Archive for February, 2014

You Will Be Holy

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 23, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” [Leviticus 19:1, 2]

Does that bit of scripture from our Old Testament lesson make you nervous?  It could if you read it with a sinful heart, or if you didn’t understand what new life in Christ really means.  If that was the case, you would read it more like this: “You will be holy… or else!”  Now that can be terrifying because of who is speaking… the Holy God of the universe!   But as we said last week, that is not God’s will for you Christians.  He has given you a new heart; a heart that will hear those words in a different way; a way like this: “You will be holy because I who am holy, am with you always.  I am holy for you, so… be Holy!

The gospel song we just heard by the Highway QC’s encouraged us to live holy, or to be “Working on the Building.”  Or to paraphrase St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 3:10-23), discover how God gives us both warning and hope as we take caution in how we build upon the foundation of our lives, that is the source of our holiness, Jesus Christ! [1 Cor. 3:10, 11]

This morning, before I speak one Word about our Old Testament lesson, I want to assure that you little ones who belong to Jesus Christ receive these Words within the proper context; so I share with you this reminder from St. Paul: “You were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.” [1 Cor. 6:20]  The price of your salvation was the very lifeblood of Jesus, the Son of God.  The way you glorify God in your body is to be holy, that is you will live out the freedom that Christ’s sacrifice has brought you.

In verses 9 through 16 God shows us what holiness looks like in three places: The field; the community; and the courts.  It was meant to cover all aspects of life for the young nation of Israel as they prepared to enter the land promised them by God.  The Law of God represented the hedge of protection so to speak that He had set up for them so that they would not become enslaved again by the world, but instead remain holy as they lived to please Him.  Within each directive were two major premises that summed up all of God’s law: You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, body, and soul, and you shall love your neighbor as your self.  In other words, God was teaching them how to “work on their building” or, he was teaching them how to maintain their relationship of holiness with Him and each other.

In all of these prohibitions for the field, the community, and the courts, what God is saying is that people matter to Him, especially the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the down trodden.  And since they matter to Him, they must matter to us!  They were the ones that had neither land nor meaningful employment, which forced them to labor at the will of others as they attempted to scratch out just enough to provide for the basics of life.  To ensure that they were provided for, God’s Word established rules for those who had farms and vineyards; God established a simple way for those who had much to provide for those who had little; they must leave some of the bounty of their harvest for the poor.  When I lived in Louisiana many years ago, I observed this practice still being followed, as the poor went out with their large cloth bags to pick the cotton growing at the edge of the fields and at the fence lines so that they could then sell it and have money to care for their families.  What we Christians know today, is the very thing that Moses and his flock knew then, God cares about the poor and so should we!  But God also cares about those folks who can easily fall prey to others who are more cunning and self-centered.  These are the ones that trust that God will protect them through the holiness and love of others.  And that is where God’s Word takes us next…

The community!  Perhaps one of the most despicable things you will witness in our community is when others take advantage of those who can’t protect themselves.  I remember one incident where I witnessed children teasing and taking advantage of another child with Down’s Syndrome.  My natural reaction was to rush over to that child and protect him.  My second response was to scold the other children and teach them what it meant to fear and love God and love each other.  This is precisely what God is doing for us and to us in this portion of our reading, where He insists that living out His holiness will protect those who are deaf and the blind.  If we take this as a metaphor, then, God is directing us to apply His holiness to anyone who is weak and vulnerable.  This gives a whole new appreciation to the old illustration of the Boy Scout helping the old lady cross the street, while also carrying her groceries.

And Jesus says to us this morning: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” [Matt. 26:40]  So… “Do not steal.  Do not lie.  Do not deceive one another.  Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God.  Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him.  Do not hold back the wages of a hired man (or someone who is living hand to mouth) over night.  Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God.  I am the LORD.”

Well the final area of life addressed in our Old Testament lesson is ready for us to examine, and it is represented by the place where justice is found.  For the Israelites, that place was the council of the Elders.  They were both the municipal government and the court system.

