A Wise and Eloquent Piety

Classical education aims to do more than make smart. It aims to make wise in the way of God's Word, and winsome as we speak to a fallen world.

Monday, November 07, 2005

All Saints' Sermon (Matt. 5:1-12)

Dearly Beloved, when the Lord uses a word like “Blessed,” it just HAS to be good news! Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness. Blessed are you when people say all manner of evil against you for Christ’s sake. What good news! Because Jesus calls us Blessed!

Dear saints of God, you’re old enough now, having heard this so faithfulfully so long, having attended to it, studied it, learning to live from it daily – you are old enough to understand how all of this can be heard as condemnation, as the Law, and how it can be heard as great joy, sheer Gospel. But NONE of it can be heard, not properly at least, as hanging even a little of God’s salvation on sinners like us!

It is the strangest thing, hardest of all to believe and understand, when God speaks opposite of how things seem. It is also the greatest of blessings! We believe we are blessed when we are something else than poor, even if it is poor IN SPIRIT. No one wants to be poor like that. Everybody wants to claim something, to boast in their love or their faith. To stand up to God and protest, “But we are children of Abraham as much as you are!” Poor in spirit? That is the last thing sinners want to be. Blessed are you, dear Christian, who have nothing else to admit to but this: “I have nothing to offer you, God, but my sins. I have no hope at all of your blessing, but Jesus!”

Do you see how our Lord’s Beatitudes are good news for us this morning? They are good news in the way that this is good news: Jesus said, “Those who are healthy have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick.” And, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Oh, that is good news for sure! It is good news when we have our eyes on Him Who comes for those who have no hope unless He does; for those who are poor and destitute without Him; for those who cannot charm the heart of God with their good deeds, their good intentions, or a heart that people want to think is not blackened by sin.

“Blessed are the poor” means Jesus came for SINNERS! “Blessed are the poor in spirit” means Jesus came for you and me, for people whose only hope is that the God of all the Universe has given us His Son, Who emptied out Himself and took up looking like a beggar, like one of us. They beat Him and stripped Him, and He had no one to speak in His defense. They nailed Him to a cross, and even God forsook Him. Blessed, indeed, are the poor, since the Son of God assumed our poverty, our forsakenness, our sin and death beneath the wrath of God.

Dear sinners, take your refuge in that. Shut yourselves up in the wounds of Jesus, in His dying in your place. Hide yourself there until the wrath of God is passed. That is being poor in spirit, being humble and contrite and having no hope but that God has punished His Son in your place. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these, who can only take refuge in Jesus. Those who think they can take refuge anywhere else are far too rich for God’s kingdom. Jesus only came for the poor in spirit.

All eyes on such a Jesus makes His beatitudes good news. To those with nothing, God hands out His kingdom, on account of His Son.

To those who mourn their sin, who mourn their mortal state, who look around and mourn the evil in this world and how much they have added to it, to those who can do nothing but look in the mirror and cry, He says: “Peace be with you. I forgive you all your sins!”

It is the same with the meek, who dare not raise their eyes to heaven or lift their voice in opposition to the Lord, who can only beg God for His mercy, for the sake of Christ Jesus. They inherit the earth!

And you who hunger and thirst after righteousness. You who cannot stay away from this Table, this Water, this Word, lest you die in your sins! You who have nothing if God doesn’t feed you. Here! Here is all that you need. All you could ask for! All that He gives!

It is easy to run this all in the way of the Gospel. And we should, dear Christian. We SHOULD! When the focus is JESUS, and what He gives to poor sinners, to the mourning, the meek and the hungry. But when eyes turn to us, then we start to hear Law! For men don’t want to be poor before God. We don’t want to be meek and lowly. We challenge what God has said clearly. Like the Jews who had believed in Him last Sunday, we do not take Him at His Word, or remain in what He says. We hunger only for the things that do not last a moment, and ignore the Word that remains forever!

If we never learn repentance from that, we will surely be damned. If we go on in our richness, thinking that our hearts must have the right stuff God is looking for . . . If we go on in indifference toward our sin and God’s eternal judgment which we so rightfully deserve . . . If we never learn humility and hunger for the righteousness of Jesus, given to us freely in His Word and Sacraments, we’re lost!

But, dear Christian, that is LAW, and no one will be saved by keeping the Law. So, don’t think, for a moment, that you must work up more of what God is looking for to be saved – more poverty of spirit, more sorrow over sin, more meekness in the face of God, more eagerness to eat and drink what God has given.

If I could make you hunger and thirst more for what I have to give you, I would. In fact, I’m TRYING! But not because more hunger is what you need. Rather, you need more righteousness, that is, more Jesus. More God in the flesh for you, completely looking past your sins, the fact that you have nothing you can show to God to save you. You need, and I need, more and more of Jesus in our place, Jesus as the wall and rampart of salvation, Jesus as the open gate through which God pours out heaven, making sinners rich in grace and mercy, drying the tears of those who weep, comforting us with His forgiveness, making bold the meek to live in faith toward Him and fervent love toward one another.

