In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The kingdoms of earth overcome by violence. Glory is won by force. The strong, the proud, and the mighty are rewarded. The kings of the earth rule with armies and weapons. At the first sign of weakness the vultures and rebels arise to destroy them. Not so in the Kingdom of Heaven. It suffers violence. It is the Kingdom of martyrs, of the lowly, of the weak. Those who lay hold of it are those who would suffer violence with, and for, it. They lay hold of it by a violent separation from the world of violence. They put their hands to the plow and do not look back. They turn the other cheek and suffer violence. They are weak. They are obsessed, caring nothing for anything save this Kingdom and its King. This is the picture of faith: the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.
The Kingdom of heaven does not operate according to the principles of earth. It is not reasonable in the wisdom of men. Its Ruler did not come with military fanfare on a gleaming warhorse in a show of power. He came instead on a lowly donkey, and that, to die. What kind of a God allows Himself to be abused by mortals? What kind of a God dies? Not the kind designed by men. This is not our plan. What kind of a God is He? He is the only kind. He is love and He loves mankind. This love propels Him into our dark world. Out of love, for a while, He denies Himself, comes in meekness and submission, and even, suffers violence. And by the violence done to Him the Kingdom was won. By it still, by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, He rules in our hearts. This is His Kingdom of Grace. In us it still suffers violence.
Do you remember the spark that ignited the Reformation? All the school children can tell us it was the indulgences sold to raise money for the building of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. They were little pieces of paper thought to forgive years off of an imagined purgatory. They were for sale. It was man’s wisdom, man’s scheme to raise funds and make the Church successful in the middle of the Middle Ages. But one man would not tolerate giving false comfort to secure sinners. One man feared God more than the pope. He would not allow such a burdening of consciences, such a blasphemy against grace. He stood against them in the courage of conviction. Forcefully, by the power of God, he stood his ground and would not move. He obeyed God rather than men and suffered violence for it. He was a hero sent by God, a champion who forever changed the world that followed. Where are his sons and daughters? Where are those convicted believers of heroic, violent faith, who are not afraid to stand up for the Truth, who will not bend, who do not love life unto death?
The wisdom of man resists. It still makes up business plans and strategies. It markets. It advertises. It sells. It records, reports, measures, and evaluates. In the name of progress, it seeks to make the salty Word of God less salty, more palatable to the fickle, ever-changing tongues of men. It seeks to nullify the prophetic, strident chords of God’s Word and make them nursery lullabies for vain, itchy ears. With the false promise of growth and success it does violence again to the Kingdom in God’s children. We might as well give this dog a name and call him, “Indulgence.”
Repent. I am not talking about some District official or far away bureaucrat. I am talking about you! You have tried to solve what you imagined to be the Church’s problems with your own solutions. You have judged the Kingdom by the standards of the world and found it lacking. Repent. The Kingdom of heaven is found in weakness and humility. It cannot be judged by buildings, programs, and budgets! Jesus did not need Peter’s help in the garden. He does not need your help now. This is His design.
Relax. For here in the midst of a suffering, struggling, dog-eat-dog, tooth and claw world is an oasis of peace, love, and acceptance. Step out of the rat race’s need to succeed and into the embrace of a God who is above and beyond your understanding, who loves you more than you can contain, who causes your cup to overflow. Come and receive the God who makes no demands of you, who just loves you. Here, in this crumbling place of weakness full of frail mortals, is a place that is free of the world’s judging standards. Here is a place of belonging love for outcasts. The world says, “You got the money, honey, I got the time.” The kingdom of heaven says, “Come, and eat without money, without price. Come, regardless of class or wealth, ethnicity or status. Come, the good and the bad, the greatest and least.” He did not shrink from the violence done unto Him, but suffered it so that He might love you and make you His own. He did not love His life or comfort more than He loves you. For you He suffered violence. And by it you are saved!
Repent, relax, rejoice, and receive. He has done it all! This is greater than any creature-inspired design. It is perfect. It makes foolish the wisdom of the world and bestows joy and peace upon those who believe it. There is nothing left for you to do. You are free! He has done it all for you. The sacrifice is complete. The payment paid in full. Nothing can separate you from His love. You bear His Name. You hear His Word. You drink His Blood. You are His and He is yours.
So, where are Luther’s sons and daughters? Where are those convicted believers of heroic, violent faith who will not bend, who are not afraid to stand up for the Truth, who do not love life unto death? They are here. Look to your left and to your right. You see them now according to their weakness, frail like you, but God sees in them Himself, His own Son, His own perfect obedience and faith. And He sees it also in you. Let the violence come. God is on your side. You will not fail. The battle is already won. By Grace, this is your heritage. God be praised!
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen, Pastor
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Ft. Wayne, Indiana