Reading Ramblings – August 28, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 28, 2016 ~ Lord’s Prayer Petitions 2&3

Texts: Ezekiel 36:22-30; Psalm 103; Revelation 21:1-4; Luke 17:20-21

Context: ** We continue our alternate text selections for the remainder of the liturgical year in order to preach through Luther’s Small Catechism ** Praying for the Kingdom of God to come and for his will to be done are somewhat synonymous. God’s kingdom is precisely the place where his will is completely and perfectly done, and we pray that his kingdom would come in fullness here, among us as his people, and also on the Last Day. The second and third petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are bound up intricately with the first petition, the hallowing (making holy) of God’s name. This, too, is part and parcel of the Kingdom of God that we pray would come in fullness and perfection, beginning with our own hearts and minds.

Ezekiel 36:22-30 – This passage comes in the midst of a series of prophecies, first against other peoples and lands who have abused the Lord’s people (some by his plan, as a chastisement to his people), and then to his own land and people. God prophecies his rescue of his people and his full restitution to them, so that his name might be hallowed throughout the earth and by all peoples. The picture of God’s kingdom here is beautiful – He will gather his scattered people (v.24) and make them clean by washing them in water to cleanse them, a foreshadowing of baptism(v.25). They will receive new hearts and spirits (v.26), as well as God’s own Spirit (v.27), whereby they will be caused to obey God’s Word. Verses 28-30 describe the abundance that God will bestow upon his people through the land. The Kingdom of God is a place of abundance, of peace in the Lord’s provision.

While this prophecy certainly is fulfilled in the short-term return of God’s people from exile in Babylon, it is also a prophecy that will be fulfilled completely in the day of Christ’s return. Ezekiel is one of the many people of God taken into slavery and exile in Babylon, and it is there that he is called to prophecy the hope of return to God’s people.

Psalm 103 – A beautiful hymn of praise to God, describing his various praise-worthy attributes, all of which are part and parcel of the Kingdom of God. Verses 1-2 are a general call to praise and worship, while verses 3-5 detail the Lord’s blessings to the individual worshiper. Starting with verse 6, the Lord’s blessings and attributes are dealt with on a larger scale, forming a summary of Old Testament history from Moses on. Verses 15-18 contrast the everlasting nature of God with the brevity of man’s life and man’s eventual return to the dust from which God called and formed him. Verses 20-22 are a final conclusion of praise and a call to praise, because God truly is worthy of that praise, as described in the psalm. The power of God within his Kingdom is absolute, so that we need never fear anything.

This is a psalm appropriate for us to sing as well. We place our hope and trust in God in all things, knowing of his great love for us in his past deeds, namely sending his Son Jesus to die and rise again for us.

Revelation 21:1-4 – One of the most memorable descriptions of the Kingdom of God that we look forward to! We are bound not for eternity in heaven, but for a new heaven and earth, reunited in holiness and perfection as they were in the early days of creation. All forms of chaos (the sea) will not exist in this perfect, ordered kingdom. The new Jerusalem (Zion) is depicted in beauty and splendor and grandeur, something that would not have been said of Jerusalem in John’s day, either as a bastion of pagan, Roman forces or as a devastated and destroyed city (after 70AD). The most marked aspect of the Kingdom of God is that it will mark the re-establishment of perfect relationship between creature and Creator, so that God will once again dwell with his people as He first did with Adam and Eve. No sin, and therefore none of the repercussions of sin, will exist in that holy time and place.

Luke 17:20-21 – We look forward to the fully visible, palpable, and final Kingdom of God in the return of Jesus Christ. But we also experience the actual realm and reign of God in our hearts. Washed in baptism, we are God’s holy people, adopted through the sacrifice of the Son of God and his resurrection from the dead. So in a very real sense, we don’t only look forward to the Last Day and the permanent establishment of God’s kingdom – it also exists here and now, in our own hearts and as we gather for worship. It is no less real and actual than it will be on the Last Day, despite the fact that we can’t see it, and are more prone to focusing on the sin that remains in us for the time being.

We see this kingdom most clearly in worship, as together we focus our hearts and minds and senses on the worship of God, just as He is worshiped in perfection in his Kingdom at this selfsame moment by all the saints who have gone before us. Christ is present bodily in Holy Communion, the Holy Spirit is at work in and between the gathered believers. Theologians have described worship, and particularly Holy Communion, as the moment in which the veil that separates us from the fullness of God’s kingdom is thinnest, as we emulate imperfectly those perfect acts of worship that occur ceaselessly in God’s presence.

Those who act as though joining with other people in worship is something optional and unnecessary, when it is the center of our lives in Christ. Where else is the Kingdom of God so clear, the hope of glory proclaimed so fully? No congregation is perfect, but Christian worship binds us together in the communion of the saints as no other moments of our week do. Some see worship as the least important aspect of their week, the first thing to go when schedules get tight or we get tired. But we would be better served to jettison Christian worship last, so that we might be fed with the Word and Sacraments of God as citizens of his Kingdom that is here and now as well as there and then in the day of our Lord’s return!

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