Sermon for January 29, 2017

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

January 29, 2017, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Matthew 5:1-12

Sermon Theme:  “How Blessed Are Your Attitudes?”

(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; Brokhoff, Series A, Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Emphasis Online Commentary; Online Jokes about Humility and Meekness; The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible; footnotes, The Life Application Study Bible)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Beatitudes are not prescriptions for how to live a Godly life.  They are descriptions of how a Godly life should look, and rather radical descriptions at that.  A Godly life is humble and meek, merciful, pure, peace-making.  The main characteristic defining the “blessed attitudes,” as they are sometimes called, is humility.  The opposite of humility is pride, which the Bible judges to be the root of all sin.

The wrong kind of pride and a lack of humility seem to be natural human weaknesses, and are even found in the church, even among Christians with credentials.  Sometimes it takes the innocence of a child to put us all in our place.

There’s a story about a pastor who was never seen without his clerical collar, something he wore with the good kind of pride, but also with maybe a little bit of the bad kind of pride.  No one had ever seen this pastor without his collar, so they jokingly wondered if he even slept with it on.

After church, a child who came from an un-churched family and had never seen a pastor’s garb before, asked the Reverend, “Do you have a bo-bo?”

At first the pastor was a little taken aback, and then he realized the boy was looking intently at his white and black Roman collar.  So he pulled out the white plastic insert and showed it to the child, telling him that it was also part of a clergyman’s outfit.

On the backside of every plastic insert are embossed the words, “Wash with warm, soapy water.”  The pastor showed this to the little boy, and, knowing the kid was too young to read, asked him, “Do you know what these words say?”

The boy startled the pastor by saying, “I sure do!”

“You do?  Then tell me what they say,” said the Right Reverend Clergyman.

“It says, ‘kills fleas and ticks for up to six months.’”  Everybody laughed.

The Beatitudes in our sermon text are addressed to people we think we don’t want to be.  We don’t want to be meek or poor in spirit.  And, if being merciful means forgiving our enemies, we certainly want to think twice about that one.  To be pure in heart means we would have to give up all of our impurities, and most of us cling to them.  It’s the same for being a peacemaker; more often than not, we want to carry the grudge.  We certainly don’t want to be persecuted or reviled. 

So, it would seem that when Jesus addresses the crowd on the side of the mountain, He isn’t really talking to us.  He might be talking to the person sitting next to me, but certainly not to me.

But Jesus knows us: the poverty of our spirit; the depth of our grief, our pride, our failure to forgive, our desire to fight, our lack of humility.  He knows us through and through, sees right through our armor and into our hearts.  We expect to be scolded, but, instead, He says, “Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great,” – but He doesn’t bless the darkness within us, no He blesses our desire to drive out the darkness forever.

William Barclay points out the Beatitudes, in their original setting, had no verbs.  That is, instead of reading, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” a more correct translation would be, “Oh, the blessedness of the poor in spirit!”  This takes them beyond the realm of simple statements.  They become exclamations of joy, and this joy will come to the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the hungry-for-righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers.

Our culture today appears to suggest that joy comes from other things – things like power, possessions, prestige.  Our culture has made a mistake; our power and our possessions have not brought us joy.  On the contrary, they have brought us what one writer called “the Aspirin Age.”  A little pleasure perhaps?  Maybe a superficial kind of happiness?  But true joy?  I don’t think so!

Each Beatitude tells how to be blessed, and the Greek word translated as “blessed” means more than happiness; “happiness” is an English word derived from the root “hap,” which means “chance.”  When chance goes our way, we may be happy but not necessarily “blessed.”  Yet some modern English translations translate “blessed” as “happy,” – “Happy are the poor in spirit, . . . Happy are those who mourn,” . . . , etc.   That’s just an inadequate translation.

The editors of the Life Application Study Bible explain, that, to Jesus, “blessed” means the experience of hope and joy, independent of outward circumstance.  To find hope and joy, the deepest form of happiness, follow Jesus no matter what the cost.  The Beatitudes don’t promise laughter, pleasure or earthly prosperity.  To be blessed is a gift which God bestows on His own, a state of inward joy and peace, independent of what is or is not going on in our lives.

In a sense, all of the other Beatitudes flow out of the first one, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  Now to be poor in spirit does not mean that one is lacking in spirit, rather, it is to be bereft of a proud or haughty spirit.  Poverty of spirit is roughly equivalent to the word “humility.”  An humble person is one who knows he does not soar in the heavens, but is of the earth, — he is the humus of the earth; he is the salt of the earth.  In other words, such a person realizes that he is dependent on God, the ground of all being, the everything in all things.

To be sure, we can’t define “blessed” as merely “happy.”  Linus comes a little bit closer to defining blessed in a Peanuts comic strip wherein he is talking to Charlie Brown.  Charlie Brown asks him, “Do you ever think much about the future, Linus?’

Linus answers, “Oh, yes, all the time.”

Charlie then asks, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Outrageously happy,” Linus replies.

You know, that comes close to what “blessed” really means.  The blessed state does not depend on earthly well-being for its fulfillment.  It is conceivable that a Christian can have a persecuted, hardship-filled life, and yet be blessed.  “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says.  That’s one reason why we sing “Lift High the Cross” with such joy and power; it’s a glorious song of triumph!  The other reason it’s a song of triumph is it’s a song of Christ’s triumph on the cross which makes our triumph possible.

The Beatitudes ask us to be weak so that we may be strong.  They ask us to let go in order to receive.

A pastor once asked an adult Bible study class what their favorite part of the worship service was.  Ann, an older lady, said, “The benediction.”

A young man in the class blurted out, “That’s my favorite part, too!  It means church is over and we get to go home.”  The pastor looked annoyed as the class laughed loudly.

“No, no, that’s not what I meant,” Ann exclaimed, “the benediction is really my favorite part of the service, because it’s God blessing us through the pastor’s words.  It reminds me of God’s promise to be with me always, and to bless me in every situation, no matter how bad it looks.  The benediction is my favorite part of the service, because it means that God’s name is always on me and on you.”

Ann had a good answer.  The benediction is a little Beatitude at the end of every worship service, and through it, Jesus gives us assurance and reassurance, just as He did in that Sermon on the Mount!  Rejoice and be glad!  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.