Before there was a constitutional separation of church and state, there was Martin Luther's Two Kingdoms theory.
Luther saw God active in two distinct spheres he called kingdoms on the right and on the left.
The kingdom on the right was concerned with our standing before God.
The kingdom on the left was concerned with our standing before one another.
God operates differently in each because we are sinful in both.
On the right, therefore, we are justified, forgiven by grace through Christ—it's all good, and all God asks is that we trust it (faith), and God even sends the Spirit to make that happen too.
That's the good news we proclaim with praise and thanksgiving every Sunday.
On the left, however, are sinners crashing around into other sinners...so instead of leading
with gospel, God leads with law, to keep us safe from one another and ourselves.
Politics, civic institutions, and yes, even the church are part of the kingdom on the left.
That is a much messier enterprise, and while the two kingdoms are distinct, they do overlap in our daily lives, which is the source of much consternation among people trained to protect church and state from being influenced by the other.
Things on the left become further tangled when different political authorities, and different
church bodies, disagree with each other, especially over issues of power like what the Bible really means or whether to wear face masks or open schools.
Because we ourselves are tangled mixtures of saint and sinner, justified but not yet saved,
adored by God but "it's complicated" with each other, members of a church on the left entrusted with the news on the right, people with dual responsibilities to worship and to
vote, there is untidy overlap between the two kingdoms no matter how clear the distinctions may be in Luther's mind or ours.
There is also conflict.
It is at the heart of the book of Revelation we have been studying.
John is pleading with Christians not to compromise themselves with emperor worship, not to
confuse Caesar with God, not to accept the state playing church, not to mistake one kingdom for the other.
History also has plenty of bloody and terrifying accounts of church playing state, of course,
which is why we are so keen to keep them as separate as possible.
But remember that church and state both live in the kingdom on the left, because both are
experiences of sinners crashing into each other, and God wants better for us.
So God takes the lead by leading us into the kingdom on the right so that it can infuse and inform and inspire and ultimately transform our daily dealings with one another on the left.
The way God treats us is, among other things, a lesson for us in how to treat each other.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive others.
As the Father sent me, so I send you.
You are salt, light, leaven – you are, like Abram and Sarai, blessed to be a blessing.
Therefore, Matthew says, change the way you do business.
It's no accident that the first public sentence Jesus preaches in this gospel is Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.
It's no accident that his first public sermon announces the blessedness of those who clearly aren't, because he is announcing and introducing that very different kingdom.
Now, in chapter fourteen, Matthew fleshes out his version of two kingdoms.
He does so with back-to-back stories of contrasting banquets.
Do you remember how today's gospel began?
Now when Jesus heard this...heard what?
He heard the news from the first banquet from the other kingdom.
King Herod had a birthday ba