Sunday, November 24, 2019

Malachi.3.13-18; Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 24, 2019;

Malachi.3.13-18; Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 24, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
“Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’ ” Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. ” (Malachi 3:13–18, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Malachi had a tough job as a prophet.  Church attendance was at an all time low.  People just didn’t seem to give congregational activities much priority.  Lot’s of people only showed up for those twice a year special services.  The church was broke.  Pastors all around were doing and saying things that were completely against God’s Word.  Marriage was mocked.  Young couples were hooking up left and right.  Shacking up was becoming the common way to live.  Folks didn’t care about the poor and hurting.  Oh they did what they had to do, the token gift to show that they cared, but their hearts were far from caring.  It was pretty obvious too, that there was profit in neglecting the things of God.  Evil people were doing well.  Outspoken critics of God had the public ear, and God’s faithful people were mocked for being old fashioned, and ignorant.  It was easy for a church go-er to get discouraged.  God promised that he would take care but it didn’t seem to be happening.  You’d often hear church folks saying and thinking things like:
‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’
One poet captures the sense very well:
They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
the sinners are much more fun...
you know that only the good die young (Billy Joel, Only the Good Die Young, 1977)
Malachi had it tough.  And even though he lived more than 2,500 year, it doesn’t seem that much has changed.  Kind of amazing how things come around, isn’t it?  It’s enough to make you wonder what difference it really makes.  People all around us live as if there is nothing to fear from God and they’re doing well.  There are no lightning bolts out of heaven striking them dead when they out right mock God and faith.  Not only do they get away with the fun stuff but they even seem to be rewarded.  Does God really care how I act?  Does it really matter to him if I cheat a little here and there on the commandments?  I’ll go to church when there’s nothing else more important going on.  After all God forgives sin, isn’t that the point of church?  Maybe I can get away with not speaking out against sin and making my neighbors angry.  What’s the point in looking like a backwoods hick who doesn’t have the brains to realize the way the world really works?  Maybe I can have my cake and eat it too.  Maybe I can just fit into what ever is popular right now.  After all I believe in Jesus and that’s what’s important, right? 
“It is vain to serve God.”  That’s what Malachi’s people said.  That’s what we are tempted to say and think.  There’s a problem here.  Do you remember that one?
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
You might think that the second command doesn’t apply to you because you’re good at holding your tongue.  You don’t curse or swear.  Hey it’s not just using OMG that’s a problem here.  It’s murmuring against God, doubting his promises.  You use God’s name incorrectly when you wondering “What’s in it for me?”  Especially in the face of all that’s going on out there.  Living as a Christian means showing the truth about who God is.  When we start thinking this way we are being self serving, instead of neighbor serving.  When we think this way its easy to get lazy and indifferent.  It’s easy to overlook what God calls sin, especially in us.  It’s our sin taking control again.  It is unfaithfulness, doubting God’s promises again.  All of the sudden you are in the camp of people who are speaking wrongly about God.  You want others to be destroyed, but your thoughts and actions deserve the same punishment from God.  That’s the real problem isn’t it?  Anytime you start to focus on the sins of other people, you really ought to turn your condemnation back on yourself.   It is perfectly right to think that God should punish sin.  Just remember that your sin is front and center.  You should first be concerned about that.  If you can’t even keep God’s second commandment perfectly hell is your reward.  Lord, have mercy!
Well, he does have mercy.  There is a difference between the righteous and the wicked, those who serve God and those who serve themselves.  But, it’s not what we so easily think.  It’s not about doing. It’s about “fearing.”  Look there at Malachi’s text.  Everything turns around for those who fear the Lord and esteem his name.  That’s another way to say those who live in repentant faith.  To fear the Lord is to know God’s just judgment against sin and make it personal.  It’s my sin that condemns me.  Yet, we trust that God has taken care of our sin in Jesus Christ.  It is our faith in God’s sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of sin that saves us from his condemnation.  It’s there in the text too.
“They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.
