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"Blessed in Christ"

Matthew 5:1-12

Rev. Alan Taylor

Epiphany 4, series A
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Feb 2, 2014 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The readings for this morning, particularly the Epistle and Gospel readings, remind us that God, in sending His Son to save us from our sin, turns everything upside down.  What we may be inclined to call “evil” is actually “good,” and what we might call “good” is, in all likelihood, “evil.” God’s blessings are hidden in the weak and lowly things of this world, like water and the word, bread and wine.  The cross itself appears evil, and, as the Apostle says, it’s message comes across as foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who being saved it is the power of God unto salvation.  In Christ, God turns everything upside down. 

Who would expect to find God’s victory over sin and death in the shame and degradation of a public execution, much less the public execution of God’s own dear Son?  Who would expect to find wisdom in the foolishness of a dying man’s moans for deliverance, or, in the preaching of that man’s death?  Who would call themselves blessed when they mourn, or when they are persecuted for following Jesus and for believing what He says?  Who would expect the meek to inherit the earth?

In Christ, our world has been turned upside down.  The beatitudes, heard just a few moments ago, say the opposite of what we would expect them to say.  But, then again, they aren’t what we might suppose them to be anyway.  They aren’t attitudes for better living, nor are they keys to finding happiness in life.  They aren’t promises of God’s blessing for certain attitudes, or, for certain behaviors.  Rather, they are expressions of the new reality for the child God, who, by virtue of the death and resurrection of Jesus, finds God’s blessing in the most unexpected and even the most unnatural places and circumstances of his life.

I know that was a bit of mouthful.  Let me see if I can illustrate the point of the beatitudes by showing you how they contrast with their opposite.  The other day I came across what might be called a contemporary listing of the beatitudes.  The list was written in such a way that it would sound right to the modern ear, not backwards as the actual beatitudes might sound to us.  The contemporary reading of the beatitudes went like this;

Blessed are the well off…for…they have it all.

Blessed are the comfortable;
…they shall avoid grief.

Blessed are the self-sufficient;
…they wait for nothing, they have everything they want and they have it now.

Blessed are those who are not troubled by
the injustice experienced by others;
…they are content with realistic expectations.

Blessed are the ones who gain the upper hand;
…they take full advantage of their advantages.

The list continued with the rest of the beatitudes, but you get the idea.  The blessing referred to in the first part of each statement is based on the situation or the condition of the second part.  Let’s take the second one of the contemporary beatitudes because it’s short and easy to illustrate.  “Blessed are the comfortable…they shall avoid grief.” The point is, those who avoid grief are blessed because they are comfortable!

Contrast that understanding with the beatitudes of our Lord.  Again, by way of illustration we’ll take just the second beatitude in order to correspond with the one from the contemporary list.  “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”

Here, the blessedness of which Jesus speaks is a state of being that is not dependent on external circumstances.  Thus, even, when you, a child of God, mourn, you are blessed by God for He comforts you with His ultimate victory over whatever it is that grieves you, principally sin and death.  The beatitudes, you see, are expressions of the new reality for the child God, who, by virtue of the death and resurrection of Jesus, finds God’s blessing in the most unexpected and even the most unnatural places and circumstances of his life.

This whole turning of the tables, if you will, is what Luther frequently called “The Theology of the Cross.” In your baptism the sign of the cross was made upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ, the crucified.  You saw it again this morning, as these children were reborn at this very font.  Every Christian is marked with the sign of the cross.  Having received that mark, Jesus says to you, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

Following Jesus is no cake-walk and we shouldn’t lead people, young or old, to believe that it is.  Marked with the sign of the cross we become enemies of the devil.  Consequently, our sufferings, our struggles, even our victories and joys, in a strange sort of way, are used to try to turn our eyes away from Jesus and His goodness and grace in our lives.

As we bear our crosses, we are compelled to look at our lives in a whole new way.  Just as Jesus’ cross proved to be God’s great victory over sin and death, so, we expect to find God’s victory in our lives where we wouldn’t ordinarily expect it.  Suffering of any kind has become the great enemy of our culture.  Thus, decisions are made with the specific intent of avoiding suffering.  While I’m not advocating that we go out and look for suffering, God’s promise is that He works great things in our lives through suffering.

The Apostle Paul summarizes the point beautifully in a passage in the book of Romans.  “We rejoice (he says) in our sufferings because suffering produces perseverance and perseverance character and character, hope and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

These are expressions of your new reality in Christ.  In every case and in every way you blessed by God for you bear the cross of His Son.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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