Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Epiphany 4

"Beatitudes . . Blessings of the Spirit"

Matthew 5:1-12

January 29, 2017

As you listen to the listing of the Beatitudes, do you think that (a) you can pick and choose which apply to you; (b) Jesus is speaking pious platitudes that really don't make much sense; (c) they apply to all Christians; (d) none of the above. The correct answer is (c). The Beatitudes apply to all Christians of every generation. Listen to them again.

Matthew 5:1-12 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And He taught them, saying: "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.

You may wonder, how is it possible that all of these apply to me? Maybe I could work on one or two of them, but all of them? It's not possible. Wrong. All things are possible with God. The Beatitudes are the blessings of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. They speak to our spiritual condition.

For example, the mourning is not the deep sorrow we feel when someone dies or we lose something that was dear to us. The mourning of the Beatitudes is mourning over our sinful condition that has separated us from the love of God. It is the deep sorrow we feel when we realize there is nothing we can do to make amends or change our condition. In the midst of our mourning, the Holy Spirit comes to comfort us. He points us to Jesus Christ and the cross. As Paul writes in today's epistle: For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

This is the point of the Beatitudes. They don't make sense outside of the context of the faith. The qualities the extolled in the Beatitudes are not those that are natural to most of us. We struggle with the idea of being merciful. The world has a completely different attitude: don't get mad, get even. If mercy seems alien to our human nature, how are we supposed to be instruments of mercy?

Mercy is an attribute of God. We show mercy when the mercy of God flows into our hearts. When we experience the mercy of God, His mercy then flows through us to others. No, left to our own devices we would not show mercy. Mercy is of God. Therefore, the mercy that Jesus speaks of originates in Him and is manifested in and through us.

Some of the Beatitudes are easier to understand than others. For me, I struggle with the meaning of the meek who will inherit the earth. It seems to be a direct contradiction to reality. The opposite seems true. To the victor go the spoils. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. So, how are we to understand this? Perhaps, it's best to begin by looking at the opposite. For example, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Meekness is contrasted with arrogance and pride.

Meekness is best understood as contentment. The meek receive the gifts of God with joy and thanksgiving. Because they realize the source of their blessings, it becomes evident in their attitude toward life. When our Lord says that will inherit the earth, He is not talking about nation building. Meekness is both confidence and inner strength. Only when you have self-confidence in being person God made you, can you put the needs of others above yourself. The meek inherit the earth not by strength and brutality but by compassion and serving.

Another of the Beatitudes that is sometimes puzzling is the blessedness of the peace-makers. Because we often define peace as the absence of strife, we begin to think that peace-makers are those who seek to make everyone happy. Peace-makers are supposed to be willing to compromise their beliefs, values and desires to make others happy. Is this what Jesus is talking about?

In order to understand peace-making, you need to discover the source of peace. In the context of the faith, what is peace? Peace is the cross of Jesus Christ. In the cross of Christ, we have peace with God. We are reconciled, that is, we are befriended by God. We are no longer considered aliens and enemies of God. The cross of Christ bridges the gap that has otherwise separated us from the Father. This is the peace Jesus speaks about so often.

This peace comes at a price. Jesus paid for that peace with His blood, passion and death. Now, as we consider what it means to be a peace-maker, should the idea of compromising the faith and the gifts of God be the first things that come to mind? Peace-makers are those who point sinners to Christ. Peace-makers tell the good news of the Gospel. Yet, peace-makers cannot compromise the Gospel just to make others happy.

The church is embroiled in all kinds of conflicts because the world is trying to force its agenda on the people of God. Look at what's happening around us. American Christians are struggling with all kinds of challenges to traditional morality. Church leaders often tell them that peace-makers must be willing to compromise the clear teaching of Scripture so that everyone may feel "included." Is this what peace-making in the Beatitudes is about? No.

Peace-makers point sinners to Christ. Peace-makers confess their own sinfulness and cling to the Lord for restoration and forgiveness. Peace-makers cannot compromise on those things which the Lord has not compromised. Peace-makers look to Christ for strength of heart, mind and conviction to do what is good and right in His sight.

Oddly, it seems that seeking to be a peace-maker in the context of the cross brings persecution instead of gratitude. Yet, we are called to faithfulness. Sometimes, that faithfulness becomes a stumbling block to the world. Nevertheless, when we cling to the Lord, we are counted as the "sons of God." The reward is not going to be found in the praises of the world for seeing things their way but in the promise of heaven.

The Beatitudes call us to faithfulness. Kindness and compassion will not necessarily be well received by the world. Early Christians were persecuted for living their faith while being falsely accused of doing the opposite of what they did for others. We also face persecution for speaking the truth in love to a world that demands full compliance to its politically correct views.

Our Lord never said being a Christian was going to be easy. The Beatitudes often look impossible. Yet, by God's grace, the Holy Spirit works His gifts in us. The Beatitudes are the evidence of our faith that the Holy Spirit empowers us to confess to the world. In the end, as we receive His blessings, we share them with our neighbor to the glory of His name. Amen.


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