6th Sunday after Epiphany – C LW #370, LSB #’s 770, 643
Text – Luke 6:20-22
And He lifted up His eyes on His disciples, & said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you & when they exclude you & revile you & spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!”
BLESSED ARE YOU
With a sermon text as depressing as the one just read, it’s no wonder that many people want nothing to do with religion. Being poor, hungry & weeping doesn’t sound like any fun at all; let alone being hated, excluded & insulted. And to much of the world, that’s probably the picture they have of what it is to try & be religious.
Being religious can seem like such a downer because you always have to feel responsible for the bad things happening in the world, & somehow, you should be fixing everything. The work never ends. That kind of thinking is inherent in the philosophy called Humanism. It is the natural religion found in the heart of any sinful human being.
And we’re seeing a lot of it in the media today.
Jesus even said, “The poor you will always have with you.” So people are tempted to say, “Let someone else take care of them. I have enough problems of my own.”
I’m too busy, too tired, too bored & I have no desire to become poor or hungry on top of it. As for this business of being hated & insulted, it seems that people in the church bring that upon themselves. They are always fighting about trivial things like the color of the carpeting or the paint; who gets to sit in which chair or who’s gossiping about whom.
If religion is about all that, I’ll just take my chances without the church & all them Bible thumping types. Have you ever thought of religion, or religious people, in that way? Some people do. If the pastor is around, do you feel a need to be on your best behavior? And isn’t that uncomfortable; trying to be someone that you are not? Blessed are the poor, the hungry & the weeping. A Minnesota governor once said, “Religion is just a crutch for weak people.”
A lot of people have a very inadequate understanding of what religion is about. There are all kinds of myths & attitudes that claim to tell it like is. Do you think our denomination might include members who have no clue what is really at the heart of ‘being religious?’
Some of the materials I studied for writing this sermon came right out & said it this way: “In these beatitudes, Jesus is teaching that in order to have eternal life the rich must give their money to the poor.”
Too bad that’s an inaccurate interpretation of Scripture. I could raise some money with a text interpreted that way. But many people are on to that. They believe that all the church is after is money. They will not set foot in a church because some congregations have twisted what Jesus really meant when He spoke the words of the sermon text.
Blessed are the poor does not mean that only those with no money are granted the gift of eternal life. The Gospel of Matthew states things a little more completely where Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
We had a great example of the poor in spirit from last week’s Gospel text. Peter finally recognized just how lowly a sinner he was. He realized that he didn’t even deserve to be in the presence of the Son of God. Peter had absolutely nothing of any value to offer to Christ. Peter came to understand just how poor he was.
Blessed are the poor in spirit who know that they deserve nothing. Those are not the militant poor that are rioting in the streets for their rights. They’re not the poor who’re looting & stealing. The poor whom Jesus is talking about are those who are humble & have submitted
to the will of God. Jesus told a parable about such a man:
“But the tax collector, standing at a distance, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast & saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man & not the Pharisee went home free from his sin. For everyone who honors himself will be humbled; but he who humbles himself will be honored.” (Luke 18:13-14)
Someone who’s poor in spirit recognizes that they deserve not one single right or honor. Someone who’s poor in spirit has already been humbled & accepted it. That person trusts in nothing but God alone. This morning’s word from Jeremiah says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.”
He’ll be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. That tree, that man, that woman or that child is whom Jesus is talking about when He says, “Blessed are the poor.” Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, & cursed is the one who trusts in man, whose heart turns away from the Lord.
Trusting in God is easy to talk about. Being poor, hungry & weeping are things that are painless to only talk about. Living them is never so convenient. Living them takes a strength that few of us care to develop. It seems much easier to be rich, well fed & enjoying laughter. Yet Jesus warns those who are living the good life.
There, Jesus is speaking of those who’re confident of their own abilities. They’re people who do not turn to the Lord, because they believe they have things pretty much under control without Him. They’re unwilling to accept their complete helplessness apart from God.
These people find good in themselves, & take comfort in their own works & efforts. These are often the people who appear successful, but appearances can be an illusion as Jesus makes clear in His beatitudes: “Woe to you who are rich, well fed, laughing & spoken well of
by others.” Human beings who are self-sufficient are those who will suffer divine judgment.
That means hell. Have you been longing to be self-sufficient & independent? That is part of the American dream, & the desire lives in the heart of every sinful being.
In His sermon, Jesus contrasts the two kinds of people. The 1st group are those who, by outward appearance, are to be pitied. They are Christians & thus occupy a deplorable position in the eyes of the world. They foolishly believe things like; God created the world in six 24-hour days; or sexual relationships are only for a married man & woman.
But in the eyes of Jesus they are blessed because of what’s already given to them, the Kingdom of God, eternal life & all the gifts that come with it. PAUSE
The 2nd group are the movers & shakers of government, business & society. They are envied for their wealth, fame & beauty. They talk boldly because they are self-satisfied & have no need for mercy from God, let alone from anyone else. But in the eyes of Jesus, they have already received all of their reward here on earth.
Luke’s Gospel is holding forth the two ways, the way of life & the way of death. We should realize that our lives are filled with these two alternatives, & these alone. In Jesus, & in His teaching, He’s offering us the way of light & life.
The poor & the hungry are men who, both outwardly & inwardly, are painfully deficient in the things essential to life as God meant it to be. Since they cannot help themselves, they turn to God on the basis of His promises. It’s in that turning to God that Jesus declares they are blessed, because our Lord provides everything for eternity to everyone who trusts in Him.
That turning to God is one of the gifts of faith. It’s an inward attitude of obedience to God’s Word. It is repentance. It is belief, & it causes men to rejoice & to leap for joy; at least men like Peter. People who understand how pitiful they were, & still are, without God’s declaration that we are holy & perfect in His sight. That declaration by God is made on account of the perfection of Jesus, our brother & Savior. That declaration is made on account of God’s love for us, not upon our love for God. The beatitudes, therefore, are not merely guidelines for how we are to live & act.
The intent of the beatitudes is both to comfort people who suffer for being Christians, & to invite people to become Christians so they will find that their needs are met by the works of God rather than their own. That news brings a freedom difficult to describe. It’s a freedom that is cause for true joy, & even a little jumping around.
That sort of attitude, that kind of faith, is what’s really at the heart of being religious. Being religious comes from an understanding of what Christ has done for us, & we are blessed by that understanding. We are blessed by the Lord of the universe Himself. A beatitude describes Gospel gifts that are given to each & to every believer.
When Jesus utters a beatitude, His spoken words actually convey the blessing of which they speak, just as they grant communion with, & create faith in, God. Most of the beatitudes draw on the theme of the great reversal. That’s prominent in the language of this text. The hated & persecuted should leap for joy – a paradox only saving faith can comprehend.
Just as the parables are nonsense to unbelievers, so also the beatitudes are ludicrous to those outside the kingdom of God. The theology of the beatitudes is the theology of the cross. It’s foolishness to the world, but to those who’re being saved it is the wisdom & power of God.
In the gospel lesson several weeks ago, Jesus announced that He came to proclaim the Good News to the poor. As He read that prophecy of Scripture to them, it was fulfilled as they heard it. Today again, Jesus is proclaiming good news to the poor. Blessed are you! The problem you may have is in identifying with the poor. Are you poor in spirit? Are you ready to admit that? If not, turn to the One who was poor in our place. Look to Jesus Christ as He humbled Himself with His birth in the manger & with His death on the cross. Look to Christ Jesus as He endured the ultimate in suffering because of His love for you.
Then, listen to His words as they convey to you the very blessings of which they speak. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the reign of God. Amen.
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins & griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear – all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer! Amen. LSB 770:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet