Monday, October 29, 2012

Sermon -- Festival of St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles (October 28, 2012)

JUDE 1-4,17-23 / JOHN 14:21-27
BE ZEALOUS FOR THE KINGDOM.

In the name + of Jesus.

     In just a week and a half, we will have a chance to vote for a president, for various congressmen and officials, and on proposition this or that.  People may get excited about elections because they believe the right official will produce a glorious and prosperous kingdom.  But if you want some divine direction regarding political promises, programs, and elections, then listen very carefully, because here it is: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.  When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” (Psalm 146:3-4) 
     Today the Church focuses on two obscure apostles, St. Simon and St. Jude.  The one is known better as Simon the Zealot.  The Zealots were a political faction whose goal was to usher in the kingdom of God by ridding the Promised Land of the Romans and their armies.  In their zeal, they had even engaged in guerilla warfare and acts of terrorism to oust Israel’s enemies and to establish Israel’s kingdom, which they assumed was synonymous with the kingdom of God. 
     Our Lord Jesus Christ called Simon to be a preacher in the kingdom of God.  If Simon would be a zealot, it should not be for an earthly kingdom.  Earthly kingdoms come and go, but the throne of our God endures forever.  In his epistle, St. Jude urges us to demonstrate zeal for the kingdom of God.  This kingdom is not advanced by warfare, elections, or legislation.  St. Jude wrote, But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 20,21)  Be zealous for the kingdom, and that means being zealous for God’s word – zealous for the proclamation of it, zealous against the distortion of it, and zealous for receiving it and partaking of it.
     St. Simon wanted to see the kingdom of God established and advancing in a visible way.  He wanted to see the Lord living and reigning in Jerusalem.  He wanted to see the Lord’s enemies cowering at his feet.  He wanted to see God’s faithful people enjoying the benefits of peace, prosperity, and productivity under the glorious rule of their Messiah-King.  And perhaps that is what you want the kingdom of God to be too.  You may even live under the delusion that this is what the United States of America is supposed to be.  But it is not.  God’s kingdom is no worldly kingdom.
     St. Jude had hoped it would be, though.  He asked Jesus, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” (John 14:22)  What a glorious thing it would be to see Jesus and his kingdom reigning in this world!  Oh, how we wish that we would radiate in divine glory and that the Lord’s favor upon us would be obvious to the world!  Instead, we suffer the frustrations and pains of a sinful world.  We are mocked for taking God’s word seriously.  We are despised for confessing that Jesus Christ is the sole source of righteousness, forgiveness, and salvation.  We do not appear to be citizens in the kingdom of God.  Instead of being dominant, we are weak.  We don’t look like children of the Most High God, either.  Rather than looking like saints, we prove that we are sinners.  We pray, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,” but then we wonder: Where is it?!
     Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” (John 14:22)  Do not be deceived or disappointed about the kingdom of God.  It is not revealed in advancing armies or in lavish palaces.  The Lord reveals himself in the word which is preached and in sacraments which are administered.  This is where the Lord delivers to you his forgiveness.  This is where the Lord opens up the gates of heaven to you.  It does not matter if it is a time of peace or persecution.  It does not matter if we meet openly in an ornate cathedral or secretly in someone’s basement.  Where the word and sacrament are, there is the kingdom of God.  For there, Jesus is with his people imparting forgiveness, blessing, and salvation.  Be zealous for the kingdom.
     The kingdom of God has been established by the blood of Christ.  It is Jesus’ blood which was shed for the forgiveness of sins.  It is Jesus’ blood which has been poured over you in your baptism to purify you and to bring you into God’s kingdom.  It is Jesus’ blood which is given to you in the Lord’s Supper where you remain united to Jesus in his kingdom.  He has ransomed you from a world where glory fades, were promises are broken, where dreams are dashed, and where people die.  Even the greatest glory this world has to offer is fleeting, and it always ends in death.  But now Jesus has delivered you into a kingdom where God always keeps his promises, where the glory is everlasting, where death is destroyed, and where a perfect world is not something you dream about but something you wait for.  This is the kingdom God has given to you. 
     Be zealous for the kingdom.  The devil can never overthrow Jesus from his throne.  He can never destroy the kingdom of God.  But he will strive to get you to leave it.  He will even try to deceive you by twisting God’s word so that his lies have the appearance of divine truth.  For that reason, St. Jude wrote, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who … pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 3,4) 
     So that you will not be deceived by lies or led astray by temptation, be zealous for the kingdom.  That means be zealous for the word of the Lord – zealous for the proclamation of it, zealous against the distortion of it, and zealous for receiving it and partaking of it.  Hear the word of the Lord.  Cling to his truth.  For this is your only refuge against Satan, your only forgiveness for your sins, and your only hope for eternal life.  But the Lord will not fail you.  He is zealous to save you, which is why he suffered and died for you.  He is zealous to keep you in his care, which is why he sends ministers to preach and administer the Lord’s Supper.
     On election day, by all means, vote as your conscience leads you and pray for your leaders.  You can get excited about promises and candidates all you want.  None of them will ever make the world a utopia.  You will never get heaven on earth.  Whether rulers are wise or foolish, truthful or liars, noble or crooked, chaste or immoral, or Christian or heathen, the divine direction is the same.  “Put not your trust in princes.” (Psalm 146:3) 
     But you have been brought into a glorious, eternal kingdom.  It is not limited by boundaries or languages or even time.  The kingdom of God dwells in the hearts of all who believe and are baptized.  You get to join in with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven in your worship.  And in this kingdom, God blesses, forgives, comforts, and grants everlasting life.  No army, no enemy, and no death can ever take that from you.
     St. Simon and St. Jude did not preach about a glorious, earthly kingdom in which they would enjoy peace and prosperity.  They pointed to a better, eternal kingdom in heaven – purchased and won by the blood of Christ.  Tradition says that St. Simon and St. Jude honored Jesus by shedding their blood for him.  They were zealous to the end, contending for the faith, clinging to Jesus, and proclaiming his kingdom.  This faith has been delivered down to you.  Be zealous for the kingdom.  It is where you are safe.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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