This is Jesus on the cross.  I know what it looks like.  Jesus obeyed God and where did it get him.  Crucified, dead and buried.  Naked, mocked, beaten bloody on a cross.  He certainly isn’t spared any of that.  And yet that is Jesus’ service.  That is God’s love out in all of its naked glory.  Here is where God really shows the difference between good and evil, righteousness and wickedness.  Here is where the great exchange takes place.  A Jesus mocked, beaten, humiliated, and crucified serves God perfectly.  Here perfect Jesus takes on our sin and receives our punishment.  Here God takes Jesus’ perfect life and gives it to us.  God, the Father, spares not his own Son so that we who are so often unfaithful are spared.  We who murmur against God and doubt his anger and resolve to punish sin to its fullest.  We who ignore the needs of our neighbors in both body and soul.  We who so often fail to speak the truth when a sinful world says sin is right.  We who pretend that there is nothing special about God’s presence in this place.  We who so quickly point to the sin of others ignoring the logs in our own eye.   We hear Jesus’ words from the cross.  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  (Luke 23:34).
These words of forgiveness are spoken to all, for all.  It is the fear of the Lord that receives them in repentant faith.  The repentant sinner receives the gift of forgiveness with joy, firmly holding on to Jesus.  Do you want an example?  It’s right there in the Gospel for today.
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him…  (Luke 23:39–43, ESV)
My dear Christian brothers and sisters the same Jesus Christ, from the cross says those words to you: 
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
You are mine.  You are my special possession.  Your name is written in the book of life.  You are forgiven of all your sin.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost; November 17, 2019;

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost; November 17, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6–13, ESV)
(from an sermon by Rev. Rick Marrs)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our God is a working God. In fact, it's what the Bible is all about. God is at work from the beginning, Genesis 1 to Revelation 21. He creates the world and everything in it by the word. Trees, flowers, birds, the stars of the heavens, the fish in the sea, the planets and the asteroids whizzing about space. And people. He created Adam and Eve, our first parents, and breathed into them the breath of life. And he placed them in the paradise of the garden of Eden which he created for them. Human beings are God's work. And after six days he took a Sabbath rest.
But the paradise of Adam and Eve may not be exactly what you're thinking of when you hear the word paradise. For you and me paradise is soaking up the sun in a Hawaiian beach cabana. The waiter walks through the sand bringing us a Blue Hawaii or one of those rum drinks with a little umbrella. In the beach hotel, the employees are scuttering around to take care of our smallest wants. Our vision of paradise is people working for us. But in Genesis the first thing God does is different:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15, ESV)
Adam and Eve don't fall into sin until Genesis 3. In Genesis 2 God puts them to work. We think, maybe you've even been told, that work is the result of sin. So, the picture in your mind of paradise is a Hawaiian vacation. But our working God has given us work to do, as a gift. He did not create human beings to the idle-ly lazing around but tending the universe that he created for us. God gave Adam and Eve, and you and me, work to do, and it was good.
But Adam and Eve were not content to live and work in the garden. They wanted the one thing that wasn't theirs to have. They denied their relationship with God by eating the lies of Satan and the fruit that God told them to avoid. They wanted to be their own gods. They broke their perfect relationship with God and fell into rebellion. So, God ejected them from the garden. And he sent them out to work. This work was not the same as before:
“cursed is the ground because of you … thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you … By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return.”(Genesis 3:17ff)
Now work is difficult and dangerous. The cursed creation doesn't respond to human work the way that it should. The work remains. But work, in and of itself, is still a good gift of God. God uses it to provide for all our needs. God gives you your daily work to do. It is a good gift from him to provide for you and your family. But not only that, your work is given to you to do good for the people that you serve. Teachers are there to serve their students and parents. Maintenance workers maintain buildings for the sake of those who live and work in them. Garbage collectors haul away the garbage so that people can live and work in clean places. Stay-at-home moms serve their children by taking care of them. Car salesmen and auto mechanics work so people can have transportation so that they can get to work. Pastors teach you God's word so that you can work freed from the guilt of your sin. People in grocery stores work so we can have food. Grown children take care of their elderly parents. Elderly and shut in folks have opportunity to pray for the work of others. These are the things we been given to do. They are our vocation. Not our vacation. Our vocation is the work that God gives us to do to serve one another in the places that he has given us to serve. And I'm not just talking about are paid jobs either. We are given to serve one another as parent, child, friend, neighbor, and good citizen. All these things have their associated tasks and work. When God calls us to serve our neighbors in these ways, we are the "masks of God, behind which He wants to remain concealed and do all things.[1]" it's all connected to exactly what St. Paul writes:
If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6–13, ESV)
We see examples of hard workers in the Bible, too. Noah built the ark to save the living creatures from the flood. Abraham had huge flocks and herds. Moses was a Shepherd before he shepherded God's people out of slavery in Egypt. Paul was a tent maker. In our text here he talks about making his own living that way. And Jesus, our Savior, was a carpenter. Hard work, difficult work, has been around and promoted by God since Adam and Eve fell into sin.
