All Saints' Observed – Matthew 5:1-11 – November 3rd and 4th, 2018
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
We live in desperate times. There is desperation all over the place - it's in the air, on the political signs and the telephone calls, in the way we look at our families and friends, the way we look at ourselves in the mirror. Desperation. We see change around us, and often not for the better. We feel anxiety over money or race relations or the health of our state or the violence all around us, and that fear and anxiety boils up into desperation, and we want something to fix it. And we get more agitated and short with each other, we villainize each other, we self medicate ourselves – all because we are desperate.
Now, the part of me that is a historian wants to brush this desperation off, sort of poo-poo it. I want to run to cold hard stats about rates of violence, or run to narratives of the past – see, all this desperation is just silly, why you've been through worse times before. We have more wealth and more technology and less violence and less global poverty than ever before, blah, blah blah, blah blah. That's just how I self-medicate and deal with fear and anxiety – I pretend to be above the fray... just like a duck, looking all nice and calm while my own desperations paddle away just under the surface. While I feel superior because my desperations aren't as bad as other people's desperations.
Instead, we ought to consider the truth. That there is some wisdom and sense to the fear and anxiety we feel. There is plenty of wild and crazy stuff going on out there, and frankly, a lot of it just is not under our control. And the prevailing myth that has run our country and western society for the past 200 years is that if we just keep working and growing and improving, we will get a grip on this thing called life, and we will control things, we will tame and fix the world. And there's been great progress – progress we should be thankful for. Just think for a second on medical advances – how many of us in this room right now would have been dead if not for medical technologies developed in the past 100 years? I'd have been. We should be grateful to the moon over the advances in medicine... but there's still an awful lot of fear and anxiety about it. That's because, even with all this progress, we know it's not enough. That sooner or later the doctor's going to say, “There's nothing more we can do.” Or in other words, I can't control it.
And that's just medicine. Every field of human study plays out the same way. Governance, technology, agriculture, computing – so on and so forth – we hit a point where the problems are still there and there's nothing we can do. Where we can do everything right (at least according to worldly standards), and things just go wrong. This hits theology – how many hucksters are out there preaching wealth and prosperity – “I declare this will be a good day” or however the latest flavor of Name it and Claim It theology likes to babble. It doesn't work. We are powerless. And we hate that. And it rips us apart. And so we are desperate for something to fix the problem, desperate for someone to blame, desperate for something to numb the pain.
The crowds Jesus saw in Matthew chapter 5 were desperate too. They were a conquered people, oppressed by the Romans, facing terrible poverty. Less power than we have, less prospects than us. And Jesus looks over this crowd, and He does something that is so bizarre to us. Jesus doesn't tell them how to fix things. He doesn't Dave Ramsey them into better economic advice (fine as that is), nor does He tell them to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps like Rush Limbaugh might. Jesus doesn't take the liberal tact either – Jesus doesn't start a community organization project or blame the 1 percent or the Colonizing powers of Rome. He doesn't even do my historical thing of comparing them to other time periods in the OT and telling them to buck up. Jesus doesn't tell these desperate people how to fix anything.
Instead, Jesus says something utterly profound. You are blessed. 9 times. Blessed are the fill in the blank. Do you realize how utterly insane that sounds to the desperate world? Blessed are the poor in spirit – think on that, if you are beat down and crushed by life in this world, if you are downtrodden and spit upon and at the end of your rope – Jesus says that you are blessed. Why? Not because he's got the three easy steps to turn things around, not because the bad people are going to be punished, not because the new rulers will finally be the right rulers. No – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Is. Right now. Right now the Kingdom of heaven is yours... and it's still yours if next year goes better or if it goes worse. It is yours if there is sickness or health, richer or poorer, all those variations. None of them change the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven is yours. You belong to Christ Jesus, and He has given you the Kingdom of Heaven – He has baptized you. You are an heir of heaven, it is yours – and there's not a thing in this world that can take that away from you. Christ Jesus has given Himself to you, He has shed His blood for you to rescue you from sin and from death and the devil, and His Kingdom is yours. Now.
