Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sermon for 11/6/11--Feast of All Saints (observed)

Matthew 5:1-12

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

You’ve all heard the hard sell before—the laundry list of benefits that will be yours if you will only do or buy or be a part of something. “Join this fitness club! We’ll make you into the best you that you can be.” “Apply for this job! We pay top dollar and let you make your own schedule.” “Come to our college! Not only will we give you a full scholarship for a top-rate education, but we’re the best party school in the nation.” But here’s the best one: “Follow me! Be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus! You'll be hated and persecuted!” Wait a minute. That doesn't sound very much like an enticing benefits package. Jesus had all this great stuff to say about being a Christian: be comforted, inherit the earth, see God. That all sounds great—except for the whole “they're going to hate you and kill you” part. Seriously? Does Jesus actually want disciples? If so, this doesn't seem like a very attractive sign-on bonus to advertise. It doesn't seem like a very good way to bring in new folks. And the older you get, as you face a world that really could care less that you're a Christian, or worse, hates you for being one, it's going to seem like the glorious things of the kingdom of God are farther and farther off and the hassles of being a child of God are less and less worth it. Now at this point, a cheerful and happy and worldly preacher like Joel Osteen would tell you: “Just hang in there. Stick it out with Jesus, and everything will turn out all right.” If he mentions Jesus at all, that is.

In many ways the Beatitudes are among the most misunderstood, misapplied words in Scripture. And if they are read wrongly, they can suddenly snap shut on our unbelief with the strong jaws of God's law. If they are romanticized into a pretty slogan appropriate for a wall poster, they suddenly leap from the page and engage us in a battle over who we are and who God is. With that way of looking at the Beatitudes, the Christian faith becomes a religion of payoffs. "God, this morning I was really humble and contrite and sorry. Just look at my face! Now will you give me what I'm asking for?" "God, I pray each day. I study hard. My modesty is a beacon in this dark night of vanity and arrogance! Now will you give me an 'A' on the exam of life?"

We may not be quite as crass as all of that, but the fact is, we live the Christian life grudgingly, with getting a payoff from God the only goal in mind. If I do these things, then I'll be blessed by God. And it's just at this point that the words of the Beatitudes suddenly snap closed on us, for Jesus told His disciples how they were to keep these commands and all other Laws of God. "Be perfect, therefore, as Your heavenly Father is perfect." Jesus didn't say just be good. He said be perfect. You can't mess up even once. Thus, the Beatitudes are no longer words of blessing, but words that curse. All of us are sinful from birth. The "If/Then" formula condemns us, for no one can live by that formula.

On the other hand, if the Beatitudes are just slogans placed on a wall with a pretty picture, read once in a while and forgotten or ignored, then a person is trying to live in two worlds. One is a spiritual world that only exists on Sunday, and not even all day on Sunday. And the other is the real world where the practice is "Blessed are the rich in things, for theirs is prosperity. Blessed are the ones who seek pleasure, for they will always be happy. Blessed are the proud, for they are the movers and shakers. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for more at any cost, for they shall succeed. Blessed are the powerful, for they will never need anything from anyone. Blessed are the impure in heart, for they will keep one step ahead of everyone else. Blessed are the cut throats, for they are the winners."

That is clearly the choice that the Beatitudes present. Either be blessed by the world's standards, or be blessed by the Lord. And so we see a war raging between the Preacher of the Beatitudes and the world. The Beatitudes, then, are fighting words. They have to do with attitudes, with our style of life, with the way we believe and think and live. It is a war against the proud, against those who worship themselves and make themselves gods, against the forces of evil that bless rebellion against God. In either case, when the Beatitudes are misread or misapplied, they lead us to a sense of helplessness. And the Beatitudes are meant for those who know they are helpless! The Beatitudes are meant for those who know they are helplessly lost in sin. And then, once we are helpless and know it, we know where our Help is! Then and only then do the Beatitudes become blessings. If they are read rightly and understood through the eyes of humble faith in Jesus Christ, then they describe the life of blessedness that God has already bestowed on us through the atonement of His Son.

All of Holy Scripture tells us that Jesus is the true Blessed One. He is the Poor in Spirit. He is the One who mourns for the earth. He is the meek and gentle Jesus of Nazareth, God in the flesh, who humbled Himself to be born of a Virgin and was laid in a manger in Bethlehem. He is the One who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, for it is only because He fulfills all righteousness as our Substitute that we can be blessed. He is the merciful One, for only by God's mercy can sin be conquered and forgiven. He is the pure in heart who is holy, the lamb without spot or blemish who takes away the sin of the world. He is the Peace-maker who brings us peace with God. He is the persecuted One who suffered and died for our sins. And that is where the battle ends, the battle between the world and Jesus with His beatitudes. It ends at the cross where Jesus was despised, mocked, and forsaken. At the entrance of the empty tomb, we realize that the Preacher on the mountain was not a mere teacher who spoke fine words. He is the Word made flesh. He is the Savior who spoke and acted for our blessing that we might receive the Beatitude, that we might receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Through Him we receive every blessing.

The Beatitudes are the promises of the Kingdom, and they are yours already now through Jesus Christ. Blessed are you who know, believe and trust in Jesus Christ. Blessed are you who have been baptized into Jesus Christ. Blessed are you who receive Holy Absolution from the mouth of the one who speaks in the stead of Christ. Blessed are you who receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ in His Holy Supper. Blessed indeed are you, for you live before God in the righteousness of Jesus Christ! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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