Sermon on Third Sunday after the Epiphany, January 22, 2012, at Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin
Matthew 1: 14-20
The Kingdom of God
What did Jesus mean when he said the Kingdom of God was at hand? The Jewish people longed for the day when the Messiah would come and bring the kingdom of God. The kingdom would mean that the enemies of Israel are defeated, sins are wiped away, diseases are healed, the dead are raised, and the righteousness, joy, and peace hold sway on the earth with the Messiah on the throne. Jesus arrived and said:
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news (Mk. 1:15).
What he meant was that in his own ministry the liberating, saving reign of God had arrived. “If by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you … the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 11:20; 17: 21).
Jesus’ people were living under the occupation of the Romans. The Jewish people longed for the day of the Kingdom of God. Jesus knew some of his people had already gone to Jordon Valley from Jericho to Masada to separate them from the wicked world and wait for God to bring redemption/release/ and restore the kingdom of Israel. They were to study the Torah, and it is here we found in the last century the writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In a second group were those who supported Herod, who had chosen the option to compromise with the Roman authorities and hoped God would validate it somehow.
Third were the zealots who took over by force Herod’s old palace/ fortress of Masada during the Roman Jewish war: say your prayers, sharpen your swords, make yourselves holy to fight a holy war, and God will give you a military victory that will also be theological victory of good over evil. All of them are waiting for the kingdom of God
Think for a moment in this highly explosive and difficult political environment Jesus raises his voice: The Kingdom of God has come near. He is offering hope with this new agenda. What he meant was that in his own ministry God is now unveiling His Kingdom, the saving reign of God had arrived.
Jesus’ opening challenge to his people was “repent and believe.” He was telling his hearers to give up nationalist agenda and not to follow crazy dreams of revolution, but to build a community to be the light to the world. Jesus is offering counter-agenda an utterly risky way of being Israel, the way of turning the other cheek and going the second mile, the way losing of life to gain it. This was the kingdom-invitation he was issuing. This was the play for which he was holding auditions.
Jesus calling his hearers to take part in God’s new drama, the great play in which Israel would at last fulfill her ancient vocation to be the light of the world in a way the revolutionaries had never dreamed of. It was a call to follow Jesus into political danger and likely death, in the faith that by this means Israel’s God would bring Israel through her present tribulations and out into the new day that would dawn. 
Jesus had no intention of doing it as a lone ranger, but he called others like Simon and Andrew to be partners in mission with him. He said:
Follow me and I will make you fish for people.
These followers of Jesus kept proclaiming his message. Jesus’ community grew by some 40 percent in each decade during the first three centuries. As described in the letter to Diognetus, these Christians were involved in the fabric of society, constantly restoring and demonstrating a better way to live. They proclaimed the Kingdom of God by their lives and deeds. These early followers of Jesus showed through the examples of their lives what the kingdom of God is supposed to be. They befriended people who were different from them and served those in need. And somehow along the way, evangelism took place. As theologian Lesslie Newbigin observes:
Where the church is faithful to its Lord, there the powers of the Kingdom
are present and people begin to ask the questions to which the Gospel is
The call of the gospel: “The kingdom of God is at hand….follow me and I will make you fish for people.” We the followers of Jesus say this prayer several times a week: “Thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven. Let us ask ourselves how we are ushering, proclaiming, living the kingdom of God in our own lives. Jesus works through his associates. Many of us have grown up in a Christian bubble witnessing countless instances when the lives of Christ followers have not been incongruent with Jesus’ call to be kingdom people. Research shows that over 76 percent of Americans self-identify as Christians. Yet, I wonder how many of us actually live the agenda of the Kingdom of God Jesus proclaims. You may be dumfounded that there are 76 percent of “us” and yet little impact on our culture. The movement of the Kingdom of God is a force which has changed lives from the very first century to today. It is a movement, a force, in a broken world to bring healing, and grace to be the eyes, hands and feet of Jesus to be agents of peace, reconciliation, and to eradicate disease, poverty and sin.
If we, the embodiment of the church, are going to reengage our society in an new way, a kingdom way, then it needs to start with us: “Repent, the kingdom God is at hand.” It will show, then, restorative power through the witness and lives of the followers of Jesus everywhere we live, play and work. Our new way of Kingdom model will be if we see injustice we fight it. When confronted with evil we turn it for good. We shall be motivated to bring the love of Christ into every broken system we encounter. Instead being cynical and hopeless, we shall bring optimism and expectation. Our focus away from complaining, judging, will move to restore the broken, weak, fallen and corrupt and invite everybody and everywhere to come to this new reality of how things ought to be in the kingdom of God. Let us hear the call of our Master, Savior and Redeemer:
Follow me and I will make you fish for people.
 John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World, Crossway books, 2006. P.21.
 N T Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, JVP Academic, 199 Pp.34-47.
 Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, Eardmans, 1989, p.119.