Monday, November 1, 2010

Jesus is the Beatitudes and So are You

Note: In commemoration of All Saints' Day, 2010, here is the sermon from last year.

All Saints' Day – Nov. 1, 2009Text: Matthew 5:1-12 (esp. verses 3-6)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Navigation is essential to getting from point A to point B…just ask those two NW Airlines pilots. If Christopher Columbus had altered course, he would have discovered South, instead of North America. Even the slightest turn of the navigational dial sends the ship off course and lost at sea.

The same is true when reading the Sermon on the Mount, which begins Matthew 5 with the beatitudes and concludes in Matthew 7. The Beatitudes are probably some of the best known words in Scripture, the most frequently quoted by politicians and pop-stars, and one of the most abused, misused and confused parts of Scripture.
    If we misunderstand the Beatitudes, we'll be taking, as Bugs Bunny said, a left turn at Albuquerque. If we get the Beatitudes wrong, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount turns into one big lengthy list of what we must to be perfect followers of Jesus.
    The beatitudes are more than a "how-to" guide to become a super-Christian. These words of Jesus are something other than a recipe for making saints – 1 cup meekness, 2 cups of mourning and an extra helping of poor in spirit.
That is the way of the Law. And there's no comfort in the Law. When have we really thirsted for righteousness? When have we really purified our heart? Didn't we just confess our failure to live up to God's Law in thought, word and deed? If the Beatitudes are Law, we haven't done any of them right, not even remotely. You see, there's no comfort in the Law.
The Beatitudes are not rewards; they are Christ's blessing for you. They are Jesus' beautiful Words of Gospel, for you. Through these words, Jesus reveals the present condition of our life in Him. This is what life looks like in His Name as His baptized saint, even when life around us doesn't always match up.
Who exactly is Jesus talking about here – himself or us? The answer is yes! Jesus is the beatitudes and so are you. From the cross He blesses us. And by His Word we hear:
Through the Beatitudes Jesus blesses you, His saints, now and forever.
    The first beatitude sets the tone for the rest: "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (present tense!). Ours is the kingdom of heaven; despite our best efforts at remaining sinners, Jesus blesses us, His saints.
Poor in spirit…is not a prescription. Neither is "The poor in Spirit" a lesson in economics; no vow of poverty is required. Jesus looks to instill a more profound poverty.
    On his death bed, Luther said "before God we are all beggars, this is true." This is what it means to be poor in spirit: to come before God as beggars, realizing that we don't have anything to contribute to the heavenly reward. We can stake no claim on heaven. Before God we are sinful destitute beggars who deserve no reward. We come before God, like the paralytic lowered through the roof… incapable of doing anything to help ourselves and utterly dependent upon His mercy.
And yet He does not cut down the bruised reed; He does not snuff out the smoldering wick. "Poor in spirit" is exactly where His Word brings us. The moment we have failed, acknowledging our sinful condition we are left utterly dependent upon His mercy – that is exactly the moment where God's word of absolution comes to our rescue. Yours IS the kingdom of heaven. Right now.
The promises of heaven we long for are already ours in the Word, in the water, in the body and blood – in these earthen vessels of divine blessing. Our Lord invites us poor beggarly sinners, to his house, to hear His Word and to eat and dine with Him. In Christ, you are blessed, from the moment the water hit your forehead and the Word came to your ears, the Spirit is bestowing the blessings of the cross upon you. 

Well, that all sounds great we might say, but right now life doesn't look so blessed…the world is full of sorrow. We mourn over the lives lost in war, we mourn with the victims of terrorism and violence; we mourn over a world that continues to reject the Gospel & persecute the Church. We mourn over the struggle of the Church on earth, plagued by false teaching from within and villains of the Gospel from without.
The life of the Church on earth is the life of the cross. God's people live in the shadow of the cross and suffering, indeed we suffer with Him, for the sake of His Son who has suffered all for us. Our crosses are never self imposed, which is why they are the hardest to bear. And so we also mourn over the trials in our own lives…I've lost my job and can't find work to support my family…I have loved ones in the hospital, my relationship with family and friends or spouse is strained or worse. Life sure doesn't look like blessed, we might say.
And on a day like All Saints' Day, we look to the saints in heaven, thinking, "they sure have it made – no more pain or struggles, no more bad economy and hardships, no death or sin. But there really is only one difference between the saints described in Revelation 7 – although it seems obvious - they have passed from death to life through Christ. God's promises to us have not changed. You are clothed in the same baptismal garments as they. You are given the same Word of salvation as they, fed with the same body and blood as they, worship the same Lamb of God as they. Salvation belongs to this Lamb, and He gives it away to sinners and beggars so that He can call us His saints and His dear children.
Blessed are you, His saints, poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. Revelation 7 tells us who we already are in Christ. You are blessed in Christ despite the world and its tribulations.
You are God's Church. Yes, He locates Himself in this place called Redeemer where the Word is taught and His gifts distributed, but you are His people. Your parents or neighbors or friends may have brought you here to church, but they are only God's masks, through which He is working as He does in all of us. You are Christ's body. You are the temple of the Spirit. Not an afterthought, not plan B, - chosen in Christ, by Christ, through His cross to be members in the holy Christian and apostolic church joined with saints on earth and in heaven.
We look through the cross of Christ into heaven, just as John in Revelation, and we see the saints gathered in praise, but we also see ourselves gathered there.
From the Sermon on the Mount to the Mount of Calvary, Jesus fulfills the very words He preaches. In the Crucified One, we find the true meaning of the word blessed.
Blessed is He who became poor in spirit, humbled himself unto death on a cross to bless you; yours is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed is He who mourned the condition of our sinful lives, through him we are given eternal comfort.
Blessed is the Meek One, through His cross we inherit the earth.
Blessed is He who hungered and thirsted after our righteousness, satisfying the wrath of God and our greatest need.
Blessed is the Merciful One, through Him we receive mercy.
Blessed is He who is pure in heart, in Him we see God, in human flesh.
Blessed is He who brought peace between God and man, that we are called the children of God.
Blessed is He who was persecuted for our sake, clothing us in His righteousness. 

Even in this life through the trials and crosses we bear, we look to the cross.
Lord willing the unemployed find jobs, but maybe not, God doesn't tell us how He will provide His daily bread for us and yet He does. While you are hunting the want ads and going to school or helping around the house you are blessed; yours is the kingdom of heaven.
Lord willing, our loved ones return to health, come home from the hospital in rest and recovery, but what if they don't? Has God's promise disappeared? Even in the midst of death and illness we have One who bore our human frailty, carried our griefs and diseases, and faced death for us. In the midst of death He says to us – you are blessed, yours is the kingdom of heaven.
Lord willing our relationships are sheltered from pain and sorrow, stress and strain or worse. Or maybe not; God doesn't tell us how our needs for relationships are met. We may yet endure heartbreak, fractured homes or divorce. But His relationship with us never fails; His blessing from the cross of Christ is yours. Blessed are you, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. You are the community of the blessed. The community of the Crucified. The communion of saints. Today and every day, we join their endless praise. 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

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