Jesus had several sermon topics – God, sin, hope, forgiveness, loving each other, God’s will for us in this life among many others. Each of these topics fell into place under the main heading of God’s kingdom and its reality not only in the hereafter but specifically in the here and now of everyday life. That is, in parables, sermons, even in his miracles; Jesus proclaimed the kingdom as being come right here right now and coming more fully in the future. The kingdom is come and it will come in both time and eternity. So after 60-plus years of asking, “What do people in the pews need to hear?” I believe that we all come to worship with a benign desperation to realize the kingdom at work in our midst.
We want to know, “Jesus, are you the one who has been promised by God to bring in the kingdom or are we to wait for another? Is the kingdom right here and right now?” When John’s disciples took that question to Jesus, he quoted the prophet Isaiah. Saying to John, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. The wretched hear good news, prison doors open, the oppressed breathe the air of freedom and blind pilgrims see the light.”
To update Jesus, we should say in exactly these words – that the kingdom of God is here at the corner of Skeet Club Road and North Main Street and all the world around on June 25 year of our Lord 2017. The kingdom is in other faith communities and churches and people—but since we are together here, we have to ask, “What happens now?”
In this moment of worship we witness the charge Jesus gave his disciples when he sent them out. We must hear him speaking to us. “As you go,” he said, “Proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come here. Cure the sick, raise the dead, and cleanse the leper, cast out demons.” But accepting his commission would mean living a purpose-filled life – which brings us to Matthew’s story of Jesus. “A disciple is not above the teacher. .. And do not be afraid; have no fear.” Some people may dislike his statements, thinking that he has taken away our freedom by giving us such an exact commission.
On the contrary, I find his statement giving great comfort, great peace of mind, and great certainty where there might be anxiety. His statement about the disciple not being above the teacher is really to our advantage in every way.
For instance, think of our space program. I can be almost terrified over what might go wrong. Could an accident leave an astronaut stranded, drifting, lost in space? If the space walker’s rocket thrusters work for a second too long or at the wrong time, or if the spacecraft doors were to jam closed…? Think of Jesus as rescuing us from drifting aimlessly and endlessly without a connection to God. “The disciple is not above the teacher.” We are tied to God thru the story of who Jesus is and what he means to us. Each of us must say, “What does Jesus mean to me?” Jesus was teacher, master, savior, and Messiah. He knew his place in God’s scheme of loving the world.
He alone, predicted by the prophets and announced by angels, can furnish the everlasting safety line between our Creator and us. Does having that life-line make a problem for you? Anyone? Let’s put ourselves in the conversation as reported by Matthew. We are in that group as Jesus speaks, but he comes to us in our own time. He says that we who follow in the apostolic train of those first disciples must likewise not expect to be above our teacher.
What a blessing that is, because it means we are not free-floating somewhere vaguely in the upper atmosphere of God’s generalized concern. Instead we are individually and as a huge family group tethered in God’s grace by having a place in the story that began with Creation.
Our place in the story means there has been a continuous action, a continuous caring by God for his people. He is the God without whose notice not even a sparrow can be lost or sold. Whether they fled TO Egypt to escape famine or fled FROM Egypt to escape slavery, OR wept as they sang sad songs in Babylon’s captivity, OR gathered 5,000 strong on a hillside to receive Jesus Christ as the bread of life, OR fanned out through the Mediterranean world with the story of the resurrection,the people of God have forever been in his care and we have become characters in that story.
My favorite kind of story or novel encompasses three or four generations. We see children and grandchildren become adults. Individuals rise and have their day, become great and glorious or infamous and notorious and the story goes on after their grave is covered and forgotten, So it is with God’s people. We come here not in a sterile and colorless vacuum, floating free of God’s action in the past. We are part of a century’s-long story.
We, members of a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, were inherently at Mt. Sinai, born as on eagle’s wings to freedom. We, in our spiritual ancestors, were in the upper room when Jesus broke the bread. We were visited by the tongues as of fire and heard the mighty rushing wind. In our worship we rehearse and re-tell these stories of God’s visit to the earth not only in the Exodus or the return of the exiles, but most particularly in his coming to our world in Jesus Christ.
It is in the telling and re-telling of that wonderful story that we continue to find strength, hope, faith and the certainty of God’s presence. Here we renew our faith in the story of the Father and Christ and the Spirit, praying that the original events will mean something to our present experience. In our worship we hang on to lifelines that keep us tied forever to God. The Father’s love directs our otherwise aimless and purposeless wanderings by binding us closer than breathing to God himself.
God called Abraham. Does he not so call us? The prophets promised the savior. Were they telling US to hope in the midst of despair? In the Upper Room he took bread and broke it and said his disciples should do this for his remembrance.
In our actions of worship, our prayers, hymns, readings and in our listening we very deliberately remember and do the thing he commanded us to do. In worship we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes as victorious Lord of all. We await his coming in power and we pray for the spirit of our Lord to come upon us that we might live to the praise of God’s glory right here, right now, and forever. In worship we keep on re-telling the story of salvation, the story of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.
Salvation happens in the life of the Christian in the midst of everyday living because we are bound up with the death and resurrection of the Lord of all.
Jeremiah’s salvation came when he turned his agony and burden of being called, into a sense of obedience and mission that rose from humiliation and pain to praise and thanksgiving.
Paul began with pain and the death of who he once was, and thru his obedience to the revealed resurrected Christ, he became a witness to the newness of life that can be ours.
And what shall be our lot in life? Do not expect better treatment from the world than your Teacher and Lord received. Rather, in bearing witness to him, we should expect to be transformed through struggle and sacrifice into being a true soldier of the cross.
Have no fear of those who treat us ill, for the worst they do is to kill, but the Lord has overcome death. By accepting the way of the cross, we witness our call to be people of God.
We celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection as part of God’s on-going story. When we worship, we become what we most deeply are – characters in God’s story.
We celebrate the life of Jesus because he lives in us and we in him.
We are disciples of the resurrected teacher. We are not drifting aimlessly thru this world without a leader.
Since we are in his keeping, we are free to live for the praise of his glory, now and forever.