Have you ever seen the statue that represents our legal system?  It is the image of the Roman goddess Justitia.  She stands blindfolded with weight scales in one hand and a sword resting in the other.  It is suppose to represent both our government and our legal system.  It is suppose to remind us that government and justice must serve and hand out justice equally; they are blind to status and influence, and empowered by God Himself to both protect and take vengeance against those who act contrary to the law.  But ask any victim of a crime who has not had justice served, and they will paint a different picture of lady Justice for you.  Their idea of that old Lady is a picture where she is peaking out of the blindfold, with scales tipped to favor the fortunate and influential, and a sword not at rest but poised to strike anyone who disagrees with her.

But God is not blind; He sees all things, and today He declares to those of us who go to the government or the courts for help, and to those who would misuse our system: “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.  Do not go about spreading slander among your people.  Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life.  I am the LORD.”

Well, following the theme of building our lives and our community upon God’s holiness, we could say that it is time for the building inspector to come along and evaluate our building process thus far.

If your roof is leaking and the walls are caving in, it is a good bet that you have not been building according to God’s plan.  But conversely, if your roof appears water tight, and the walls are intact, it means nothing if your foundation is cracked!  And that takes us to the final area, which our Old Testament lesson addresses…

Our Hearts!  When God spoke the words of our Old Testament lesson to His people through Moses, it was a foretaste of the very Words Jesus would speak to the church, listen: “I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]  And, “Everyone who hears these Words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” [Matt. 7:24]  You see God always ties His people’s holiness to His Word that turns His people back to Him; back to His promise to save them through His Son, Jesus Christ!  Jesus alone is our foundation, our source of holiness, life, and salvation.  God attaches Himself to us through His means of grace.  The Word of God and the Sacraments feed and nourish us as surely as a vine feeds and nourishes the branches and as strong as a solid foundation supports the building!

Do you want to live a holy life?  Good then look to Jesus!  Look to Jesus upon the cross between two thieves, hear those who He came to save and die for hurl insults at Him and mock Him, and then hear Him say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And then look within your own heart and find those corrupt, sinful things that do not belong in the vine and allow God’s Spirit to pluck them out.  Find any thing that will corrupt the foundation of Christ alone, and allow God to remove them.

Do you struggle with anger and the desire to take revenge?  Are you at times overwhelmed with the apparent unfairness of life?  Then again, look to Jesus.  Look to Jesus and remember that it is God alone who pays back evildoers.  Cyprian, one of the early church fathers in the 3rd Century said: “When a wrong is received, patience is to be maintained, and vengeance is to be left to God.”  Today, on the Sunday that we are about to gather for our potluck in remembrance of Black History Month, we remember also the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who lived out that same belief.  Within the crucible of pain and the path of the cross of Jesus, Dr. King also worked on his building as he continued by faith to follow His Lord.  He saw a day when all of God’s children regardless of their race or condition in life would be able to praise God in one voice saying… “Free at last; free at last.  Thank God almighty, free at last!”

For us dear Christians that time has already come upon us; we have been freed, but we still live in a world that is held in bondage to sin.  We still experience the sinfulness and unfairness of this fallen world, but we know that this is the very reason that we are still here!  We are here to display God’s holiness; to be salt and light in a dying world.  We are blessed for this moment and for this generation.  We are the baptized; we are the church, that great city on a hill that can not be hidden.  We are not under the Law but we follow the One who fulfilled it, Jesus Christ.  We are under His Law and that is the Law of love.  He is our very foundation and that foundation is love; love for God and mutual law for each other.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.”  And “By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” [Jn. 13:34, 35]  To love does not mean to simply wish well for others, but instead it means that we bear each others burdens, that is to bear what is burdensome to you, something you would rather not carry.  So as our sainted Dr. Martin Luther said, “A Christian must have broad shoulders and husky bones to carry the flesh, that is the weakness of the brethren.”  In other words, we need God’s holiness to be holy for each other; we need Jesus Christ!

Do you by the work of God have Jesus?  Will you with the help of God confess your need for Him always in your life?  Will you, also with the help of God value His Word and Sacraments as your very source of life and strength?  Do you long to hear His Word speak forgiveness to your heart, and do you see His church as the very embodiment of His presence in this dying world?  Good, then you are holy.  Now in Jesus name, go out and be holy!  AMEN!

