Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - 07/03/2016

There was a movie out a few years ago called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It was a comedy/drama about a hotel in India run by a young, frequently inept but always optimistic manger. Maybe you saw it; it was quite good, one of those movies that provides a pleasant diversion for a couple of hours; they even made a sequel called The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that I didn’t think was quite as good but it was still entertaining. In reading an article written by Walter Brueggemann though, I was reminded of the movie and reminded of something the inept young manager repeated several times during the movie. As he faced various crises that caused people to fret about things, he would tell those staying at the hotel, “In the end all will be well. And if it’s not well, it’s not the end.”

It’s a great line and, for me, that’s a pretty good summary of what we talk about as Christian hope, hope that we cling to despite all the evidence to the contrary that’s out there and there is lots of it. “In the end all will be well. And if it’s not well, it’s not the end.”

It’s Christian hope, but it’s hope that many would find hopelessly naïve. It highlights the challenge that the church and Christianity face in a world that trusts only in human ingenuity and technology, where nothing new is possible except that which we ourselves are able to bring about. It’s a world that might claim to believe in God but the God it believes in doesn’t do much of anything.

It is easy to get discouraged by the many reminders that things are not well, the bombing in Istanbul being the most recent one. The challenge of faith is to hang on to the conviction that the kingdom of God, the kingdom Jesus talked about has come near and will be fully realized, that in the end all will be well because God is present and active even in the world’s brokenness. It’s not just hope about the heavenly hereafter either; it’s hope that things will be different here, that “Thy will will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Our hope says that that’s not just an empty phrase that we pray without thinking but that it represents a vision of God’s future, of a kingdom fully revealed even if right now all we get are glimpses and even if the glimpses often seem overshadowed by the realities of a not well world. Yet, repeatedly we hear Jesus announce that, “The kingdom of God has come near.”

When he sent out the seventy in today’s gospel, this was the message he sent them with. In the immediate context, Jesus was talking about himself and the fact that in him and in his ministry the kingdom had come near. The duration of Jesus’ earthly ministry would be relatively short, but it wouldn’t end; it would be carried on by the seventy he first sent out and by those who would follow all the way down to the present time. “The Kingdom of God has come near” is still the message and it is a message of hope.

Jesus sent the seventy out with that message, but no sooner were they out of the gate than they were patting themselves on the back for other things. When they came back to report to Jesus they were excited, but it wasn’t so much about the announcement of the kingdom of God come near. Instead, they were excited about what they were suddenly able to do, performing miraculous deeds, casting out demons in Jesus’ name.

But Jesus himself wasn’t so impressed. He acknowledged that they could do those things, they were signs of the inbreaking kingdom; but he had also cautioned them that things wouldn’t always go so well, that there would be times when they wouldn’t be welcomed. With that in mind he nudged them back to another version of the hope he had called them to proclaim: “Don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you,” he said, “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” It was another promise about the future. In the short term there will be success and there will be failure so don’t let yourselves get too high or too low. Either way though, your future is secure; your names are written in heaven. In the end, all will be well.

Today we come to the end of the series of readings from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Galatians and most of Paul’s letters also witness to ways that the gospel message of hope and promise wound up being complicated and distorted. Following his own encounter with the Risen Christ, Paul had begun his missionary journeys, visiting places like Galatia. On those journeys he preached an inclusive message of forgiveness for both Jews and Gentiles. He talked about a new relationship with God made possible by Jesus dying for sinful humanity and being raised to new life, new life which, by faith, is made available to all people. In other words, in the cross and resurrection, the kingdom of God gets even closer.

That was Paul’s proclamation, but then others came along intentionally or unintentionally pushing the kingdom further away, creating boundaries that would exclude any who wouldn’t embrace the laws and rituals of Judaism. To be fair, those others were mostly just defending the religious tradition they were part of. What they didn’t understand was that the kingdom Jesus talked about represented something new. It wasn’t a total break with Jewish tradition and worship, but for Paul, a good and faithful Jew himself, through Jesus some parts of that earlier tradition were less important.

In his letters, Paul then was trying to get the people in these communities he had visited to get back to that inclusive message of hope for all people, telling them, in essence, to stop sweating the small stuff; to stop focusing on issues that could only wind up causing division and exclusion. Instead, Paul reminded them that, “the new creation is everything.” In Christ there is a new creation which is yet another way of saying that the kingdom of God has come near, a kingdom and a creation in which the tired old issues that divide us and weary us and wear us down will be overcome by God’s love and peace and justice and compassion. In the end, all will be well.

Unfortunately, 2000 years later, we still haven’t really paid attention to Paul. Churches still get bogged down in the small stuff, letting issues on which we will never agree get in the way of the unity we share as new creations in Christ. One of the effects of the internal squabbling that goes on is that it perpetuates the notion that things are not well. Jesus announced that the kingdom had come near and the further we drift from that message, clouding it with issues that have nothing to do with his kingdom, the more we distort who Jesus is, what Christianity is about and what the church represents. The kingdom of God, rather than coming near, becomes more distant.

It’s nothing new. It has been going on since the time of Paul, but that just makes it even sadder that we still haven’t figured out that the church itself, the very institution that claims to announce the kingdom of God come near can serve to hide that kingdom rather than reveal it. And yet, the kingdom has come near. In the end all will be well; if it’s not well, it’s not the end.

For me, for many reasons, it’s vitally important that the church continues to make that its proclamation week after week. It is a tough sell because the evidence that things are not well is so easy to find. It’s easy to feel that God has abandoned us. But we don’t despair; we still make the proclamation that the kingdom has come near not because we are hopelessly naïve but because Jesus said so and we believe it and, as St. Paul says, we do not grow weary. We don’t grow weary of making the proclamation and we don’t grow weary as we continue to work for the good of all.

We do believe that the kingdom will be fully revealed so we make that proclamation trusting that Jesus is present and active in our proclamation. We also do what we can to serve, to work for the good of all, to make God’s will for the world known. By the action and power of the Holy Spirit it all fits together; the proclamation gives meaning to our actions, our actions give life to our proclamation.

The kingdom of God has come near and God is still at work bringing about the full revelation of that kingdom. In the end all will be well and if it’s not well, we do not grow weary because it’s not the end.

Amen.

Pastor Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
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one who
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