Monday, January 30, 2017

Sermon for Epiphany 4: "Blessed in Jesus"

+ 4th Sunday after the Epiphany – January 29th, 2017 +
Series A: Micah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

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

The first word out of Jesus’ mouth in his sermon on the mount is a word of Good News: Blessed.

This is a word of saving and redeeming, a word of blessing, or as we often hear it called: a beatitude.

The first four beatitudes point to our life in Christ before God. The poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What a strange way to start a sermon. Jesus doesn’t say blessed are the powerful, the strong, the happy, healthy, wealthy and wise. But rather…Blessed are the poor in spirit.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It has nothing to do with what’s in our wallets. To be poor in spirit is to discover our own spiritual bankruptcy. As Luther once said, we are all beggars this is true.
To be poor in spirit is to cry out, Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.
Blessed are those who have nothing to offer God but our sin, our messed up lives, and our broken hearts. Blessed are those who look at the inventory of the commandments and come to the conclusion, “I have nothing.” Blessed are those who realize they haven’t kept a single commandment in thought, word, or deed not matter how good they might look to the world. Blessed are those who, join the tax collector in confessing, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Or as St. Augustine once said, God gives into empty hands.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
This beatitude doesn’t seem like a blessing at first. Aren’t Christians supposed to be happy all the time? Aren’t we supposed to have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in our hearts? Aren’t we supposed to be living in the power of positive thinking so God will bless us? No, you won’t find any of that in the Bible.

This second beatitude follows the first. We mourn the chaos of death in our world. We mourn that we live in a world where body parts of babies are sold and the elderly are encouraged to seek physician assisted suicide. We mourn the martyrdom of brothers and sisters in Christ. We mourn the lawlessness in our streets, but also the anarchy of sin in our hearts. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again…for you and with eternal comfort.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Once again Jesus’ beatitudes are the opposite of what we’d expect. He doesn’t say blessed are the strong and mighty. But blessed are the meek, the lowly, the humble. This runs against everything our old sinful nature loves: control and power and looking out for ourselves. Who of us can really say we’re meek? No…me neither.

But there’s someone who is. “Come to me, all you who are weak and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” 

Now hopefully you begin to see that these beatitudes are about Jesus. Jesus is all of these for you; and gives them to you.

Jesus is meek. Jesus loves his enemies – you and me and all sinners. Jesus turns the other cheek. Jesus lays down his life for the ungodly...for you Jesus humbles himself to the point of death on the cross for you.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

When Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness he declares: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.

We can do something about dry mouths and rumbling stomachs. But what about righteousness? We have no righteousness of our own. We can’t make ourselves holy. What we hunger and thirst for is found in Jesus: His Word is a fountain of life that slakes our thirst. His body and blood are bread from heaven that satisfies our hungry souls.

The next four beatitudes turn us to our neighbor. Life before one another. Blessed are the merciful, the pure-hearted, the peacemakers, the persecuted. We reflect the merciful, pure-hearted, persecuted Prince of Peace who is their Savior and Lord.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

God gives us his mercy every Sunday in his Word, water, body and blood. We sing “Lord, have mercy” knowing that Jesus is mercy.

And in this beatitude, Jesus calls us, who have received his mercy to be merciful to others. Jesus is the Light, we are a mirror called to reflect that light to others. We show mercy to one another when we forgive those who have wronged us; when we care peoples’ physical needs; and in countless ways in our daily callings in life.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Here’s another difficult beatitude. Maybe you’re like me and you squirm a bit when you hear this. After all, Proverbs says, “Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”? Can you? Can I? Not on our own that’s for sure. Out of our heart comes all sin - murder, hatred, envy, lust, pride, prejudice, lies.

What we need is a new heart, a pure heart. Create in me, a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Jesus takes our heart of stone and replaces it with a new heart whose life-blood is in the blood of the Lamb, a pure heart that beats in rhythm with God’s Word and promises.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

For many, peace is a political, emotional, or diplomatic word. The peace Jesus brings is different. It is the proclamation of Good News that in him the kingdom of God has come; that through his death and resurrection we are reconciled to God. Paul says a similar thing in Colossians: Jesus reconciles all things having made peace by his blood shed on the cross. That’s true peace, shalom. Sins forgiven. Blessed sons of God.

On our own we not peacemakers. In our sinful flesh we’re all little revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the Prince of Peace. But in Christ, in your Baptism, by his blood shed for you; you are at peace with God, and called to declare that peace to others. That’s what Jesus sent out his disciples to do.

Though sadly, wherever this message of Good News and reconciliation and peace in Jesus is proclaimed sooner or later, persecution follows.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you. You the disciple. You the baptized believer, child of God and heir of the kingdom. Blessed are you when others revile you, persecute you, slander you because you bear the name Christian. Blessed are those who are mocked and ridiculed by the “wise” of this world. Blessed are you when people laugh at you for believing in Christ, when people mock you for speaking the name of Jesus. 

We hear this and think…really? How is that a blessing? The persecution isn’t the blessing; it’s Jesus’ promise in the face of everything opposed to him that is the blessing. The kingdom is yours. Were they to take our house, Goods, honor, child, or spouse, Though life be wrenched away, They cannot win the day. The Kingdom’s ours forever.

The beatitudes aren’t some checklist of things we must do to become God’s children, but who you are in Christ as God’s children. The beatitudes aren’t good news because we do them but because Jesus declares them to be true of us; because Jesus is and does all these things for you.

The beatitudes are first and foremost about Jesus. He is the Blessed One from whom all blessings flow. He is the One who became poor in spirit, though He was rich. He is the One who mourned over our Sin. He is the meek One, who turned the other cheek, who gave His back to the whips of this world, who went as a Lamb to the slaughter. He hungered and thirsted for our righteousness, and in His hunger and thirst we are filled.
He is the Merciful One, whose mercy knows no bounds. He is the pure-hearted One, innocent of all sin, whose heart overflows with love. He is the peacemaker, the One who made peace by his death on a cross. He is the persecuted One, who absorbed this world’s hatred and buried it in His death. All of this he did for you.
Rejoice and be glad! You are blessed in Jesus, now and forever.

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

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