But Jesus didn't come to give us an example of how to work hard. His vocation was so much greater than that. Jesus is the word made flesh, the very same word through which God made the world. He is the very word of God that came to restore human beings and all creation to a right relationship with God. His life, death, and resurrection are the work, the vocation, he came to do. Jesus Christ serves sinners. He serves us sinners by taking the punishment we deserve for being lazy and idle. He us serves sinners by removing the need for us to earn our salvation with our good works. We are saved by the gift of faith in all the Jesus Christ has done for us. We do not have to do good works for ourselves. Jesus has done all the good works we need. Now, we can serve our neighbors. We don't do good works focused on God's reaction. We do good works focused on our neighbors needs.
Our God is a working God who is blessed us with work to do. In response to God's saving work for us in Jesus Christ, we are privileged to work in the world for the sake of our neighbors. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 14: Selected Psalms III. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 14, p. 114). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Exodus 3:1-15; 22nd Sunday after Pentecost; November 10, 2019;

Exodus 3:1-15; 22nd Sunday after Pentecost; November 10, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Exodus 3:1–15, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Moses was doing what he always did, watching sheep for his father-in-law. When the sight caught his eye. A flaming bush, that wasn’t consumed by the fire, up on the mountain. He went to see what it was about. “The Angel of YHWH appeared to him.” But this was no ordinary messenger. It was YHWH himself in the bush. God present with him at that very time in that very place. “Moses, Moses!” called YHWH. “You are in the presence of God. Take off your sandals it is holy ground, for wherever I AM present, it is holy ground. I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt. And I have come down to rescue them, to be present with them and deliver them from Egypt.” God called Moses to go to Pharaoh. Moses was the reluctant prophet. “Who am I, that I should do this?” YHWH answered, “But, there is no need to fear, I will be present with you the whole time. When you deliver the people, you will bring them into my presence here at this mountain. When you have accomplished that, it will be a sign to you.” “But”, Moses answered, “when I say the God of your fathers has sent me, they will want to know your name.” And God answered. “I AM WHO I AM. Say to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.”
I AM WHO I AM. It seems simple enough. But there’s more to it than God saying that he exists.
אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה[1]
“ehyeh ashar ehyeh”
I am who I am. It is a simple translation. But there’s more to it than that. “I am, I exist, I will be”. All of these contained in the language that Moses used to pen these important words of God, but most importantly, in this context, “I will be present as I am present”. The Angel of YHWH is present in the burning bush. God says his presence makes holy ground. He says he has come down to be present to rescue his people. And that he will be present with Moses the whole time. From Jeremiah:
“Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away?” (Jeremiah 23:23, ESV)
God “at hand”, “near”, “present”. His name is his promise. His promised presence. God, YHWH, present with his people in their deliverance from slavery. And the account goes on; YHWH present with Moses and Aaron as they confront Pharaoh. YHWH present over and above Satan’s presence with Pharaoh’s magicians. YHWH terrifyingly present in the nine plagues, and ultimately in the 10th plague and the Passover where every firstborn who was not protected by the blood of the Lamb on the doorpost was killed by YHWH. YHWH present in the pillar of fire and cloud that led the people through the wilderness. YHWH present as the waters of the Red Sea covered the soldiers of Egypt. YHWH present when they crossed the Jordan River into the promised land. YHWH present when the walls of Jericho fell. YHWH present when they occupied the land. When the children of Israel looked back on the Exodus, they saw the defining moment of God’s name, YHWH. They saw YHWH present with them just as he promised. God says אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה (ehyaw) “I AM present”, his name. The people call him YHWH, “He is present”. When God’s people look for salvation, they look for it through his presence.
On a quiet night in Bethlehem, in a stable, YHWH is present again. Emmanuel is born. Emmanuel means “God with us.”
