers and sisters! For in spite of the contrary appearance, in spite of its being hidden, the kingdom is here!

The water has long since evaporated from your head, but your invisible baptism still remains. The cross you trace over your head and heart may be an invisible cross, but nevertheless, you were marked by the very cross of Christ when you were baptized into the death and resurrection of our Lord. And though you see only bread and wine, the Word of God tells us of the unseen reality that He is here with us, at Supper with us, becoming part of us in body and soul in His body and blood. And best of all, in yourself, you see a sinner, but the underlying unseen reality, known only by the eyes of faith, is that you are a saint!

And so when someone claims the kingdom of God can be found in a golden calf in the Sinai Peninsula, or in a brass bull on Wall Street, or on the set of a TV preacher or wonder-worker, or in the person of a politician, or in our own deluded claim to righteousness by our own works – we should follow our Lord’s instruction “Do not go after them or follow them. For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day.”

When the time comes for the Kingdom of God to be revealed in all its visible glory, everyone will know. When the veil is removed and we see plainly into the Kingdom of Heaven, there will be no charlatan claiming to be the Christ nor anyone claiming to bring about a political heaven on earth. Our Lord’s coming in glory will be unmistakable and visible, just as our Lord says: “they shall look on Him whom they pierced.” There will come a time when the kingdom will be seen with the eyes rather than by faith.

And that day will come upon us suddenly. Even in the days of Noah, life went on as normal right up until the floodwaters rose and millions of lives were extinguished by the righteous wrath of God. The calls to repentance went unheeded. The Kingdom of God was not a priority. Rather, the visible world of eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, buying and selling took precedence over the unseen kingdom of God, over repentance, over the worship of Him who could not be seen. And the Lord’s judgment came upon them suddenly.

Our blessed Lord is warning us not to make the same mistake.

We are told all of these things because, as St. Paul intimates to us: “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren.” This teaching, of the kingdom we perceive by faith and not by sight, is the most comforting of all in dealing with death. Even as we see ourselves and our loved ones inch toward the grave, even as we see their lifeless bodies placed into a tomb, even as we see an empty chair at the table year after year – our faith sees something else!

And this is how it is that we can, in the words of the Apostle, not suffer the same “sorrow as others who have no hope.” We of the unseen kingdom have unseen hope! We have the Word – though He remains veiled from our eyes. We have the promise, though it is yet to come. We have the faith, though it not rooted in the materialistic mantra of “seeing is believing.”

No, indeed, we live in a different kind of kingdom, grounded in the faith and sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ, even as St. Paul continues: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” We have not only our risen Lord’s promise to return, we have the inspired Word of God in Scripture, written by St. Paul, articulating the Lord’s visible kingdom coming “from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

Indeed, we will be vindicated in our faith – not by our own deeds, but in the coming kingdom of our Lord. We will see the kingdom which is hidden to us now – not on our timetable, but on the Lord’s. And instead of seeing the Lord veiled in the sacramental forms of bread and wine, we will indeed see Him in His might and glory, face to face.

And so we have no need of worthless idols, nor of the temptation to speculate about the day and hour of His return, nor of trying to make the kingdom of this world some kind of heaven on earth. For instead of the idol, we will see the true Icon in the flesh, we will know for sure when that day and hour comes, whether we are alive or dead, and the kingdom will come to our world, not by sinners clawing their way to God, but by God descending to us redeemed sinners “with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.”

And whether this happens today, a year from now, a century from now, or a million years from now, let us rejoice in this now-unseen kingdom within us, for we will “always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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