Sunday, December 12, 2010
The Marks of the Kingdom
"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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
In our gospel passage this morning, John the baptizer, now in prison for his stance on royal morality, has a moment of impatience. Have you ever been impatient in your life? Wanting so badly to see a new … well, you can fill in the blank. John wanted to see the new KINGDOM. He was probably anxious for his cousin to come to POWER and free him from his prison abode. So we hear his impatience, in the voices of his disciples who question Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” WOW.
What a vote of confidence from John, the Forerunner of Jesus! The one who had pointed to him on the river bank and declared, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Who had actually seen the dove and heard the voice of God at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased!” Now, from prison and in his suffering, asks this question.
“This is taking longer than I thought, cousin!” Or another possibility, “I’m not sure I like the direction that your ministry is taking, cousin.” Or in the words of the other disciples, even up to the day of the Ascension, “Are you NOW going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1)
Impatience is always predicated on expectation. The people’s expectation of the Messiah was that he would come and rebuild the sovereign state of Israel. And it was felt acutely at this time of intense oppression under Roman rule. But Jesus agenda did not include a political coup, or even freeing John the Baptiser from his fate in prison.
In the chapter before our reading, Matthew 10, Jesus is deputizing his novice disciples and sending them out ahead of him with these words: ”Go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” Jesus was a revolutionary of a different kind! He didn’t have wealth, nor were his followers to seek it – He sought dependence on God. He gave away peace, not prosperity.
Jesus warned his disciples, as He sent them out: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” We, just like the disciples, don’t really want to hear words like that from Jesus. And John was no different than us – stuck in prison, waiting, watching for some sign that the Kingdom is being set up – some coup in progress… but nothing.
And so his question. “Who are you?” Are you who I expected you to be or not?
Did I miss it out there at the Jordan River? And they are so like our questions, aren’t they? Jesus! This isn’t going as planned! This is taking a LOT longer than I thought. Lord? W-A-I-T is a four-letter word!! Ever feel like that?
And now in our reading, Jesus points to the marks of the Kingdom coming among men: marks that are not measured by our comfort, but by the demonstration of God’s power. Marks that have been the marks of the Kingdom of God from the time of God’s first involvements in the Old Testament:
In the Psalms and in the Prophets:
From Isaiah this morning the very same sentiments:
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
"Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you."
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
And in Psalm 146:
7 The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind; *
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
8 The LORD loves the righteous;
the LORD cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
And here in our gospel again, Jesus refers back to the Messianic Job Description that he quoted from Isaiah 61, in the 4th chapter of Luke’s gospel:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[f]
So for millennia the Word had been plain in its pointing to these signs of the Kingdom that Jesus pointed to in His own ministry. He said to John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see!” These things are the proofs I am offering. The same “signs” that have been spoken of for centuries in the Word of God are the ones that are happening now, as the Kingdom is being proclaimed by Jesus – and I might add, the same signs that are to be present today as the Kingdom is proclaimed! The charge from Jesus has not abated, since He gave it to His disciples: “Freely you have received, freely give!”
I hope that we are expecting the signs of the Kingdom in our midst. I believe that we are and that we are seeing them in fact! God has given us at REZ a testimony of His Kingdom coming among us, not unlike the testimony of Jesus to John.
Friends, the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because He has anointed us to proclaim good new to the poor. He has sent us to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
May we be able, with Jesus, who is present among us, to say with him, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing!” “Tell those who ask what it is you have seen and heard: 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.”
Let’s pray again together our collect for this Third Sunday of Advent:
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever.