In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Boys and girls, we’re going to think together on this Reformation Festival only about the opening verse of today’s Gospel reading. Remember, it went like this:
From the days of John the Baptist until now
the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence
and the violent take it by force.
I think that in order to understand why this text was chosen for Reformation Day, you need to remember a couple things we way too often forget about the Church: first, the Church is the militia Christi, we are Christ’s army! And so when you are baptized you are enlisted in the Lord’s army, and given your marching orders, which include holding that little piece of earth you call your body and soul as the Lord’s territory where Jesus is acknowledged as the true King to whom you yield your obedience and to whom you give your loyalty.
And here’s another thing we forget: that we’re not in peace time. There is a spiritual battle raging all the time, all around and it reaches even down inside you. And at the heart of that spiritual battle is the attempt of Satan, the Rebel, to retake the territory he’s lost. That means, to get you to switch sides back to him, to return to his revolt and rebellion against God. Instead of bowing your knee to King Jesus, Satan wants you bowing your knee to HIM, of to YOURSELF which amounts to the same thing. It’s all fine with him as long as you don’t serve King Jesus. Anyone or anything else will work just peachy as far as he’s concerned. It puts you back in his rebellion, whether you realize it or not.
Now battle, He gives you weaponry. But the weapons we use are all spiritual. Listen to St. Paul on this: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh, but the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience.” (2 Cor. 10) So Jesus gives you as a shield the gift of faith. He puts the promise of His salvation as a helmet over your head to protect it, and His righteousness as a breastplate to protect your heart. And He puts into your hands the most awesome weapon of all: the Sword of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God. You can see the depiction of it there with St. Paul. So being in Christ’s army doesn’t mean getting to take a wack at people like Peter did to poor Malchus in the garden, thinking he was protecting Jesus. No. It means armed with those weapons from Jesus, the attempt of the enemy to dethrone Him in our lives is bound to fail, even when it waxes violent. And it does wax violent.
The Kingdom has suffered violence from the days of St. John the Baptist. Wherever the message has spread, it has been opposed and people have tried to stop the Word about the true King, King Jesus, from spreading. Across the year’s they’ve locked up those who speak it and spread it, those who print Bibles and share them, and like with John, they’ve even chopped off heads to try to silence it. You know how they killed almost all the messengers Jesus sent, but how the message itself kept moving. The hatred couldn’t stop it. It kept advancing. Kept on capturing hearts for the King.
In the 16th century, Martin Luther experienced a joyous “aha” when he realized that the righteousness God demands from us in the Law is the righteousness He freely forks over to us in the Gospel. He gives us Jesus to be our righteousness, with His unbroken “yes” to His Father made our very own. That’s the big gift of Baptism. And when Luther tried to share this good news of King Jesus and how He spreads His reign through this good news that frees hearts from hating and fearing God and fills them with joy and peace and love, well, Luther found pretty quickly that it was still like Jesus said in the Gospel: from the days of John the Baptist until now…. That now reached all the way up to the 16th century. It reaches right up to today. The Kingdom still endures violence from those who hate the King and don’t want Him to be our Righteousness; and who above all don’t want us talking to others about Him, sharing His Word.
But even though the Kingdom suffers violence, WE, Christ’s army, WE are the violent who take it by force. That means, we ruthlessly put to death in ourselves anything and everything that opposes Jesus and His will and His reign. We seek to be loyal soldiers and hold this outpost for the Kingdom that is our life for Him. It’s an unending struggle to preserve this body and soul of ours as territory ruled by Jesus, since the attacks never stop. And we could never do it without the Spirit’s gifts in the Word and in the Sacraments, where He fires us for the fight, by constantly forgiving our sins.
Today when we celebrate His Supper, we come to receive Him who IS our righteousness. And we will kneel before our living and reigning King. And receive from His own lips, His forgiveness with His body and blood, and that’s how He strengthens us for the fight to keep our lives as His own territory, as His possession where what Jesus wills is the only thing that finally counts. To Him be glory with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.