Live Long and Prosper

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 19, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Last week, God’s Word invited us to live out our third choice, His choice, Jesus Christ.  Today we continue that journey, that choice of living everyday with God’s mercy and forgiving love which is ours through Christ’s death and resurrection as our baptismal identity.

This morning in our Old Testament lesson, God spoke through Moses to the people of Israel an urgent message of repentance, but He is also speaking to us, listen: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.  If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.” [Deuteronomy 30:15-18]

So this morning, like the people of Israel, God gives us two choices: 1. Choose life in Me and you will live long and prosper, or; 2. Choose life in the world and you will surely perish.

What Israel could not have known yet, because God had not yet warned them through the prophets, was the truth that even though they were on their way to the promised land, they would sin against God by choosing the way of the world and they would be taken back into bondage through exile to foreign lands, and then, they would be given an opportunity to repent and once again know God’s grace, that is His mercy and forgiving love.  Then and only then, would they be able to live a life surrounded by God’s blessings and the daily choice to remain obedient to the will of God and His commandments.  If they would choose God’s way they would have something greater than a long life, they would have an eternal life.  But failure to receive all of God’s Word would most certainly result in death; that is eternal separation from God.

So we see, what God was really saying to the people of Israel and to us today is “Choose Me and you will be choosing a long, eternal, and prosperous life!  If you choose to stay with Me, I will always be with you just as I went with my people in the desert as a pillar of light by night and pillar of cloud by day.  I did that so you would know that I would never leave you or forsake you.  But not only was I with you, but I provided all that you needed to survive.  I gave you both food and drink.”  What Israel was to remember was that God chose them, they did not choose Him.  So now, all that He was asking them to do was rest in that choice; sadly many did not.  They did not choose God because they preferred to choose the way of the world.

Whenever Israel chose the way of the world, they were choosing sin; in essence they were declaring their independence from the God who not only created them, but redeemed them.  They chose death, evil, and the curse that went with death and evil… eternal separation from their only source of salvation.  Here is a trust worthy saying: When ever God’s children choose sin over Him and His gift of faith, which He has given to them, they also loose the ability to be obedient to His will, and then very quickly they will unite with their new masters, sin, death, and the devil.  If you reject God who creates life, then it only makes sense that you embrace death.

So what we discover is that choice is not something we do to get something we want, but something God has done and then invites us to rest in; something that gives purpose and meaning to life… and that something is the life of Jesus Christ.  Jesus life, death, and resurrection reminds us that we did not choose God, He chose us.

This morning, Jesus, the Son of God says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. [John 15:16-17]

Dear friends, I pray that you understand how blessed you are to be living in the time that you are living.  God does not speak to your through a burning bush, nor is He present with you in a pillar of fire or cloud.  He is with you now through His Son, Jesus Christ.  In His Word He speaks life into you.  By the power of His Spirit, God’s Word becomes strong and living within you.  In that Word you hear how God came to a sinful world that would not repent, that is they would not come to Him and choose life.  They would not choose Him so He came to them.  He came to them through His Son Jesus, and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God made all things new!  But God did not just choose to save the world; He chose to save you personally.

In your baptism, God took the power of Christ’s death, a gift for the world and He applied it to you personally.  In your baptism, you have been saved from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil, and you have been told that your time of exile is over; that is your separation from God is over.  Now all that is left for you to do dear Christian is to continue following Jesus and His way, the way of the cross.

The way of the cross is the way of the baptized.  Martin Luther throughout His life encouraged Christians to embark on this journey every morning by rising out of bed, making the sign of the cross, and then saying, “I am baptized into Christ.”  That is your old sinful nature has been buried with Christ, and your new baptized nature has been resurrected with Him.  In other words you are reaffirming every morning that you choose life; you choose to live out God’s choice of life for you and then demonstrate that life to others that you will encounter throughout the day.

Just as Israel long ago was commanded to choose life so too are we.  By choosing life God means for us to choose to rest in His source to save us, Jesus Christ.  He is the source of both our choice and the purpose for the lives we live under this choice.  In other words, Jesus gives our lives meaning; He gives us the ability to live lives of faith and obedience to the will of God.  As Israel was invited to choose life, so are we.  With Jesus as the source of our life, we discover that our life has a purpose here on this earth.  And that purpose is to witness to God’s mercy and forgiving love.  We can do this because everyday we are experiencing it through God’s grace, which has become His gift to us through our baptism.  We choose life because He who was crucified and resurrected has assured us of the true life we have in Him.

