Saturday, March 4, 2017

Year A, Lent 1, Matthew 4.1-11, What type of Kingdom shall this be?

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
Just before our Gospel lesson for today we have the account of Jesus’ baptism.
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
Son of God.
This is a Messianic title used for the Davidic King in Israel.
In Psalm 2, a psalm read at the coronation of the Kings of Israel, we read:
God said:  "I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill."
David’s response was:  “I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, "You are my son;
today I have begotten you.”
Jesus’ baptism was his coronation.  God declaring him to be King of Israel.  That’s the first thing to know.
Second, immediately following today’s Gospel lesson we read that “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."”
In between these two texts, the first dealing with Jesus begin declared to be King, and the second dealing with his announcement that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near, we have the account of Jesus’ temptation.
This is no accident, as the temptations Jesus faced at the beginning of his ministry, are temptations related to the Kingdom of God.
Having been called by God to be King, Jesus struggle was to determine what type of King he would be, and what shape that Kingdom would take.
And so he withdrew into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days.
At the end of the 40 days, when he was hungry and tired, the temptations came.
The temptations came in the form of what Jesus might do and accomplish as King.
Imagine, for example, what each of our President’s undergo in the days following their election as they prepare to take office.  An intense and frantic effort is underway to set an agenda for their first 100 days in office – which will shape the remainder of their presidency.  There are many competing ideas and people who are advocating for a certain direction for the country to take.
Temptations abound.
And somehow out of all of it, a direction must be chosen.
This is what is happening to Jesus.
The concept of the Kingdom of Heaven and a return of a Davidic King to the throne of Israel is not new in Jesus’ day.  There were plenty of people thinking about it, and many voices expressing the hopes and dreams of what that might mean.
In the Gospel lesson, the Devil is the one who gives voice to the hopes and aspirations of the people of Israel.
The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread."
The problem was not that Jesus could not find something to eat.  There would have been food aplenty for him, as soon as he wanted it.  His fast was voluntary.
The temptation is about the Kingdom.
Later, Jesus would teach us to pray:  “Give us this day, our daily bread.”
Martin Luther explains what is meant by “daily bread” in the Small Catechism:
Everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as meat, drink, clothing, shoes, house, homestead, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful magistrates, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
In short daily bread represents and abundant and prosperous life.
“If you are the Son of God, just imagine what you could do, Jesus.  You could return prosperity to Israel, fill our bellies, and our coffers.”
“We only want, what all people want, which is enough money to live on and retire with.  We want a car or two, and the opportunity to take a vacation now and then.”
Or to quote another politician, James Carville, in counseling Bill Clinton’s campaign strategy: “The economy, stupid!”
“But Jesus answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. '

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,
6 saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
'He will command his angels concerning you,'
and 'On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. '"

It is not uncommon for Nations to believe that God is on their side, and so they can do anything, and God will preserve and protect them.
Israel would look to its own history for reason to believe this. 
And in Jesus’ day, against the overwhelming odds of trying to defeat the vast Roman Empire, Jewish patriots thought that the Messiah, with God’s help and blessing, would be able to do the impossible, and so they would launch one insurrection after another.
The belief that ‘God is on our side’ has led many a nation into battle.
And underlying that bravery, was the belief that because their cause was a righteous cause, God would protect them, sending angels, so to speak, to insure victory.
Our own nation has believed throughout much of our history that we were/are a holy nation, and that the wars we fight are righteous and holy, and that indeed, God is on our side.
“Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test. '"

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."
An unholy alliance if ever there was one. 
All these I will give you, if you just acknowledge and pay homage to me.
Again, History is ripe with examples of unholy alliances.
Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and in response, the Church often resorted to unholy alliances, most often with the secular state, to advance the Kingdom of God, supposedly.
Much of Europe, for example, became Christian not by one by one coming to faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, but because the State established Christianity as the official religion, and thereby forced it’s citizenship to adopt Christianity.
This pattern began with the Emperor Constantine, a few hundred years after Jesus, and to one extent after another, continues to this day.
But this has always been an unholy alliance, between the State and the Church.  And it was most definitely the Church that suffered as a result.
The Kingdom of God is so unlike the kingdom’s of this world, that marrying the two together makes no more sense than Jesus himself bowing down to worship Satan.
Perhaps Satan could have given Jesus all the Kingdoms of the world, but to choose this path would be to abandon the Kingdom of God that he was called to establish.
10 Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
'Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him. '"
Military Might.
And an unholy alliance with the powers of this World.
These things Jesus rejected.
Tempting as they were, Jesus would not bite.
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus describes this Kingdom:
18 "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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

If prosperity, military might, and worldly power are not the things of the Kingdom of heaven, what are?

Good News for the poor.
And a new start, a new day, where all share equally in the blessing and abundance of God.
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."


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