Friday, November 2, 2012

Matthew 5:1 - 12, A Blessed Life

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
            No one can say exactly where in Israel the Sermon on the Mount took place, but crowds of people flocked to Jesus with their bodily and spiritual needs.  He spoke to them in a way they’d never heard before – not doctrine, not a summary of the law or a step-by-step program for pleasing God but the offer of a new community, a new kind of fellowship – the kingdom of God.  He made as a gift right at the start of his ministry what others offer as the end-point – friendship with God, life in his kingdom, which comes not as a result of human striving but as the invitation of the Heavenly Father to live with him by faith.
            With the help of experts on the gospels, we’ll examine the opening of Jesus’ great sermon.
            “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.”  A highly-respected Lutheran scholar said that in this passage Jesus wasn’t referring to folks who must work for a living or who have just enough to get by, but to those who have nothing at all, the destitute, who go from day to day, and yet he wasn’t referring to physical poverty that we hate to think about a but a kind of poverty we gladly accept with profound submission – the attitude of believing souls toward God, when we understand our complete helplessness before him.  We have nothing to bring him other than our emptiness and need.  We are beggars before the throne of grace, in a state of continual repentance. Amazing as it is, Jesus said that people in that condition are truly fortunate, blessed, for the Heavenly Father feeds and comforts the humble and contrite as soon as we turn to him.  The kingdom of heaven is not an earthly set-up but Christ alive in us now, a present-day blessing that each of us claims as our own.  The proud of spirit resist God and his kingdom – and there are always plenty of those in the world, though none that I know of at St. Peter’s – while Jesus uses his powers of grace and strength and glory for the benefit of the spiritually needy. He fills our hands and our hearts with an abundance of grace and pardon.  He has adopted us as his children; he blesses us with the gift of godly living.  We receive his grace every day, every hour, in a never-ending stream as long as we live in a world of sin and sin everyday ourselves.  The kingdom of heaven belongs to us now by faith.  In times to come, the kingdom will bring us everything the father has in mind for us.
            “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Life brings us plenty of joys and sorrows. We pass through times of loss and grief.  We find consolation in God’s Word.  He sends Christian friends to comfort us so that we don’t live forever in a valley of grief.  His word strengthens us to carry the heaviest losses.  What’s more, Christians understand that mourning includes grief for our own sins, which have lots of consequences and inflict losses upon ourselves and others.  Martin Luther once said that the life of a Christian is continuous repentance for our misdeeds.  At the same time, we remember that our Savior says to us, “I will not leave you comfortless.  I will come to you.”  The greatest comfort is the pardon sorrowing sinners receive from the Lord.  His Word lifts us up in times of tribulation.  The promise of deliverance from evil in the coming kingdom of glory comforts us today.   God’s consolation flows down upon us, and so we who mourn are the most blest of all.
            “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”  Mild, gentle, patient folks, like St. Peter’s people, testify to the faith the Spirit has put in our hearts by not showing resentment, for example, and refraining from avenging ourselves when we’re wronged.  Bitter people, violent ones, like terrorists and suicide bombers, always attract attention, while the meek usually go their way and follow the Lord without being noticed.  They don’t rise in fury if they see wicked people becoming strong and great, for they live by the blessings the heavenly Father showers on them day after day.  “A little that a righteous man has,” Jesus said, “is better than the riches of many wicked people.”  Because he doesn’t want us to lose salvation, Jesus disciplines covetousness and greed, though he lets his children find a spot, a resting place, that is our very own.  He provides us a supply of earthly goods and earthly happiness.
            “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”  But what is righteousness?  In everyday speech, righteousness means good, law-abiding conduct or what happens when our thoughts and words and actions all go together in one direction.  Integrity.  Many people strive for these and other excellent qualities, even folks who don’t claim to be Christian, but everyone falls short and no one likes to have weaknesses pointed out, because most of us are sensitive and like to have others think well of us.  “I’m plenty righteous,” someone might say.  “I don’t steal.  I’ve never murdered anyone.  I set a good example everywhere I go.”
