Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sermon for 10/31/10--The Festival of the Reformation

Seizing the Kingdom

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The promise was for Abraham and his descendants. It was to be an everlasting covenant made by God with His people. He would be their God, and they would be His people. He would send for them a mighty Savior, one who would fulfill the promise made to Eve that one of her descendants would crush the head of that wily and deceptive serpent, Satan. The children of Israel were heirs of that promise, heirs of the richest inheritance God could provide. As cautionary tales like that of Paris Hilton and other celebrity heirs would show us, the danger of being an heir of a rich inheritance is that it tends to make the heir complacent and even lazy. Since they don’t have to work to make a living, they don’t work. They don’t do anything useful, in fact—unless, of course, you consider providing fodder for gossip columns to be a useful task. You remember the parable of the prodigal son, where the younger son of the rich father demands his inheritance while his father is still alive. He wastes his inheritance on extravagant living, and it’s not until the sum of his inheritance is spent that he finds himself looking for something useful to do. The children of Israel reacted to their inheritance in the same way. They saw their role as sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as an eternal inheritance, one that could not be taken away from them. By the very accident of their genealogy they saw themselves as irrevocable heirs of the kingdom of heaven. But Jesus Himself told them in another time and place, “And do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”

And that is exactly what our heavenly Father did. He made for Himself heirs who were hungry for their inheritance. When God’s own chosen people rejected the covenant, Jesus sent His apostles to the ends of the earth to share with them the message of the Messiah who came to deliver forgiveness and life to them. The inheritance which was originally intended for the indolent children of Israel was taken away from them by force, taken away by the Gentiles, the people whom the children of Israel looked down upon as lesser people, as unclean, as unworthy of the favor of God. The Gentiles seized the Kingdom, clinging to it with a violent passion—a passion so violent that it led many of them to their deaths at the hands of the Jews who saw their inheritance being violently ripped away from them.

In Luther’s day, great violence was again being done to the Kingdom. The blessed Gospel, the message of salvation and life in Jesus Christ, was being muffled and even perverted. The Church had become careless and even negligent in its confession of the truth of God. The times called for men of spiritual courage, men who did not fear the cost of confessing the truth. The times required a boldness like that of the apostles, who ventured out into a world that did not know the Gospel. There was a violence that was necessary–not a physical violence, not coercion, not intimidation, not manipulation, but a confession of the truth that was unwavering, a confession that, under the blessing of the Holy Spirit, could topple the fortresses of unbelief and rejection. What was needed was a stubborn love, a love for Christ, a love for the Gospel, a love for the Church, and a love for the people of God that could endure all things. Luther put it well, didn’t he, when he said: “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife; let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won! The Kingdom ours remaineth!”

We are the heirs now: heirs of the Word and inheritors of the Gospel. And have we not also become complacent? Look at the state of those calling themselves Lutheran today. Look at the divisions among us. Look at how we fight amongst ourselves. Look at how Lutherans have, in the misguided name of love, abandoned the Word for the love of the world. Look at how Lutherans have begun to ordain women and homosexuals in opposition to the clear Word of God. Look at how we have abandoned the rich blessings of the traditional liturgy for the cotton candy of contemporary liturgies that are here today and gone tomorrow. “People are dying eternal death while we talk about the purity of the Gospel,” some would say. That means we should stop worrying about the purity of the Gospel and just get any old message out, right?

No. Still today we must carry on with Luther. Still today we need that stubborn love that seizes the kingdom of God and shares it with the world. It is time, once again, to storm the gates of heaven with our prayers that God would bless and sustain His Church. It is time, once again, to wrestle with God, even as Jacob did, and insist that we will not end our striving until He blesses us. It is time once again, to cling to the Word with passion, clinging to it violently, even in the face of persecution and death.

We are the heirs now. We have heard the voice of John crying in the wilderness, the voice of the prophets, and we have received it. We are the heirs now, and we have been given that faith which clings to these promises and gifts of God; we have been given that faith in the Word and the water of Holy Baptism. We are marked there as heirs of the kingdom of God, heirs of the everlasting inheritance of forgiveness and salvation. The promise that God made to Adam and Eve, the promise made to Abraham, the covenant God made with His chosen people—that promise has been fulfilled in the person of Jesus, who died on the cross bearing our sin, who rose again to bring us to life again with Him, and who now sits at the right hand of the Father to intercede on our behalf. God has made us His children, and He has promised us, “I will be your God, and you will be My people.” We are His children, and as His children, we are also His heirs. That inheritance includes the forgiveness of sins, spoken in the word of Holy Absolution. That inheritance includes the body and blood of the promised Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, in which we receive the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the strengthening of our faith for our violent struggle for the Word.

Luther wrote, “The Gospel is not preached in vain; there are people who hear it and love it violently, so that they hazard body and life for the sake of God’s Word.  When they hear the Gospel, their conscience drives them on, so that none can keep them away.”  By the grace of God through the waters of Holy Baptism, we are those people, for we know that the Gospel is not preached in vain.  The kingdom ours remaineth.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.  In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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