How often do we think on the fact that we are the Baptized? That we are brothers and sisters of Christ the King, that heaven is ours come hell or high water, because Christ Jesus has broken open the gates of hell with His death and resurrection and has turned water into a lavish washing away of sin in Holy Baptism? I went to my grandmother's funeral (at a church of a denomination that will remain nameless), and the pastor had done a lovely job of pointing out how kind my grandmother had been, how even 6 years after she had moved to Florida she was still loved and remembered up in Toledo, little plastic canvas things she had made all over the place. It was a nice start... but it just stopped. A wistful sigh of the past. Never mentioned that she was Baptized. Never mentioned that even though sin and death had ripped away her mind – I would have even taken Alzheimer's as the villain – never mentioned that even though Emily couldn't remember much towards the end and that while there was nothing we could do – Christ Jesus remembered her, and the Kingdom of heaven is hers. Instead, oh, she was good to us here and to her family, why don't you be good too. A little holy homework, something you can do.
Something you can do. That's our old sinful flesh talking, thinking, running things. Our old sinful flesh is desperate, desperate to have power and control. That's really what sin is – it's me wanting to be in control of everything. I will determine what is good and what is bad, and I will by my own actions take the bull by the horns and wrest of life what I can get out of it. And we try, until we push ourselves to our wits ends – until we are finally poor in Spirit and ready to listen again to God. Hi there, O baptized child of God – Heaven is yours. Already. Always has been. You are blessed.
Hi there mourner. You are blessed, because Christ Jesus has defeated and destroyed death, and in the resurrection you will receive a comfort far beyond anything you could try to cobble together. Jesus has this all under His control for you.
Hi there you who are meek, who are just tired of all the fighting and want to lay down your arms. You are blessed, because you're going to inherit the new heavens and the new earth. Jesus has done it – it's His will and testament, sealed by His death upon the Cross, by His blood shed there. He gives the proof, His very Body and Blood to you in His Supper. You don't need to be the fighter – Jesus has this all under His control for you.
Hi there you who thirst and hunger for righteousness. You see that this world is messed up – well, you'll never fix it to your satisfaction. You'll never even progress yourself to your own satisfaction. But, you are blessed, because Christ Jesus is righteous, and He has poured His righteousness upon you, declared His righteousness to be your righteousness. When it comes to righteousness – Jesus has it all under His control for you.
Hi there pure in heart. Yes, I'm talking to you – because you've been baptized, you've been declared righteous. You've had your sin forgiven over and over by Christ Jesus through His Word. You're blessed, because no matter what you see come down the pike, Christ Jesus your Lord will return and you will be raised to perfection, and you will see God in your own flesh, your own eyes and not another's. Jesus has it all under His control for you.
Hi there peacemaker, you who proclaim Christ's peace and forgiveness to others. They may not like it that much. They may blow you off and run back to their own desperate plans. You understand that well enough – you often run back to your own desperate plans. But that's why God has sent people into your life to speak peace to you, and why He has you speak peace to people as well. The peace of Christ that He has won, the peace that He pours out through His Spirit is what makes us sons of God. Again, Jesus has it all under His control for you.
Oh, and by the by peacemaker – proclaiming Christ Crucified for sinners won't make you popular in the world. See, people in the world don't want a God who makes for peace – people would much rather come up with their own political or social or military solutions. People are desperate to find the next greatest thing to fix the world... while the world keeps on spinning. And when you point to Christ, when you proclaim His peace and His righteousness – as opposed to the violence and “rightness” of the latest cause or movement, you will be persecuted. You will be ignored, or written off, or called a traitor to the cause. You will be mocked, and reviled, and you will have wicked, jealous things said of you. It doesn't change a thing about who Jesus is and what He has done, nor does it change the fact that Christ Jesus has died for you and risen for you and that He will return for you to raise you from the dead and give you a new heaven and a new earth, and so yes, rejoice, because you are blessed. Jesus has it all under control for you.
My dear friends, you who have been called out of darkness, even the darkness of your own thoughts and whims and wishes, you who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light, blessed are you, because Christ Jesus truly is your Lord and Savior, and nothing can make Him waver in that. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +