IN NOMINE JESU
Blessed are you this day, this Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, for the Lord has come to you this day, announcing to you that your heavenly Father has forgiven you. He has come to you this day to bring you tidings of comfort and joy. Blessed are you, for the Lord brings you this day the kingdom of God. He fills your hungry souls with His Word and will turn your tears of sorrow into tears of joy. The Lord did exactly these things as He, with His disciples, came down from the mountain to the people who were in need of His healing and His Word. They came from all over the region to hear Him and to be healed by Him. What the Lord did in our text He also does in His liturgy: He came down to His people, even as He comes down to us. He healed them with His touch. He heals us with the touch of His Word. He brings us His Word, that we would receive healing for our souls. He gives us His Word, that we would hold it sacred and gladly hear and learns it, for He says, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" (11:28). Yes, blessed are you who hear the Word of God this day. And by the Holy Spirit creating and sustaining saving faith in Christ within you, blessed are you for keeping God's Word, for it is only by the Holy Spirit that we may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and it is only by Him that we may act in Christian love, that our good works may truly be good, and that we are truly blessed. Apart from him, our lives are lived in woe.
"Woe to you who are rich," Jesus says, "for you have received your consolation" (v. 24). Our problem is not with whatever riches we have, but it is the importance we place upon what we have. When I teach our catechumens the First Commandment, I explain to them what a god is, namely, that it is whatever we make number one in our lives, whatever it is that holds the highest place of importance for us. The Lord Himself commands that we shall have no other gods before Him, and He says through the prophet Isaiah, "I am the LORD, that is My Name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images" (Is. 42:8). And again our Lord says in St. Luke's Gospel, "No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (16:13). This is not a call to shun material goods, but it is a reminder from the Lord that we remember who gave us all that we have, that we remember the Lord, that we thank the Father for the farm and everything else He has given us. Woe to us if we rely on our possessions for true happiness and blessedness, for such will not be found there…only emptiness and eternal destruction. As the Blessed Virgin Mary said in the Magnificat when the child in Elizabeth's womb, the one who would become St. John the Baptizer, leapt for joy, "He [the Lord] has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones…" (1:51-52a).
"Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger," says the Lord (v. 25a). Woe to those who fill themselves on their sinful pride and on their possessions for their hope, for they will find themselves on the Last Day hungering and thirsting for forgiveness and eternal life, and they will find none, and their stomachs shall burn, they shall weep, and they shall gnash their teeth. Woe to all of us who seek our salvation apart from God and where He offers His gifts. Woe to those who despise the Word and Sacraments, the means by which God gives His gifts, for God will not give them the gift of eternal life. Woe to those who make a mockery of the Lord's Means of Grace, for the Lord will make them objects of scorn and ridicule. Woe to those who do not wish to taste and see that the Lord is good, for they will only taste death in the judgment to come. "He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty," as Mary sang in the Magnificat.
"Woe to you who laugh now," the Lord says to us, "for you shall mourn and weep" (v. 25b). Woe to those who are wrapped up in the merriment of the moment and do not have an eye on the life to come. Woe to those of us who are secure in our sins and are in glee over our God-displeasing lives. The Lord pronounced these woes to warn the people, especially the Pharisees and scribes, of the judgment to come and the impending destruction of Jerusalem. He warns us of the impending judgment on the Last Day. Woe to us who say to our souls: "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry" (12:19). As we hear from the prophet Isaiah: "And in that day the LORD God of hosts called for weeping and for mourning, for baldness and for girding with sackcloth. But instead, joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating meat and drinking wine: 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!' Then it was revealed in my hearing by the LORD of hosts, 'Surely for this iniquity there will be no atonement for you, even to your death,' says the Lord GOD of hosts. Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts… 'Indeed, the Lord will throw you away violently, O mighty man, and will surely seize you. He will surely turn violently and toss you like a ball into a large country; there you shall die and your glorious chariots shall be the shame of your master's house'" (Is. 22:12-15a, 17-18). Again the Lord Almighty says, "Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?" (12:20). Woe indeed!
"Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets" (v. 26). The Lord is speaking directly to the Pharisees and scribes, the teachers of the Law and the elders. You see, these people were less about the work of the Lord than they were about gaining status and power in the community. They lusted after power. They wanted everyone to think well of them. To that end, they either watered down the teachings of the Torah, or they taught things contrary to the Word of God. The Pharisees even added their own code of 613 rules and regulations, ceremonial requirements, for the people to follow. It was more important for these so-called religious leaders that the people obey the code than it was for them to obey the Ten Commandments. Throughout the course of history, people have rebelled against the true teachings and, therefore, the true prophets and have yearned for the false prophets. Why are false prophets hailed as they are? False prophets give the people what they want to hear. They want to hear that they are nice people and that everything will be all right. They want the false prophets to scratch their itching ears. They revile true prophets because true prophets scratch not itching ears but fragile egos and sinful pride, and we do not like it when that happens because we are not hearing what we want to hear. They are not saying what we want them to say. We do not want to hear of the coming wrath of God because we do not like hearing God's Law accuse us of being poor, miserable sinners. So we seek to exclude the true prophets from the community. We spread rumors about them, wagging our tongues, and reviling them. This wickedness that takes place now is nothing new. In Matthew 23, our Lord pronounces a long list of woes upon the scribes and Pharisees, woes such as those found in our text. The Lord said to them and says to us today: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.' Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD!'" (Mt. 23:29-39).
