Saturday, May 7, 2016
Now the Kingdom please?!?!
So here we are. Its going to be Hillary or Donald. I guess now we know how the disciples felt. After a baptism in the Jordan Jesus did not need and temptation suffered for our sake... After disciples were called to follow and ended up fleeing when things got rough... After the religious authorities of the day who should have organized a welcome party instead engineered His death... After the innocent suffers for the guilty... After an expiring groan and a surrender to death... After the surprise of an empty tomb and a resurrection... When will things be normal? Now will they get to be in charge, to see things turn out for their benefit, to defeat all their enemies, to feel better. . .
Instead, Jesus shakes everything up even more by ascending to the Father. The disciples did not expect this nor did they want to hear about it. I don’t want to hear about it and I expect neither do you. We want a nearer God we can see more than a present God who comes through the means of grace. We want a bread king who will feed us and a mister fixit Savior who will repair everything we break. We are not ready for the ascension. We want to exploit the spoils of victory for our own immediate benefit. At least for a little while. . .
So the disciples asked Jesus, “Will you now restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Will we finally get ahead of the game and on top of our enemies? How hard it is to hear the answer “no.” My kingdom is not of this world. In other words, Jesus is not a nation builder. He comes not to make a better life today or a better world now. What does that say to Trump vs Hillary? To Christians who feel the bite and burn of an unfriendly world? To people who hoped at least for a happy, easy, and peaceful life?
Our Lord has come to replace the Old Israel and its covenant of law with the New Israel born of grace and mercy. He gives to the unworthy citizenship in this eternal kingdom and He gives to His enemies the forgiveness none deserved. It is a kingdom of grace, born of mercy, free flowing from the cross, toward an eternal outcome and not an earthly triumph.
Nobody wants to hear this. In our wounds we seek justice and in our struggles we seek the rest of the victorious. We want people to fear us and to fear hurting us. Instead what we get is a Kingdom that comes through proclamation and a people who have been marked by the world for a treatment not much different from that which was dished out to Jesus. Jesus ascends to the right hand of the Father but not before handing us each our own individual sized cross and tells us to bear it for His sake, that He will send His Spirit to strengthen us, and that in the end our sufferings will not be forgotten when He returns to finish His new creation.
This Kingdom is not built of earthly battles in which we jockey for position and for triumph. No, this Kingdom is built when the Word is preached, when the world is addressed with the gospel story of the cross, and when the means of grace deliver what they promise in Word, water, bread, and wine.
The Kingdom comes through the preaching of the cross; it does not depend upon us to exist or require that we see it to be real. This Kingdom addresses the world with the Word that has the Spirit’s power to deliver what is said and do what is spoken about. The Kingdom of God comes when the still small voice speaks the cross to sin, to sinners in shame, and to the dead. The Kingdom of God comes to people who, by the grace of the Spirit, are willing to deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow Him.
As the coffin heads out the church toward the cemetery, the Pastor repeats the words of Psalm 118. The Psalmist says trust not in prices or plans, programs or strategies, marketing or mission statements. Trust in Christ alone. He is the crucified who gives forgiveness to the sinner, hope to the wounded, and life to the dying.
We live in but not of the world, within the tension of hearts that long to be free from suffering, pain, and sorrow, and are not sure that what Christ offers is enough. Daily within this tension we struggle to believe while wrestling with unbelief. This is not what the disciples thought would happen. Even now the Church is still not so sure this is enough. Part of us still asks Jesus to restore the earthly Kingdom to us. Part of us fears heaven is not enough. We want earthly might and power. We want to make waves. We want to matter and make this world better. And we are not at all sure that the Word and Sacraments are enough for what the world needs and to satisfy what we want.
Tonight as we join the disciples of old in staring into the sky with all our reservations and fears, we hear Jesus promise us that His kingdom is the only thing that matters, the one thing that endures, and greatest gift to a people who cannot fix what is wrong. Like the disciples of old, we rejoice in this message even as we pray for strength when the joy fades and we meet the hard challenges of living in but not of this world, in a kingdom not made with hands but forged in blood and a cross.
If Christ had not ascended, it would have been too easy to believe that the whole purpose of the Gospel was to fix today. And we would have gone to Him to fix every need -- great or insignificant. But now, in ascending, we cannot but face that His kingdom is not of this world, not merely a better version of the failure all around us, but an eternal future beyond imagination or expectation for those whom the Lord calls. So let us pray for contentment and peace, for courage and strength, and for hope. We have more than tomorrow. We have eternity. He ascends to make place for us to be, for where the head has gone before, the body of Christ is soon to follow. And unlike the earthly dreams of power and glory, this Gospel will not disappoint us! Christ is risen! Ascended! Glorified!