            Righteousness means something else to God.  The word comes from the legal profession of Bible times and means a verdict of acquittal, a declaration of not guilty.  No human has ever found a way to turn a guilty soul into a righteous one, but God can bring about what is impossible for us.  Christ met God’s demand for righteousness by his perfect life and sacrificial death and he transfers his unblemished righteousness to us as a gift.  He won a “not guilty” verdict for us before heaven’s court of judgment.  The Father pardons the world, redeems it from sin, because of Jesus’ work.  Those who seek his gift, who hunger and thirst for a savior, will be satisfied.  Our Heavenly Father declared us to be righteous at the moment the Spirit worked faith in Christ in our hearts.  As we hunger for his grace and favor, not once but thousands of times, the Father declares that he accepts us and is pleased with us.  We cling to his approval of us now, because it is an advance declaration of the verdict we will hear on judgment day.  Maybe you have seen a wall poster of a smiling face saying that God doesn’t make junk.  That’s an informal way of expressing heaven’s gift of righteousness.  God declares us to be not guilty because of Christ.  We aren’t junk but our Savior’s adopted brothers and sisters.  Heaven’s kindness toward us will never stop overflowing.  Christ’s righteousness feeds our souls every day.  We are highly blessed and chosen of God.
            “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”  Jesus invites us to think about how we treat others.  The mercy we receive from God awakens a spirit of mercy in us.  The Father blesses us when we show mercy to others. We pardon them if they offend us; we perform works of charity.  The hard, competitive world needs the mercy of Christian people, who don’t bear grudges or keep a record of wrongs and who help neighbors less fortunate than themselves.  The Lord’s teachings about mercy influence even people who don’t know him as their Savior.  We have Jesus to thank for Canada’s concern for the well-being of her citizens.  The country’s willingness to provide medical care and other forms of social assistance is an indirect result of Christ’s ministry.  We have the Savior’s promise that the gospel light of mercy will not go out before he returns and it won’t be needed after that, because there will be no sin in heaven or want or deprivation.
            “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Purity of heart means singleness of purpose, the honesty that has no hidden motive or selfish interest, truth and openness in everything.  It’s a common thing for religion to become a matter of routine, a habit that people practice without thinking.  Jesus commands us to give him our hearts in singleness of purpose – to keep faith, do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before him, as St. Peter’s people strive to do. Purity of heart is a great testimony to God, for there is a resemblance, a similarity between God who is completely pure and the pure of heart in his heavenly kingdom. We cherish this resemblance between God’s earthly family and the heart of the Heavenly Father.  We aren’t perfect but we rejoice that God has restored his image in us in Christ. We ask him to nourish the resemblance between ourselves and him.  The greatest joy of heaven will be the vision of God. As his presence delights the hearts of angels and fills them with blessedness, so is his presence revealed to the pure of heart, partly now, completely in the next life.  Blessedness will flood his saints like lights in the vision of the one who is completely pure.
            “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”  Because believers are at peace with God, we strive to live at peace with our neighbors, if this is possible, and work to keep the peace when it is threatened and to recover peace if it is lost.  Again, we see a resemblance between Jesus and his people as we follow in the footsteps of the prince of peace.  He makes us messengers of peace wherever we go, not easy-going, sociable peace, not “peace at any price”, but the sturdy peace of the gospel that comes from trust in the merits of Christ’s saving work.  It may be that the Lord will lead us to bring his peace this week to a tangled situation where confused people are looking for a way out.  
            To sum up, then, we say that the beatitudes are about the presence of God in ourselves and in the world around us.  Jesus blesses folks who seek his ways – peacemakers, the pure in heart, the meek, the merciful.  The heavenly Father declares for his Son’s sake that we are the way he wants us to be – righteous, humble in heart, poor of spirit, whom he makes rich in faith.  He sends us out as his representatives.  He teaches us how to comfort folks who are grieving.  He invites us to speak steadying words to people whose expectations are flying too high.  He invites us to show his way to the cynical, the discouraged, and the disappointed.  He enriches us with the blessings of faith so that we may share them with others.  When we affirm that it is possible for wise, believing hearts to live by Jesus’ guidelines even today, we give a testimony to God’s constant activity in the world around us.  In Jesus name we give thanks.  AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus AMEN   

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