Thy Kingdom Come: Sons and Daughters of the King

Text: John 20:19-31
Date: Easter II + 4/23/17

My brother spent his life in the United States Navy. He was deployed on various vessels a number of times over the years including the days of the Vietnam War. He has three children, my nieces Kirsten and Kaarin and my nephew Tommy Jr. The interesting thing is that all three were born while he was away at sea. So they did not meet their father until he returned from wherever he was. We’ve all seen video of military men (and now even women) returning from service some coming home to greet their children again, some of the men coming home to greet their children for the first time! I mention this because Christians have a similar experience in the Kingdom of Christ.

We became sons and daughters of Christ our King being born anew in Holy Baptism. That makes us not just children of God but a prince or a princess. There are even crowns as St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim 4:8). St. James wrote, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). And Peter wrote, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet 5:4). How many young confirmation students have chosen for their verse, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10)? By your new birth in Holy Baptism you really are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9).

All that speaks for the future. Right now, however, our problem is as St. Peter wrote in his first epistle, “According to [God’s] great mercy, he has caused us to be born again” through Jesus Christ. Then he says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:3, 8-9). We hear of the same problem in today’s Gospel where Thomas refused to believe because he did not see the risen Christ for himself. To all our Lord says today however, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

What is it we are to believe? A lot of people believe all sorts of things from truth to myth, from fact to fantasy. How can people believe myths and fantasies? Some people say they believe meaning “faith” is just a blind decision of their own mind not requiring any facts or objective truth. Some people confuse faith with emotions like patriotism or loyalty to family. Then there are those who actually believe in false gods, the product of human imagination such as Mohammad of Islam, Joseph Smith of Mormonism, the Bahai Faith founded by Bahaullah in 19th-century Persia. Then there are Indian religions, animism, to name only a few. Today there is a growing category called “Spiritual but not Religious!” What is it that makes Christianity and Judaism before it different? Facts. Some provable but all historical facts, that is, according to orthodox, what we call historical grammatical teaching. The Historical Critical camp on the other hand has tried to dump the facts and has succeeded to some extent taking faith in a completely different trajectory.

Notice how the Hymn of the Day today is really only a retelling of the facts of today’s Gospel, the account of the risen Jesus’ appearance to his disciples at Easter and then again with Thomas a week later. It is the history recorded in the Holy Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that tell the facts of our Lord’s birth into this world, His life and ministry, then His goal of offering Himself as the Lamb of God given to death, raised from the dead three days later and now ascended back into heaven living and reigning over all creation. The New Testament tells us the facts of His divine and human natures in one Person and His relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Holy Trinity. He is the incarnate God.

Now we admit that though these are historical facts supported by physical evidence, still we list them under the words, “I believe.” We “believe” precisely because we have not yet seen with our own eyes. We believe because the Holy Spirit has drawn us to the Gospel and moved us to trust the inspired prophetic and eyewitness apostolic scriptures. Yet we’re still sort of like Thomas and like children whose father was deployed elsewhere when we were born.

But this is different, way different! For our earthly fathers as human beings can only be in one place at a time. Our Lord, on the other hand, as the divine Son of God is omnipresent, present everywhere as St. Paul says of God our Father, “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:19-23).

This is the message of Easter that, as our Lord appeared to his disciples and then disappeared and appeared again to others—appeared and disappeared, appeared and disappeared—we are to learn that He is truly present with us even though you cannot see him. But, better than that, he has given us the way for us to know that He is not only everywhere but that He is everywhere for you. This is the significance and meaning of the Sacrament of the Altar, the Holy Communion, the Eucharist. Not only do His words of institution tell us that with this bread and cup set apart for this use we receive His body and blood, but that also in this meal we receive the forgiveness of sins as this His crucified and risen body and blood is given “for you.”

So very real is Jesus’ sacramental presence that we dare to sing in the hymn:

Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon Thee lean. (LSB 631)

How blest were those first disciples. How blest Jesus’ mother and relatives. How blest Thomas who, when he saw the feet, the hands, the side of his risen Lord cried, “You are my Lord and God!” And how blest will all believers be:

When we on that final journey go
That Christ is for us preparing.
We’ll gather in song, our hearts aglow,
All joy of the heavens sharing.
And walk in the light of God’s own place,
With angels His name adoring. (LSB 503)

Thy Kingdom Come: The Reign of Death is Ended

Text: Matthew 28:1-10
Date: Easter + 4/16/17

At Easter we witness the greatest transfer of power in the history of the world; greater than the American Revolution or any other revolution; greater than the more peaceful transfer of power from one American President to the next. This was a transfer of royal cosmic power to reign and rule over all creation, something only the maddest of men have even contemplated. Martin Luther saw it that way in his Easter hymn, “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands.” He sees the enemy wearing the crown of his reign of sin and death in this world now taken and transformed by God as he writes,

Christ Jesus, God’s own Son, came down,
His people to deliver;
Destroying sin, He took the crown
From death’s pale brow forever:
Stripped of pow’r, no more it reigns;
An empty form alone remains;
It sting is lost forever. Alleluia! Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: The Reign of Death is Ended