Dear friends, you will not choose death because Jesus has destroyed death through the cross and the empty tomb.  You are not your own; you have been bought with a price.  You no longer live to please yourself, but your Father in Heaven.  Your life in Christ is now about caring for God and for your neighbor.  You choose life for yourself when you choose the will of God over your own will.  Your life will not be consumed with satisfying your own sinful desires but instead, you will become conscience of the will of God and the needs of your neighbor, and their greatest need is to know Jesus unto eternal life.

Everyday, we who call ourselves Christians are confronted with all kinds of choices as we live out our lives here in a dying world.  All to often, our sinful flesh over powers our new nature and caves into the world’s definition of choice.  We find ourselves picking and choosing the things that will benefit ourselves at the expense of pleasing God and helping out our neighbors within our community.  But choice within God’s definition of choice is not a matter of picking and choosing; it is a covenant term or a promise from God to us.  We know that those who refuse to receive God’s promise of life through Jesus Christ will only know death.  But we who are baptized, that is those of us who are saved by God’s grace through faith, choose to live out that baptismal grace every day.  We choose to continue to live out our lives in Christ, and we are assured of His presence and strength through out our lives in this world of exile.  We cling to the promise of Jesus that says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you”.

I pray that as you continue living out God’s choice you would know that eternal life is yours.  I pray that you would live a life of peace with God and peace with your neighbor.  I pray that you would live long and prosper, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Living Out the Third Choice

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 12, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Our Gospel lesson declares a wonderful truth… “You are the salt of the earth… and “You are the light of the world.”  Who is?  You dear Christians, each and everyone of you who Christ has redeemed and washed clean in the waters of baptism.  How do you know that this is true?  Because you are living out God’s choice… the way He has chosen for you.

There are other choices you can live by, two of them to be exact, but they will not enable you to be salt and light for a decaying world darkened by sin.  Let’s look at those two choices first, and then we will look at God’s third choice.

On our own, when confronted with God’s demand of perfection we could, and many do as a matter of fact, minimize our sinfulness and say we’re doing our best.  But I’m afraid that our best, your best isn’t good enough.  “Oh yeah?  Who says?!”  Well, God says of course, within His Holy Law.  You see, the 10 Commandments aren’t the “10 Suggestions” or “10 Ideals;”  They are God’s commandments.  In other words, they are nonnegotiable; YOU MUST DO THEM TO LIVE!

Sinful, human tendency, our tendency when confronted by the harsh demands of God’s holy law is to negotiate with God; to point to the “good things” we’ve done in hopes that they will tip the balance of some divine scale in our favor.  This kind of choice is what Jesus called self-righteousness.  It’s the kind of false righteousness that the world celebrates but God deplores.  It’s the kind of righteousness that demands that God take notice of the good and religious things it does; its as if it is saying “Listen to me God!  Look at all I’ve done and take notice!” And to this, God hears and He has responded.  Listen to His answer in our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 58:3-9a): “Is not this the fast (the religion) that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness”. [Vs. 6-9]

So there is your answer from God.  He is saying, don’t tell me to notice you and the things you do, because that is exactly what I will do.  I have looked, I have taken notice and not only do I see the sinful things you do but I also see the things you have failed to do.

So now we see that we can’t get away from our sinfulness; we can’t deflect the harsh demand of God’s law and think that we can please Him by our “good deeds.”  So what are we to do?  And this question leads us to our second choice, which is…

Despair. online, defines despair this way: To loose all hope; to be overcome by a sense of futility or defeat; a complete loss of hope.  The church has always defined despair as a complete abandonment of all hope of saving one’s soul and of having the means required towards that salvation.  It isn’t a passive state of mind, but rather it involves a positive act of the will where a person deliberately gives up any hope of ever pleasing God or attaining eternal life with Him.

