Sermon, Lent II

Back when I was Deacon Matt, Father Salmon was here one Sunday when this passage came up, the one about weeping and gnashing of teeth. He said, as only Father Salmon could, that those of you that thought that you might be exempt from such a punishment because you were old and didn’t have any teeth, he said not to worry, that “teeth would be provided.” That was one of the funniest things I have ever heard, even if the good father didn’t mean for it to be funny. “Teeth will be provided.” For better or for worse, Fr. Salmon was funny that day but he also wasn’t wrong. Not everyone – maybe, God forbid, not all of us – not everyone will make it into the Kingdom of God. Everyone will, apparently, see the Kingdom, everyone will see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets, everyone will come to the Gate, but not all will enter.

So let’s talk about the Kingdom of God. Recently many Christians have done their best to redefine what the Kingdom of God is, they say it is a feeling, perhaps, or that the Kingdom of God is made manifest in the Millennium Development Goals, in social service for the common good. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with warm fuzzy feelings or for that matter the Millennium Development Goals: eradicating severe poverty, working toward equal rights for women, clean water and the such are admirable things. But the Millennium Development Goals are not, and will not usher in, the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not something that comes to us in the form of social justice, it is not the result of justice at all.

So let’s talk about justice. Justice is, in its formal sense, “the rendering to a person what is due him or her.”1 As a Cardinal Virtue, justice is “an operative habit setting the will in the direction of impartially rendering to each his or her due or desert.” To put it simply, justice is getting what we deserve. When we have decided to not delude ourselves, we know what we deserve: weeping and gnashing of teeth. Justice is, despite all the cries for it, not really something that you would wish upon yourself. Justice without mercy means no way out. Justice without beneficence means, well, Islam. Justice without grace means no Jesus.

So the Kingdom of God is not about warm fuzzy feelings or social justice. What is, then, the Kingdom of God? Well, the Kingdom of God is, first, an indescribable thing. Jesus, by whom the Kingdom was created and for whom the Kingdom exists, resorted to parables to tell us about the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, it’s like a sower in the field, it’s like yeast, of all things. Point being, the Kingdom of God is too much to grasp in the here and now; for the time being all we can do is talk about it and around it and hope for it with all our hearts. Second, the Kingdom of God is an actual thing, an actual place with an actual King and actual thrones and actual servants and actual everything else. Isaiah has been there, so has Daniel; the blessed apostle Paul made it up to the Third Heaven, where he saw and heard things no mortal should see or hear. Stuff is going on, all the time, in the Kingdom of God. Those saints who have made it there already are worshiping with the angels, the wise men are casting down their golden crowns, Mary is shining up her boots, waiting for the day her Son tells her to finally crush the Serpent’s head. The Kingdom of God may be outside of our time, but there is an order of things in Heaven, and we get a taste of that order from time to time. The closest we get to Heaven, the closest we get to the Kingdom of God here on Earth, is at the moment of consecration, when the bread and wine that you bring to the altar, the bread and wine that you provide, is made in its very substance the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This is called a foretaste, a little taste of what its like in the Kingdom, a taste of that nearness with Christ, a little taste of the place where God gives us all of Himself, all the time and forever.

Now, Saint Irenaeus wrote a book called Against Heresies, but I don’t want this sermon to come off as the beginning of Fr. Matt’s book Against Modernist Heresies. I don’t want this sermon to be against anything, but rather for something, for the Kingdom of God and for you who have set your eyes toward the Kingdom. Because the Kingdom of God is for and about Jesus, and Jesus is for us. “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” Jesus said; He desires us to be with Him. Paul wrote to the Philippians and quoted a hymn, he wrote that Christ Jesus, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal of God; Jesus didn’t think it was at all inappropriate to be in the form of God because He is God. But in a move that could only come from passionate love, Jesus decided to shed not His Godliness but His form, He decided that the only move was to take flesh, to become one of us, to live and die as one of us, and He did all of that so that none of us would come to find ourselves weeping at the gates of the Kingdom, gnashing our teeth at the sight of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets. Jesus did what He did so that we might come to the place where God gives us all of Himself all the time and forever, so that we might enter through that narrow door into the Kingdom of God. May the Lord hide you under the shadow of His wings, and may we all walk together into the Kingdom of God.

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