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Watching And Waiting For The Kingdom

Sermon
A God For This World
Gospel Sermons For Advent/Christmas/Epiphany
The future is big business these days. Remember when in the 1960s Alvin Toffler came out with his best-selling book, Future Shock? People everywhere rushed out to buy it, from professors to corporate executives to housewives to investment counselors to ministers. Toffler told us the future was coming at us faster than we realized, so fast in fact, it would produce future shock much as a sudden immersion in a foreign culture produces culture shock. We become disoriented and unsure of what is real and lasting and important.

Toffler was not alone in his interest in the future. Universities devoted entire departments to studying the future. Corporations and governments developed think tanks to understand the future. Investment houses had their researchers sweating out their predictions of future trends as billions of investment dollars hung in the balance. In a less awesome way many weather forecasters predict our chances for rain for our lawns or lack thereof for our day at the beach.

If Toffler wrote one book on the future, hundreds wrote others. Naisbitt gave us Megatrends and Toffler came out with The Third Wave. Researchers and opinion polls intrigue us, but even more perhaps are we intrigued with the rise of astrology. Horoscopes are printed in daily newspapers. We all seem to know our astrological sign. Palmistry and various kinds of spiritualism seem popular. Edgar Cayce, an Indiana medium, was one of the most widely read authors of the 1970s.

Psychics like Jeane Dixon were published and widely read. Police departments unabashedly call in psychics to lead them to clues in unsolved crimes. The future is indeed big business. It's the key to success or failure in the stock market. As Will Rogers once advised, buy only those stocks that will go up. If they don't go up, don't buy them.

Of course the Bible is not without its interest in the future. The kings of the Old Testament often had prophets on the court payroll to advise them of the future. And generally the court prophets managed to say what the kings wanted to hear. However, there were exceptions like Isaiah, Amos, Micah, and Jeremiah. With a keen eye for world history and a sensitive soul attuned to the will of God, each passed the ultimate test for a prophet, namely, what he said would happen, actually did.

So much for the Old Testament times. How about the time of the New Testament? Were people then interested in the future? Indeed they were, especially Jesus' disciples. They believed he was God's Messiah to bring in the grand and glorious day of God's Kingdom. Even though the crucifixion smothered their hopes, the resurrection fanned the embers of their hopes into a high blaze. "Will you at this time restore the Kingdom?" they asked. And Jesus' disciples have been asking that question ever since.

I

When will the Kingdom come? Perhaps it never will, say some.

That is the answer of the materialists, the secularists, and the Marxists. We are well aware of the Marxist critique of religion as being the opiate of the people, drugging them into a vain hope for a kingdom yet to come, and delaying their earthly satisfactions for a never-never land of pie in the sky by and by. Karl Marx wanted to awaken people out of their false hopes and dreams so they would revolt and seize life for the here and now.

He rightly saw generations of peasants exploited and oppressed, often with the blessing of the churches, which sided with the aristocratic classes. He saw philosophers and poets and theologians thinking about the world, whereas he wanted to change the world. By worldly terms the kingdom had come for the plutocracy and aristocracy. The lord of the manor may have enjoyed an existence that had the appearances of paradise -- a paradise made possible by the endless toil of the proletariat.

Therefore, Marx warned the masses that the kingdom of heaven of which the church spoke never would come. It was a hoax, a delusion, a device for keeping down the frustrations of the masses. "Wake up," said Marx. "Workers of the world unite. It is time for the proletarian revolution. The only kingdom is the kingdom we make for ourselves now. Therefore, let us be done with religious illusion. Let us throw off the yoke of serfdom. We have only one life. Let's live it now."

If we cast a critical eye at American advertising, we readily see that at least a part of the Marxist philosophy is deeply imbedded in our capitalist society. "We live only once," is the common phrase, or, "We go 'round only once." Might as well make it the best possible. Both Marxism and capitalism are basically materialistic in their philosophies. Both make every possible effort to "make it" in this life through the acquisition of as many things and experiences as possible, with the exception that capitalism is immensely more successful than Marxism. Nevertheless, a materialistic philosophy underlies them both.

Therefore, even in our culture it is not uncommon for one to hear people say that as far as they are concerned, the good life is probably it for them. They've lived in a good land with a good family with a fair amount of the world's goods. All in all, it's been a good life. And so they say, "If, when I lay me down to my final sleep, I never again awake, it is well. I have no complaints. Whatever kingdom there was to be, has already been."

II

However, as a church, we are here to say with the Church of the centuries that indeed the kingdom has come and is yet to come. It has already arrived, but it is not yet completed or consummated.

It is no secret that one of the biggest adjustments of the early Church was the delay of Christ's Second Coming. First generation Christians had been led to believe Jesus was coming again in great power and glory in their lifetime. If the powers of Judea and Rome had done him in the first time, Jesus would come again by the power of the resurrection and exaltation to put all nations under his feet, to subdue all principalities and powers, to subjugate all potentates and pretenders to power, to destroy even death itself. It was in this hope for glory that first century Christians were greatly disappointed. Consequently, the Church settled in for the long winter of its discontent.

