Sermon – St. John's Lutheran Church, Beloit, WI
July 7th, 2013
July 7th, 2013
Your pastor and I had a funny little conversation about my visit here, and the readings for this Sunday. Being a missionary, and reading a text where Jesus sends out 72 to preach in his name – it almost seemed to easy. Like a softball. Hit it out of the park, Chryst. “Jesus saves. Mission is good. Support your missionary. Amen.”
Well the more I looked, it wasn't that easy. For yes, while I am being sent out to preach, like so many other preachers, what does this reading have to do with the people of St. John's, Beloit? Is there more to this than a sort of “spread the message” example or imperative? Sure we should all tell people about Jesus when we have the opportunity. And some are even sent to do that for a living. But there's more here than just that!
Sure there's the details of those 72 that were sent. But what was their message? What did they say to the people they saw?
“The kingdom has come near you”. A message repeated in the Gospels. The kingdom of God is near. The kingdom of God is at hand. And Jesus clarifies at one point, “and has now arrived,” that is, in his very self. Jesus Christ is not only the one sent by the Heavenly King to do his bidding, but he himself is the Son of the Father, who would earn all authority in heaven and earth, and one day ascend again to his throne.
John the Baptist began with all this “Kingdom of God” talk, and Jesus picked up where John left off, since John was preparing for Jesus anyway. And both John and Jesus included in that kingdom message a stern word: repent!
Now we're getting somewhere. For the preacher sent to you – the one who usually stands here – preaches the same message as John and Jesus and the 72. The same message the church has always preached as it has been sent by Christ. The message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. The message that the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ is near.
Before we talk about being sent and sending missionaries, we must first acknowledge that we have all benefitted from the message that was sent to us through similar messengers. And thanks be to God for that!
It is a message that can seem harsh, and it is, when we hear the law. “Woe to you Chroazin and Bethsaida! And Capernaum, you will be brought down to Hades!” Jesus doesn't sugar coat the real consequences of sin and rebellion and rejection of his word. He's not a guy smiley promising your best life now with warm fuzzy stories and emotionally uplifting inspirations.
Wrapped up in that word, “repent!” is the accusation that you, sinner, deserve the same treatment as Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum, Sodom and Gomorrah. Fire and brimstone. Death and punishment. All the woes of hell.
You think your sins are little and excusable, but they are not! You think that because the other guy sins more, or in a more spectacular way that you will skate by in comparison, but you won't! You think that God's standard is flexible, and that there's got to be some leeway for well-meaning sinners like you. But don't fool yourself.
The law doesn't say, “rest easy”, or “don't worry”. It's an alarming slap in the face that you, each of you, all of us, deserve eternal death for our sins. If you truly knew how bad your sins are, you'd be sitting in sackcloth and ashes, too.
But there is good news in this kingdom, too. For those who repent, for those who turn from sin and turn the other way – we see Jesus. We see the one who sends messengers with good news, with peace. Who brings healing of body and soul. Who brings authority and power over evil. Who defeats Satan, and writes our names in heaven.
What a promise that is! That your name is written in heaven. Of course, his name is upon you, too – by your baptism. The trinue name of God was spoken and splashed onto you and your sins went down the drain. You eternity is sealed and secured with Christ in that blessed water. Your name is on the list of those who are saved in Christ.
And you join in that heavenly gathering already, here today. As you kneel at the rail and receive him who comes in peace to give you peace – you are joining with all the company of heaven, angels and archangels, saints and apostles and prophets, all those who have gone before you in the faith and now stand in his glorious presence. We are part of that blessed communion of saints – the community of all whose names are written in heaven. Rejoice also in this!
For the kingdom of God has come to you and me in the person of Jesus Christ. He who died on the cross under the sign, “King of the Jews”. He who wore the crown of thorns and bled his royal, precious, innocent blood for his subjects. Whose shameful throne of the cross makes you an heir of heaven, who promises you a crown of righteousness and a reign with him forever.
The message we have been sent, have heard, have believed.... this is the message we proclaim. It is the good news preached from our pulpits. It is the same message preached by missionaries far and wide. It is the power of God for salvation that is the hope within us, and the source of our works of love for our neighbor.
It is the good news. It is for you. Peace be upon you, in Jesus Christ, Amen.