Thy Kingdom Come: Thy Kingdom Has Come

Text: St. John’s Passion
Date: Good Friday + 4/14/17

Finally, what we have been praying for has come. Oh, maybe some have thought the Kingdom of God would be the answer to all our problems. Thy Kingdom Come. Or maybe you have thought God would begin ruling in your favor against all the unfairness and shortcomings of everyday life in this world. But tonight we pray again, “Thy Kingdom Come.” And, to our surprise, here it is. Complete healing? Success? Wellness? No. The surprise is this is the kingdom of God: the blood drenched cross. Pilate couldn’t see it. His responsibility was to provide some sense of governmental justice both for Jesus and for the Jews. And we continue to struggle with the realities of living in this world, this work-a-day world of hours and wages and deductions and taxes. Pilate asked Jesus repeatedly and with wonder if He were the king, not of Israel, but of the Jews. And why doesn’t He look like or act like a king? “My kingdom is not of this world.” Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: Thy Kingdom Has Come

Thy Kingdom Come: The Royal Banquet

Text: Matthew 26:17-30
Date: Maundy Thursday + 4/13/17

It is debated to what extent our Lord’s observance of the annual Passover was like the modern observance. Many think it was a bit simpler. Yet we know from Luke’s Gospel that there were the traditional four cups of wine, the sharing of the matzah and a meal or supper. Certainly it wouldn’t be a valid Passover without the prayers and the reading and review of the Exodus from Egypt especially the command to place some of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts. As God sent the angel of death when the firstborn of every household would die, as the last sign to Pharaoh, so He spared his own people, saying, “The blood shall be a sign for you.” “And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Ex 12:12-15). Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: The Royal Banquet

Thy Kingdom Come: Who Is This King of Glory?

Text: St. Matthew’s Passion
Date: Passion/Palm Sunday + 4/9/17

The kingdom of God comes to us all by itself without our prayer. Martin Luther in his Large Catechism says the kingdom of God came as He “sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil and to bring us to himself and rule us as a king of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience.” He didn’t ask us for permission. He just did it. Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: Who Is This King of Glory?

Thy Kingdom Come: He Came from His Blest Throne

Text: John 11
Date: Lent V + 4/2/17

This is the last Sunday in our Lenten preparation for the confession of the Christian faith in the Great and Holy Week which begins next Sunday, that is to say, beginning next week we will have very little time to talk, to discuss, to explain, to teach, as with palms in our hands we hail our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem only to be thrown immediately into the fast moving and dark events of His passion, death and resurrection. So today we are given that last thing in the creed that we are to confess, “I believe in…the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” In the words of the Nicene Creed, “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We confess this faith every Sunday of our lives if not every day. But you say “I believe” precisely because you cannot see or prove it. You believe by faith alone that “on the Last Day [Christ] will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.” Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: He Came from His Blest Throne

Thy Kingdom Come: How Were Your Eyes Opened?

Text: John 9
Date: Lent IV + 3/26/17

“The neighbors and those who had seen him before…said to him, ‘How were your eyes opened?’” The Pharisees “asked him how he had received his sight.” The Jews asked the parents of the man, “How does he now see?” Once again the Pharisees asked in frustration, “How did he open your eyes?” Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: How Were Your Eyes Opened?

Thy Kingdom Come: The Gift of God

Text: John 4
Date: Lent III + 3/19/17

We are continuing our journey according to the ancient catechumenate Lenten Gospels from St. John. The theme of water continues. First, we with Nicodemus are told that no one can see, enter or possess the kingdom of God unless he be born again, born from above by means of water and the Spirit. The catechumens are preparing to receive Holy Baptism by water and the Spirit at Easter. We, accompanying them to the font, retrace our own new beginning or new birth of our own baptism for renewed repentance and faith. The very first question of the catechism on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism is, “What is Baptism?” And we are taught to respond, “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.” Baptism is water applied to our bodies externally. Therefore, Holy Baptism can be thought of as cleansing, not as removal of dirt from the body, however, but the removal or forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: The Gift of God

Thy Kingdom Come: You Must Be Born Again

Text: John 3:1-17
Date: Lent II + 3/12/17

The road to becoming a Christian begins with this: you cannot just join up, you cannot just change your actions, you cannot just cover over your sin. The road to becoming a Christian begins with this: You Must Be Born Again. That is, you must be changed, be made totally new. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. You didn’t have anything to do with that. You must be born now from above. You also don’t have anything to do with that! Those who are born again, from above are born of God and have been given the gift of faith, faith in God, faith in His Word. Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: You Must Be Born Again

Thy Kingdom Come: The Kingdom Ours Remaineth

Text: Romans 5:12-19
Date: Lent I + 3/5/17

Today, especially in this first year of our three-year lectionary, we are blessed to begin again the ancient journey of the catechumenate, the starting line of the Christian race of faith, the journey of beginning to discover what it means to be a Christian. The catechumenate is guided by the ancient traditional gospels from St. John. For those going through this journey for the first time it will culminate in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism at the Vigil of the Eve of Easter. (Shhh! Don’t tell the new ones what to expect!) For the rest of us it is to be like going back to our beginnings, to rediscover the miracle and freshness of faith and the joy of our new spiritual birth (John 3), of satisfying our spiritual thirst (John 4), of regaining our spiritual vision (John 9), and of overcoming the last enemy of death (John 11). Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: The Kingdom Ours Remaineth