Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | August 23, 2009

Sermon on Matthew 6:10, Luke 17:20-21

This is another sermon in our series meditating upon the Lord’s Prayer, following the outline of Luther’s Small Catechism.

Look for Jesus in the Right Places

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.  Amen.

Matthew 6:10: Your kingdom come.

Luke 17:20-21: Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The words “king” and “kingdom” are used thousands of times in the Bible.  Many of those references are to earthly kings, like David, or to earthly kingdoms, like Egypt.  But many also refer to the LORD, our Heavenly Father, the King of the Universe, and His kingdom.   Consider a few examples.  Our Old Testament lesson talked about One enthroned in heaven who says, I have installed my King. In Colossians, Paul talks about an inheritance in a kingdom of light, and that Christians have been brought into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Consider Jesus’ life.  The people on the receiving end of the miraculous feeding of more than 5,000 people wanted King Jesus.  On Palm Sunday, an event Zechariah hailed as a king’s arrival, the crowds waved branches and said, Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, Are you the king of the Jews? At the Ascension, the disciples talked about kingdoms, Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?

With all these uses of the words “king” and “kingdom” how are we to know what in all the world we’re praying for when we say, Your kingdom come? Because to top it all off, we hear Jesus say to some Pharisees today in Luke, the kingdom of God is within you.

To understand this petition, we must carefully parse out these different uses of the words “king” and “kingdom.”  For discussing the Second Petition, we can eliminate references to earthly kings and kingdoms and focus on the ones referring to God and His kingdom.  That done, we see that God’s Word describes three kingdoms.  Let’s call them the kingdom of power, the kingdom of glory, and the kingdom of grace.

The kingdom of power is God’s universal control over all things.  We confess in the Creed, I believe in God the Father almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth. The psalmist says, His kingdom rules over all. Hezekiah once prayed, You alone are God over the heavens and the earth. As mentioned above, Psalm 2 describes the LORD as the One enthroned in heaven. This is God, the ruler over all things, the controller of all things, the Creator of Eden and the Bringer of the Flood.

The kingdom of glory is heaven.  It is the kingdom of light that believers stand to inherit.  It is the heavenly kingdom to which Paul was confident God was bringing him as his life drew near its end.  It is that place where Jesus will drink the fruit of the vine with us, joining us in an eternal celebration of the Lord’s Supper, a fully-consummated Holy Communion.

And between these two kingdoms is the kingdom of grace.  This is God’s divine rule over the Church militant on account of His Son through the work of the Spirit.  We live in it now, because the kingdom of grace is the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.  Think of Jesus’ first sermon, The kingdom of God is near. Or His words to Pilate, My kingdom is not of this world. Or His preferred parable starter, The kingdom of heaven is like… Think too of Luther explaining the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed: I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.  He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.  All this He did that I should be His own and life under Him in His kingdom…. That this is not some earthly kingdom is made clear in Romans:  The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit. Which brings to mind a description of the coming of this Kingdom from Luther’s explanation of the Third Article:  I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.  But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.  In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.  In this Christian Church He daily and fully forgives all sins to me and all believers.  On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.

While our prayers for the coming of God’s kingdom certainly encompass all three of these kingdoms, it is the last that Luther focuses on in his Catechism.  Note his explanation:  God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word and lead a godly life now on earth and forever in heaven. That we can understand it so Jesus makes clear:  the kingdom of God is within you.

But do we pray this petition?  Do we believe Jesus?  Jesus says, “Ask for anything!”  And He specifically says, “Pray that my kingdom comes!”  And yet, what do we often do?  Wring our hands as if the sky is falling and the kingdom is falling apart around us!  We wail that without us doing missions, without us giving money, without our support, God’s kingdom will crash and burn.  We honestly believe that if something happened to me or to St. Mark that God’s kingdom here on earth might come to an end.  We think that if only we get a few more members, than all our problems will be solved, then the kingdom will go on again – if only we are financially solvent!  We fail to pray this petition as we fail to notice and consider the action of the Holy Spirit through His chosen tool – the Gospel as He proclaims it in word and distributes it in water and meal.  We act as if the kingdom of God were here or there, something for us to see, taste, touch, grasp, and hold onto.  We act as if the visible thing is the important thing.  We act as if all those preachers telling us about how to get heaven on earth by believing hard enough, praying to God often enough, and hoping that Jesus returns visibly to make America what America is supposed to be and return the land of Israel to her former glory are right!

All of that is contrary to the simple words of Christ in this petition and to the Pharisees.  Don’t look around to see Jesus as you and the world want Him to be seen.  Look for Jesus in the right places!  Look for Jesus how and where He wants to be seen!  And there’s good news!  You don’t have to wait for some special, secret sign that inaugurates the coming of the kingdom of God.  You don’t have to wonder if Jesus is ruling invisibly now, waiting for the right moment to take over physically for 1,000 years.  You don’t have to wait until our accounts are back in the black or we’ve got some magic number of members.  Jesus said 2,000 years ago that the Kingdom of God is within you.

The Kingdom is among us and within us – through the Word and Sacraments!  Where those things are, God’s kingdom is!  We are not dying as a Church on earth, even if there are now 1 billion Muslims and someday are 2, 3, 4 billion.  We are not dying as a Synod, just because membership is dropping and support is dwindling, and missions are closing, and schools are threatened.  We are not dying as a congregation because our people are getting older and tireder, our youngsters are increasingly leaving or not caring, our families are occupied with other things, and our geographic area doesn’t seem to be bearing visible fruit for the harvest.

We’re not dying, because Jesus died.  He died so that we live.  He died as a King like no other to take the nations as His inheritance.  He lived so that David could write, Blessed are those who take refuge in Him. He died, so that Solomon could write, All nations will be blessed through Him. He rose, so that Paul could say that [the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

We are not dying!  And to say different is to call the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit liars!  It makes Jesus lie when He says, On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

We are not dying!  Because we are not looking for a Kingdom here, there, or anywhere!  It’s already here, by the work of the Spirit!  It is within us!  We are not dying so long as the Gospel is being proclaimed to souls in need, so long as the Spirit is bringing souls into God’s kingdom through His washing of rebirth and renewal, so long as hungry sinners are being fed and nourished on the eternal body and blood of Christ in His Supper.  So long as that is happening, we are not dying, we are living!  In fact, we are thriving!  And God’s kingdom is coming!  We pray in this petition that it continue to be so, that God marshal His forces to use us to spread His Kingdom and to preserve us into His eternal Kingdom!  Thy Kingdom come!  Amen.

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