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Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – January 29, 2023
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
When you think of what it means to be blessed, what comes to mind? Usually we think of ourselves as blessed when things are going well. We are blessed when we are healthy – physically, spiritually, and emotionally. We are blessed when we have enough in the fridge and in the bank account. We are blessed when we have good relationships with others, when we have people in our lives who love us. We are blessed when the people we love are happy and healthy too. Blessings are usually thought of in terms of those things which bring us joy and peace and contentedness.
And this isn’t wrong. If I were asked to name the greatest blessings in my life, these are the kinds of things I would point to. They are the first things that would come to my mind. These are indeed blessings – they are gifts from God.
In the Sermon on the Mount, however, Jesus greatly expands the idea of what a blessing is and who is blessed. In this first part of his famous sermon (we’ll hear more of it next Sunday), Jesus announces blessings upon situations and people which were not thought to be blessed at all!
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus begins. Jesus starts off by announcing a blessing on those for whom things are NOT going well! Blessed are those who are down in the dumps. Blessed are those who are anxious or remorseful or ashamed. Blessed are those who are in despair.
“Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus continues. Blessed are those who are mired in grief. Blessed are those who have faced loss of one kind or another. Blessed are those who are sad because their loved ones are NOT happy or healthy.”
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus said. In other words, blessed are those whose lives are NOT right, those who know the sin they have inflicted on others, those who sting from the sin inflicted upon them by others, those who long for their relationship with God and their relationships with others to be better, to be made right.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted and reviled and have all kinds of evil uttered against them falsely on Christ’s account.” Blessed are those who are harassed and excluded and teased and despised and lied about by others because they are Christians. Apparently being a Christian won’t always make us popular or respected by others!
I’m not going to unpack every beatitude, every blessing, but you can see here how these upend how we usually think about blessings. These are not the situations or people we usually think of as blessed, are they? The poor in spirit? Those who mourn? Those whose lives are not right? Those who are hated? These are blessed? Really?
This sermon of Jesus’, the Sermon on the Mount, is not a prescription. Jesus is not saying these are things you should strive to be and do. No one should try to be poor in spirit. No one should seek unrighteousness or broken relationships. Purposefully offending people doesn’t make you a Christian, it just makes you a jerk. This sermon is not a prescription but a description. It is a description of what Jesus is up to. It is a description of the gifts, the blessings, he has come to give.
Jesus has come to bring blessings to those who are lacking them in one way or another. Jesus has come to bring gifts from God to people who need them. Christ has come for the sick, not the healthy. He has come for sinners, not the righteous. He has come for the broken, not those whose lives are all put together neatly.
And these gifts have both a present reality and a future hope. Note how each of the blessings are in the present tense. “Blessed ARE…” Jesus says, over and over again. He doesn’t say, “Blessed WILL BE this person or that after they accomplish this or decide to do that.” Their blessing comes now! And it comes because Christ Jesus has come to be with them. Jesus came to be with the sick and suffering. He came to be with those who were plagued by demons. He came to break bread with sinners. He came to seek out the broken and the lost. And as he came to be with them, his presence with them was already a blessing! “Blessed ARE you!” he said to them. “Yours IS the kingdom of heaven!” In Christ’s presence with them, they got to participate in that kingdom now. They could know the peace and the presence of God. What a gift! What a blessing!
But Christ’s blessings also pointed to a future hope. They WILL BE comforted. They WILL BE filled. Rejoicing WILL come, because when the blessing of Christ’s presence is made known, healing and new life can’t be far behind.
When I was poor in spirit and mourning last year after the sudden and tragic death of my mother, my Christian counselor talked about the Japanese art of kintsugi. This is an art form where something broken is repaired with gold or silver. Those precious metals are melted down and used as a glue, welding the broken pieces back together, creating beautiful rivulets where the cracks had been. The broken places were still there, but the bowl or the vase was whole again, and the scars had been turned into something beautiful, something redeemed.
This is the blessing Christ has come to give to the broken. He has come to take the shards, the jagged parts of our lives, and bring them together by his grace, his mercy, his forgiveness, making us whole again. The marks left behind might still be there – at least for now, at least in this life – but instead of being ugly scars, they become places of strength. They become something beautiful, beautiful because they have been redeemed. This doesn’t happen overnight. I know the Lord Jesus is still working on me. But in his artful way, those jagged places are being fitted back together, healed in ways that are truly beautiful.
When people outside the church look at us, I think they often assume that we are a group of people who are blessed in a conventional sense. Supposedly, we are the people whose lives are going well. We are the ones with strong marriages and healthy families and stable lives. We are the ones who are happy and righteous and spiritually strong. Maybe that’s even what we think sometimes. While there are examples of this to be found, to be sure, that’s not why we come to church. It is not what makes us Christians. We sometimes feel like we need to put our best foot forward at church, like we need to hide the broken parts of our lives when we come into this sanctuary, like we need to pretend everything is fine, like we have everything together – but you and I both know this is often a charade, and it’s a foolish one at that.
One of the privileges of being a pastor, especially one who has stayed in the same congregation for a while, is that you come to know people’s stories. You come to learn the truth lurking behind the facades people wear to church. I’ve been here long enough for you to see some of my broken places, and I’ve seen plenty of yours. That’s as it should be
And so it is always so meaningful to me to distribute communion. As I make my laps around the chancel I come to people who were in my office the week before to talk about their dysfunctional families, about their estrangement from their kids, about the troubles in their marriage. I come up to people who are grieving for parents or spouses or children. I come up to people who are fighting cancer, who are sometimes kneeling next to their terrified spouse. I come up to people who are suffering the ravages of age. I come up to people whose lives are anything but neatly put together. That’s all of us in one way or another, isn’t it? We all have areas of our lives that seem to be lacking in blessing.
But here comes Christ Jesus, practicing kintsugi. He comes to us with a word that does what it says. “Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are you who mourn, for you will be comforted.” “Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you will be filled.” Blessed are you who are persecuted or hated or excluded for my sake, for your reward is great in heaven.”
Here comes Christ Jesus, practicing kintsugi, welding us back together with his body and blood, forgiving us, renewing us, redeeming us with the beautiful rivulets of his sacrificial love, making us whole again, making even our broken parts gleam with his glory.
The conventional blessings of good health, good relationships, and good things happening in our lives are always to be received with gratitude. They are truly blessings from God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
But God sent the Son to bring his blessings, his gifts, to those parts of our lives that are broken. Christ came for the sick, not the healthy. He came for sinners, not the righteous. He came for the broken, not those whose lives are all put together neatly.
And so he has come for you – for every part of you, every part of your life. He has come to enter into the broken places that are lacking in blessing. He has come to bless them with his healing presence and his saving grace.
“Blessed are you,” Jesus says. This is the present tense. This means right here and right now. Blessed are you, for Christ has come to you, and once Christ makes himself known, healing and new life are never far behind.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church