We observed Ascension Day this Sunday. So I swapped out the first reading for the Ascension Day one. The recent coronation of the English King had me thinking about some things in regards to the Kingdom of God, the phrase Jesus consistently used. I guess the two questions would be: a) when does that reign start? and b) how does it manifest itself? Ascension Day is one of the logical times to date it from. (There are some nice theological arguments to be had about this, but the Kingdom in its full recognition starts here.) Our problem with this is the first royal decrees are not what we would do. “Are you now going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” That was the disciples’ question. Because it is payback time. It is time to get ours. That is not what The King does. This sermon looks at the first royal decrees upon Ascension, and how they direct us today.
It happens occasionally, July 4th falls on a Sunday. And unless you’ve got your head in the sand, the role patriotism and nationalism is a cultural divide or some magnitude. This is my attempt to think through a Christian patriotism. The divide is between those from somewhere and those from anywhere. And I think this puts forward a fair case that even though the worries of anywhere are real, somewhere is necessary for the gospel.
All of Jesus’ parable to some extent are elaborations of the parable of the sower, at least his Kingdom parables. But I feel that is even more the case with the Gospel according to Mark. The Sower and the Soils is Jesus’ picture of the Kingdom in this world. The parables that are part of the text today are refinements or close ups of parts of that parable that answer some natural questions. The early part of this sermon sets that connection because the lectionary jumps right back into the gospel skipping the larger narrative parable.
The questions natural questions that might come up immediately are: 1) to what extent are we responsible for the growth of the seeds? and 2) when the seeds do grow what does it look like? This sermon looks at both those questions through the parables.
The text focuses on two things, first the reiteration and extension of the covenant promise to Abraham and not explicitly through Sarah, and second circumcision as the mark of the old covenant. That first point focus is about the sovereignty of the God. The Kingdom of God comes how and when it wills. That second point invites the comparison of the old covenant and the new. What are the signs that the Kingdom has come to us? Namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Along the way we talk about ways we try to hurry the kingdom and where our hope comes from.
The Christian in called to live in two kingdoms at the same time. There are the kingdoms of the law. What we call the state is the typical representative of the Kingdom of the law. And in the Kingdom of the law the primary responsibility is Justice. Because this Kingdom is ruled indirectly by sinful humans (and fallen powers) justice isn’t always perfect, but that its responsibility. Christians also life in the Kingdom of Grace. And how we are called to live is thinking of the Kingdom of Grace as a millennium’s worth of work compared to the law’s as three months. Three months is a lot. Most of us don’t have three months in the bank. Three months is real. And legally we can demand it. But the Christian who wishes to reside in the Kingdom recognizes that those three months are as nothing compared to the 10,000 talents.
This is the way of the cross. The way of grace. Trusting that God’s justice is better than the best we could ever provide.
The Reign of God or the Kingdom is the overriding theme of the gospel and we’ve been thinking out way through it this summer. It starts out being proclaimed. (“Repent! The Reign of God is near!”) Then it is taught. (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom.” “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”.) Then it is exhibited or demonstrated as Jesus interacts with the crowds, the disciples and the Pharisees and Sadducees. All of which leads up to the final. “Do you understand? Who do you say I am?”
That is a question that we all must answer when the Reign draws near. And there are a variety of answers, but only one correct one. “You are the Christ.” And that correct answer – that confession does a couple of things. It binds us to Christ in the church. And it frees us from our sin. The Keys of the Kingdom, the reality of the Reign. If you confess Christ, you can only truly do so within his body. And within that body, Satan cannot touch the pardon of God.
That – our proper response to the Reign – is what this sermon encourages.
Given the events of Las Vegas, it was a week of horrors. This biblical text is the parable of the wicked tenants which turns on the horrors perpetrated by those tenants. This sermon is a meditation on what we as Christians should discern in horrors. Also what is a Christian response to such horrors. In a search for “why?” that so often ends unsatisfactorily, or ends in too easy answer, the Christian is able to focus on the justice of God. And this justice is good news. I’ve pondered three forms of that justice. 1) Those wicked men will come to a horrible end. We might not be used to this as a good news proclamation, but it is. God is just. 2) That phrase should inspire a holy fear in us, and the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. That wisdom should lead us to repentance and a return to the Lord who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 3) The vineyard will be fruitful. The horrors that we might witness are the groaning’s of the world longing for the revelation of the son’s of God. They are the rage of Satan and those aligned. But the Justice of God will replace them, and the vineyard will produce its fruit.
I have left in our final hymn, LSB 753, All for Christ I Have Forsaken. The melody is the Southern Harmony Restoration which has an interesting minor key feel (give it a listen and you’ll know what I mean). The lyrics are From Calvin Chao, a mid-20th Century Chinese Christian, the chair of the Chinese InterVasity in the WW2 years. He had quite the life as a missionary. Here is an old article on his wife I unearthed. You can get the feel for the source of the powerful words.
The text is the Canaanite woman’s request. In a week of Nazis and violence it would have been harder to pick a better text. The sermon explores the relationship between Christ and Tribe or between Christ and all the various things that we base our identity on. The text, with its blunt sayings, allows us to work in two direction. The woman’s repeated title of choice is “Lord”. Jesus’ responses to the disciples and then the woman allow us to understand just who this Lord is. He is not OUR lord, the Lord of created to back up our preferred identities, but He is THE Lord. The Lord is also the Son of David. Salvation comes from the Jews. It is that joint truth that is a God large enough to save, but particular enough to be human. I believe that in such a week this sermon offers both truth and hope.
I don’t address it in the sermon, because it is a speculative or allegorical reading, but it is a reading that captures this religious imagination. This anonymous woman has been called the mother of the gentile church. The woman’s request is for the healing or exorcism of the her daughter. The woman herself as a Canaanite from Tyre and Sidon stands in for the entirety of the Gentiles. In the OT time period the nations were given over to the idols. The woman’s request is to drive the demons or those idols from her daughter – the church growing. At that allegorical level where characters are not just themselves but stand for larger entities or truths, the request is to make the gentile church clean. Even more so, admitting being “dogs”, being outside the old covenant, to still share in the new. Does the Christian have to become a Jew first, the question of Acts 15, is addressed allegorically here. The Canaanite woman’s faith in the abundance of the Lord Son of David, that the lost sheep of Israel includes Canaanites, spurs Jesus to grant the request. Hence the mother of the gentile church. Not provable in a modern way, but it rings a lot of poetic images.
This sermon is a little longer than my typical one. The subject from the gospel text is marriage and divorce. Because the contextual density of the topic and because of its high profile in our general culture this sermon takes its time and spells out all the steps. I believe I arrive at the proclamation of the gospel, but it might not be the gospel we always want to hear.
This sermon is based on a “level 2” reading of the Gospel of Mark. What I mean by level 2 is that to make the connections necessary you have to look at the locations, characters and actions of what is being told and assume that the writer picked this story specifically to carry meaning. The deaf and mute man was chosen because his disabilities and their healings are symbolic for what the Kingdom of God is doing on a larger level. The first part of the sermon hopefully establishes at least the plausibility of that level 2 reading. The second attempts to apply it to our situation.
Doctrinally this puts me in the realm of election and sanctification. The sermon is about the tension or specific actions that these doctrines call for.