Dear Blessed Ones, all eyes on Jesus makes His Beatitudes all Gospel! All eyes on us and our behavior, our failings, our inability to do what He requires, is Law. What then to do with what comes next? Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those whom people insult, persecute, and say all manner of evil against because of Jesus. Dear Christian, you know.

All eyes on us, and they are surely Law! How is it that you and I are just so cheap in handing out God’s mercy, when -- GOOD NEWS! -- He has made us RICH in Christ with His forgiveness? He has filled our ears with it this morning! He will even fill our mouths with it in just a few short moments, the Body and the Blood of Christ in bread and wine for our forgiveness! How is such Good News is not pouring out of us to others?

How is it that our hearts aren’t daily guarded by the Gifts of God, our Baptisms, His Holy Absolution, the preaching and the teaching of the Gospel, the Word of Jesus’ Institution? How is it that our days aren’t filled with praying as our Savior taught us? We have seen and heard our God this morning, living, active in His saving Word and Sacraments! How is it that we don’t remain within His Word all week, filling up our hearts and minds and voices with His Gospel purely taught, confessed, making peace with those around us, speaking like the sons of God we are?

And how is it that we get along so peachy with this world? How is it we are always wanting peace with what says something different than Christ Jesus, always wanting to fling wide the way to Jesus’ altar, and open it to every doctrine, as if it doesn’t matter what He says, but only how things SEEM?

Christ in His mercy, dear Christian, Christ in His handing out heaven to sinners, Christ in His Washing, Absolving and Feeding, does not speak the way things seem. He calls the poor rich. He calls the mournful happy. He calls the meek lords of all the earth, and then some! He calls the hungry fed! All eyes and ears on Jesus, and that will always cause division with those who want us looking to ourselves, to gauge what Jesus says by how things seem. Blessed are you when men, therefore, revile you, persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you – because of JESUS. When your whole life puts all eyes on Him Who died and rose again to save you!

That is what your peacemaking and mercy-speaking does, dear Christian. What good news to those around you! It says the opposite of man’s religion. It speaks as if it doesn’t matter how things SEEM, but all things hinge on Jesus, what he does and SAYS! All eyes on sinners will always be the Law; will always end with condemnation. All eyes on Jesus? That’s Gospel. That’s what goes into your ears this morning when I tell you God is merciful, even toward the likes of you and me. It is Gospel when I tell you, “Peace be with you,” even in the midst of all your worries. Even in the midst of all your sins.

Peace be with you, dear sons of God. That means, Jesus be with you, clothing your poverty, drying your tears, strengthening your feeble knees, feeding you more of what is full of His mercy, even replacing your words and your ways with His peace. Enough to pour from you to others. Enough to bring some happiness and joy to the other poor sinners in your life, filling your days with rejoicing, even when it drives the devil crazy. It will, you know, to be so confident that all you have is Christ to save you. All you have to confess, to plead before God is His Name. All you have to repeat, to say, is what you yourself have heard. That drives the devil mad. And so, they persecuted the prophets before you. So, they will also persecute you.

Blessed are you, anyway. That means, all eyes off everything about you and only on Jesus, who is your wealth, your comfort, your courage, and your peace. Will that even teach you your sin? Yes, it will, as quickly as your eyes revert to you. And when they do, Blessed are the poor, the meek, the ones who need righteousness. Blessed are those who only have Jesus. And you do, dear Baptized, Absolved, and Body and Blood fed. In Him, great is your reward in heaven, and happy is your life on earth, in His peace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Whole Lotta Leavin' Goin' On!

It takes me a week’s worth of preaching a text, and then I start to get it. Sorta!

We have chapel every day at Good Shepherd Lutheran School. That saves me. All week long, I have to remain in His Word. Otherwise, the little kids come and stare at me for thirty minutes. That would be hard to take, even for an egotist like me!

So, there’s nothing else to do but remain in His Word. That’s what Jesus says makes us disciples. That’s what keeps us in the Truth. That’s what sets us free.

Jesus said that in John 8. We heard it at the festival of the Reformation this past week. “To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, ‘If you remain in my Word, you will truly be my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

To the Jews – who had BELIEVED in Him, Jesus said that. What a scary thing to hafta do! Preach to a bunch of BELIEVERS, I mean!

In John 8, Jesus shows us how dangerous believing can be in the heart of a sinner. Believing, as opposed to remaining in His Word.

Believing is the cause of so much trouble in the Church these days, isn’t it? Or should I say, Be-leaving? As soon as Jesus said the words above, the believers started leaving!

“What do you mean we will be set free? We are Abraham’s descendants and haven’t been slaves to anyone!”

