Are You Blessed?

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!

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