Yes, blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Blessed is He who comes to us today in His holy Word. Blessed is He who continues to send prophets to His people in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Four. And blessed are those who speak in the Name of the Lord and speak truthfully and with great boldness, even when they are hated and reviled and hear their names cast out as evil for the Son of Man's sake. Even as the true prophets of God, then and now, have faced persecution for His Name's sake, those who have remained faithful even unto death now rest from their labors and forever praise His Name at the eternal Feast, as will His prophets now and to come. To this end He sends His Holy Spirit to give strength and courage to His undershepherds, that they would continue to faithfully proclaim the whole will and Word of God, that His Word will not return to Him void, but it shall accomplish what He pleases and prosper in the thing for which He sends it, namely, to bring about repentance and faith so that God would add them to His kingdom through the living water of Holy Baptism.
"Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh," our Lord assures us (v. 21b). Blessed are you who weep now due to the sins that attack your conscience. Blessed are you who weep now from the accusations made by the great accuser, Satan. Blessed are you who weep as if you have no way out, for I have good news for you. The Lord is with you. He will not let your foot slip; neither will He let you be afraid. Blessed are you, for your Savior comes to you this day and invites you to cast all your anxieties upon Him, for He cares for you. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh and sing at the great Feast into all eternity. As we sing in the hymn: "Tho' we sow in tears of sorrow, We shall reap in heav'nly joy; And the fears that now annoy / Shall be laughter on the morrow. Christ, I suffer here with Thee; There, oh, share Thy joy with me!" (TLH 409:2).
"Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled" (v. 21a). Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for forgiveness of sins. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for eternal life. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for salvation. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you are now being filled, filled with the Word of God. Blessed are you who are being filled with the Word of God, for you are being fed with the Bread of Life. Jesus says, "I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and He who believes in Me shall never thirst" (Jn. 6:35). Blessed are you who hunger now, for you are being fed now on the Bread of Life as He speaks His Word in your hearing.
"Blessed," Jesus says, "are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (v. 20b). He tells you who are destitute, who have been beaten down by the troubles and travesties of this world, who are mired in the misery of their many and manifest sins and hungry for the bread that gives life, that you are indeed blessed for yours is the kingdom of God. That is to say, that the kingdom of God comes to you, making you rich with the forgiveness of sins that He brings, and giving you the promise of eternal life in heaven with the King of heaven. Yes, blessed are you, for it is by grace that you possess the kingdom of heaven through the blood of Jesus Christ. The One who blesses you is the One who took your woe upon Himself on the cross. Woe to Him who died on the tree, for it was your woe that He bore and your sin that He paid for. Woe to Him who suffered total separation from His heavenly Father so that we through faith would not face it but be united with Him through Jesus' blood, so that we would be truly blessed. Blessed are you that you have a God who loves you so much that He sent His only-begotten Son to die for you, that by believing in Him you would not perish but have everlasting life. Though we die, death is not the end; it is a new beginning. "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on…that they may rest from their labors…" (Rev. 14:13).
Blessed be the firstborn from the dead, Jesus Christ, for He has conquered death by His resurrection. Blessed is He who has put all things under His feet. Blessed is He who is not dead but is risen, so that we would have life with Him forever! "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). Blessed are you who believe in Him. Blessed are you who confess His Name. Blessed are you who come to Him to receive His gifts with thankful hearts. It is more than merely being happy. Happiness is a fast-fleeting emotion. Blessedness is a state of being, for you know and you believe in whom is your hope, Jesus Christ. Blessed are you, for the Lord will soon place His Name upon you again as the Lord blesses you and keeps you, as He makes His face shine upon you and is gracious unto you, as He lifts up His countenance upon you and gives you peace. Blessed are you in the Name of the Lord. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Pr. Mark Schlamann, Our Savior & Redeemer Lutheran Churches, Pettibone & Woodworth, ND
[The Bride said,] "Bestman..., please listen to me quite carefully. If you have been faithful in your service, then never apologize for having fed my children and having led me in the Great Dance. The Bridegroom does not require you to be anything other than faithful. Believe me when I say that I would rather have my daughters and sons fed by a clumsy, stuttering bestman who is faithful to the Bridegroom than by a deceiver who leads them away from the coming wedding. As for the forgiveness you ask, please remember that you are one of my children too. The essential theme in the writings you read and the message you speak and the Great Dance that you lead is intended for you as well as for the others."--from _The Bestman, the Bride and the Wedding_ by the Rev. Michael L. McCoy
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