170129 Matthew 5:1-12

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 January 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Theme: You Are Blessed!

Do you know when Easter is this year? It's quite a bit later than usual. Because of the way the calendar falls we won't celebrate the Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord until April 16. That's a long time to wait (over two and a half months), but if you can be patient there are some advantages to a late date for Easter.

Besides the fact that the weather should be warmer for wearing Easter dresses, a later Easter also means a longer Epiphany season. And a longer Epiphany means that we will have a chance to study some portions of Scripture that we don't get to all that often, like the gospel lessons from now until the end of February.

The gospel lessons for these four Sundays (Epiphany 4-7) are taken from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. And beginning today Pastor Schmidt and I will take advantage of this rare opportunity to preach a series of sermons on what is perhaps the most famous sermon of all time.

Every good sermon begins with a memorable introduction, and the Sermon on the Mount is no exception. There is a good chance you recognized the words of Jesus when I read them from the lectern. With crowds of people gathered around him, the Lord pronounced on them a series of blessings.

But these blessings, or beatitudes, weren't meant for everyone. Matthew makes it clear that Jesus was speaking to his disciples, and that means these words of blessing are also addressed to us. Beginning this morning and for the next four weeks our guest preacher will be Jesus, and in this morning's sermon he wants his followers to remember just one thing...

YOU ARE BLESSED!

Do you agree with that statement? Are you blessed? I suppose your answer will depend on your definition. Let's start with everyone here in their golden years. Let's say that your health and your savings are holding up. You have a roof over your head. You have kids and grandkids who love you. You look at your life as a retiree and think to yourself: "I am blessed."

How about all the parents out there? Are you blessed? Were you able to weather the ups and downs of the stock market? Do you have a decent job and decent place to live? Do you have a good relationship with your spouse and your kids? If so, maybe you find yourself nodding your head in agreement. "Jesus is right. I am blessed."

In all likelihood there were children present when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. So all of you grade school and high school and college students, what do you think? Are you blessed? Do you have good friends and good grades? Do you come from a loving home? Do you have food to eat and clothes to wear? If you have all of those things and more, if you sometimes take some of those gifts for granted, maybe Jesus' words remind you to say: "I am blessed."

But what if those descriptions don't describe your situation. What if your health is failing and your nest egg is shrinking. What if you can't get a job or you can't get along with your kids. What if you don't have good friends or a good home life. Do Jesus' words still apply? Are you still blessed or not?

If the beatitudes do anything, they challenge us to redefine what it means to be blessed. Blessings can't always be associated with things. Our being blessed doesn't depend on how we are treated by other people. We aren't blessed because we have everything we want or even everything we need.

But that's what the sinful nature wants, doesn't it? It wants to be comfortable. It needs to be catered to. If I get my way, as long as I am satisfied, as long as my life is going smoothly, then I might pause for a moment and look up and acknowledge the One from whom all blessings flow.

There is a word for people who think that way, and it's not blessed. The Bible has a word to describe us when we think and act that way, and that word is cursed. "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" (Galatians 3:10). Every sin and every sinner deserves to be condemned.

I don't have to ask if those words describe you because I know the answer. Deep down every one of us is selfish. Every one of us is sinful. Every one of us is cursed...and blessed. How can that be? How is that possible? It's possible because "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13).

Jesus took your sins to the cross. Jesus took on himself the punishment your deeds deserve. And as a result you are no longer under God's curse. You are redeemed. And even if it doesn't always feel like it, even if it sometimes difficult to recognize it, you are blessed.

Are you poor in spirit? Or to put it another way, do you recognize that you are spiritually bankrupt? You know that you will never be able to pay for your sins. You know that you will never be able to make up for your sins. If you get that, if you have come to grips with that, then you are blessed.

Then you will be able to appreciate what Paul meant when he wrote: "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). It's not a contradiction. It's a fact. The poor in spirit are rich because we have been given the riches of God's grace. Forgiveness is ours. Freedom is ours. And so is the kingdom of heaven.

How about the next beatitude? Do you mourn, and not just at funerals? Do your sins bother you? When you sin does your conscience convict you? Then you will be comforted. Then it will be a great comfort to hear what God's Word has to say about your sins: "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18). "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12).

We don't have enough time to work through every beatitude like this, but I would like to spend some time on the last one. Jesus said: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me" (11). Jesus equates persecution with blessing, and in the next verse he takes it a step further: "Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who went before you" (12).

If you are like me, you probably think of persecution as something to be avoided, not as a source of blessing. And maybe you are thinking that Jesus is asking the impossible when he tells us to be happy when people persecute us. How could that possibly make a person glad? Where is the joy in that?

The blessing can be found in that little phrase "because of me." Because of Jesus we have everything. We have hope. We have peace. We have heaven. But because of our relationship with Jesus we will also have trouble. Jesus himself said so (John 16:33). We will be badgered and belittled. We will be persecuted and insulted. We will be hated and slandered.

None of those negatives is a blessing in and of itself, but they do serve as purpose. They remind us of Jesus' words: "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you" (John 15:18,19).

According to Jesus the hostility of the world is a sign, and it is actually a good sign. It signifies that we are connected to Christ. It is a constant reminder of who and whose we are. And so it doesn't matter what the world thinks of us. It doesn't matter how other people may treat us. Even if we are considered poor, even when we mourn, even though we may be hated and insulted and persecuted, we still have reason to rejoice. We can rejoice because we know what our Savior has done for us. We can be glad because we know what Jesus has in store for us. There is no question. There is no doubt. There is only one conclusion we can draw: we are blessed. Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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