Saturday, December 10, 2016

Year A, Advent 3, Matthew 11:2-11, Shall we look for another?

Peace Lutheran, Otis Orchards

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
John the Baptist had devoted his life to delivering the message that the Kingdom of God was at hand.
He called on the people to repent.
And, then his moment came when he looked up, saw Jesus, and declared
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
“This is the one!” he cried out.  The one we have been waiting for.  The Son of God.  The Messiah!
The next we hear of John he is in prison.
He would be beheaded for having criticized King Herod’s relationship with his wife, Herodius. 
But first, as he waited in the prison, John had his doubts.  And so he sent his disciples to ask Jesus

 “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he had stood up before the synagogue in Nazareth, and read from the prophet,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
(Luke 4:18 &19)
Those words from the prophet, Jesus said, were fulfilled in him.  He was the Messiah.
There is a difference between what Jesus told the people in Nazareth, and how he answered John.
In both instances he declares that the poor have Good News preached to them, and that the blind see.
But as for the words,
“He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and to let the oppressed go free.”
These words were specifically not mentioned in Jesus response to John.  It’s as though Jesus backed away from a campaign promise.  John hadn’t been released.  He was not set free.  And he wouldn’t be.
Perhaps this is why John now has doubts about whether Jesus in is fact the Messiah.
If you are the Messiah,
                If the Kingdom has come,
                Then why do we still suffer so?
And why would someone like John, lose his head as entertainment for Herod’s dinner guests?

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Implied in those words are another question:
“If you are the One, the Messiah,
Then when are you going to do,
what the Messiah does?”

John isn’t alone in asking the hard question.
Maybe, for one brief but shining moment during Jesus ministry, the blind received their sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, the dead were raised, and the poor had good news brought to them. . .
But for the most part since that time:
·         The blind don’t see
·         The lame still limp
·         The lepers die with their disease
·         The Deaf don’t hear
·         The dead aren’t raised
·         And of late, there has been little good news for the poor.
And as for the Kingdom of God, where is it?
Where is it that God’s will is done, on earth as in heaven?

Many simply just don’t see it.
If Jesus came to save the world, then shouldn’t the world, look a little bit more ‘saved’?
And what about Christians?
If Jesus is the Messiah, then shouldn’t his followers look and act a bit differently than the rest of the world?
If you are the One, Jesus, show us!
And if you’re not the One, we’ll look for another.
We live in a time when the younger generation is indeed, looking for another.
David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons, wrote a book titled "unChristian, What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity...and Why It Matters," based on extensive research into what the younger, unChurched generation actually thinks about the church.  What they found is that the vast majority of young people believe that we are
  • (1) Hypocritical
  • (2) Too focused on getting converts
  • (3) Antihomosexual
  • (4) Sheltered...old fashioned, boring, out of touch with reality
  • (5) Too political AND
  • (6) Judgmental"
In short, what the research found was that though the younger generation finds much appealing about Jesus and his message, they see almost none of that reflected in the Church.
And so with their choices, they are basically asking,
“Are you the one, or are we to wait for another?”
The vast majority of them have simply resolved to wait for another. 
You see, many outside the Church have simply concluded that as good a man as Jesus was, his mission failed to make a difference in the world. 
God’s will isn’t done on earth as it is in heaven.
What are we to say, to the John’s of our generation, who are asking if they should look for another?
One message that we’ve given over the years is to quote Jesus’ comment that he made to Pontius Pilate during his trial:
"My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."
The reason we don’t see the Kingdom of God on earth, is because it was never intended to be an earthly kingdom in the first place.
To one extent, this lets Jesus ‘off the hook’.  We can continue to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, because, though we don’t see the signs of the Kingdom here, we believe that it is fully revealed in heaven.  Just wait, when the time comes, you will see it. 
When you die, then, and only then, will you see the Kingdom.
There is another more uncomfortable reality.
And that is that Jesus did indeed do everything necessary to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.
He was the Messiah.
But we, as his followers, have failed to do our part.
This was the belief of the Social Gospel movement of the 1800’s.  That is, it was our job, as Jesus’ disciples, to do the work of the Kingdom.
One of the things that they believed was that if we just educated people about the Kingdom of God, we could establish that Kingdom here and now.  Their lasting contribution to the Church’s life was Sunday School.
Sunday School actually was established with two purposes in mind:
1.       To educate the working poor.
2.       And to teach people about Jesus, so that they might live into the Kingdom of God.
They also launched a massive missionary emphasis, and sent missionaries throughout the world, in the hopes that the twentieth century might be the “Christian Century”, and that in our time, we might see the Kingdom of God with all its promises fulfilled. 
Two world wars, however, crushed the movement.
Instead of seeing the Kingdom of God, what they saw was the nations of the world at war. 
They were disheartened, like John the Baptist.
This is the tension:
On the one hand, the Kingdom of God is to be now—
                And we are to work diligently to establish it.
And on the other hand, it is not yet—
                And we are to wait patiently and faithfully for it.
 Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:
“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
And then Jesus says:
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Now, but not yet.
Martin Luther expressed this in his explanation to the Lord’s prayer, found in the Small Catechism:

Thy kingdom come.

What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.
How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.
St. Augustine said:
“Pray as though everything depended on God, work as though everything depended on you.”

And perhaps this is the way we must follow:
God has done his part in Christ Jesus in establishing the Kingdom—
But now it is our responsibility to live into that Kingdom, by conforming our lives to Christ.
This we can do, but only with the power of the Holy Spirit. 
“Are you the one, or are we to wait for another?”
Yes, Jesus is the one.
But rather than simply waiting for the Kingdom, we are called to work for the Kingdom.
We are not to simply hope for that day when God’s will is done, on earth as in heaven,
                We are to live our lives according to God’s will.
Now, but not yet.
Everything depends on Christ.
And everything depends on us.
Such is the Kingdom of God.


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