[NOTE: Preached as guest preacher at St. Augustine Lutheran Church, Troy, MI, 7/7/2013]
GRACE Mercy and Peace are YOURS this day from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN
The text that forms the basis for our meditation is our Gospel text from the
Gospel according to St. Luke – where Jesus sends out his emissaries to those towns and villages where He was about to go (Luke 10:1-20). He sends them with a single message – wherever they went, whether the inhabitants of those towns and villages received these men or not, they were to deliver a message –
“The Kingdom of God has come near to you.”
Some would hear this message and receive it with joy – hosting these men for a time. While they remained there, they healed the sick, cast out demons, and otherwise used the authority that Jesus had given them in order to protect and preserve them as they lived on earth as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Others would hear this message but would reject it – not wanting to hear the message, they would reject the messengers.
But whether they were received or not – the message they brought was the same, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.”
When the men that Jesus had sent returned, they rejoiced – they had seen what kind of power and authority Jesus had given to them to protect and preserved their message through mighty works. But Jesus did not want them to rejoice over what they saw and what was outwardly obvious – as impressive as that seemed – Jesus pointed to something unseen by them, but much more important.
“Do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you,” Jesus said, “Rather, rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Or, put another way, “Rejoice that YOU – even now as you live and breathe here on earth – YOU are citizens of the Kingdom of God.”
This was the whole plan and purpose to Jesus sending out these men. In fact, this was the second time Jesus sent out a group on substantially the same mission.
Earlier it was the 12 Apostles – or “sent ones” – which is what the word Apostle means. In our text today, Jesus sends out another missionary expedition – and this time, He increases the number to 72 (or, some texts say 70). And He command His church to continue to pray for more laborers.
So that even today the Lord of the Harvest would continue to send laborers into his harvest to gather from every tribe and nation and language a people for His very own – to make citizens of the Kingdom of God here and now.
The message Jesus gave these men, is the same message that Jesus continues to send into the world today. The Kingdom of God has come upon US – you and me – even as we sit here – in fact – literally AS WE SIT HERE, the Kingdom is coming upon us. And our King has given us great and sure signs and promises to keep and preserve us as citizens while we await the day when we will finally inherit the Kingdom prepared for us.
But as we wait – it doesn’t feel like we are citizens of a great and glorious kingdom. From the physical aches and pains – my back hurts – my feet are sore – my eyes are dim – and I’m tired. To the sickness that afflicts so many – to the horrible things we see and hear and experience as the world seems to slip ever further into chaos and decay under the corrupting influence of the devil.
We long to see and feel and know the presence of God’s Kingdom around us – but all we see and feel and know are the trials and struggles of living in a world corrupted and brought to ruin by sin. Not just other people’s sin – but we look at our lives and see that the tears we shed and the troubles we suffer are too often at our own hands. And using those sins, – the devil remains hard at work to deceive us and try to convince us that we are NOT citizens of the Kingdom of God – rather – the devil wants us to believe that because we have so often given in to temptation and have sinned against God, God has abandoned us and left us for dead.
And Yet, Jesus commands those whom He sends to declare, “The Kingdom of God has
come upon you!” And so it has.
God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. God said, let the earth bring forth plants, and it brought forth plants, God said let the animals come forth – and they came forth. God speaks, and what He speaks comes to pass.
The Word became flesh, dwelt among us. After His baptism in the Jordan, He was pointed to by John the Baptizer as “The Lamb of God who TAKES AWAY the sin of the world!” And bearing that sin upon His shoulders – He went into the towns and villages and proclaimed that He, Himself came to usher in the Kingdom of God.
And, setting his face toward Jerusalem, where He would bear that sin upon the cross – taking the weight and punishment for your sins – and mine – the wrath of God was poured out upon Him as He, poured out His lifeblood for you and for me.
