Pentecost 18, 2023

In the second half of the summer, the readings from the Gospel of Matthew direct our attention to the Church. For the past several weeks we have heard Jesus speak of forgiveness, the great mark of God’s people. We are the place to find grace for the undeserving sinners. This past Sunday served as something of a warning for us. This much grace can be hard for the laborers in the Church to stomach sometimes. But Jesus will have it no other way.

Starting this week and for several more, we will hear Jesus address the Church’s relationship to the world, especially power. This culminates on Oct 22 with the famous “render undo Caesar” passage which serves as a locus for the doctrine of Two Kingdoms. This week and for the next several, Jesus is confronting the religious and political rulers of Jerusalem in the context of Holy Week. In terms of the narrative, the tension in Matthew is building to the climactic confrontation when Jesus submits to the authorities, to trial, crucifixion and death. But theologically, we are getting important words about the Church’s relationship to this world, its power, and how we fit into the order of things. The messages are not always comfortable, especially for Christians who are used to being in some power. Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience who was likely enduring some societal persecution. They felt powerless but Matthew wants them to feel the power which flows to us through looking like Christ. He has suffered and died and thereby won the victory. We shall take up a cross and follow Him. This is never a terribly popular message. It wasn’t when Peter rebuked him for proposing it and it isn’t today. But God’s thoughts are not out thoughts.

The preacher may want to brush up on the doctrine of two kingdoms and the theology of the cross. Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation is excellent. I recommend Forde’s brief book which deals with it. You can buy it here.

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