“THY KINGDOM COME”

The Church Forward: Exhibitionists

Matthew 23:12-33

The Reverend Tasha Blackburn

February 26, 2017

(VIDEO UNAVAILABLE)

It almost seems like the ironic punch line to some strange joke. Jesus has died and Jesus has been raised from the dead. Jesus has scheduled an appointment with his followers. There they are on a patch of ground in some backwater province. The congregation has shrunk since the last time they gathered together. There were twelve then and now there are only eleven. Even within this exclusive group at this momentous gathering, some are doubting. It is in that place and to those gathered souls that Jesus announces: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

“All authority,” he says. All of it is his. He does not say this in bustling Jerusalem to cheering crowds. He does not say it as he knocks down the gates of the emperor. He makes this earth shattering, reality changing statement to a small scraggly group in the middle of nowhere. It really does seem like some strange joke.

Except that Jesus’ authority is no joke. Not at all. People have heard his words and they have believed that he does have all authority and, because of that belief, many have been killed, including almost all of the eleven who stood there that day. Countless have been imprisoned, been cast out, been beaten: all because they believed it: that Jesus truly does have all authority, all that can be found in heaven and all that can be found on earth. Jesus has it all.

They took it seriously that “Jesus is Lord” and, if he is Lord, then we are to give our allegiance to a different ruler than other people do. And we live within and for another kingdom than the one people can see. Thank God we probably won’t be killed for it. We probably won’t even be cast out or imprisoned for it. But placing our allegiance with Jesus, at the very least makes us a rowdy people.

Think about it: the one who is our Lord, was openly called a drunk, a glutton, a sinner. They tried to stone him. He was so upsetting to their world that they wanted him dead. And they got their way. If this Lord is our authority, and we are not at least a little bit rowdy to the powers that be, then we must still think it is all some kind of joke.

It reminds me of what the writer Chris Hoke described. Phil and I met Chris a year ago at a writing conference and he told this story. He said, “I grew up in the church. We went every week. Then, when I left home, I became disenchanted. I wasn’t sure there was anything to Christianity. But I wanted to keep trying.” He tells about how he went to a church and he started attending regularly. He told the leaders there, “I think maybe I really am a Christian. What do I do now?” The church leaders basically said to him: “Come to church every week and behave yourself. That’s it.” Chris really struggled with this: “That’s it?!” he wondered. “That’s all that following Jesus Christ asks of me?”

One day he was reading the gospel of Matthew and he read about Peter getting his new name: “Rock.” There he read that Jesus would build the Church upon Peter and that “even the gates of hell could not stand against it.”

This changed Chris. He came to realize: not only does the Church have work to do but it has a direction. There is much more to being a Christian than attending once a week and behaving himself. Jesus was saying that the Church is called to head toward hell and storm its gates. He knew that to serve Jesus meant he would have to take on the darkness. He could not sit back and fit in. He was called to be rowdy. That realization has changed his life forever and today he is a pastor to men in prison.

We in the Church have an predetermined action and we have a preset direction. We have these things because Jesus is our authority and he calls the shots.

You know that idiom, of course. Did you know it comes from the 1500s? It was first used in the game of curling. You know the sport with brooms and stones on ice? The leader of the team “called the shot” before a team member made it. The leader announced where the stone would be launched and where it was supposed to land. This person called the shots and so this person was completely in charge.

Jesus calls the shots for us. He is our authority so he tells us what to aim for and where to head. This means that sometimes our direction will be unpopular or strange but that is no matter. We do not call the shots. Jesus does.

There is a phrase Phil sometimes uses which I think is helpful when we consider living under Jesus’ authority. Phil will take an issue or a concern and he will ask, “Is this a kingdom issue?” That’s how he puts it: is this a kingdom issue? A “kingdom” issue is something that is integral to living under the authority of Jesus.  You have to believe a certain way on a “kingdom” issue or else Jesus is no longer your authority. A common example people give of this is divorce. Jesus had strong feelings against divorce. His words have been passed down to us on this issue. But we have come to realize, as a Church, that even though divorce is not a good or easy thing, it is also not a “kingdom” issue. We can be divorced and still fully serve and follow Jesus.

You know what IS a kingdom issue? That list we get in Isaiah 61, those are kingdom issues: finding oppressed people and bringing them good news, seeking out the broken hearted to offer them strength, proclaiming liberty to captives and release to prisoners, comforting those who mourn, proclaiming both the Lord’s favor and his judgment. These are “kingdom” issues. We have to do these things. We have to promote these behaviors. Because the shot has been called, and we have been told where to head.

We know this for absolute certain because these are the exact words Jesus quoted to launch his ministry. Jesus announced that these would be the cornerstones of his ministry AND that he had the authority to call this shot.

These are the kingdom issues and they will often make us unpopular. Hanging out with oppressed people and calling for the release of prisoners is not often a route to fitting in. These kinds of behaviors and values do not allow us to just go along with the crowd. Because our authority does not match the authority of the world.

It is like I counsel in couple’s pre-marital sessions. I tell them that two do not just become one in marriage. Two become three. That third thing is the marriage itself and the two must commit to making decisions that are good for the third thing. Suzy may have to make a decision that is not good for Suzy but it is good for the marriage. And Tom may not want to go in such and such direction but Tom will do it if it is good for the marriage. From the day of their wedding on, each couple must put this third thing ahead of their singular wants and desires.

 

Jesus’ authority is just like that. His is the way that we go, even if we don’t want to. When we live under his authority the demands of the gospel take precedence. Even if it is going to make our lives harder or ask something risky of us. But, living under his authority, means we have committed to put those commands and demands first. Perhaps it is fitting to think of it this way for the Church is called “the Bride of Christ.” When we join with him we do not just become one, we become three and the gospel, that third thing, becomes most important. If we aren’t willing to do that then we aren’t ready to be married.

“All authority has been given to me,” Jesus says. All of it. And it is no joke. Amen.