Sermon Notes – March 17, 2019

The City of God – Psalm 48:1-2

   When this Psalm was originally written it was about the earthly Jerusalem and the earthly Mount Zion on which the temple of God was built.  It was in the temple (just as in the tabernacle before it) that the omnipresent God declared He would be especially present for His people.  Over time many of God’s people forgot or chose to ignore what God had promised.  Perhaps they didn’t think they were being fed in the temple and so they listened to false prophets who gave them false hope, “saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14) 

   Perhaps they wanted something new, something more modern, less parochial, more spiritual, less religious, more individualized to their problems, less focused on their sins.  Over time many people forgot about this Psalm and its praise of God in His temple, on His mount, in His city.  To them the great I AM became the washed up I WAS. 

   God, however, was not washed up.  The great I AM warned them how profoundly silly they were, how dangerously foolish.  God sent Jeremiah to tell them that Jerusalem, with all of their fake improvements, had become just another earthly city, another city of man.  “…The (pompous) priests and the (false) prophets and all the (hypocritical) people laid hold of Jeremiah, saying, ‘You shall die!  Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, “…this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant?”’” (26:8-9) Jeremiah was right! The Babylonians came and leveled Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. 

   A question from the time of Jeremiah until the time of Jesus: would Jerusalem be just another city of man or would it be the city of God?  Jesus seems to answer the question in our Gospel for today (Luke 13:34), “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 

   Will you?  Will we?  When earthly cities and kingdoms fail, whose fault is it?  When Rome’s thousand year reign came to an end and the empire collapsed under the weight of its own arrogance, there were many who blamed the Christians for defeating the old pagan gods.  Immediately after the fall of the Roman Empire the great theologian Augustine answered their claim in one of the great works of Western culture, The City of God.  Rome, though it branded itself as “the eternal city,” was doomed to fail because it was an earthly city, an earthly kingdom, with all of the inherent flaws.  The Church, the collective of God’s faithful people, is the only eternal city because it is the city of God.  [Today’s Epistle, Philippians 3:20-21]

   The credit for the permanence of the city of God does not belong to us.  The credit belongs to the One who gathers us as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.  The credit belongs to the One who died for our sins and was raised again for our justification.  The credit belongs to the omnipresent One who guarantees to be present, especially present, really present in His Gospel in Word and Sacrament.  “Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God…the city of the great King!” [Hebrews 12:22-24]

   Earthly cities?  In Revelation the angel declared with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” [Revelation 18:2-3]  The city of God?  [Revelation 21:1-3]  God’s love for His people defines the heavenly city of God and it defines the one true Church on earth where Christ is really present under the bread and wine of the altar, in the water of the font, through the “sword of the Spirit” (which is the Word of God, the Gospel of our salvation).  Augustine defined a city as “an assemblage of sensible beings bound together by their unanimous love of some object.”  The object of our love is the One who first loved us.  That is the city of God.  “Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised!”


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