Thursday, February 06, 2020

Call on God...He Will Fight for You!

After God’s people, terrified by the Egyptians who were pursuing them, cried out to God for help, Moses assured them: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)

May this same Lord, now revealed to all people in Jesus the Christ, bring stillness and peace to everyone who calls out to Him today.

This God we know in Christ wants, among other things, to fight for you: for your salvation from sin, death, and futility and for your peace in the face of a crazy, chaotic world.

Call on the Father in Jesus’ name. He will hear. God says elsewhere, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Sunday, February 02, 2020

The Blessed Life

[This message was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, earlier today.]

Matthew 5:1-12

When I was a kid, I loved reading DC comic books. I enjoyed the evil-fighting exploits of Superman, Supergirl, Batman, the Justice League of America, and the Teen Titans.

I also read the tales of an alternative world known as Bizarro World.

In Bizarro World, Wikipedia notes: “society is ruled by the Bizarro Code which states ‘Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!’ In one episode, for example, a salesman is doing a brisk trade selling Bizarro bonds: ‘Guaranteed to lose money for you.’”

In the panel above, we see a typical husband and wife, who, like everybody else on the planet, are bizarre versions of Superman and Lois Lane. “Oh my!” Bizarro Lois declares. “This am awful! Him got all A’s on his report card!” (That kind of made me want to live on Bizarro World.)

Well, you get the idea.

I’ve taken you on this excursus through great literature for a reason.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus shares the opening salvo in His three-chapter long Sermon on the Mount, a section we call The Beatitudes. The word beatitude comes from the Latin word beatus, meaning fortunate, happy, well-off, or blessed.

Whenever beatitudes are uttered in the Bible, because Jesus wasn’t the first person to give beatitudes, the speaker is not saying, “You will be blessed” or "You will be blessed if," but “You are blessed now and in the future.”

Beatitudes were meant to describe the current situation of those to whom they were spoken.

And every beatitude is from God...not from the world, not from coincidence or luck, not from the sweat of our brow or our effort...but from God alone. It’s better to be blessed than to be lucky because blessings come from God while luck doesn’t exist.

And so, in the Beatitudes, Jesus isn’t laying down a new law that He expects us to keep.

Jesus isn’t saying, “If you do these things, you will be blessed.”

Jesus isn't saying, "If you behave in these ways, life will be all sunshine."

Jesus, in fact, is describing life in an alternative world He calls the Kingdom of Heaven. (Or more literally, the Reign of the Heavens.) He is saying that all who seek to follow Him each day are blessed. They live in His kingdom in all circumstances.

In this kingdom, Jesus says:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [When Jesus speaks here of the poor in spirit, he speaks both of those who financially poor, as well as of those who recognize that their lives are impoverished without the God we meet in Him at the center.]

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. [The meek are those who don’t push their weight around, insisting on getting their own ways, but pray that God's will be done.]

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. [Jesus is speaking of those who are hungry and thirsty both for being right with God--justified by grace through faith in Christ--and for doing the right and loving thing for others, even those who hate us.]

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. [To be ‘pure in heart’ means to seek God and seek to do His will only even when it isn't what the world commends.]

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. [To be a 'peacemaker' here has nothing to do with war or military conflict and everything to do with forgiving as we’ve been forgiven, turning the other cheek, and seeking to help others to experience the peace with God we have in Jesus.]

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

How does that sound to you?

If we’re honest about answering that question, it all may sound a bit like a bizarro world to us, a place where everything the world thinks of as blessings are turned on their head.

Who, after all, likes being poor?

Who likes to grieve?

Who likes it when bullies and big shots bulldoze their way over us?

Who feels good when being persecuted?

And yet, Jesus says that in His kingdom, people who experience these things while living with Him, are comforted, will inherit the earth made new by Him, will be called children of God, are blessed. Who wants to sign up?

And yet, friends, this is the world--the kingdom or the reign of heaven--that Jesus came into the world, died, and rose to give to all who turn from sin and trust in Him as their God, King, and Savior.

And not just after we die and, by the power of God, are raised to live with God in eternity, but right now, Jesus says, for those on whose ears His Word of grace, forgiveness, and new life fall, are in this kingdom.

The Beatitudes then are pure gospel, pure promise from God, a catalog of promises to those who heed His call to follow Him.

They are declarations of blessing made by God the Son to all who trust in Him alone to be their God and King.

As we follow Jesus together in His Church, we will be blessed today even amid the sin, darkness, messiness, and hurt of this world AND we will be blessed eternally in a world made perfect on Jesus’ return.

When Jesus comes to us, incites our faith in Him, makes us part of His people, stands with us to the close of this age, and gives us life beyond this age, we are part of His kingdom and are blessed no matter what happens to us along the way.

Let me show you what I mean. I'm going to take a poll.

Raise your hands if members of this congregational family or others of which you've been a part have encouraged you or prayed for you?

Raise them if you’ve received notes of condolence or get well cards from Christians?

Show me how many of you, in Sunday School, Bible study, a small group, during a private conversation with a committed Christian, or even during worship, have heard something that has sparked or deepened your faith in Jesus?

How many have grown in your faith as Christian friends came along to support you in tough times, times the world wouldn’t have called you blessed but cursed?

How many of you have, in Christians from this and other churches, seen Jesus at work?

In the beatitudes, Jesus is telling us that when, in the fellowship of His Body, the Church, His gospel Word of life has come to us and created faith within us, we experience God’s blessings.

When we are poor and when we mourn.

When the world takes advantage of or derides our faith in Jesus.

When we are persecuted.

When we hunger, thirst, and crave to live as people made right with God by grace through faith in Jesus.

When we, unaccountably, want to do right even to our enemies.

When we are empty and turn to Jesus and He fills us again with Himself, we are blessed!

In all of these circumstances, as well as in the joys, the laughter, the excitement, and the fulfillment, as we walk together with Jesus, we live in the reign of the King of the world Who wants us more desperately than any lover ever could or ever has.

To a world perishing in its sins, intent on getting its own way, this kingdom of heaven Jesus gives to us seems as laughable and strange as Bizarro World did to me when I was kid.

But this kingdom is as real and more enduring--eternally enduring--than anything this dying world can offer.

So Jesus' message for us today is simple.

Don’t turn Him away. When He calls you, follow Him. When you wake tomorrow morning, walk with Him. Pursue this God we know in Jesus so that He can bless you and save you today and always!

That is the blessed life! Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]