Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sermon: Gaudete (Advent 3) - 2010

12 December 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 11:2-11

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The idea of being “great in the kingdom” often caused jealousy and quarrels among the disciples of Jesus. For in our fallen world and owing to our fallen flesh, we want to be considered “great.” We want to be the center of attention. We want people to look at us, admire us, and speak well of us.

But, dear friends, this is misguided. For are we great? Haven’t we just confessed that we are “poor miserable sinners.” If we were so great, why do we need prophets like John the Baptist? Why do we need the Word and the Sacraments? In fact, why do we need a Savior at all? No, we are not great – certainly not by our own merits in the kingdom of heaven.

And why should we be the center of attention? Can we save anyone? Have we died on the cross for anyone? Are we such great examples that we should ask people to look at us and admire us? No indeed! For Christ ought to be the center of our attention. It is Jesus who needs to be at the heart of our walk in this life and our discourse with our fellow men.

And as far as admiration and flattery go, these are worthless. Better yet that people give honest praise to their almighty Creator, their merciful Redeemer, their holy Sanctifier.

The kingdom of heaven is not about us. And ironically, the greatest saints who do serve as examples to us point away from themselves to their Savior.

Indeed, to give concern about being great or least in the kingdom is to miss the point. In the Lord’s kingdom, we have eternal salvation, eternal happiness, eternal communion with God. In the Lord’s kingdom, we have victory over sadness, victory over sickness, and victory over the grave. In the Lord’s kingdom, there will be no more evil devil, no more fallen world, more sinful flesh to contend with. And what can be greater than that?

In the Lord’s kingdom, there is wealth beyond measure and a kind of happiness that we cannot even begin to imagine in our current sad state.

The the Lord’s kingdom, great and least become as meaningless and do the terms “east” and “west” when standing at the North Pole. Our Lord says as much when He says two things about John the Baptist that seem contradictory: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Dear Christians, the whole point of God’s kingdom is to take the focus off of yourself and place it elsewhere. For this is the definition of love. Love does not seek the self. Rather love gives to the beloved. And our Lord has taught us that we are to love God and love our neighbor. To love God is to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. And to love the neighbor is to serve him without regard for what is in it for ourselves. Indeed, love does not harm the neighbor.

For in Christ, we bear both our own scars of our own failure to love, even to love our friends, even as we also, by grace, bear the crucifixion scars of our Lord’s triumph in love, even to love His enemies. We display our own crosses that have come to us by our sins and by the fallenness of our world. And yet, in Christ, we also bear the sign of the cross of Christ, the redemptive work of the one who, though fallen in sinless death, rose in sin-forgiving life out of the earth. And it is He who draws us to Himself in heaven.

The greatness of John the Baptist does not lie in himself, but rather in the Word given to him to proclaim. For John was the forerunner, the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Testament preachers. “For what did you go out to see?” asks our Lord. “A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” Indeed, John is the one who introduces the fallen world to our Blessed Lord, and then who obediently decreases to the point of being taken to a prison and beheaded. His sacrifice does not make him greatest in the kingdom – for the greatness of the kingdom is in the King Himself. Nor does John’s shuttering in a dungeon, seemingly forgotten, make him least in the kingdom – for John bears his own sins and the sins of all of his ancestors – even as we all do.

Ironically, to be great in the kingdom of heaven is to recognize that we are not great in the kingdom of heaven. And to seek to be great in the kingdom of the world is to miss out on the kingdom of heaven. For our Lord taught us that if we try to save our life, we will lose it. But if we lose our life for the kingdom we would find it.

St. John the Baptist found life by losing it. John was rescued by the Head of the kingdom even as John lost his own head for the sake of the kingdom. And even as John is considered great to us in the kingdom, venerated as a saint by the entire Christian world, honored as a preacher, beloved for his example of courage, and emulated as one who was faithful unto death – what makes John truly great is what makes every Christian saint great: the fact that he serves One who is greater.

And so do we, dear Christians! So do we!

John’s task was to proclaim the kingdom and introduce the King. And the King demonstrates the coming of the kingdom. For what do we see and hear with the coming of our Lord? “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

The good news, dear brothers and sisters, is that for us, the least in the kingdom, we receive the benefit of the greatest in the kingdom – the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, victory over the grave and a restoration of a world as it was meant to be. And we have this good news preached to us, even as it is proclaimed around the world, from pulpits and oxcarts, in cathedrals and in prison cells, among the wealthiest of the rich and powerful, and amid the most despised among the poor and lowly. It is the same good news for all men, the good news of the coming of the Christ into the world, the sacrifice of the Christ on the cross, and the gift of eternal life given to us in the Word of the Christ present for us in proclamation, in absolution, in the water and the Word, and in the bread and the wine.

The kingdom has come to us, dear friends, for the King continues to come to us!

And it doesn’t matter that we are least in the kingdom, that we continue to struggle in this fallen world. For, dear Christians, we have the promise. We have the Word. We have the blood. We have the life. And whether we are called to be preachers or hearers, and whether anyone ever knows of us or not, we rejoice that we are least in the kingdom, because it means that we share in our Lord’s greatness as a free gift. And even if we are called upon to suffer for the sake of the kingdom, let us continue to sing with all of our brothers and sisters around the world, the greatest and the least, even as we joyfully await our Lord’s return:

“Rejoice in the Lord always.
Again will I say, rejoice!
Let your gentleness be known to all men.
The Lord is at hand.”


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

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