Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany A 2011

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Matthew 5:1-11
Theme: Blessed in Christ

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

A deep hunger descended upon the human race at the time of Adam’s fall. It hasn’t since been satisfied. The inhabitants of the world hunger for invincibility, for immortality, for sovereignty. It’s a voracious appetite for self-deification. In short, people want to be God, or at least exercise His power. This is true whether we recognize or acknowledge it. It is the full expression of original sin. It leads to destruction.

This hunger infects and poisons even the motives of the pious. Consider how the deepest motives of church-goers can be affected. Do you come here to negotiate for eternity? Is your presence a bargaining chip in view of sins you have committed or intend to commit? Do you seek a favour to promote your agenda or ease your conscience? Dear friends forsake all such law-driven motives and embrace the understanding that the Holy Spirit draws you to this place to be recipients of the Saviour’s grace. Here He condescends with His word of grace, promise of forgiveness and even His body and blood. Here He loves the unlovable, making them members of His own body. Here He ignites a different hunger- for that of righteousness.

The Gospel Readings for the coming weeks are taken from Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’ which starts in chapter five. Jesus begins it with the beatitudes. In them He describes nine examples of what it means to be blessed in God’s eyes. In depicting the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers etc., He is ultimately describing Himself. By faith in Christ, the believer participates in the blessings of God and enjoys the Father’s favour.

These beatitudes characterize life in the church which stands in contrast to the ways of the world. The last beatitude tells believers they are blessed even when they are persecuted and promises them that heaven awaits. The beatitudes are truly glorious statements of blessing that are confounding to the world’s thinking. It’s not those who set out to conquer the world who are blessed but those who suffer its sinfulness for the sake of imitating Christ.

But how can it be that believers are truly poor in spirit, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers etc., and not just labeled as such to encourage an ideal to be pursued. They are truly blessed in these realities as they exist in Christ. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.”1 Those who hope in Christ, who trust in His unfailing love, are truly blessed regardless of their status in the world. We cannot truly hope in something we don’t believe in.

A person may buy a lottery ticket and “hope” that they win the jackpot. But this is not really hope. It is wishful thinking, dreaming, or possibly foolhardy selfishness or greed. If your hope is borne entirely out of selfishness then it is nothing more than vanity or desperation. The godly farmers who prepares the soil, sows the seed, and tends the growing crop hopes for a good harvest believing that God is able to provide it. If that hope is only the prospect of benefitting from the changes and chances of the season than it is nothing more than a worldly wish.

The unbelieving farmer farms to take advantage of God’s benevolence and thus elevate himself in the world’s eyes. The godly farmer gratefully receives God’s blessings and employs the benefits to the advantage of his neighbour. Faith and the motivations it produces are the determining factors whether one is seeking to exploit God’s generosity or allocate it. Harvest Thanksgiving can only be meaningful to those who recognize the source. All benefit from God’s generosity. For the believer it is a meager foretaste of grander blessings to come; for the ungodly a small consolation in view of a future destitute of His favour.

The Christian endures the present in view of promise for the future. It’s no simple challenge. If blessing were only a feeling few would think themselves to be loved by God. Perhaps you have been clinging to some hope for a very long time. Maybe it involves very serious matters- a chronic or terminal illness, a broken relationship, the torment of guilt over past sins, the burden of depression or despair. Perhaps you’ve clung to the seemingly remote possibility that your most heartfelt prayers will be granted- but things look grim.

You will be eternally grateful when God allows you to see if your hope was a false one; grounded not in God’s will but in your self-interest alone. Then you can see that truly you need Christ, the Redeemer, whereas previously you only sought God, the patron and sponsor of your desires. The former proceeds from faith and moves towards it maturity. The latter- though carried out under the guise of godliness- kindles no hunger or thirst for true righteousness, but only the desire to be indulged. We have God and all His blessings in Christ on His terms or He cannot be had at all. Any middle ground is just the temporary condition of this existence, an appearance that does not last.

You see, Christians don’t speculate on whether God will presently relieve them of a certain struggle or grant a fervent wish. The Christian commends these things to God and proceeds daily to bear the cross. Daily the Holy Spirit must teach us the meaning of “Thy will be done.”2 If the resolution of the matter is within your grasp or if your heart has judged the matter closed, then you are no longer living in hope. Your heart and mind have moved on and yours prayers will express only anger, or joy, frustration or gratitude. Hope sees only through faith and all else is darkness and confusion. You may even be preparing yourself that your hopes may be dashed. But where the believer’s hope is pressed to its limits is precisely where Christ intervenes for His saints. He does this no sooner because we “live by faith, not by sight.”3 Why did Thomas believe: Because Thomas saw the dead Jesus alive or because Jesus made the dead (spiritually) Thomas live?

The baptized live in hope because they live in Christ. And we live in Christ because the Holy Spirit lives in us. Of course the world deems all our hope, trust, and faith in Christ to be foolishness. And so the Scripture says, “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand sign and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.”4 Our hope is divine foolishness, it is supernatural; but it is not irrational in a human way.

Three sisters ages 92, 94, and 96 live in a house together. One night, the 96-year-old starts a bath. She puts her foot in and pauses. "Was I getting in or out of the bath?"
The 94-year-old yells back, "I don't know, but I'll come up and see!" She starts up the stairs and pauses. "Was I going up the stairs or down?" The 92-year-old is sitting at the kitchen table having tea listening to her sisters. She shakes her head and says, "I sure hope I never get that forgetful." She knocks on wood for good measure. She then yells to her sisters, "I'll come up and help both of you as soon as I see who's at the door!"

Such is not our hope. Christ was crucified. He was seen alive by many. It could have happened yesterday. When the Word comes time and distance are not barriers. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”5 Blessed are you for yours is the kingdom of heaven.6 “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”7 Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
30 January 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 15:5 2 Matthew 6:10
3 2 Corinthians 5:7 4 1 Corinthians 1:21-22
5 John 20:29 6 See Matthew 5:3, 10
7 Matthew 5:12