So, these believers said, essentially, “Thanks, but no thanks. We’ll just be-leaving now!”

And it gets worse!

Jesus tells them further, for their eternal life, for their eternal sonship with the Father, for their REMAINING in His Word, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

They should have remained in that, saying, “Amen! We’re slaves to sin! Please, Jesus, set us free!”

Instead, they replied (in effect), “We’ll just be-leaving now. Catch ya later, Jesus!”

But Jesus kept speaking, to save them. He said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free, indeed.” And then He said something about them wanting to kill Him, because of who their daddy is! They departed big time on that one!

“We have Abraham as our Father,” they protested. And, despite all the leavin’ goin’ on, Jesus still wasn’t willing to just have the door smack ‘em in their “buts.” I mean, all the “buts” be-leavers keep putting in the way of Christ’s Words. “But we’re Abraham’s offspring . . . But we’re not slaves to anyone . . . But how can you talk that way to us . . . we BELIEVE!”

The problem Jesus has in John 8 is all the BELIEVING going on – as opposed to remaining in His Word. By the end of the chapter, the Jews who had BELIEVED in Jesus, who had put their FAITH in Him, were calling Him demon-possessed and picking up stones to throw at Him! It’s always dangerous when you’re speaking to BELIEVERS.

Better than our believing, Christ puts forth His Word. THAT’S what sets us free!

Anything going on inside of me won’t do it. Why? ‘Cause I BELIEVE too much!

I believe that I can get away with some secret sin and that won’t do me any harm.

I believe that I can get away with murder – OK, at least with SPEEDING – if I keep a close enough watch out for that car parked on the side of the road facing traffic.

I believe I can go a whole lot longer than Jesus thinks I can without His Word. That’s why I go so many minutes, hours or days without it. Don’t you?

What’s the reason people stay away from Jesus’ Word and Sacraments on Sunday? They BELIEVE they can, that it won’t do them or their children that much harm. They BELIEVE that sleeping in is more important than remaining in God’s Word. Come Monday? They’ll believe they just can’t miss work and their kids just can’t miss school, because Mom and Dad can’t miss work. Sunday? Oh, the kids had the sniffles then. We stayed home. That was so we could all get up on Monday and go to what really counts!

See how our believing goes? It makes us be-LEAVERS! Leaving God’s Word, that is. Not remaining where Jesus says faith is sure and hope is solid, and sinners are set free!

Believing and be-LEAVING too often go together. That’s what turned things sour in John 8. Believers just wouldn’t remain in what Christ was saying. There’s a whole lot of repentance for us in that!

Do we believe that things aren’t working out so well in that marriage God has given us, and so, we’ll just be leaving, thank you very much, no matter what God says?

Do we believe that we just can’t control ourselves, and so, we’ll just be leaving what God says about a godly use of sexuality outside of marriage?

Do we believe we just can’t live without another drink, and so, we’ll just be leaving what God says about sobriety, about self-control, about whatever?

Do we believe there isn’t any hope of reconciliation, of repentance and forgiveness? Do we believe it’s all gone on too long, and there’s no chance – after all that praying, after all those times when we pretended to try – and so, what use is there to go and speak with the pastor, confess our sins, beg God for His mercy and for the strength to carry on and do better in our lives?

Do we believe that? It’s why so many leave, not only marriages, but also the Services of God’s House. A world of hurt is left in the wake of that kind of be-leaving.

Jesus locates believing in this: “My Word.” Remain in it, because it saves you. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” And from that, you may leave all of the thoughts and fears and feelings that say something different. You may leave your sin, your heartache, your trouble behind. “I say you are free. I say you are holy, forgiven! I say you have a Father in heaven who now smiles on you because of Me. Now, remain in that. It’s what believing really is. Abiding where MY SPEAKING says as much as ever will need saying. Where My Word is the beginning and end of things, and of all things in between.”

The kids in chapel got a smidgen of that this morning. They know now, that come Saturday night, their believing may well tell them it’s OK to stay up late, but that may get in the way of remaining safe. It may have them leaving off the Word of God the next morning.

The kids have heard now, come Sunday, Mom and Dad and Junior and Juniorette may believe that other things are far more pressing than remaining where Christ says. So, they’ll just be-LEAVING God’s Good Word, and that won’t save. It can only damn.

The kids know where the Word will be for them on Sunday. It will be in the mouth of a sinner, so that it may also be in sinners’ ears. And that Word is the Son’s, speaking to slaves like us. Pointing us to our Baptisms. Delivering the Absolution. Leading us on to the Supper. It will be pulling us over and calling us to repentance for the be-leaving too often going on, and will deliver, in its place, what saves us. The speaking of God’s Only Son, the Word of God made flesh for our salvation, that sets us free.

Remaining in that is TRUE believing.

JRS