And yet, it was not entirely a winter of discontent. For as John's Gospel and Paul's writings assured them, Christ had come to them again a second time by giving them his Spirit. It was a Spirit of rebirth, a Spirit of power and presence, a Spirit of guidance and assurance. Although the Kingdom of God had not come in its full power and glory, it had come, nevertheless, and it did have power and glory.

Don't look here or there for the kingdom, said Jesus, for the kingdom is within you. That is, the realities of the kingdom do not depend upon external acquisitions, but upon internal dispositions. The real kingdom, the real domain of the King is the human heart. God has all the material possessions he needs. What he longs for is the love and loyalty of the human heart and mind. When we swear allegiance to the King we belong to him, and there is a very real sense in which the Kingdom has come already.

Of course, this could sound like double-talk or illusion or another opiate of the people. But on the other hand it could be a tremendous release from the anxiety of compulsive materialism. If religion holds out the promise of pie in the sky by and by, doesn't materialism do so even more? Do we not all look forward to that day when we finally will have arrived? Think of it -- that day when we can buy whatever our heart desires, when bills and breakdowns bother us not at all.

But doesn't materialism hold out the ever-elusive carrot? We look for the next bigger deal, the third condominium, the best ever vacation, the dream house about to be realized. If Marxism criticizes the Church for delayed gratification, think what materialistic capitalism does. Years of education, more years of training and working our way up, and then if our health holds out and we are lucky, we may get into the upper echelons of management or leadership. Delayed gratification? You bet. No wonder the '60s generation wanted to live now, not in some distant future that might never be.

But in its wait for the kingdom, the Church attempts to cut through both delusions, the Marxist and the capitalist, by saying ultimately God's Kingdom is not of this world. It says that powerfully by asking the haunting question, with Peggy Lee, if that's all there is when we reach the top of the heap, and discover the soul's emptiness. Isn't there something more for the soul of man?

The Church says it powerfully even amid the frantic materialism of this religious season by saying that a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions, but in how he relates to God and to his wife and family and fellow-workers. The Church speaks it powerfully when amid the wild-war music raging largely over oil and territory, we sing "Silent Night, Holy Night" and "Joy To The World, The Lord Is Come" and when our choirs sing again and again Handel's immortal Messiah.

Yes, we are watching and waiting for the fullness of the Kingdom. No, we do not think the Jerry Falwells and Hal Lindseys know when that final day will be. Yes, we do believe God will consummate his great scheme for human history and that he has already begun by giving us the Spirit of his Risen Christ. Yes, we are released from the capitalist anxiety of having to live out a New Yorker advertisement in every detail. And yes, we are released from the anxiety of the Marxist dogma that we have to make it in this life or not make it at all. Oh, for the teeming, suffering oppressed masses of the world, there has to be a better day, a kingdom of God coming, when all is joy and peace for them as well.

We live between a Kingdom that has already begun, but is not yet completed; a Kingdom already activated, but not yet consummated. We gather around the table which focuses on a cross that inaugurated that Kingdom and which draws our attention to a living presence which some glad day, to the sound of trumpets and heavenly choirs, will bring that Kingdom into triumph. And so together we eat and drink in anticipation, proclaiming the Lord's death and resurrection until he comes again, feasting in hope for all humankind, that our loving Heavenly Father will bring all his children to that grand banquet feast, that marriage supper of the lamb, in the exquisite and everlasting joys of Heaven.


Prayer

Lord of the universe, who has filled the far reaches of space with galaxies and solar systems beyond numbering, but who in tenderness and affection has fashioned us in your image, we praise you for the marvel of the world and the life therein. In your mighty presence all the morning stars sing together for joy, but you bend your ear to hear the tiny baby's cry and to take note when even the sparrow falls. We come before you to celebrate your power and love.

And yet, O Lord, we come before you praising you not only for the glory of the world, but lamenting as well its grinding misery. The beauty of a thousand hills is counterbalanced by the ugliness of society's underbelly. The fame and glitter of the rich and successful are starkly contrasted by starving babies and emaciated mothers with no milk for their young. If a few in the world live in freedom and luxury, too many of us live in oppression and poverty. If many have tasted the delights of salvation and have known the grace and truth which come from our Lord Jesus, so many more have been without hope in this world and with no promise for the next.

So we pray earnestly for the coming of your kingdom, O Lord. As love and grace and truth have come to us through your Christ, so might his spirit of power and presence visit many more of the world's hopeless. As many of us have been liberated from human tyranny and torture, so might a new day of liberation come for the world's teeming masses yearning to breathe free. If some of us have known the joy of the earth's harvest and the exhilaration of success and wealth, so might many be brought to that glorious day of sharing fully in the world's abundance, singing the glad songs of union and victory around your table, your eternal banquet feast of love. In ways great or small, help us be instruments of your coming kingdom, O Lord. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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