17th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, September 19, 2010
(Outside of the rear doors of the sanctuary).
Have you ever realized the incredible thing that happens when you come in these doors? By all accounts, we should be left out here, standing outside the sanctuary. If God is our King, and we are His subjects, then the sanctuary is His throne room. If we are His subjects, and what poor subjects we are, if we are His subjects and He is our King, well, we really shouldn’t dare just waltz right into His throne room.
Haven’t you ever watched a BBC show about royalty or a PBS movie about kings and queens? Haven’t you ever read about what it was like for people to approach the King? I mean, if you’ve ever heard anything about kings, you suddenly realize that no one, no one approaches the king without being invited. You don’t simply walk into the throne room. You must be invited. In fact, there’s a lot of steps to go through before you’re able to approach the king.
(Walking into the sanctuary)
First, the king must invite you into his court, into his inner circle. Let’s say that’s like being invited into the sanctuary here. If you are a noble or have found favor in the king’s eyes, he invites you into his court. But once you’re there, you’re still only there at the king’s invitation. He can ask you to leave the court at any time. It’s all about the king and his wishes.
Even so, even if you’re in the king’s court, you still don’t approach the king without an invitation, you don’t expect to have an audience with the king, a conversation with him, let alone expect that you can ask the king for anything, unless he grants this to you. Unless he invites you to see him and make a request. If he invites you, then you’re able to come before him. And that’s like approaching the altar. (walking up to the altar)
God is our King, we are His subjects, the sanctuary is His court, and when we approach His altar, we are having a conversation with the King, making requests of the King.
(hurrying back to the sanctuary doors) But remember we wouldn’t dare just walk into the king’s court without being invited. That’s why it’s so incredible what happens every week here in worship, every week we walk into the court of God (walking up center aisle from back), every week in worship we approach the altar of God, the throne of the king, making requests and talking to God. This is an incredible thing that happens every week, an incredible privilege, and God has invited us to be here, to be in His court, to have an audience with Him, to approach Him with confidence. We’ve been invited here.
This is what Psalm 113 means when it says,
Who is like the LORD our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
with the princes of their people.
Who is like our God who takes us, raises us up and seats us with princes? Who is like our God who invites us into His court, invites us into audience with Him, invites us to make requests of Him?
There is no god like our God, no god who invites people to come into His presence despite the fact that we aren’t very noble, we aren’t the kind of people who should be in the royal court of the holy and righteous God.
It’s like I was saying last week: we are a bunch of sinners. That’s who we are. And we need to admit that we’re poor and needy, we’re spiritually distant from God and His ways, we’re nowhere near living up to what it means to be in God’s royal court. We lie to one another, we gossip, we talk behind each other’s backs, we pick fights and we basically are just dirty beggars.
And kings don’t invite dirty beggars into their court. Kings don’t allow dirty beggars to ask them for things.
You and I, we shouldn’t be here. We shouldn’t be in God’s court. We shouldn’t be approaching God’s altar. We shouldn’t expect God to hear our requests, to hear our prayers.
And yet here we are. . .here we are, because God stoops down, reaches down, comes down to the ash heap, comes down to the spiritual beggars, comes down to us and raises us up to his court, to his throne room. He brings us up and has us sit with the princes, sit in the royal court. You and I are dirty beggars, but God treats us like nobility. The King of Kings has invited us to sit with the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.
In fact, God gives us what He has. He is enthroned on high, He sits on His throne high above—and He raises us up to His level, raises us up to His throne, raises us up to be with Him.
Psalm 113 is pointing out this great turn of events, this incredible event that’s made possible by God’s grace, mercy, and love. We have a King that lifts up His subjects, lifts us up to be with Him, lifts us up to be seated with the princes.
