Archive for the ‘Matthew 5:1-12’ Category

You Are Blessed!


Monday, January 30th, 2017

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), January 29, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

beatitudes“You are blessed!” That is both the title of our message and the truth that God’s Word proclaims to us this morning through this message. Last week we heard Jesus invitation to live a blessed life under the cross with these Words, “Repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand!” So right off the bat, we know that our blessed state is intricately connected to Jesus’ cross and even our own. We expect to hear a message that not only declares that Christ is present in hard times and suffering, but in fact He is always with us and promises to never leave us. But we also know that while the world laughs at this kind of message and calls it foolishness, God’s Word assures us that because we trust in Christ and His cross, we really are blessed with the only faith that gives both God’s peace and joy through the forgiveness of sins, that is through God’s power received only by grace and only through Christ. In fact this faith is the only way to receive eternal life.

This morning, let’s look into what this power of God’s grace gives to us; in short let’s discover why we are blessed!

Now again, let’s remember to the sinful world, all of this talk about being blessed under the cross, having joy and peace in the middle of tough times, is all just a bunch of nonsense! They can’t hear Words of blessing in Jesus message because they don’t think that good people, or those who follow the right religion should be suffering. They don’t think that they should suffer because they don’t see themselves as the type of sinners who need to turn to God for forgiveness; in fact many people think that God is right there with them in their sins approving of them!

What if we considered our gospel lesson this morning through the lens of this very political season. What if we were to consider Jesus Word’s this morning (the Beatitudes) as a kind of state of the union address, but in our case this morning, this would be a state of the church address? Well if that were the case, then His opponents should have equal time.

Maybe the response or rebuttal of Jesus political opponents might sound something like this: “Dear friends, our simple little 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 they who complain unceasingly. We know that the squeaky wheel gets the oil and the ear-marks, so we will not be happy until we get our own way! Happy are they who give very little thought to a Creator-God, because they are happy in their own skin and never worry about such a small thing as what that ancient book, called the Bible, says about 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 with a promise that some day the poor will join them! Happy are the troublemakers, because they really know how to make people take notice of them!”

And to this rebuttal, we the Church are called to 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 that 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 we dear Christians are of another reality. We by faith know that you are blessed and protected by God!”

Do you hear how the 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 God lright 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 that 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 Him you can never know peace with God. 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. 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 because we turn to the cross of Jesus and cling to what He has done for us, and that 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 end. 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, in fact we can be outright aggressive and mean! And to this fear, 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 righteousness, 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 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 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 speak His Word to our neighbors. 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!

Are You Ready For Separation?

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

All Saints Sunday, November 1, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared;” [1 John 3:2a]

Think about those words for a moment; what do they mean to you?  Do we really understand what it means to call God our Father, and the Son of God our brother?  How will we think differently about those Words when we leave this world and see and speak to God face to face?  When we are living and praising God with “All Saints” who are arrayed in white?

I am reminded of my youth during the Apollo missions, watching in amazement as each one of the rockets were launched.  Each one started out like a tall building upon the launching pad, until those four words, that to a young boy seemed like magic were spoken: “Houston, we have ignition.”  And then, “Houston, we have lift off.”  And then the real magic took place; some how the cameras were able to follow that rocket being propelled by a continuous explosion of fire for miles into the sky, and when the camera on the ground was no longer able to detect the rocket, “Presto!”  Just like that, a camera attached to the space capsule began to report its images.  Now this is where, the part I especially liked came to happen; the first stage rocket was separated from the second stage with a small explosion, and still the rocket continued forward, until after a few minutes the second stage did the very same thing.  And then, the words I loved to hear were spoken, “Houston, we have separation.”

Are you ready for separation?  Are you ready to shed the things of this world so that you can finally realize perfectly, who God says you already are?

Living a life that leads to separation can be difficult and tumultuous; full of terrifying fire and explosions of emotions. It is both beautiful and frightening all at the same time. Our first reading (Revelation 7:9-11) calls life before separation a tribulation.  Here in this existence of flesh we live, just as untold millions of saints before and after us have lived; saints that make up the church, who have existed since the fall of Adam and Eve.  And each one of us in our own time have been buffeted and attacked by sin, the threat of death, and the devils, and the entire time we are asked by God to simply trust Him,  that our time of tribulation will end soon, and when it does, we will see that it was simply a stage of life that led us to where the saints before us had already passed… into eternity in Paradise.

But is there strength enough to wait?  Yes, in these words…

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” [1 John 3:1a]  Make no mistake friends, this little word love is not the kind of love that the world so easily gives out in all of its many sinful forms.  This love of God is not fickle, temporary, or conditional.  No, this kind of agape love, is the love of full comprehension and understanding, yet its propelled as unstoppable until it sees you through until your final separation.

What I mean by that, is that God loves you even though He knows your every sinful thought and action.

Jesus, the very Son of God came into our flesh and lived through the many tribulations of betrayal, and even death, so that you would be assured that God understands the many temptations you resist and sometimes fall to, and because He understands, He forgives.

God understands the harsh reality of this sinful world that we live in as strangers.  He loves you, and through His Word and sacraments He is sustaining you, just as He did for the saints who have gone before you.  Why?  Because through faith in the life and death of His Son Jesus Christ upon the cross, He has made a way for you to be His child, and through this same Jesus Christ, He has given you a way to know that for sure, He is your Father.

