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Immanuel! Thy Kingdom Has Come

Immanuel! Thy Kingdom Has Come

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Immanuel! Thy Kingdom Has Come

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Mar 5, 2014


In Immanuel! Thy Kingdom Has Come, sports columnist-turned-preacher Ed Fowler demonstrates through a series of sermons grounded in the gospels that the eternal realm of our Lord Jesus is with us today in a way many Christians do not recognize. Fowler challenges all Christians to cast off the notion that life with the Lord begins at physical death and to enter wholeheartedly into His service right now
Mar 5, 2014

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Immanuel! Thy Kingdom Has Come - Ed Fowler


Trinity Sunday

St. John 3:1-15

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him. Jesus answered and said to him, Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus said to Him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? Jesus answered, Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Nicodemus answered and said to Him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said to him, Are you the teacher of Israel and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

There and Here

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds, and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark nor ever eagle flew –

And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee Jr. wrote that. He bids us put mundane things away and rise into the divine presence. The poet calls us to transcendence. We need not be bound to this earth. Why would we be, when we can touch the face of God?

Another poet sees God reaching down to touch our hearts, this one in Psalm 33:

"The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men.

From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth;

He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works."

Up and down, there and here, God and us. He loves us. He wants fellowship with us. He died for us. Yet we, frail creatures, are prone to worship the familiar; we are lovers of things, the created rather than the Creator.

To adore the things of this world is to see them without seeing God behind them. There’s a word for that: materialism. Materialism anchors us on earth so that we cannot ascend to God. It cannot have corrupted our lives without fouling our worship.

We bow down at the altar of the profane, that which is at war with the holy. It has given us the social gospel, liberation theology, the prosperity gospel . . . and so on. It is mundane worship, destitute of transcendence. It will not coax men up, up, the long, delirious burning blue to that poet’s perch where they can touch the face of God.

What shall we do? Cranmer gave England a liturgy and Spurgeon topped off her theology yet today England knows not the Doxology. Edwards wove God’s wrath and His beauty into a mesmerizing tapestry . . . and got fired. And America is yodeling down the road to the altar of the profane.

One day soon many will appear before God and fill Him in on how His promise of forever in the glory of His presence failed to measure up to their requirements. Our epoch reeks of faux transcendence. Because God hasn’t made Himself real enough for the human taste, men have set out on a course of salvation by homogenization.

If we can only wash away all the differences of black and white, rich and poor, male and female, we will overcome. Merged into the one - a gray, proletarian hermaphrodite . . . what then? Well, justice, so they tell us. But if I join myself not to God but man, will I have slipped the surly bonds of earth? Self mingled with self, sin with sin; a profane communion. Justice mired in time.

Welcome to the Kumbaya Kathedral. All hold hands. Worship circuits round and round. We are the change we seek. Shabbat R Us.

True transcendence ain’t exactly flyin’ out of the cooler like rum raisin these days. A lot of preachers have gone broke trying to peddle it and many more seem to have given up, so to sing the siren’s song of Your Best Life Now. Every huckster knows you gives the people what they wants.

But that’s for them. And so we ask, on Trinity Sunday, what’s for us?

We say a prayer and travel up and up and up. Up into the glory cloud, up into the realm of God. Not will or skill of man prevails but the finger of God seeks out those He calls His own. And so I propose: We stretch out an open hand. We bid them peer with us into the revelation of the Lord to His apostle, John:

The four living creatures . . . do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’ Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created’ (Revelation 4:8-11).

God is there, right where the poet found him when he went to touch His face. And He is here, where the Psalmist saw Him touching our hearts.

An autobiographical note: I was worshipping at that other altar. Yes, and justifying myself quite smartly. I had everything until that day I awoke to the undressed truth, old as parchment, that I had nothing. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

And so I looked around and came to know that He is there, and He is here. He revealed himself to His people and gave them to know that He is not like those other gods. We can’t pin a job description on Him.

He is not the god of fertility or war, or even peace. He is not the god of wrath, or even love alone. He is not a geographically challenged god. We cannot pen Him up in Egypt or Mesopotamia, Persia or Greece. He is King of kings and Lord of lords; He is above all things, He is Lord of all.

This God on high left His celestial realm to wrestle with Jacob, whom He called Israel, whom He called My people. Ever wrestled with someone without getting close to him? Yet there He is, down in the muck of our sin, wrestling belly button to belly button with His people . . . ceaselessly. Transcendence happens; a two-way street.

This God left his glory and became man to die for men. He took no form or majesty that we should look on Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. The highest of the high became the lowest of the low, the richest of the rich became the poorest of the poor, to die on a cross for . . .

For me? You dare not hear a catalogue of my sins. You beautiful ladies would swoon and you strong men would weep to hear a catalogue of my sins. He left the celestial throne room of the eternal King to die . . . for me?

From streets paved with gold and crowns encrusted with emeralds and streams of unceasing worship to this earth, where the foxes have holes in the ground and the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. He is there, and he is here.

Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

The God of Glory washing feet.

Elijah and Moses, here with us, heaven intrudes upon the earth, Shekinah on this mortal coil. This . . . is . . . my . . . Son. This is my Son. This is my Son! Listen to him!

"At the top of our news this evening, the Son of God received a much-needed endorsement today in His campaign to win the eternal office He already holds. Critics dismissed it as a self-endorsement, noting that it is simply not credible to claim that He is there and He is here. More at 10."

This is My Son upon the cross. His passion is His glory. The God of heaven whom men have seen, humbled and exalted. He is there and he is here.

And the Holy Spirit, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, today dwells in us. Oh, we have a high old time, the Holy Spirit and I, wrestling every day. Would that I could tell you He always wins but often . . . usually . . . almost always . . . the carnal I prevails.

But - this is the part that knocks me over – He always comes back and lets me try to lose the next round. His patience with my pathetic victories seems to know no end.

He is three and He is one; He was and is and is to come; He is there and He is here. Because His transcendence is at first horizontal, within Himself, I can achieve the vertical, and touch the face of God. Because His transcendence is eternally vertical, I can wrestle with Him now and here.

But I must ascend. I must ascend, up to the Trinity, to the altar of the One in Three revealed in Revelation.

Intriguing word, revelation. It sounds tame enough in English but the Greek behind it is apokalupsis. An apocalypse is a thing too strange and terrible and powerful and wonderful to behold, the eschatological triumph of good over evil.

But that victory will come dear. St. John has heard from the Lord already, Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10). This final book prepares the church for things to come.

How St. John must have shuddered as, in the Spirit, he surveyed the celestial array before him, gazed upon the One in Three and Three in One. How it must have dazzled and bewildered and terrified him. What did this revelation mean? The theologian Gerald Bray sums up:

"The sense of the presence of God is so overwhelming that we can move among the persons almost without noticing, yet we are always fully conscious of their presence.

"There is never any confusion in the reader’s mind about who is speaking or acting, yet in coldly logical terms, the three cannot be clearly distinguished from the one God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit reveal themselves to John, and so also to us, as one God, living and moving in the fullness of his trinitarian being.

The doctrine, culled from the rest of Scripture, and laboriously constructed, is here presented to us in all its profound complexity and splendid simplicity. The God whom we cannot explain, we know, the One we cannot picture, we see.

Listen to the words of the Prophet Isaiah, who ascended, too, to hear the seraphim’s cry, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory (6:3). The burning coal touches his lips, purging him, and he utters those fateful words: Here am I! Send me (6:8).

Pay heed to the report of St. John: You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power (Revelation 4:11). Our God is the God of order, pictured first within the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit perfectly related in all its profound complexity and splendid simplicity.

Once, it seemed not-so-strange. The Athanasian Creed we spoke today catches it nicely.

I went to hear the historian and theologian Allister McGrath and he spun a yarn: I don’t think you use it over here in the States, he said, "but back in England we occasionally bring out the old Athanasian Creed. It refers to ‘the Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.’

Well, after church one day two old blokes were walking out and one was overheard to say to the other, ‘The whole damn thing’s incomprehensible to me.’

And so it should be. The Trinity is not for finite minds to penetrate. But the mystical vision of God is not too remote for us. The author of Hebrews, in fact, promises us we can ascend into the divine presence when we worship.

Who can make bold to aspire to this journey into the heavens? Who may plunge into transcendence? Just plain folks, for all are naked before God. In St. John’s gospel, our Lord confronts the wealthy Pharisee Nicodemus, who is wedded to the law of Israel, the fount of all that is good.

Nicodemus comes by night, but the wonder is he comes at all. Nicodemus – God bless him! – is more enchanted than he is afraid. He must know who this Jesus is. A teacher of the Jews who performs wonders never seen? He must have come from God. What precious jewels of wisdom must He bear!

But the truth He reveals gives Nicodemus a good old jolt: Only one who is born again can see the Kingdom of God.

Now, already unhinged, Nicodemus must grapple with the Greek word anothen. It may indeed mean again. It may mean from above. It may mean in the beginning. Or might it mean that to see the Kingdom of God one must be born again from above and restored to his sinless state in the beginning?

Oh, dear. Nicodemus blurts, back into the womb? A literal-minded man, he latches onto again and he is superbly befuddled. At last, he is in a state to receive divine instruction.

It is this: Man must be born of water and the Spirit. Water cleanses, the Spirit empowers. One who is washed can roll in the mud again but one who has the Spirit has the strength to endure in the glistening purity of God’s truth.

And so, says St. John, one born of the flesh has naught but his own meager resources but one born of the Spirit has within him the victorious life of God. He is re-created, born again. The God who has come to earth to usher in the Kingdom has graced him with transcendence.

And so the choice is clear. Faux transcendence and profane communion? They have desecrated the altar. But we ascend to a God who is Three and who is One, who bids us come and feast on him. And we ask all who will to join us on our journey.

