Monday, November 26, 2012

Thy Kingdom Come...

Sermon preached for Pentecost Last, also called Christ the King, Proper 29B, on Sunday, November 25, 2012.

    Day after day, week after week, year after year... alone and together we pray, "Thy kingdom come..."  But we are not sure we mean it. We do want the Kingdom to come, but not yet.  We have things to do, lives to live, places to go.  We want the Kingdom to come but we want it to come after we complete our own agenda for life.  It is as if we love our King but we don't want Him too near us.  Look around you.  In a rock concert or sports arena we pay big money to sit up front but in Church we hug the back seats.  We rush to the front of the line in our busy world but hide in the background when Christ asks "who will go and work for Me?"  We pray for God's Kingdom to come but we long even more for long and full lives, well lived, so that we can soak up as much of this world's pleasures before the day comes when it all comes to an end by death or Christ’s return.
    Dear friends.  The King is coming but the Kingdom is already here.  It matters not what we pray; we neither hasten nor delay Christ's return in glory.  If it does not make a difference for when the kingdom comes, it matters to us.  Luther said "God's kingdom comes by itself without our prayer but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also."  On the last Sunday of the Church Year, we hear the announcement that the Kingdom is already here and with it the call not only to be ready – as if for disaster – but to look for and live in anticipation of Christ’s coming.
    Unlike the days of old when Christ came to a world oblivious to His birth, in obscurity and the cover of darkness, Christ will return in unmistakable power and glory.  The signs are all around us.  They are not here to frighten us but to make us wise unto salvation.  No one, including Harold Camping, can read the fig leaves and predict a day or an hour.  Not the angels in heaven nor the Son of Man knows this – only the Father.  But the change of seasons, the march of time, the advance of age... these can be read as the call to watch and prepare.  Too easily we are deceived, distracted, and lulled into complacency thinking we can afford to look away from Christ and His kingdom.  But the march of days toward their fulfillment when Christ comes again in His glory give us a different picture. It is coming.  Will we be ready?
    He has not left us alone.  We are not left to our own devices.  He has given us the Counselor, the Spirit of Christ and His resurrection.  He has given us the means of grace by which His saving presence is still with us.  He has given us the tools and resources to be ready, to live in anticipation of His coming, and to welcome Him when He comes.
    It is not if He comes but when.  It is not what we can do but what He has already done that prepares us for that awesome and mighty day.  The means of grace are here to equip us to be ready for His return in glory.  We live right now in the Kingdom of God.  His Word speaks and our sins are forgiven.  His water cleanses the guilty as well as the dirty.  His heavenly food of His flesh and blood are the pure spiritual food of 100% grace, undiluted and strong.
    Why is it that we fear so His coming?  Do we believe that He comes to rob us of something?  Why is it that we are so preoccupied with the present moment that we are unprepared for that promised day to come?  Faith longs for Christ's coming.  Not as a death wish that seeks life's end but as the life wish of those who know His grace now and who seek to live in it forever.  As a people rejoice in the promise known only dimly now but who are sure that even more awaits us in eternal glory – beyond imagination.  Faith longs for His coming and lives life in anticipation of His coming again.  Faith is convinced that the right moment to manifest the values and perspective of the Kingdom is now.  We live in that Kingdom today, living by the means of grace but we wait for Christ our King to come and finish His new creation in us as well as outside of us.
    So, we refuse to allow ourselves to be lured into dullness and frozen in the moment.  We remain alert by abiding in Christ through His Word and Sacrament.  These means of grace keep us clothed in His righteousness and ready in faith to receive Him whenever He comes.  Without them we are at risk of losing sight of the goal and losing our way to its fulfillment.  Because of the means of grace, we are focused upon Christ, clothed by the gifts of His suffering and death, and readied for His return in glory.
    Our world is spinning ever faster.  Where did the summer go?  Why are we already near Christmas?  We need an anchor.  We need to be moored to that which is eternal or the pace of today will leave us lost and vulnerable.  Christ knows this.  It is for this reason He has anchored us in His Word.  It is for this reason He has given us His sacraments.   
    His Word endures forever and those who grasp hold of that Word by faith will endure forever.  We pray not as a people without hope but because hope resides in us by baptism and faith.  "Thy Kingdom Come" is not the prayer of an uncertain people whose world is falling down on them and who want relief.  It is the confident prayer of a people who know today with its joys and sorrows and yet who have confidence in something better to come.  We pray “Thy Kingdom Come” not as a people who disdain this world and all it is but as those who see through the haze of today toward the eternal future we were marked for in baptism and in which we live by His Word and Table.  "Thy Kingdom Come" is the prayer of a people who have been made bold to hope for more, not to settle for the present moment but to see the future even today.
    There is a scene from Fiddler on the Roof when the people realize that the Czar holds their fate in his hands.  They ask the Rabbi to pray for the Czar.  He thinks for a moment and then says, "May God bless and keep the Czar... far away from us..."  In the end they leave their homes with regret and fear, having lost their hope, they leave with only their memories.  Are we those people?  If our future lies in the hand of the Lord, do we run to that hand or run away from it?  Are we merely a people with a past or do we see our destiny in Christ and the future He has prepare?  Do we have confidence in what the hand of the Lord holds for us or do we live in fear of our King and His kingdom?  When we pray "Thy Kingdom Come" are we also praying, "but not yet and not near me?" 
    We have come to call the last Sunday of the Church Year “Christ the King Sunday”.  It is called Christ the King because Christ our King has triumphed by His cross, because we are His people and subjects of His eternal kingdom.  We live today because of what He has done but we are not content with today only.  We live in anticipation of the eternal.  Soon this present day will give way to the eternal, to the Kingdom of glory.  We pray not to make the Kingdom come more quickly or slowly but so that we may be ready for the King when He comes.  We pray so that it may come first to us lest we be left out when He comes.  We pray so that our lives may always live in anticipation of this future, free to live today fully and living today so that we may behold our eternal tomorrow.  Thy kingdom come.  Indeed.  Amen.

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