Monday, May 21, 2012

Citizens of the Kingdom

Did you know that there are three great commissions?  One in each of the synoptic gospels we have great commission.  We are always hearing of the first one, from Matthew, and it has taken us years to get back to the true meaning of Christ's words in Matthew.  When I was growing up I heard it as “preach the gospel to all nations.”  But once you get into it, you see that it reads,”Go and make disciples of all nations.”  There is something deeper going on: discipleship.  We nod to each other in seminary, and say to each other, “okay, NOW we got it!”

But wait.  How do we disciple the nations?  We can't just teach them anything.  What does Jesus say about that?  Jesus continues: “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  According to Matthew, discipleship involves teaching God's commandments.

What about the great commission in Mark?  How is it different?  Well, here Jesus tells his disciples, “Go into the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.  The one who BELIEVES and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.”  According to Mark, discipleship involves getting the hearer to believe.

Finally, our reading today is Luke's great commission, and here Jesus says, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”  According to Luke, discipleship involves getting the hearer to repentance.

So, we have discipleship involving getting the one receiving the gospel to obey, believe, and repent, according to the three synoptic gospel writers.  Which of these is the most important.  Belief!  Which is faith in God.  Because if someone does not believe, he is not going to repent, and if he does not repent, he will not obey.

Look at government.  If you have no faith in a government, you are not going to be willing to become a citizen of that country.  That's essentially what repentance is: leaving your old country and becoming a citizen of a new country.  In this case it is the kingdom of God.  If you are not willing to become a citizen of the new country, you will not be willing to obey its laws.

If you are not willing to obey its laws, you are not going receive the benefits of being a citizen.  What are the benefits of being a citizen of the kingdom of God?  Going back to Mark, the benefits are many, including physical protection, but most importantly, “they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

This is a healing Sunday, as you come forward to receive a blessing or healing prayer, think of the faith that you have.  Everyone here has faith, or they wouldn't be here.  Each of you is willing to become a member of God's kingdom.  You have repented of your old lives and have embraced the new life.  As citizens of the kingdom of God, you are willing to obey its laws.  Belief in the Lord and ruler of life gives us the power to obey the laws.

As you come forward, know that as you obey the laws of the kingdom, you are reaping the benefits of the kingdom.  Healing of mind, soul, and body.  Spiritual, physical, psychological, and emotional healing.  Protection from evil.  The evil one cannot harm you.  The snake that tempted Adam and Eve in the garden will not bite you.  The poison of the world's culture will not harm you, will not even affect you. You will be healed and you will be able to pass on that healing to other citizens of the kingdom.

Healing in the Gospels is accompanied by a statement of faith from the one receiving the healing.  Jesus tells them, “your faith has made you well.”  The person is essentially raising his right hand and pledging allegiance to the kingdom of God.  What about unbelieving witnesses to these miracles?  As Jesus told his disciples.  Healing happens so that the glory of God can be revealed.  When we witness God's glory, we believe.  From the depths of unbelief, people rise to the top of belief, and from belief comes repentance, and from repentance, obeisance, and from obeisance, citizenship in the kingdom.  Amen.