A famous poem made movie, and even cartoon is that work of Dante Alighieri’s 14th Century work now known as Dante’s Inferno.  The poem takes place on Maundy Thursday during Holy Week when Dante finds himself on a journey into hell itself.  As Dante and his guide were entering Hell, they see an inscription on the gate of Hell, which says, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”  What is despair?  That condition of a person’s soul, which is consumed with the reality that all hope of being at peace with God is gone!  So on our own, it seems we only have two choices: self-righteousness that God says always fall short of his perfection, or despair.

But God says that both of these choices are false choices; that is, they are not God’s choice for you.  God’s will for you is that when confronted with your sin, your self-righteousness and despair you would turn to Him for forgiveness of sins, and then allow Him to transform your heart into a new heart that is loving, humble, generous, and kind.  And that transformation can only come when the Spirit of God works within it and provides God’s grace.  God’s grace… that is His undeserved forgiving love and kindness, which comes only through God’s choice, our third choice, Jesus Christ!

In or gospel reading, Jesus says this about the holy and perfect law of God, which many wish did not exist because of its impossible demands: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  You see Jesus is our third choice, because only the perfect Son of God had the ability to fulfill all of God’s Word completely and perfectly.  But He did not fulfill them for Himself; He did it for you!  He fulfilled them so that you would have a new kind of righteousness to exchange with your sinful self-righteousness.  He gives to you His own righteousness.

In your baptism God gave you the fruits of Christ’s own cross.  One of those fruits is the righteousness of Christ.  But He also gave you another fruit, which is the promise that He would never leave nor forsake you.  He promised that no one could snatch you out of God’s hand of salvation.  In other words, you don’t have to worry about abandoning all hope; you do not need to despair.  Why?  Because as Jesus hung upon the cross He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Mark 15:34]  Jesus experienced complete abandonment from God for you so that you never would.  He experienced it so that you need not ever despair.

So now, this very morning God has given you this third choice.  So what does this mean?  It means that we should fear and love God so that we continue to allow His Word to expose our hypocrisy and our audacity to think that we could earn His forgiveness and blessing, and then turn to and cling to His only choice, our third choice Jesus Christ.  It means that we will turn to that third choice as our only choice and allow it to transform how we live our lives.  By faith we commit ourselves with the help of God to trust in Him alone to provide all of life’s blessings that will influence how we live.  In other words we will speak as God speaks and not as the world desires.  Our words will be salt to a dying world, even though the world would rather have us be honey.  We will not simply go along with the latest sinful trend simply to avoid discomfort in this life.  But we will also be light in a dark world.  How?  By allowing God to both capture our hearts and then motivate our minds to do the good things that God calls true religion.

In verses 6 and 7 of our Old Testament reading, we are given an impressive list of what God calls true religion.  On our own, this list can seem overwhelming and even impossible; after all we are just one little light!  But God tells us not to despair, that is don’t hide your light under a basket, but put it on a stand, and let it shine so that others will see your good works and give glory not to you, but to your Father in Heaven.  And remember, you are not a lone ranger Christian; you are not alone.  You are part of the church that is, the body of Christ Himself.  Or as Jesus said, “You are a city on a hill, (and you the church) can not be hidden.”

The church collectively can fight to loosen the bonds of the devil and free those trapped in sin.  The church can bring both physical bread and spiritual bread to the hungry and thirsty, especially those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We do this as we are being salt and light.

At a Bible study one day, some young people were discussing what it means to be “the salt of the earth.” One young person observed that “Salt creates flavor.” Another observed that “Salt preserves things from decay.” But then a young Chinese Christian exchange student spoke out of an experience none of the others had thought of. She said, “Salt creates thirst.” There was a sudden hush in the room, because all of those young people were thinking: “Have I ever made anyone thirsty for the Lord Jesus Christ?”

How do we help people thirst for God?  We can’t on our own, but God can if we continue to live lives of faith and repentance, the very thing we were baptized to do.  We can if we demonstrate a trust in His Word even when things seem hopeless.  And when our little bit of salt and our little bit of light draws the attention of others, we can invite them to that city on a hill, our own little church and allow God’s Word to invite them to live out along with us, God’s third choice… eternal life through Jesus Christ!   I pray this for each of you, and this city on a hill, and I ask this in Jesus name… Amen!

