05. February 2023
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard… when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, they each received a denarius.
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Like all the parables of the kingdom, the parable of the vineyard workers is Jesus telling you that His kingdom is not of this world. The spiritual estate is not the secular estate. The left hand and the right hand are not the same. Church and state must be distinguished. To confuse the kingdoms is to confuse Law and Gospel. For the sake of the Gospel, you must not turn the Church into an earthly nation of laws, rules, and regulations. And for the sake of the world, you must not demand the State be a utopian, heavenly kingdom of grace, mercy, love, freedom, and equality.
From the Garden to the present day, sinful man wants the kingdom of Christ to conform to the kingdom of this world and the world to conform to Christ’s kingdom. The church takes on the role of a disciplinarian with demands, regulations, and rules. Some of the red-letter instructions, the rubrics, are benign. Stand, sit, bow, kneel, hands folded, hands making the sign of the holy cross, sing, speak. Those are indifferent matters, take them or leave them. Even the most pious congregation will ignore your ignorance about these disciplines.
But worse is when congregations elevate the Law’s role as tutor, disciplinarian, or taskmaster to be the thing. Some think the church’s job is to badger, beat, manhandle, or drag sinners into conformity. “If only they preached more Law, people would behave better.” This is a denial of the Gospel. The Scriptures testify: “Before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ so that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”
The kingdom of the left, the world, and the secular estate is given to reward those who do well and punish those who do evil. The kingdom of the right, the church, the spiritual estate, is given to forgive sins in Christ’s name, love with acts of charity, show mercy to the needy, and give cheerfully for the kingdom’s work. But the old Adam wants to reverse and invert what God has given.
This is why we look to civil rulers to save us, not Christ. This is why we look to the state to bring about the diversity, inclusion, and equity promised to Christ’s kingdom. This is why we want to abolish the police for mock freedom and police the world for imposed peace, forcibly steal wealth to redistribute it to others for false quality, and erase any distinguishing features of givenness by God for false equity.
Imagine there’s no sex or gender. Imagine nothing is merit-based, and everyone gets a trophy. Imagine that all the guns are taken away, and the world is finally at peace. Imagine there is no rich or poor, no hungry, and no sick. You can imagine all you want, but it’s a horrible, disgusting attempt to be God in God’s place, transforming the world into a church that worships them or us. We imagine a utopian world where we have no king but the little Caesar in our hearts, where we get to play gods and kings. And despite all previous attempts and failures, we think we’ll finally get it right this time.
Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” … Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” Pilate, therefore, said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
Let the proverbial Caesars alone do their job. Their job is to commend the right and punish the wrong. And don’t give them anything else to do, especially what God has not—that which is reserved for Christ alone, Christians, or Christ’s church. It doesn’t matter if they’re wise or noble, orange or demented. Please stop trying to turn them into little Christs to save you from viruses, spy balloons, or whatever the threat du jour is. Stop looking to them to solve the world’s lack of love, charity, and mercy. Stop expecting them to show mercy, be generous, or even care for you. Stop demanding the civil estate to make this world look like Christ’s church. It can’t, and it won’t. Stop praying to them, worshipping at their feet, building better and bigger hallowed halls and sacred spaces for them, and allowing them to demand the reverence and devotion that belongs to God in Christ alone.
But Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. It is in the world but not of the world. There’s nothing about this kingdom that the state can replicate. They can mimic and play-act like a church, but God will always cut them down. They can brand, command, and impose themselves, proclaiming, “Peace, peace!” They are the pagan prophets who make promises that they can never give. And it always goes the way of tyranny, injustice, poverty, and war.
But Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, and you have already been brought in. For Christ, nothing stands in the way of transforming you and His Church into a little heaven. It doesn’t matter your socio-economic status. Your age, sex, or ethnicity is not a barrier or qualifier. You don’t have extraordinary gifts, talents, time, or wealth to contribute. You can even be crippled, lame, blind, deaf, dumb, and be brought in. You can even be a sinner—or worse, chief of sinners, and that’s no obstacle. Christ Jesus gives what no other god, secular or pagan, can provide. He forgives sins fully and completely. He cares for all generously and without expectation of return. He brings all those who hear His voice and follow Him into His vineyard, sheepfold, and harvest.
You are baptized in Jesus’ name, made holy by forgiving sins. You are His adopted sons, inheritors of His kingdom, while impoverished enslaved people under an authoritarian state. You are His Israel, His chosen people, while pilgrims are in this barren land. You are the blessed of Christ, having all of God’s promises of grace, mercy, and peace now, even while you remain under the constant barrage of temptations from the flesh, the world, and Satan. You cannot expect or demand this world’s kingdoms to give that. Only the kingdom of Jesus will do, delivered to you who live in Christ. Here, in Christ’s church, you keep all the God-given distinctions that make you unique while all being one in Christ Jesus. Here, in Christ’s church, you are all given daily the denarius of saving faith purchased and won for you in Christ’s shed blood.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin