Sermon by the Rev’d Jay C. James for June 14, 2020, the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And preach as you go, saying, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

There is a negative skepticism in the idiom, the devil is in the details.  There is a hopeful optimism in the variant, God is in the details.  At least that’s the way it seems to me.   When I found out that the nineteen century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, might be the source of the saying, the devil is in the details, while the German architect, Gustave Flaubert, a contemporary of Nietzsche, is the possible source of God is in the details, I felt comfortable with my reaction to the idioms.  When I’m digging down into the details of anything, it’s nice to know I may find God in the end, rather than rummage through all the details and discover the Devil.  It’s also encouraging to know that God is in the details, preceded the devil is in the details

It is finding God and something about His character in the details and the specifics that comes to mind in reading the Scripture readings appointed for this Second Sunday after Pentecost.  We find in the passage from Exodus that, of all the people on the earth, God maintains a covenant with the people of Israel.  He specifically called out and chose the Israelites.  The Lord told Moses in the wilderness of Sinai that if the people will obey God’s voice and keep the Covenant He made with them, then they would “be His possession”.  We find in the Gospel passage for today the specific calling of the disciples by name.  Then they are given a mission and ministry that will involve particular gifts.  On top of that, they are even directed by Our Lord to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  They are even told what to preach while they are sent out.  Their sermon topic is to be, “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Singling out the people of Israel, appointing the Apostles, giving them a direction and purpose, is clearly dealing with details and as pointed out earlier, God is in the details.

Because God loves His people and wants them back with Him He makes a covenant with them.  Not with everyone, but in this case with the Israelites.  They then know the way back to Him.  The problem is man tends to sin and in this weakness breaks the covenant.  They need to repent for breaking the covenant, and be brought back to the original purpose.  We may count six or as many as twelve covenants God made with Israel, and all of them are establishing a bond, a caring, a love between God and the people He chose to be His own.  Time and time again Israel was recalled to the purpose and promise God made with them and they made with God.  Then the promise was fulfilled to have an everlasting covenant through the sacrifice of God’s Son Jesus Christ and we find this described in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

Saint Paul is describing how by faith in the death and Resurrection of Jesus, we are given the grace to share, as he puts it, in the glory of God.  This newest and lasting covenant gives us the greatest love of God because through Christ’s action we are now given the Holy Spirit.  With the Holy Spirit given to the Church and living in our hearts we have two wonderful benefits.  We are put back in a right relationship to God.  Saint Paul calls this being reconciled to God.  There is a second benefit and that is that new life, real life, everlasting life is given to all those who have faith in Jesus Christ.  Saint Paul writes, For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  That life is life in the Kingdom of Heaven.  We are shown what this life is like when Jesus begins sending the apostles on their mission.   

The Kingdom of Heaven is established with the presence of Jesus.  It is established and people have access to it in a certain way even during Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Jesus directs and commands the apostles, Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  It will be brought to its completion, its fullness, as we know, after Jesus’ death, Resurrection, Ascension, and sending of the Holy Ghost.  Jesus gives gifts and allows signs of the establishment of the Kingdom even with the  apostles.  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast our demons.  These are all signs that the Kingdom of Heaven is there.     

Again, the details and specifics are very important here.  Jesus has given clear directives about what the apostles are supposed to do, what gifts of preaching and healing they are supposed to have, and now to whom they are supposed to go.  Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  The people of Israel need to be recalled to their purpose and that is to love God, by being faithful and obedient to Him.  They are to go from house to house and present the teaching and the signs that the Kingdom of heaven has arrived.  When Jesus is present, the Kingdom is present.  

We need the Good News of Jesus Christ to begin at home first.  Just as the nation of Israel needed to relearn who and what they were supposed to be before the Word of the Kingdom would be taken to the Gentiles and the Samaritans, so we must have Jesus Christ’s grace-filled Word begin with us in our homes.  If someone were to visit our home, would the person leave knowing we are Christian?  What will the person see us doing or saying in the home to make them come to the conclusion that Christians live in the home?  

When we move beyond our homes we come to the Church.  Does the Gospel need to be preached to our Churches?  The apostles were sent to their own people first, and so the Gospel needs to be preached and taught to those who call themselves Christians first,  before it is sent abroad.  The Church needs to continually be renewed and recalled to its original purpose and intention.  The Church can fall into unfaithfulness and disobedience.  It can drift from its moorings by leaving the Commandments from Holy Scripture behind.  It will follow other teachings.  Jesus knew what He was doing when He sent those first apostles to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  If the Church is not teaching and preaching what Christ taught, we must make sure that is corrected.  Watered down doctrine and willfully following man-made trends will not do.   

Let us constantly strive to be obedient to Jesus and faithful to Him.  Not because we want to show others how good we can be, but because Jesus tells us to if we want to live forever with Him in His Kingdom. That is our original goal and purpose.  Living as a member of  His Kingdom is also the answer to so many of the sins, both personal and corporate, to which we are subject today.  Willfulness, self-centeredness, alienation; are just some of the sins visited on us as individuals.  Injustice, greed, indifference to others’ needless suffering are some of the sins we commit corporately.  All can be addressed and reconciled by living faithfully under Jesus in His Kingdom.  That is why we must always keep the Kingdom of Heaven in front of us as the hope of our calling.  We want to be with Him under His heavenly rule in this life, continue in His Kingdom when we leave this world, and be part of His Kingdom when He comes again.  

Let’s see if the details of a life in His heavenly Kingdom include being faithful to Him each step of the way.  In the Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.