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:23, ESV)
[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21, ESV)
The name Jesus means “YHWH saves”, Immanuel saves from sin by being present with us. YHWH present in the person of Jesus Christ. YHWH present as Jesus confounds the priests in the temple at 12 years of age. YHWH present as Jesus is baptized in the Jordan river by John. YHWH present in all his miracles. YHWH present as he stands condemned before Pilate. YHWH present as he allows nails to be spiked through his hands and feet. YHWH present as he dies on the cross, that bloody and brutal death. YHWH present, dead in the tomb. YHWH present on the first Easter, when he rises from death to life. This is YHWH present for you. As Luther said, the most important words in all of scripture are “for you”. YHWH is present for you, to save you from your sin.
And your story goes on. YHWH is present with you in your Baptism. In Holy Baptism, God, YHWH puts his name on you. Where God’s name is all his promises are present. In that blessed flood, that water mixed with the name of God, he promises to be with you always. In baptism you are adopted into God’s family. Joined with him. YHWH is forever present with you.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:27–29, ESV)
It is just as Jesus said,
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV)
And there is more. In his Holy Supper he is present for your forgiveness, also. Jesus Christ, YHWH himself, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. There is no way to be closer to Jesus than to open your mouth and take in what he offers, his body and blood and forgiveness of sins.
Every time we hear his word read to you, or open the Scriptures for yourself and read, YHWH is with you. Especially when you read about Jesus and his promised presence.
In these ways specifically, God is working to comfort and encourage you. Just as he says:
He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5b–6, ESV)
So, when you face loneliness, illness or death:
He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
When you struggle with doubt, trouble, or sharing your faith with a friend:
He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Your God, YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, to rescue his people from slavery in Egypt, the God who appeared in the flesh in Jesus Christ, who hung on the cross for your sins, and defeated your death with his resurrection, that God, YHWH is with you always. He has come down to you and is present with you forever. Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: with Westminster Hebrew Morphology. (2001). (electronic ed., Ex 3:14). Stuttgart; Glenside PA: German Bible Society; Westminster Seminary.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Matthew 5:1-12; All Saints Day; November 3, 2019
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
One of the most difficult things in preaching is to use a very familiar text. First of all, a familiar text is likely to float right by your ears without being heard. “Oh, I know this one. I’ve heard it before.” We say. Our brains turn off, “there is nothing new here, nothing I need to know about this text, and I’ve heard it all before.” It can be a real problem, as far a preaching is concerned. Secondly, since we’ve heard the text so much, since we’ve heard it preached so many times, we “know” what it’s all about. We’ve already heard what this one means. I remember what Pastor so-and-so said about it. But, despite these ‘difficulties’ I’ve decided to preach on this text anyway. So, let’s all put away our preconceived notions about these Beatitudes. Let’s forget that we’ve heard lots of sermons on what Jesus said here. Try to find something new, together…
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them
Let’s picture this crowd, that Matthew describes to us. A few verses earlier he said,
So, his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. (Matthew 4:24, ESV)
These are the people that are all around in the crowd. Some have traveled days to reach this very spot, just to catch a glimpse of the man who might heal them. Over there is a crippled man. He walks with a stick because each step causes him great pain. Over there is a woman with sores on her skin. The kind that never stop itching, never stop getting infected. Gathered on the outskirts of the group, avoided by everyone are the Lepers, close enough to hear and see, and not far enough for the crowd. And there are the poor; children whose daily meal consists of a dry crusty piece of bread and a small portion of water. It is a very great crowd… they’re noisy, calling out to Jesus for help, pleading with those around them to take them to him. You can’t escape the smell of sweat, dirt, and sickness. But they have all come; they have come because they have no where else to turn. They are in desperate need, alone and outcast, looking to Jesus for hope.
And what if you had come, too. What if you and made a day’s journey… or was it two. The time has all blended together, and you can’t rightly remember. The crowds have pressed in on you and carried you along. So, you couldn’t have gotten away, even if you wanted to. But you didn’t want to leave, because you too, have a need. It could be an illness that is bearing down on you, making life unbearable? … Taking away your freedom, your independence? … Causing you pain that you don’t understand? Maybe it’s wondering if you are really going to survive the economy. Will there be enough money to make a living? Will my family survive? Doubts and fears of what will happen to them, if you can’t provide. Or you are suffering over death. Pain that sears up inside you as you remember how it felt to be next to that loved one who is now gone… angry that you must go on alone. Or you may be haunted by a sickening, painful feeling that won’t leave you alone. A remembrance of something dreadful, pain that you caused someone else or actions that shattered a friendship.