But then why must we experience so much pain, hardships, and tribulations in this stage of life if God loves us so?  Because…

You have not yet separated from this stage of existence.  You are still in this world where all of God’s Christians are called aliens and strangers.  Listen: “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”[1 John 3:1b]  This is why the church is asked to not just preach the gospel hope for today, but the certainty of that hope for the eternal tomorrow; the time when God calls us to go to our new home in paradise restored.  And I hope, that we have been doing an acceptable job of it, but let’s put it to the test, shall we?  Please fill in the blank for both of these hymns:  “I’m but a stranger here, ________ is my home.” [LSB 748]  “Have no fear little flock, for the Father has chosen to give you ________;”  [LSB 740]  But these hymns would be pointless if they did not have the seal of authenticity of Jesus behind them.  Listen to Jesus’ words about where our trials and tribulations in this world are leading us, and allow them to speak faith into your hearts…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 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, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” [Matthew 5:3-12]

Wonderful words of Comfort and Hope, are they not?

So why must we experience these tribulations of life? Because you have not yet separated into that final stage; we’re still in that 2nd stage of Living the new life under the reality and hope of Holy Baptism, where we have been given the promise of new and eternal life.  Maybe we can better understand this stage of life by thinking back to our first stage, before the first separation; I’m speaking about our prenatal nine month stage, before we were born.

No one here this morning, would regard that nine-month period as the whole meaning of life, where nothing else exists. By now we know better.  But let’s just say, by way of illustration, that during our pre-natal life we had the capacity to think, to hope or not hope, and so on. And let us add that while in our mother’s womb we got word that another life was waiting for us, a life that might last an incredibly long time of eighty or ninety years or more. The new world we would someday enter would contain light in which we could see things and vast reaches of space in which we could move around. It would contain towering skyscrapers, majestic mountains, strange looking creatures called animals, large plants called trees, four-wheeled vehicles traveling at shocking speeds; why we were told there were even towers that are propelled into space by an explosion of fire called rockets. Someday, we were assured, we would be able to do such impossible things as walk and talk. What’s more, we wouldn’t be alone in this vast new world; there would be millions of other creatures similar to our self. Yet strangest of all would be the mode of entering this new world, a rather perilous process called birth, involving pain, danger, doctors, and hospitals, a process we would never guess could thrust us into such a beautiful life as we live at presently.

Now what reaction might an unborn child have toward this talk of another and more abundant life, assuming that an unborn child can have reactions? In spite of the fact that the child couldn’t possibly understand what earthly life would be like, that child could still believe in it and look forward to it. And doing that, would make the child’s nine-month existence much more pleasant. Or conversely, the child could be a realist and assume that the dark, warm, and enveloping womb that is home, is all that there is to life, and beyond that dreaded process called birth there is nothing more but the end. All this talk about another life is just wishful thinking, and one might better make the most of what they’ve got.

Then comes the day—the day of birth. It turns out true, after all, gloriously true! There is another life. You can live eighty or ninety years, or more! There are such things as light and space and skyscrapers and mountains and animals and plants and fast-moving vehicles and rockets!  You can walk and talk. And this dreaded process called birth, in spite of appearances, turns out, after all, to be the gateway to this new and wonderful world.

I’m sure you see where we’re going with this illustration. Our present life is not the climax of life; it is but a phase in our journey, until our final separation. In relation to the heavenly life, we might call it a pre-natal stage. We have it on good word—God’s word— that there is another life, another world ahead of us called heaven. In it we shall live unbelievably long—forever! It is a world without space or time. Angels will share mansions with us. We shall behold the face of God. We shall see him as he is. In fact, we shall be like him. All the ills and inconveniences of this present life, chief of which is sin, will have vanished. We’ll be with all those who have gone ahead of us, even the ones we love and miss who went to sleep in Jesus before us!

Dear friends, it will be a great day when Jesus calls us home to glory.  We will behold the Lamb of God, and along with the host arrayed in white, we will behold His nail scared hands, and simply stand before His throne of grace and call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.”  But that great day has not yet come for us who are called children of God, and yet are still sojourners in this sinful world.  We know that because God calls us His children, we are!  And we also know that there is no stage of existence beyond that final state of separation.  And in this knowledge we not only wait in hope for this final stage of separation, but in this hope we are being purified just as Christ is pure. [1 John 3:3]

Listen, the world will give you all kinds of things that they claim you should hope in.  They will offer you the brother and sisterhood of man and claim that there is no greater calling than to work towards that hope.  They will offer you the hope of science, world order, and the proper disbursement of wealth as the solution to our many ills.  But this morning God assures us, that kind of hope is simply sinking sand, because it’s foundation is not centered on Christ and His cross; the place where God made He and man right with each other.

Are you ready for that final stage of separation, where God shows you that His Son, your Savior has indeed made all things new?  I pray that you are, and I ask God to continue doing this very thing within you and around you, 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

Click here for audio of this message

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!

How to Live Under the Cross!

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), January 30, 2011
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!  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 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 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 they who complain unceasingly.  We know that the squeaky wheel gets the oil and the ear-marks, so we will not be happy until we get our own way!  Happy are they who give very little thought to a Creator-God, because they are happy in their own skin and never worry about such a small thing as 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 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 God 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 that 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 Him you can never know peace with God.  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.  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 lose, 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 end.  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, in fact we can be outright aggressive and mean!  And to this fear, 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 righteousness, 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 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 speak His Word to our neighbors.  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!