Are You Blessed?

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 5, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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These last few Sundays God’s Word has invited us to live a life under the cross of Jesus in these Words, “Repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand!  We discovered that while the world looks at this kind of life as foolishness God assures us that this is really the only way to experience His power of grace, which brings eternal life.

This morning, we’ll continue this teaching by looking at what this power of grace gives to us; namely it gives us the truth and experience of being blessed!  Now again, let me remind you that to the sinful world this is all just a bunch of nonsense, or as St. Paul says in our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 1:18-31), it’s folly!  They can’t hear Words of blessing in Jesus message because they don’t think that they are sinners who need to turn to God; in fact they think that God is right there with them in their sins!

What if we considered our gospel lesson this morning (Matthew 5:1-12) as Jesus state of the union message?  Well if that were the case, then His opponents should have equal time.  Maybe their response or rebuttal might sound something like this: “Dear friends, our simple little carpenter-preacher would have you think that you are blessed or happy if you rest in weakness and poverty.  He sees the world as a place where we simply prepare to die in whatever state we find ourselves.  But we of the prosperity party say no… this isn’t what you need to hear, and it is not what you should expect from your leaders.

We say rather, happy are the aggressive people, those who know what they want and do anything to make that dream a reality.  They will be the successful ones of this world.  We say happy are those who are tough and hard-skinned, for they will never let this life hurt them or prevent them from knowing prosperity.  Happy are those activists who complain unceasingly, because we all know, that it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil, so we will not be happy or quit causing trouble until we get our own way!

Yes, happy are they who don’t give to much thought to a God who judges their hearts and motivations, because they’ve learned to be content living in their own skin and they don’t worry to much about such a small thing like sin!  Happy are the demanding and self-serving business owners and managers, because they know how to get results!  Happy are the educated and knowledgeable men and women of this world because they can teach others how to be productive and serve the greater good, which we all know is seeing the rich get richer!  Happy are the troublemakers, because they really know how to make people take notice of them!”

And to this rebuttal, we hear the true preachers of the Church speak yet another message; we say: “Our Lord’s opponents once more prove that they do not understand the Kingdom of God.  They are talking about a material world, which soon enough will vanish and no longer matter.  They don’t understand that the reality that Jesus speaks about is an eternal reality; a reality where there is a different kind of world, one where heaven and earth are combined into something real and something perfect.  They will not acknowledge this eternal reality because they will not repent of their sins.  They will not repent because they do not believe that the Kingdom of God has come!  But the time will come when they will believe in this reality because they will see it with their own eyes, but then it will be to late for them to enter.  They will experience it outside of God’s grace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!  There in that place, there will be eternal mourning and persecution that will never be relieved.  But you dear Christians are of another reality.  You by faith know that you are blessed and protected by God!”

This word “blessed” is repeated over and over like the sound of steeple bells from heaven.  Their ringing goes out to everyone in this sinful world inviting them to enter into peace with God through Jesus Christ.  Its God’s invitation assuring everyone that they can know peace with Him right now, and soon enough never again experience sin, pain, suffering, or death!  This Word of blessedness is for everyone if they will just hear it and believe.  For those of us who believe, we are assured that we already have this rich possession of Heaven right now, but we have an even greater promise, which guarantees that riches far greater than these will soon be ours!

Jesus says to us who place our hope in this Kingdom of Heaven, “Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”  What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  Well, it means that God’s Word has convinced you that on your own you’re lost in your own sins.  It means that you know that unless you receive help from God, you can never know peace with Him.  It means that you know that without Jesus Christ and His cross you have no hope.  It means that in your spiritual poverty you are moved to follow Jesus’ call to turn to Him alone.  And when by faith you turn to Him you also learn to rest and trust in Him, because in Jesus you have found the Kingdom of heaven!

