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 bash, and invited a select group of A-listers.
There was a gaudy spread of food and drink and laughter and luxury on display at the
palace, a lot of wealth for a few people.
Herod's stepdaughter came out and entertained while Lou Williams was ordering chicken wings.
She was so hot, I mean talented, that the king swore to give her anything she wanted.
Mama smelled opportunity and convinced her to ask for the head of the prophet who had
publicly exposed the fact that her royal marriage broke God's law, which happens a lot in
the kingdom on the left.
Conveniently, the prophet was downstairs in the dungeon, so the girl was given the severed head of John the Baptist on a platter.
Welcome to the kingdom of Herod.
Little wonder, then, that Jesus needed to get away for a minute and collect himself, but the
crowds didn't let him.
He saw in their sagging, desperate eyes the same emptiness weighing down his own, and he had compassion.
In the middle of nowhere, he healed and taught them deep into the day, which happens a lot in the kingdom on the right.
When it was time for dinner, he didn't send them away or hunt down any fresh human heads; he ordered his guards to feed everyone.
They had five loaves and two fish for a crowd of thousands ... and leftovers.
Welcome to the kingdom of heaven.
It's no surprise that these two kingdoms would clash when one invades the other.
The good news that we trust and celebrate is that the invading kingdom wins.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near, Jesus opens, warning Herod that God has arrived in the neighborhood and will not be kept out.
The hungry will be fed and the suffering cured and the poor paid and the losers blessed; get used to it because you won't be able to stop it.
The invaded kingdom of Herod tried valiantly to defend itself, of course; it always does.
The same system that beheaded John crucified Jesus.
When you kill the king, you defeat the kingdom...unless you're up against the kingdom of heaven, because God cheats at math.
God subs in the truth of abundance for the established lie of scarcity.
Five loaves and two fishes feed thousands.
The king who died alone on Friday has fish for dinner with his friends the following Sunday.
Blessed are the poor in spirit and the pure in heart, those who mourn and hunger and thirst, the meek and the mocked and the merciful, the persecuted and the peacemakers.
Blessed are five loaves and two fish and everything and everyone we label "not enough."
Blessed is the crucified king, the mighty lion who looks like a bloody lamb chop.
Blessed is the weary world, tired of Herod's lies and power games, hungry for something else, sick with violence and fear and grief, chasing after Jesus in desperate desire for another way, starving for love and justice and joy.
Blessed is the church, and the piddly contributions we make that we know won't be nearly
enough to meet the overwhelming need.
Blessed are you, even when you are broken, because Jesus can work with that.
Welcome to a completely different reality that delights in welcoming you.
Welcome to the kingdom of heaven.