INHERITORS OF THE KINGDOM

Sermon delivered on the Sixth Sunday after Trinity the 3rd July 2016 by Bishop Nicholas J.G. Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands in the service of the Holy Eucharist.

Scriptures: Isaiah 66: 10-14     Galatians 6:1-16     S. Luke 10: 1-20

S. Luke 10: 16 Jesus said, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

The Lord certainly cannot be accused of timidity in making such a statement. We can accept reasonably as Christians that Jesus speaks in the name of the Father, because we are convinced that Jesus is the full expression of God’s glory. According to our Gospel today, however, when He sent His spokesmen out to the towns of Galilee ahead of Him, He went so far as to say that those who heard those spokesmen heard Him, and those who rejected them rejected Him. In the same way as He is the voice of God the Father, they, He says, are His voice. And these, according to St. Luke, were not even the twelve; these were a wider group of people referred to as the Seventy, or in some ancient texts, the seventy-two.

If the seventy that He appointed could be His voice, just as He gives expression to the voice of the Father, there could be no question but that we who are the church, not only are intended by Him to speak with His voice, but in an objective sense, are actually His voice. This relates to an expression of St. Paul that has in the past given me a good deal of concern, when he says that “we have the mind of Christ”. Following Jesus’s practice, Paul does not merely say that we should have the mind of Christ, or that we aspire to have the mind of Christ, but actually makes the seemingly outrageous statement that we have that mind. Perhaps it is valid for us in trying to make sense of such a statement to say that for God the future is just as much present as the present is to us, so that those seeds of the mind of Christ that have taken root within us can be regarded already as the whole mind of Christ. But even that would not quite explain the terms of the commission to the seventy, upon whose words a man’s acceptance or rejection of God Himself would depend.

Jesus says to us, those who are baptised in His Name, that He has selected us to think with His mind and speak with His voice. Each of us now, as the Prayer Book teaches, with the same objectivity we have seen in the words of Jesus and Paul, is a member of Christ. We are part of Him, just as my hand is part of me. My hand is the servant of my whole body, and you and I are servants of the whole Christ, and our thoughts are His thoughts through us, and our words are His. I am the child of God, as the Prayer Book also teaches of baptism into Christ. To be the child of God means that there is a special likeness to God in that child. The child is not on His own, but has become family to God.

The Prayer Book teaches me that I am made a member of Christ, the child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. As I teach to my confirmation candidates and any baptismal candidate that has attained years of discretion, an inheritor is different from an heir. An heir is someone who is due to inherit some time in the future. Indeed it might be more acceptable for us to teach that we are made heirs of the kingdom of heaven, that one day we will attain the blessings and the graces of heaven, and one day we will have the mind of Christ, and one day we will speak with the voice of Jesus. We would not perhaps be wrong to teach this, but what we are authorised to teach is something better. The true doctrine is that we are not merely heirs but inheritors; that is to say, we inherit already. The fact of my being an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven is as amazing as the fact of my being a member of Christ, and as amazing a fact as my being the child of God. These amazing facts are of a piece with the amazing statement that I speak with the voice of God and that I have the mind of Christ. If we were not authorised to teach these things, but made such statements as assertions of our own opinion, they would be outrageous.

The other Scriptures today depict something of that inheritance. Isaiah chapter 66 speaks of a restored “mother” Jerusalem suckling her children abundantly. Christians may apply such imagery properly, though not perhaps exclusively, to the Church. In Revelation the new Jerusalem that comes down from God out of heaven appears to refer not to the Church in the present age, but to the restored community at the end of the age. But New Testament references in general to the new Jerusalem refer to the community of children of faith, in contrast sometimes to the children of the law. Notwithstanding all the modern problems of the Church, we have no authority to discount such imagery as being inapplicable today. We are not merely heirs one day, but inheritors now. Because of this, St. Paul writes in Galatians chapter 6 of our spiritual duties as church members, and as part of these, to restore any offender not censoriously, but in a spirit of gentleness, and to share our good things with those who have imparted the best thing, the word of God itself, especially those who have made some sacrifices to do so. He warns his correspondents to avoid those things which would erode the church’s true character. “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” That true character is the calling to become the new creation in the world through the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ is the most extraordinary and unlikely privilege we can be marked with, and as members of Christ, we must not seek to avoid the cross by avoiding the name of Christ, but rather to glory in it, being confident in its power, by admitting it and owning it in the midst of the present age. St. Paul could visualise much of his apostolic work for the early church being dissipated because of church members’ choices to choose the emblems of their culture over the scandal of the cross. Judaistic church members from Jerusalem seem to have travelled around to the churches which Paul had established telling them that they had to accept the ancient emblem of Jewishness, namely circumcision, to be saved. But St. Paul knew that once a Gentile convert started to rely on a cultural sign of membership such as this, rather than upon the cross of Christ, which had real power to make a person a member of Christ, he would in effect become an enemy of the cross of Christ, the life he lived would no longer be marked by the mind of Christ or the heart of a servant of His, and he would lose the character of the calling to become a new creation in this world. Is this not a challenge to the modern church wherever it is manifested? Is there not in the church a temptation to rely on the approved sign of some particular culture rather than on the scandalous sign of the cross of Christ?

The calling to become a new creation in this world is our true calling too - like the seventy or seventy-two that Jesus sent out, like the twelve apostles, and like the early church of the New Testament, we are called to be God’s new creation in the world through the cross of the Lord Jesus. Like the members of the early church whom Paul exhorted, we are called too to own and exalt that cross over any other emblem of membership, and to discard every emblem or habit of culture that conflicts with the new character with which we have been conferred.