In that moment, He was glorified and enthroned. Though it looked hopeless – as if the world would never see the light of another day – the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God upon earth had only just begun. On the 3rd day, He broke the bonds of sin and death and proved beyond doubt that He IS the victorious King. Living and reigning with the Father, He continues to work powerfully among us to usher in His Kingdom in the midst of our sin-sick world.
The Kingdom of God has come upon you – and you – and you – and me. He has laid His claim upon us and all creation – and now, He bestows on us citizenship and an eternal inheritance in that Kingdom.
How do I know this? How can I tell you with this level of certainty? Look to the works that God has done among you and continues to do among you.
No – I’m not talking about miraculous healings or spectacular public exorcisms.
Though it would be exciting to see such things, they are not given to us as proof of God’s Kingdom among us. Like the men returning after Jesus sent them out, we ought not rejoice at the spectacular things God does through us – whether miraculous healings or spectacular exorcisms – or even the things we often look to as signs of God’s blessing – wonderful growth of the congregation and programs that flourish.
These, indeed, are great blessings of God – and they provide great benefits to our neighbors in the congregation and in the community! But they are not the source of our comfort and joy.
Rather, Jesus tells us, “Rejoice that Your name has been written in heaven.”
After His resurrection, Jesus took His disciples to the top of a mountain and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always [not sometimes – not when you feel it – not when you sense it – not when it seems like it – but ALWAYS], to the end of the age.”
The King has brought His Kingdom among us and makes us citizens – by entering into our world – giving us His Word and working among us through His sacraments.
If the waters of Holy Baptism have touched your skin as you were baptized into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
If you have heard of the mercy and grace of our God who sent His Son to redeem you from sin, death and everlasting condemnation, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
And it keeps coming. As you eat the very body and blood of our Lord hidden under the forms of bread and wine, He comes to be with us – nourishing us and strengthening us to live as citizens of his Kingdom here and now as we await His return when we will visibly see His Kingdom come. For as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim His death in the place of sinners until He returns to redeem our bodies and changes them to be like His glorious body.
Our Lord has even sent to you an emmisary of His Kingdom – a specific person to speak His Word and deliver His mercy and grace to you. Our Lord has sent your pastor to you so that each and every time you hear the comfort and peace of the Kingdom – as your pastor says, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ” – it is as if Christ Himself stands before you and declares, “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” – And as you hear this, you are once again being told, the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
So take comfort in the great and wonderful works of God. Through His gift of Baptism – where God brought you into His kingdom – where Christ laid hold of you – removed your sin and buried it with Himself in the tomb – where He poured into your heart the gift of His Holy Spirit – made you His child – and an heir of His Kingdom. Through the body and the blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of your sins – He strengthens and preserves you in the one true faith until life everlasting. And through the word of the Absolution – where you hear that for the sake of Jesus’ sacrifice – your sins are forgiven, Jesus is at work – handing over to you all the blessings of His Kingdom – forgiveness – life and salvation.
The one who was cast from heaven and fell like lightening constantly seeks to deceive us and blind us to these realities. He would rather we look to the fine outward works and put our hope and confidence there. He encourages us to find comfort and solace and hope in what we see and what we can sense. He will constantly conspire with the world and even our own concience and thoughts and feelings so that we doubt and reject Jesus.
If we look at the trials and troubles of life.
If we look at the strife and the difficulties we experience. Even if we look at the blessings and successes of God and derive our hope and comfort from those, we are easy targets for the father of lies who does not want us to know and believe that we are already citizens of this heavenly Kingdom.
But listen to Jesus as you listen to those whom He sends to you to speak His word.
“He who hears you, hears me.” Says Jesus. And the hearing of His word brings life and hope and peace.
And through His Word, Jesus tells us to “Rejoice” – “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Inscribed when the sign of the cross was made upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. Written in the Lamb’s book of Life when the water was poured and you where made a child and heir
of heaven. Strengthened and nourished through His word of forgiveness and the body and blood, Dear friends in Christ, Rejoice and be glad, the Kingdom of God has come upon YOU.
In the Name of Jesus. AMEN.