And Psalm 113 is designed for worship and praise, and it gets us to stop and take a look around, to stop and realize where we are. It’s like saying, “Do you realize? Do you realize what God has done for us? He’s reached down from way up high and brought us up from way down low. He’s brought us way up high to be with Him and now we’re in His royal court. Do you realize what’s happened? Do you realize why we’re praising God today? We’re praising God because here we are in His presence and we’re safe and secure and forgiven and free and alive.”
So I want you to remember what a privilege it is to enter this place of worship, this sanctuary. I want you to remember that what is happening in the spiritual realm is that God is inviting the dirty beggars into His royal court.
I want you to remember that the only reason you can come before God is through His grace, mercy, and love. The King of Kings has invited you to come into His presence, to come right up to His throne, to be here with Him. The King of Kings has invited you to sit with the Prince of Peace.
And it’s not only in this space that this reality is true. Wherever you are, you are in the presence of God. Wherever you are, whether at home or at work or at school or on the tollway, wherever you are you have been invited into God’s royal court, you are part of His court, you are His noble subjects.
And it isn’t because you’re so great and special and noble and royal. No, you’re dirty beggars, but God has invited you in. God wants you to be here. You’re here at His invitation and His invitation is the only thing that matters. Don’t worry about what other people might say about you—they’re not in charge of the royal court. Don’t worry about what you might tell yourself about being unworthy—you’re not in charge of the royal court. God invited you to be in His court, and that’s all that matters. He made it possible, so take a look around, praise God for where you are, and rejoice that He’s made you to be like one of the princes.
I know a woman who is known for bringing people into the church to experience this transformation of Christ, but boy, would people talk, act like she had no right bringing those people to church. Routinely on Sundays she fills up her van with kids from the neighborhood, teens who are troubled, teens who are searching, teens who have had really difficult lives, she invites them to church, gathers them on Sunday morning, and brings them with her to worship.
Now some of these teens when they first come to church are reluctant to come into the sanctuary, but that doesn’t stop this woman. She encourages them to come worship, she encourages them and supports them and helps them take those steps inside that holy space.
And when they enter, she marches them right up to the front row. She’s not going to let them hide at the back. She wants them front and center where they can hear God’s Word, where they can pay attention to what’s being said, where they can find out what Jesus has done for them. These teens are truly experiencing what it means to be invited into God’s royal court.
Before that experience at church, these teens have often felt left out, felt like they couldn’t possibly come to God, felt like they’re too bad to ever be in church, but that doesn’t stop this woman. She knows that God takes all of us, all of us dirty beggars, takes all of us just the way we are, and He brings us right into His royal court, seats us with the princes, invites us to the feast of the kingdom. Whatever other people might think, that doesn’t stop this woman from bringing these teens to church where they can hear about the love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. She knows God’s tremendous invitation, she knows God has done something incredible for us, she knows that God took a big step when He invited any of us into His royal court, and so this woman, for her, it’s a natural step to invite all of these teens into the royal court, too. She’s God’s instrument. She’s helping these teens to see that God wants them in His royal court, at His altar, at His side, with Him forever.
Knowing that God has invited us into His royal court, knowing that He has seated us with princes, knowing that the King of Kings invites us to sit with the Prince of Peace, well, that changes our lives, changes how we view the world and the people around us. It means that everyone around us can be royal and noble, can be invited into God’s presence. It means that we all have been lifted up by God. It means everyone is invited into His royal court.
I pray that Bethel Lutheran will be a place that is safe for every poor, dirty beggar, a place that is safe for everyone person, a place that is safe for every person who might have felt like they don’t belong. I pray that Bethel Lutheran is that kind of place, because that’s the kind of message we preach and teach, the kind of message we learn from Scripture passages like Psalm 113. I pray that Bethel Lutheran can be a place where people realize that they, too, have been invited into God’s royal court.
And I pray that we as God’s people can go out into the world with this message, go into the world sharing this Good News with people who are feeling like spiritually they are just dirty beggars. I pray that we can share that hope with people around us, invite them into a faith that welcomes them with open arms because our God welcomes us with open arms. The King of Kings has invited you to sit with the Prince of Peace.