It’s within this eternal reality that Jesus also says, “You are also blessed if you are mourning, because you shall be comforted!”  Don’t we all mourn and don’t we all have a great need to be comforted?  We mourn when a loved one dies or when we experience a great tragedy.  But don’t we also mourn intensely over our own sins?  Yes, when we sin, we feel deep pain and loss, we feel separated from God.  But God’s Word comes to us in the absolution and assures us that even in these times of great mourning over our sins, we are forgiven; that Christ died even for those sins.  We are assured that because we turn to the cross of Jesus and cling to what He has done for us He will never leave or forsake us!  What greater comfort could you receive?  Only this, one day you will see Him face to face and you will no longer need faith because you will live in His eternal presence and love.  But doesn’t the sinful world mourn and receive comfort too?  Yes friends, but their mourning shall never end and the little comfort they get here in this sinful world will soon vanish, all because they would not believe that the Kingdom of heaven had come to them through Jesus Christ!

But Jesus also says, “Blessed are you who are meek, for you shall inherit the earth.”  Oops!  We might have a problem.  We aren’t always meek are we?  In fact, we can be outright aggressive and mean!  And to this fear of falling short of God’s perfection, Jesus says, “But I am meek.  I was meek for you!  I let them lead me to the cross like a lamb going to slaughter; I let them kill me for you.  By my stripes, blood, and death, you’ve been healed.  You’ve been forgiven.  And because you believe that I did this for you, I have come and made my home within your heart.  I am in you and you are in me.  And because I am in you, I’m changing you… I’m making you meek!  All that I ask of you is that you rest in this truth, cling to it and allow me to transform you.  And because you rest in my truth I have declared you righteous!”

But now, our sinful minds remind us that we are not righteous and we never will be!  We are reminded that we may look righteous and clean on the outside but inside we are like the Pharisees and Scribes, we are full of deceit.  We are like freshly painted white tombs that on the outside are pleasing to the eye but on the inside we are full of dead men’s decay and bones!  And to this Jesus says, “Blessed are you because you see this; because you hunger and thirst for a righteousness that is beyond your ability, you will be satisfied.  You know that you can never be righteous on your own, but you also know that I was righteous for you.  You know that I gave you this righteousness in your baptism, and you know that I continue to fill you with My righteous Word.  So listen to and read My Word.  Step up to My table and be nourished by My very body and blood that is yours in, with, and under the bread and wine!  Eat and drink, and be satisfied knowing what I have given to you through my means!”

Well, now that we are beginning to understand just what the mercy of God means and how it has saved us, Jesus asks us to go demonstrate this mercy to our neighbors.  And He does it with these Words: “Now blessed are you who are merciful to others as I have been merciful to you!  I guarantee that you shall receive mercy!  You shall receive mercy because in me, you see the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world… even your own sin!  And because you see this in my Word, because you see my cross as a means of peace with your Heavenly Father, you are judged to be pure in heart.  Blessed are you friend because of this pure heart, for you shall see God.  You see Him even now in Me.  In My Word you see Me, in your baptism you remember the day I first touched and called you.  And now, you see and hear Me through the Word of forgiveness, and in My Holy Supper you see, smell, touch, and even taste My very body and blood which gives you a pure heart.

Dear friends, the Kingdom of God, the reign of heaven in Jesus already belongs to those of us who are poor in spirit, even to those of us who are persecuted because of our faith in Him.  But the promise of final comfort, our final inheritance, our final righteousness and experience of final peace with God will not come until we receive the final vision of God on the Last Day.  In the meantime, we who are the disciples of Jesus Christ must expect that our lives will be experienced through the lens of mourning, thirst, and hungering.  But our eternal reality is that we are saved in hope… “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait eagerly for it through endurance.” [Rom. 8:24-25]

This present tension of blessing and joy, suffering and mourning until the Last Day of comfort is central to our lives as we live under the cross of Jesus, as we follow Jesus on this narrow path.  But we follow Him as His peacemakers, as His ambassadors of the cross, and as we follow Him we know that as His peacemakers, we should expect some persecution because we live out and speak His Word to our brothers and sisters here, and to our neighbors outside of this congregation.  In our witness, we bring the very peace of God, and that peace is breaking violently into a sinful world that will have none of it!  So Jesus leaves us with this last truth; a truth that will only become clear under the cross: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!”

I pray that this reward and joy of the Kingdom of heaven will become powerful and transforming in your lives as you learn to rest and live out the cross of Jesus Christ.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!