Will You Recognize the Kingdom When it Comes?

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Last week we looked at how we are transformed by the renewing of our mind and how that can and does affect the way we treat each other, both as outsiders and as members of Christ’s body, the Church. Today I want look briefly at three stories from God’s rescue plan for humanity to see what they can tell us in terms of how we are expected to respond to God’s gracious gift of life offered to each of us.

In each of our lessons today, we see a different aspect of God’s overall rescue plan for sinful humanity. The three lessons overall show us clearly that God has promised to rescue us from our exile from him and to end the alienation that has existed between God and humans since the Fall. Each lesson also shows us that God is big enough to deliver on his promises. But in each of the stories we also see that while we humans desperately want God to rescue us from our sin and the death it causes, we typically want him to rescue us on our terms, not his.

For example, in our OT lesson, God calls Moses to be his speaker and human leader for his people Israel, but Moses doesn’t want any part of it because Moses knows that he is not a good speaker and doesn’t really believe God has thought about that. And of course the beat goes on in our day and age. We still want God to rescue us from our sins but we aren’t much interested in doing what God asks because putting to death all the stuff in us that keeps us hostile toward God and dehumanizes us is hard work. It takes effort and discipline on our part, not to mention that doing so is impossible without the help of the Spirit, and we’ve got better things to do with our time and life, frankly.

But it is to the glory of God that despite our stubbornness and denseness, God remains faithful to us, even when we are faithless toward him (cf. 2 Timothy 2.13). From all eternity, God has had a plan in place to rescue us from sin and death, and he does this because he is loving and gracious. God created us to have a relationship with him and each other; and in the death of Jesus, God has done what is necessary to end the hostility and alienation that exists between God and us. God has not wavered from his plan and he is infinitely patient with us, even when we try to tell him that we know better about things than he does. When we finally realize this, it makes all the difference in the world for us because we can stop trying to pursue our own agenda of self-help and self-hope.

But before we can enjoy this freedom from fear and anxiety and not demand that God rescue us on our terms instead of his, we have to know what God expects from us and be familiar with the ways in which God works, at least as best as we are able with our finite minds and mortal perspectives. Here again we can learn from each of today’s lessons. In our OT lesson, we are reminded that God is indeed unchanging and eternal. We see this illustrated in God’s name that he reveals to Moses—I Am Who I Am. What this means for us is that we have a God  whose purposes will not be thwarted because like him they too are constant, and we can stake our very lives on that because we don’t have to worry about God changing his mind about us.

God’s use of Moses to rescue Israel from Egypt also shows us powerfully and clearly that God often acts in unexpected ways and that nothing is too difficult for God, not even our own sins and sometimes stubborn refusal to listen to God. God is a God who can and does rescue his people from our exile from him. But Israel didn’t always get that memo and this caused them to rebel against God in the wilderness after God delivered them from their bondage. We can shake our head over this and wonder how they could be so stupid. But we have to remember that we read these stories with 20-20 hindsight, hindsight the Israelites did not have, and hindsight that we do not have when we are in the midst of our own desert struggles and fears. When this happens to us, like Israel, we often lose sight of the fact that God Is Who God Is. We end up in despair and need to be reminded of the truth that God is a God who is unchanging and who delivers for us—if we are willing to accept what he has to offer and believe that he really does have our best interests at heart. Everyone in this room knows how hard that can be at times.

Likewise with Peter in today’s Gospel lesson. Peter had just confessed Jesus to be God’s promised Messiah but then Jesus tells his disciples that he did not come to be the Messiah they expected or wanted. He wasn’t going to be a military hero or political liberator. Instead, he tells them he is going to have to suffer and die so that humanity can be reconciled to God. Worse yet, Jesus tells his disciples (and us) that if they wanted to follow him, they would have to do likewise. What’s that all about? Where’s the power and prestige and status and honor and glory that come from hanging out with the Messiah? Instead of the goodies we want, Jesus tells us that if we want to follow him, we have to deny ourselves and take up our cross. If we want to save our life, we have to lose it for his sake. In practical terms this means that we are going to have to give up our desire to be the center of the universe. We are going to have to look out for others, especially our fellow believers, and we are going to have to accept the fact that we are no more special than anybody else (or to put it a different way, everybody else is as special as we are because each of us is made in God’s image, no matter how distorted or damaged that image may be).

When Jesus told his disciples that there would be those who would see him coming in his kingdom, the overall context of this passage surely means that he was referring not to his second coming but rather to his resurrection in which he would inaugurate his Father’s kingdom and which he calls each of us to take part, precisely by denying ourselves, taking up our cross each day, and following him. We are called to be kings and priests in God’s new creation, but we are to be servant kings and humble ones. This means that we have work to do. We must kill off all that is in us that resists this healing transformation in us—with the Spirit’s help, of course.

And we see Paul take up this theme in his letter to the Romans. We must remember that Romans is a letter written to a real church on the ground that was dealing with all the problems that real churches have to deal with today. In fact, the church at Rome probably had more than its share of problems because Jews and Gentiles were seeking to put their mutual hostilities behind them and worship Jesus together.Hence, we who want to be part of Christ’s body must pay attention to what Paul is saying to them because what he says to them applies equally to us.

Paul reminds us that if we want to be part of the New Creation that Jesus’ resurrection has inaugurated, we must march to the tune of a different drummer. We must imitate and copy our crucified and risen Messiah. This means that we are to bless and not curse our enemies, even when we’d rather punch them in the mouth. We are to rejoice in our hope and persevere in our suffering. In other words, Paul is reminding us that following Jesus does not give us a get-out-of-jail-free card. The world is hostile to Jesus and we can expect it to be hostile toward us as well. That means we can expect to suffer for the Name and we are called to do it joyfully no less (cf. Romans 5.3; Matthew 5.11-12)! But that takes massive trust on our part. It means that we have to believe that God really does love us, even in the midst of our suffering. It means we have to believe that God is big enough and constant enough to deliver on his promises to rescue us. We have to remember that God Is Who God Is. We have seen his glory in the death and resurrection of Jesus and must act like we really believe it. This isn’t the way the world does business but it is the way we must do business if we want to be rescued from ourselves and start to enjoy what being fully human is really all about.

All this suggests that we need to keep (or start) doing the things that will help remind us of who God is and how God works. We read Scripture regularly and systematically to know the story of God’s rescue plan for us intimately so that we can better recognize our part in it. We look for signs of God’s kingdom in our lives and as we have seen, we must remind each other that God often works in surprising ways. If you are journaling, this week you might make note of stories that you read that surprise you and/or challenge you. We also enjoy each other’s friendship so that we are reminded in tangible ways that God does love us and provide for us by giving us each other. This, of course, assumes that each of us is trying to follow the Messiah’s example in how we treat each other. Last, we come to the Table each week to feed on our Lord’s body and blood, both to remind us of the costly and gracious love God has poured out for us and to remind us of the great feast that awaits us when God’s New Creation comes in its fullness.

As we have seen, God has always had a plan to rescue us from sin and death and this entails inviting us to live in his new kingdom. But the kingdom’s economy is not the world’s economy. We are called to follow and imitate Jesus our Messiah and this often violates our expectations about what it means to live as God’s people. When we try to make God fit our mold and expectations, we can expect trouble to ensue. But when we are humble enough and open enough to take the time to learn about God’s rescue plan and the ways he works among his people, we will find grace and blessing sufficient for our needs. And when we finally realize that God is big enough to deliver on his promises, we will know that we have Good News, now and for all eternity, even in the midst of our trials and fears.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.