What ever you need, the feelings eat away at your sleep and they interrupt your daylight. You try to forget, but you can’t. And that is why you are here standing before Jesus, one of many amid the crowd, looking to him in the hope, that He can do something about your pain.
Every eye is on Jesus, who has positioned himself to be seen. Every ear is open as silence falls over the crowd, waiting for his words to come. You watch him as his eyes drift from person to person, as he lovingly inspects them. The silence is deafening, and the anticipation grows… finally Jesus speaks:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, ESV)
There is a long pause, as the words float through the crowd, placing themselves in each ear, and making their home in every mind. “Blessed… happy…. fortunate are those who know that they have no where to turn.” The words couldn’t have been better chosen. The crowd, and you, know instantly that Jesus is talking about you… and he has said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to you. You look around you, especially at the man who is leaning on his stick. His illness makes you feel like moving away, and yet Jesus words echo in your mind. “The kingdom of heaven is yours.” You wonder how it can possibly be… and Jesus continues.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, ESV)
Mourning you understand. The emptiness left by death… the alone-ness… the isolation. You have felt it many times as you gathered around the body of a loved one who has died. You know exactly how it feels. Death separates. And that’s what mourning is, separation. And yet Jesus says, you are blessed even though you mourn, because you will be comforted. As Jesus continues you realize that he is speaking as if something is now different than it has been before. … The meek inherit… righteousness is honored… people receive mercy…. and people who are pure in heart see God. These words don’t describe the world as you have known it. You have seen meek people, and they don’t inherit anything but dirt, righteousness is not honored, and mercy is seldom seen. Jesus must be speaking of a new kind of Kingdom. He is talking about a Kingdom of God. And, even more than that, he is speaking as if it is already here, right now... As if he is bringing it.
As the crowd dissipates, as everyone trails home, you wonder about all that you have heard. Especially how the Kingdom of God can be here, how all the things that Jesus said could be true, and yet, there is still insult, and evil, even against the people of God.  Jesus had even backed up his words with actions. He went through the crowd and they had seen him heal; and heard him speak. And yet even as Jesus brought comfort, mercy and peace, there still had to be more. The suffering remains, but “great is your reward.”
Still, today we ponder the same realities as the crowd that stood before Jesus that day. We come to him, poor in spirit, with no where to turn. Our sins always before us, ever causing division between us, ever causing unintended pain. We plead to him, “Create in me a clean heart!” And we mourn. Look at the list of those who have gone before us… he ever growing list of the saints. The separation, the loneliness, and the pain caused by our sins and theirs. And the persecutions… we also see them. Today also think about the Persecuted Church. Our hearts and prayers go out on behalf of those who are suffering directly for their faith. More Christians have died for their faith in the last decade than the first 19 centuries of the church. Still, two thousand years later, and all that Jesus spoke about is still true, and yet he calls us blessed. At times it seems as if his death meant nothing at all.
But it is his death and resurrection that mean everything. Especially for us. Jesus did in fact bring with him the kingdom of God. He rules over it completely. And he rules over it for us. Especially for us, who are poor in spirit, especially when we realize that we have no where else to turn.
Because of his death, when we turn to him with our sins. And then he says, “I forgive you. I will cast your sins into the sea of forgetfulness and remember them no more. If I have forgotten them, they need not trouble you any more!” When we turn to him in our sickness, he says, “I love you. My death and resurrection mean that even as your illness drags you toward your death, I have taken away its victory. I have claimed you. You will not be given more than you can bear.” And when we turn to him in grief, he says, “Why do you seek the living among the dead! I’m alive. These my children will live again. Their separation from you will not last much longer. I am coming again soon. We will all be together again.” And when we cry out to him for those who suffer because they will not deny him, he says, “This evil will not stand long. I am coming soon!”
“Blessed are you.” Jesus says. “Because the Kingdom of God is yours. I have assured it, with my life. I have shown it to you by healing the sick, freeing the captives, and raising the dead. I have promised all this to you, and I seal my promise in my very own blood, given and shed for your forgiveness.”
It was on that hillside, in those words so familiar to us, that Jesus tells us what the kingdom of God is like. It was there that he told us that it had indeed come to us. And it was there that he pointed ahead to the time when he would come again and bring it in its fullest sense, forever.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.