Reverend Philip Stringer
December 11, 2022
LET US PRAY: Come, Lord Jesus— and fill us with expectant waiting. Give us ears that hear your coming, and receiving hearts. Come and lead us into the world to serve you, as we watch and pray for your coming in Glory. AMEN
Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism as a way for people to learn about and talk about their faith at home— in his day, ordinary people had not been aloud to read the Bible— let alone teach one another about the faith— but the reformation changed all of that.
In the section on the Lord’s Prayer, he comments about the part that goes, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and this is what he says—
“God’s kingdom comes whether we pray for it or not— but in this petition, we pray that it may come among us.”
God’s kingdom comes, whether we notice it or not.
Does it seem even possible that God’s kingdom could come and we wouldn’t notice? That seems absurd, but I can tell you,
When Jesus comes, you’re going to miss it. Do you know how I know that? Because it has already happened!
Don’t feel too bad— it happens a lot. I miss it, too. In fact, it seems people have been missing the advent of God ever since there have been people. Even John the Baptist.
If there were ANYBODY you would expect to understand Jesus, you would think it would be John the Baptist.
In Jesus’ day the people were excitedly waiting for the messiah to come, because they “cherry-picked” excerpts from the prophets that they liked— and they were convinced that the messiah would destroy their enemies and lead them to a future of global domination. There was a fog resting on them, and when the messiah DID come, they just couldn’t see it, and that even included John the Baptist. He had trouble making sense of what Jesus was doing.
As he sat in prison, John new that things were looking pretty grim for him— and there is little doubt that the words of the prophets were on his mind– especially the prophet Isaiah. Here are some of the things that Isaiah said the messiah would do:
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness. ……saying to the prisoners, “Come out,”
And in later verses, Isaiah speaks the words of the messiah, saying,
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
We can only speculate about what was going on in John’s heart. When he heard what Jesus was doing, was he disappointed, thinking that Jesus wasn’t acting like he thought the messiah should? Or did he hear about the miracles, and believing he was the messiah, send some messengers in case Jesus needed to be reminded not to forget that freeing the prisoners is also on the list (hint hint)? And you’d better hurry up. We’re running out of time!
John prepared the way of the Lord— but if we think in terms of a metaphor— that Jesus is the artist and John has prepared the canvas— it would seem that John— whether he realizes it or not— believes that he has placed a “Paint-by-numbers” picture in front of Jesus that he will color in.
It doesn’t work that way, though. Jesus paints his own picture of the kingdom. HE is the artist.
Do you think YOU would recognize Jesus if you saw him? Many of us have spent our lives listening to the stories about him and educating ourselves about the ways of God.
Jesus knew what the people of his day were expecting in a messiah, and he knew that what he was doing didn’t make sense to them. It is impossible for a human being to see how the glory of God is revealed in a baby lying in a feed box; in a wandering carpenter eating with outcasts and sinners; in a man, beaten and rejected hanging on a cross to die. Jesus knew these things wouldn’t make sense to people– so when John sent messengers, Jesus said, “blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” If someone ISN’T offended by me, it’s a miracle. If someone isn’t offended by me, it can only be because God has blessed that person.
What is truly exciting in our Gospel reading today, however, is what Jesus says about you. This is a story about Jesus and John and his disciples— but you’re in the story too— and it’s the most exciting part.
Jesus says about John, “Of those born of women, none are greater than John the Baptist. But even the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.” Do you see it? That’s you and me! You and I have become children of the kingdom through our baptism into Christ– a free gift of God’s grace, offered in love.
The Holy Spirit of God is at work in your hearts and mine, revealing the way of God to us and transforming our lives through faith. Look at yourselves, and see what the Holy Spirit is doing to give sight to the blind and set the captives free!
The Kingdom of God is coming in you!
And yet……… Will you recognize Jesus when he comes? No. Yes. It’s just so hard to tell!
When Jesus sent John’s disciples back to him with a message pointing out all of the signs of the kingdom that were happening through him, he added that last comment: “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” I don’t think that Jesus is trying to embarrass John or shame him. I think it is as I said earlier— To see Jesus as the messiah is truly a miracle. It is an act of God. And I wonder about you and me in our efforts to see Jesus.
“Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Really? Blessed is anyone? Even if that person isn’t a Christian? Are we willing to believe that someone who admires Jesus and his ways— but isn’t a Christian— are we willing to believe that God may have blessed that person….. and that they may be a blessing to us? That through them, Jesus may reveal himself to us?
Here is a beautiful quote:
“Be Kind, when ever possible. It is always possible.”
Do you know who said that? The Dalai Lama
Are we willing to believe that such a person might be able to teach us something about following Jesus?
Isaiah said that the messiah would turn the world on it’s head—
I suppose that what it all means for you and me is that WATCHING for the coming of our Lord isn’t enough; if we truly want to see his coming we must be open to the LIKELIHOOD that it won’t look like we expect it to look.
And I suppose that is what Martin Luther was getting at when he wrote that bit about the coming of the kingdom in the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a “GOOD-NEWS/BAD-NEWS” THING— The bad news is that we often miss what God is doing— we often don’t recognize the Kingdom of God when it comes. But the good news is that it comes anyway. It comes just the same!
But oh, how much better life is when we see the kingdom coming!
How is Jesus coming to you unexpectedly?
How might we prepare the way of his coming in our hearts?
How might we prepare the way of his coming in our world?
How about looking for good— even in people we can’t stand?
How about being kind and welcoming to all, even when we don’t feel like it?
And how about welcoming them without judgment?
How about loving our enemies?
You may be surprised by what happens inside of you when you do this. You may be surprised by the unexpected ways that Jesus comes to give you eyes that see and ears that hear, and by how he sets you free from prisons you do not even know that you are in!
The kingdom of God is breaking forth all around us. Blessed are those who are not offended by him! AMEN
Sermon at Saint Michael Lutheran Church 12/11/2022 by the Reverend Philip Stringer.