The text is Luke’s version of the beatitudes. If you know them, you know them from Matthew. How they appear in Luke is quite different. Different is a way that invites a little comparison and contrast. Also different in a way that invites a much different interpretive focus. The focus of this sermon is how Jesus’ blessings and woes form a teaching on “the good life” for the disciple. Jesus’ teaching contrasts with both popular and philosophical examples of the good life in serious ways. Ways that every disciple should spend some time contemplating.
The Beatitudes (Blessed are the poor in spirit, etc.) are the poetic introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. In Epiphany, the liturgical season given to coming to know who Jesus is, that sermon is assigned reading over five weeks. I won’t call it a sermon series for a couple of reasons, mostly because that phase annoys me, but also because I’d be worried by week 5 that even my regulars would be ditching services. More seriously, the sermons will be connected because the text is naturally connected, but it isn’t a forced connection.
So this sermon attempts to do three things:
1) Re-introduce into our imaginations the “Blessed are…” statements. We hear them, but they don’t engage the imagination as to what they actually mean because “blessed are…” is both too well known and too little understood. We’ve been inoculated to it. I want us to be infected with the Kingdom that Jesus is preaching.
2) Hear the gospel in these statements and not just a list of “well, I gotta do that.” Part of prodding the imagination is seeing a world where I would freely choose what Jesus describes.
3) Start laying the ground work for the connecting theme of compulsion vs. freedom.
Worship note: You can hear our recently growing choir in a couple of spots. This was a 5th Sunday where our choir supports the liturgy. I didn’t include the Chanted Intoit, but you can catch the gradual and the verse in the midst of the Alleluias. I have left in our closing hymn, LSB 690, Hope of the World. We sang stanzas 1-4. The tune is the workable EIRENE which grows on you once you grasp its internal stress and direction. The text is an deep contemplation not on the simple hope of a Deus ex Machina, but of the hope of becoming fully human in Christ.
Biblical Texts: Rev 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12 (All Saints Day) Full Sermon Draft
All Saints Day officially was Nov 1, but we observed it today. It is one of those festivals or celebrations that I do every thing I can to raise its profile. In my strange head it should be The Lutheran festival. Roman Catholics reserve saints for institutionally proclaimed brand names. The various flavors of reformed observe a strict separation of the communion of saints and attempt not to use the word for the most part. It is the Lutheran church that both holds up the great and the local as witnesses of the faith, and only a sacramental church can maintain anything but historical connections with the church at rest. Just some stray thoughts roughly in line with the Augsburg Confession on the Saints.
The sermon itself does three things. It examines one perversion and one mistake in the witness that have hurt the church in the last generation. The primary effect is the eclipse of the cross, but you could also say that it is the movement of sovereignty of God to us. It then proclaims what I think is the consistent witness of the saints – today the cross, tomorrow the crown; the offerings of the world pale in comparison to the life in Christ regardless of its temporal trials. It concludes with the challenge of the middle section of the beatitudes. Are we willing to live life in this world according to the way of Christ? The saints did. The saints do. Are we knights of faith? Is the story of the church, the witness of the saints compelling and binding on us?
Worship note: I left in the recording two hymns. LSB 677, For All the Saints, is a great hymn that tells the full story. And I left in our concluding hymn, LSB 662, Onward Christian Soldiers. In think the progression of hymns reflects the message. We gather to remind ourselves of who we are and what our story is. Then we go out to live it. Onward until our day of rest.
Nurse Kaci Hickox is a fascinating sign, an almost perfect illustration of this age. What looks like heroic compassion combined with staggering amounts of narcissism and selfishness.
Keying off of her invocation of her rights, this sermon puts forward the beatitudes as a “Kingdom Bill of Rights”. Unlike our typical invocation of rights, which are always about justice for us, the Kingdom rights point always toward God or toward our neighbor. They are costly. They are love. And they are what Christ has done for us.
Being All Saints celebration, this sermon then meditates on how the saints serve the people of God as lights in dark places and tells the story of a couple such lights.
Note: the choir between the First and Second readings of the day is our Children’s Choir.
