Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sermon for August 7, 2016: Admission Standards for the Kingdom

This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA on August 7, 2016.


Luke 12:32-40
[Jesus said:] 32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
 35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
 39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ,
As many students prepare to go back to school, especially those who are off to college somewhere, the excitement of the day that an acceptance letter came from the school of one’s dreams has certainly faded by now. The joy that came when the packet was opened, and that young person read, “Congratulations, we are excited to offer you admission to….” or maybe it went, “It is our good pleasure to welcome you into the distinguished….” or some other greeting, which was both warm and enthusiastic.

I started thinking about these letters and the spirit with which they are written, and it occurred to me why they could come across in such away, it’s because these schools get to choose who is good enough to get one of these acceptance letters. Each school gets to pick people who will be contributors to the school’s student life and academic reputation, and so they are excited about picking people who will make them better. And, hopefully, each prospective student will share this excitement in return.

The one caveat with these acceptance letters, which perhaps some of you have framed, or have safely kept somewhere, is that they aren’t good forever. In order to go to the school, you have to keep your grades up during your senior year and most certainly graduate. When you do get started, you of course have to keep your academic life on track, pass your classes, don’t do anything too horribly wrong, and of course, most importantly, keep the checks coming in on time. If you fail at this, the warm greeting that you received in your acceptance letter will be replaced by other messages telling you to leave.

This morning, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” Now this, is an acceptance letter as it is an offer of entrance into a Kingdom. Now, this is not simply any Kingdom, but this is the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom that is at the top of every publications “best Kingdom’s” list. It is a great kingdom for all majors, all careers, all different types of people. This is the Kingdom that Jesus declares it is the Father’s good pleasure to give to us. In comparison, I’m guessing that not many schools out there are including invitations to sit on the Endowment Board as a part of their acceptance letters. Schools out there are happy to give you the opportunity of an education, but they aren’t real anxious to hand over the whole institution.

God though, operates differently. God doesn’t just welcome us into the life of the Kingdom, but hands over the whole thing. What’s also different, is that none of us even needed to apply. This Kingdom has been given to us in the waters of baptism, by the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is in these waters where we are made citizens of this kingdom. The citizenship that we are given is the work of God’s grace, not our own achievements, but is given to us because right from the get-go, God has made us miraculously and marvelously, and has stitched that wonderfulness into every inch of creation. Ultimately, it is a sign of how much God loves what God has made, and out of this love, God gives to us the Kingdom.

In receiving this offer, just as one goes to college or university, there is work to be done in this Kingdom. Joyful work. The work of creating, restoring, and giving life. The work of relationships. The work of seeing and giving thanks for the joy that is found in each and every day, and that is found in each other. This is the work of love, and it is the work that we are called to in those waters of baptism. This work is our daily vocation, the work of living lives that reflect the Kingdom’s love, peace and justice. This is the work that isn’t about making a living, especially as we hear Jesus tell us to “sell everything we have and give the money to the poor.” This is the work of realizing the abundance we have been given and growing in our generosity of that abundance. This is truly the work of the Kingdom. The work of faith.

19 years ago, I was about to head off to college myself. I had my sights on becoming a social studies teacher. Four years later, I graduated and then taught for another 5 years.
10 years ago, at this time, I was just finishing our Summer Greek class, on my way to beginning seminary. I was ready to go down the road to becoming a pastor.

As I take stock of these years, it’s easy to see that my profession has changed, my title has even changed, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the work, the work of faith…the vocation. This is the calling from God to be loving and caring, the call to be a steward of God’s creation, the call to learn to trust in God and proclaim God’s grace. This is a calling that has been formed in me since I was baptized as a little baby. This is a calling to the work of the Kingdom of Heaven, and it has been given to me as a family business is passed on from generation to generation. This is the work that God gave to Abram, or Abraham, so that it would be passed on with such abundance that the numbers receiving it would be more countless than the stars.
Now in my 37th year of this work, with the days remaining before my 38th year dwindling, I must admit that I have not been a big success in this “Kingdom Work” that God has given to me. I’ve hurt people instead of loving them. I’ve lied. I’ve taken things that don’t belong to me. If you could find ways to be incompetent at this Kingdom work, I’ve found them…we all have. And, that’s just counting the things that are on the outside, I don’t even want to get into the stuff on my mind and in my heart, the stuff that is not very Kingdom oriented, the stuff on the inside that tells God exactly what kind of person I am.
If I were God. If I were the one making this Kingdom, I would surely pick someone different than me, someone different than all of us. I would pick people who have much better qualifications then simply being born. I would pick people that actually listened to what I wanted them to do, and who actually did it. Even more so, if any of those worthy candidates who I picked to give the Kingdom to, who I left in charge of running it didn’t do it right, I would kick them out, or at least put them on double-secret probation.

It certainly seems like God could have chosen better citizens of the Kingdom than us. Yes, the Kingdom is still here and still going on, but sin remains as well. Our sin, sin that continues to mar this Kingdom with violence and death, selfishness and greed, envy and hatred.  Yet, in the midst of our own sinful incompetence in the work of the Kingdom, what we are given eyes to see is that this work of faith is ultimately not ours, but is God’s. This is work that has gone on long before we were here and it will go on long after we are gone.

 When God opens our eyes to the work that God is doing, God also gives to us a vision of faith, just as Abram was shown the stars in the sky as a promise of how numerous his unlikely descendants would be. This is the vision of faith we put our hope and our trust in, this is the vision of Jesus Christ who continues to complete this work of faith in us. This is the vision of Jesus Christ continuing to call us through his mercy and grace to be a blessing to others, by giving them these same things.
As we stand before God, knowing our applications don’t look good and there’s not much we could show God to continue justifying our presence in the Kingdom of Heaven, we give thanks that God doesn’t kick us out. Rather, God comes to us, in flesh and blood, and gives us this life, and through his work assures us that he knows what he is doing in picking us for the Kingdom. God comes to us in Jesus Christ and lovingly affirms that it is truly the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom.

While we get ready to go back to school, or college, as we enter into Kindergarten or if we haven’t gone back to school shopping for years, our calling remains the same. As Citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, as Children of God we have been called to the work of faith. The very work that is being done in us today, the work of love, the work of our Lord, Jesus Christ, giving himself for each of us and for all of creation. May we share in this work wherever our roads lead, and may we share and proclaim this Kingdom life that we have been given, and the one who gave it to us.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Amen

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