We say a prayer and we look up. Up into the glory cloud, up into the realm of God. True transcendence, holy communion. Bread and wine, flesh and blood. Come feast on him. He is there, and He is here. Amen.

The First Sunday After Trinity

St. Luke 16:19-31

"There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’

The Riches of Humility

The rich man has no name. The crippled beggar Lazarus we know . . . but the rich man has no name.

In our own place and time, many are rich, and many of the rich are anonymous. In Bible times, wealth didn’t grow on fig trees, and everyone knew who the wealthy were. But the identity of this wealthy one remains cloaked today while Lazarus basks in fame.

You might have heard the rich man called Dives. But that name is not in the Scriptures. It’s a Latin term that came into use later and has passed into English with the meaning rich glutton. The Bible leaves him nameless. This is a parable and not a historic event, true, but there’s no explanation in that. In the story, the pauper has a name; why not the rich man? Here’s a theory: God had said by his prophet of those who do not fear Him: I will not remember their names with my lips.

Would you want to be one of those whose name God dismisses from His memory, a spill of milk blotted up, never to be thought of again? I wouldn’t, either.

There’s more we can mine from this fascinating parable if we view it through a first-century grid. How would the hearers, standing in the presence of Jesus as He relates it, have understood it?

Two groups make up the Lord’s audience, the Pharisees and the disciples of Jesus. A child could identify which character in the story represents each group. The Pharisees are the high and mighty among the Jews and the Lord’s disciples are mostly poor working folk and outcasts. The Pharisees are shocked – shocked! I tell you - that Jesus consorts with sinners and tax-collectors. The latter were reviled for doing the bidding of Israel’s Roman overlords and for pocketing whatever they could. Jesus even engages with them at the table, the most intimate form of fellowship.

The rich man wears purple and fine linen, an ostentatious display. He fares sumptuously. The same language is used of the prodigal son.

Lazarus’ name tells his story. It means God is help. He gets help from no other source. He is laid at the gate: He cannot so much as drag himself. Many pass by each day, either ignoring or despising him. He is covered with sores from a malignant skin disease, a mass of open wounds. The dogs lick his sores. He has no strength to drive them away and no one will help him. In the ancient East, dogs were filthy, hated animals. Lazarus would have eaten the scraps from the rich man’s table. He had barely enough food to sustain life.

The second scene:

Angels bear Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom. In Jewish thought, angels escorted one into the next life, where there was no pain in the body or anguish in the soul but eternal health, rest and happiness. Abraham was the father of all the Israelites. All would be gathered to him after death. The rich man also dies and is buried. The typical funeral for a man of wealth proceeded with much pomp, with a large retinue of mourners and a choir of women loudly lamenting the deceased and praising his virtues.

We find a modern expression of the same spirit in New Orleans, where many a rich man is sent off to his just reward with a trumpet-and-trombone procession that ends at St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square.

Oh I want to be in that number/when the saints go marching in.

A man I know happened to be on the square one day when a notoriously corrupt politician – even by Louisiana standards – was getting his send-off. This fellow stopped one of the musicians as the crowd was breaking up and expressed surprise that he would help to celebrate a scoundrel who stole from the common people.

The trumpeter trumpeted, Naw, man, cat’s got the cash, we’ll blow him on out. Our rich man in the parable, from all we know of him, enjoyed such a send-off.

The final scene:

Lazarus resides in the comfort of Abraham’s bosom but the rich man writhes in Hades. This is not hell as we conceive it but the place of departed souls of the good and the wicked alike. They are separated according to their conduct in life. A great gulf separates the damned in their hell of torment from the righteous in their abode of eternal joy with their father Abraham.

What follows is figurative language. First, the rich man looks across and sees Abraham. Next comes their conversation and finally the rich man’s appeal for his brothers. The Jews would not have taken this scene to represent an actual event but as a vivid illustration. The rich man is in torments: without succor, without hope. The figurative speech serves to heighten the hearers’ terror at the rich man’s plight. Because he is an Israelite he can call Abraham father. As head of all the just in the realm of the blessed, Abraham can command his sons and grant help.

The rich man asks Father Abraham for only a drop of water to cool his tongue. He is suffering beyond our imagining but he dares ask for only the smallest relief. His request for Lazarus to bring this tiny comfort shows the complete reversal of their situations. The rich man would be content with a scrap of cool, clear water from the bottomless pool from which Lazarus drinks.

Abraham acknowledges him as son. If this seems to us a favorable sign, it is because we ignore a salient fact: Abraham is a loving father indeed, but a just one as well. Here is the rich man’s dilemma: For Abraham to grant him relief now would be to pervert justice. The rich man enjoyed the bounty of God’s provision while on earth and denied the slightest comfort to Lazarus.

By the justice of God, their roles have been reversed. To love one’s brother is to love God. The rich man had reviled his brother, and so he had hated God. He has no standing before the court: no case to plead, no argument to advance that Lazarus should provide a drop of water for the man who denied the

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