Sermon Text: Matt 5:6, Rev 6:10, Rev 7:9, Lord’s Prayer, Apostles Creed, All Saints Day Full Text of Sermon
A Lutherans we are trained to think in terms of paradoxes in tension. Here is what I mean by that. The big tension paradox is law and gospel. The law kills, yet is necessary to show us the gospel which makes alive. The gospel without the law just confirms people in self-righteousness. Think the self-esteem movement of today. That is the perfect example of gospel without law. It essentially says that God accepts you just the way you are. Used in the context before the law, that is deadly and leads to a bunch of the dysfunctions we see in our culture today. Likewise the law without the gospel doesn’t work. For a while you get better people as they struggle to keep the law, to be holy. But eventually they figure out it is a rigged game. Hey, I can’t do this!?! That is the proper place for the gospel message of God accepts you through Jesus Christ. Law and gospel go together and the Lutheran emphasis at least in America has been on the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. That is the name of Walther’s LCMS-famous book.
And that works and is true if your primary goal is salvation of the individual. And don’t get me wrong, that is important. But the gospel is about more than my personal Jesus. The gospel is the proclamation of Jesus as Lord. The gospel is the proclamation of the resurrection of all flesh. And when you are proclaiming that – that is law and gospel at the same time.
In this sermon I’ve got a section that I labeled gospel in the text. First it is all scripture. Second it is a listing of the question of the prophets and martyrs – “How long?” How long until the church or people of God is perfected? How long until the martyrs receive justice? How long until the Lordship of Christ is acknowledged by all? To the believer that is pure gospel. The Spirit has already called us by the gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, and placed us on the walk of sanctification. We struggle now and long for that day when we don’t. How long is a cry for justice. For God to act. But that same proclamation if you don’t have faith in the work of Christ is either just lunacy or stark terror. The same proclamation works as law. Either it is dismissed as not applicable. (If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves – 1 John 1:8). Or it should strike us to the core. What if that is true? What if Christ is Lord, and I don’t acknowledge that? What does this Lord want?
The same words, the proclamation of Jesus is Lord is either the most consoling Gospel or the most damning law at the same time. The saints share a communion of hearing that proclamation as Gospel and longing for the day when the church at rest and the church militant are joined in the church Triumphant marching after the King of Glory.
One of the things that I am constantly amazed at is how the Church or Christianity is usually placed in the narrow, weak, small-minded, etc category. To me the simple facts are usually just the opposite. It is the church that requires disciples of Jesus to a) look up and see with eschatological or eternal eyes, b) recognize your real pitiful condition and c) look for salvation from outside yourself and d) start living that eternal reality here and now even though the kingdom has not been completely revealed. Each of those elements takes more courage and greater vision than anything those who attack the church have ever tried.
Everything the world tries to do can be condensed to getting you to narrow you focus to something you think you can control. As long as you don’t ask the big questions or get outside of a comfort range, then you can fool yourself in a high self-esteem. Christ says blessed are the poor in spirit which is point a and b. If you look up with eyes that see beyond your immediate plot you should recognize just how poor and pitiful we are. You can recognize that and run back immediately to your little plot. The Christian recognizes it and confesses it – I am a poor miserable sinner. Which takes more vision and courage – retreat into the seemingly safe self, or confession? Which is more limiting – finding yourself in within a much larger plot, or going back to your small one? The world wants you to stay so small that you don’t even think you need anyone else let alone a savior. Christianity says its hopeless absent God’s action in Christ. Which takes more courage: trying to keep everything in your own hands, or turning your very life over to someone else? And then Christ says go be merciful, be pure in heart (read as seek God first), be peacemakers. You know what happens to those kind of people in this world. But Christ says his disciples do these things. These are what my blessed people will look like.
It is one of those truisms that the world will throw at the church that only weak people need religion, or that the church is for those who are small minded. That truism is demonstrably false. It is those attempting to follow Christ, to live out their religion, that are given much larger vision and challenges. It is much easier to run back to the deceptive safety of one small plot. But running back to that small existence casts away the blessings. Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
It is hard talking about this one. Because there is no real answer other than prayer, which I desperately beg of you to do.
In that vein, this is Anselm of Canterbury which happened to be the prayer of the day in my prayerbook…
Blessed Lord and Savior who has commanded us to love one another, grant us grace that, having received your undeserved bounty, we may love every man in you and for you. We implore your clemency for all; but especially for the friends whom your love has given us. Love them, o fountain of Love, and make them to love you with all their heart, with all their mind and with all their soul, that those things only which are pleasing to you they may will and speak and do. And though our prayer is cold, because our charity is so little fervent, yet you are rich in mercy. Measure not your goodness to them by the dullness of our devotion; but as your kindness surpasses all human affection, so let your hearing transcend our prayer. Do to them what is expedient for them, according to you will, that they being always and everywhere ruled and protected by you, may attain in the end to everlasting life; and to you, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and praise forever and ever. Amen