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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Build Your Kingdom Here (Matthew 6.9-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - May 4, 2014
Text: Matthew 6:9-10; Luke 24:44-48; 2 Samuel 7:8-17 

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Audio not available.

:: Some Music Used (all in bluegrass style)
Prelude: "The Church in the Wildwood" (William S. Pitts)
Gathering Hymn: "Called as Partners in Christ's Service" (attr. William Moore)
Response of Praise: "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" (v. 3) (Showalter)
Musical Offering: "Build Your Kingdom Here" (Rend Collective Experiment)
Affirmation of Faith Hymn: "Apostles' Creed" (BEACH SPRING)
Offertory: "Get in the Boat" (The Purple Hulls)
Offertory Response: "Doxology" (Genevan Psalter)
Sanctus: "Holy, Holy, Holy" (LAND OF REST)
Memorial Acclamation: "Christ Has Died; Christ is Risen" (LAND OF REST)
Amen: "Amen" (LAND OF REST)
Meditation Music: "Simple Gifts" (Chip Meyers, guitar; Carolyn Meyers, cello) (Brackett)
Sending Hymn: "This Little Light of Mine" (Harry Dixon Loes)
Postlude: "Bluegrass Medley" (various)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
9 “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9b-10)

8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15 But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. 17 In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David. (2 Samuel 7:8-17)

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:44-48)
Preached at Matthews Presbyterian Church for “Bluegrass Sunday”
with Good Shepherd and Morningstar Presbyterian Churches 

Why is the Church here? I bet that’s a question that could generate some good discussion. Ponder for a moment how you’d answer that question. I know it’s vague: do I mean Matthews Presbyterian Church? Or Morningstar? Or Good Shepherd? Or the Presbyterian Church? Or all the Churches together?    ….Yes. Whichever you want to think about is fine. Why is it here?

And if this helps, let me remind you of something; this building isn’t the Church. You would just as much be the church if we were sitting here in an open field, gathered in worship and fellowship. YOU are the Church here in the world. It’s a little easier to see this morning when we have three congregations together mixing and mingling in worship. So, let me offer at least that much direction and ask again: why are YOU the Church here in the world?

The Bible provides several answers to that question; but at least one of the several answers has to do with something almost all Christians pray every week. You heard it as the call to worship, framed not only in the usual prayer-form, but as an invitation to worship:

Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9b-10)

How familiar and yet how mysterious! Father in Heaven, holy name… that’s pretty straightforward. But then something about God’s Kingdom, God’s will, and all of that not just distant and removed in Heaven, but intersecting with the here and now on earth.

I want to take a few minutes with you this morning and try to understand that a little bit better, not only because it is something Jesus taught us to pray, but because it points us towards the very understanding and purpose of why the Church is here. God is up to something and WE are a part of it!

A Long, Long Time Ago… (2 Samuel 7)

One of the key features of the Old Testament that links it to the New Testament is God making gracious, lasting, faithful promises to human beings. We call those covenants and they all find their “final answer” in Jesus. And Jesus isn’t shy about point that out. On numerous occasions he lifts up the “Law, Prophets, and Psalms” – his scripture, our Old Testament – and explains or demonstrates how he is not replacing them or doing away with them, but fulfilling them and making them complete.

There is one of these covenants recorded in 2 Samuel 7. It is with King David. As part of God’s larger plan and as an extension of the older covenant with Abraham, God is graciously promising David that God will maintain his line and his throne. This has an immediate fulfillment in David’s son, Solomon; but the scope of the covenant is more far-reaching than that. God will preserve David’s line and kingdom, promising to “make it sure” and “establish it forever.” (2 Samuel 7:16) This is one of the reasons the Gospel writers make sure to include the genealogies of Jesus. He is of David’s line; this covenant with David was understood to be one of the reasons to hope in God’s Messiah. And it overlaps with our question today because it has in view God’s over-arching will (“Your will be done”) and God’s eternal Kingdom intersecting with what is here on earth (“on earth as it is in heaven”).

There is a lot more that could be unpacked there, but the part that has to do with our text and question this morning is this principle: that part of God’s plan is to create a picture on earth of what is already true in Heaven.

Church-Planting Pre-meeting (Luke 24; Acts 1)

Luke 24 includes two post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. The first is on the road to Emmaus, where Jesus appears to two people who had followed all the events in Jerusalem surrounding his arrest, crucifixion, and death. They were among those who hoped he might be the Messiah. Jesus walks and talks with them, even breaking bread and eating with them. Then he appears to the disciples, still gathered together, struggling to make sense of Jesus’ death and the report from the women who found the tomb empty on Easter morning. Jesus moves among them – talking, touching, explaining, and eating. In both cases, he “explains from the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms” what has happened and how he has fulfilled the scriptures.

That was a recurring motif throughout his ministry. At Good Shepherd, we have been looking at Jesus’ use of scripture since January of this year, particularly those places where he would say, “It is written…” and quote the scripture. What we saw was a pattern: Jesus never through away scripture; he always explained it more deeply, either in words or in his own actions. And for all his public ministry, he said that those scriptures pointed to his suffering, death, and resurrection. But now, in Luke 24, something is different. There is something BEYOND the resurrection and beyond Easter Christianity. It’s there in vv. 47-48: “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day…” – he had said that on numerous occasions – “…and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

In a nutshell, Jesus is giving the brand new Church its mission and rooting it in the scriptural revelation of God.  Just as all the scripture – from the Law to the Prophets to the Psalms – pointed to Jesus as suffering and victorious Messiah, so the scripture (says Jesus) sends the Church out into the community and the world as testimonies to what God has done. This same theme is mentioned in the beginning of Acts when Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to empower this mission. And I love the way it’s put here in Luke and in Acts: we are WITNESSES of what God has done and is doing in the world. It’s not our work so much as it is our telling God’s story. What is clear is that it is PUBLIC and OUT THERE and that God is already at work!

So, yes, we are getting close to one important answer to “Why is the Church here?” or more personally, “Why are we here?” Let me end with an illustration to try to get at what I think Jesus and a whole lot of scripture is saying here.

An Illustration

The Fire Department is right around the corner from us here. It, too, has a mission and a purpose for being there. Imagine, if you will, that fine building full of firefighters, training regularly to be physically fit and to rehearse strategies for fighting fires. That’s necessary and good, right? Imagine over time the community that would build up of firefighters and former firefighters, and their families. Because it is a mix of paid and volunteers, they periodically have events to build camaraderie and to raise funds. When it is parade time, they are an exciting site; they also open their doors for tours and they sound the sirens and turn on the water hoses for children to play under in the heat. In so many ways, all of that reminds me of the ways our churches function and thrive internally – training, fellowship, fund-raisers, open doors for special events. But what am I missing? What is the Church sometimes missing? What would the Fire Department be if it didn’t actually go out and fight fires?

Do we actually think folks need God’s salvation? Do we think folks need forgiveness of sin, as sung in Psalm 118, accomplished in Jesus’ death, and lifted up here in Luke 24? And to broaden and take a look at Jesus’ full declaration of how he fulfilled scripture: do we think our community and world needs to hear about the justice, freedom, healing, and good news promised by the prophet Isaiah and announced by Jesus? Do we think our community and world needs to experience the compassion and love of neighbor described in the Law of Moses and affirmed in the “Greatest Commandment” by Jesus?

I’m very, very careful not to use bits and pieces of Bible verses to make a point; but in this case huge long swaths of Old Testament scripture declare it; Jesus quotes, teaches, lives, and reaffirms it; and the story of the early Church bears it out: we are here to declare God’s story to our community and to the world. God IS working for justice, forgiveness, to reconcile humanity and we are the ones God has called on to speak and live that news out beyond our walls.

What goes on inside the walls is vitally important – from teaching and training to worship to care of one another. But if we miss the mission, if we miss the “going out there” part, we are like a thriving old Fire Station community that no longer fights fires.

We are here to bear witness to what God is doing – building His Kingdom – not inside the Church, but in our community and in the world. We are not somehow creating Heaven on Earth, but ARE speaking and living God’s Kingdom in such a way that this world experiences the life, love, and blessing that God declares and promises in scripture and through Jesus Christ.

The real question for us is how to take what we are celebrating in here and witness that Good News – in word and action – out there. We could spend weeks and months and years answering that question and living out the answers… and in fact, we should. For today, I simply wanted to raise the question to help remind us that we are not a closed community celebrating what was, but are far more like a Fire Station, training, practicing, and ready at all times to go out.

As Jesus was fond of saying, “Let them with ears hear.” Amen!

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