Fourth Sunday after Epiphany Matthew 5:1-12

When I served a rather isolated congregation in Georgia, I sort of fell in with two pastors who were not Lutheran. We shared sorrows as well as the good times. Most pastors share burdens and sins with somebody. In one of our frank talks with each other, one of them said, “Brothers, I want to confess to you that I have broken the sixth commandment again and again – and the women are members of my congregation.  Can I be forgiven? 

We told him of course. After a few minutes the other pastor said, “Only my wife knows — I have a drinking problem every Sunday afternoon until about noon on Monday.  Can I be forgiven?”  Certainly, we said, and referred him to the AA.  They turned to me.

I said, “What? I have no intention of repenting of my sin because I love to gossip and when you guys leave, I’ve got some calls to make.”

The 10 commandments are part of our spiritual baggage and we are condemned because we cannot obey them, particularly not as Luther taught in the catechism. It is not enough to refrain from evil, but we must do better by acting in love for God and neighbor.

In the beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus indicated that better way, but they are not a set of new commandments. Rather, they point to the high road. They point to blessings that come to those who make God’s kingdom their way of life.

God’s kingdom is a present reality. It is here right now.   The beatitudes describe the joy of living day-by-day knowing that God’s kingdom is at work in us. They describe a way of life consistent with faith in God and love for those with whom we pass through this world.   But the way of the world is exactly the opposite because we live in a world of winners and losers.

Do you ever think that each of our political parties is more interested in defeating the other than in serving the whole nation? The way the world is, is illustrated clearly in every athletic contest, especially the super-bowl. How they play the game is not the important thing.  Winning is the only thing and the winner takes all.  We won’t see the losers making commercials.

Life is that way. The world wants a winner.  Somebody must lose.  Do you know children who like violent TV or vicious game entertainments?

A poll asked young people to identify their models and heroes – as in explorers or doctors or political leaders, artists or military people. But nine of the top ten were entertainers and athletes whom young people considered famous because they are popular.

For their entertainment, our teenagers and sub-teens like heavy metal bands that use language that would make a rapist cringe. A promoter was asked, “How do you know when you have a band that will appeal to teenagers?”  He said, “If their parents don’t like’em, I’ve got a winner.”

Then we take it with a straight face as Jesus says, “Blessed are – the losers – because they are already in the kingdom.” So here is the question for us:  “Can we be faithful to our calling in a world that is so different from the people whom Jesus said would be blessed?”  These sayings of Jesus are not coupons for a ticket through the pearly gates.

The kingdom of God is not only on the other side of the doorway of death. The kingdom of God is right here, right now, in this room and in our homes and offices and entertainments every moment of every day.

Living according to these sayings of Jesus doesn’t mean that you will gain salvation. But if our way of life is not described by these sayings, then we will miss the glorious opportunity to feel and enjoy and know the Kingdom as our daily companion.

Why would we not want to live as in the Kingdom? Jesus is describing life for someone trying to follow his way in spite of the world’s priorities. In the world, we operate by competition, by winning, by self-realization, and by wanting to be number one.

But every self-serving, self-gratifying, self-indulgent influence from the world around us, whether in sports or office games or family squabbles or in idle conversation among just good old boys and girls, is brought to a screeching halt before the kingdom whose shape is described by Jesus.

The kingdom calls people and supports people whose spirit has been broken, who know grief as a companion, who because they are grateful to God for his acceptance of them, are willing to accept others as they are,  people who ask God to take hold of their daily living,  who forgive others because forgiveness works miracles when all else fails in human relationships, people who keep their hearts fixed on God, who try to keep the peace, and who suffer time and again because suffering for others follows in the footsteps of Jesus Christ himself.

And who is it that Jesus said would enter the kingdom before those who tried to act so pious but were really hypocritical?

Women who work the street for customers, and the embezzler, gambler or swindler – saved because they know only God’s love can save them. They wouldn’t stand a chance if their salvation were left to their own efforts or left to us – we who consider ourselves right or righteous, or good, or deserving, or the winners.

As for the king himself, he too has reversed the way the world thinks leaders should act and appear.

As Isaiah put it, we’d say in modern language, the king dresses as though his clothes were left over from a yard sale. He hasn’t shaved for weeks.  He smells of mortality, of humanness, bleeding when he was crucified.

We have romanticized Jesus so long that we can catch only echoes of how he must have scandalized his contemporaries.

When he stood before Pilate, the politician couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “Are you the king of the Jews, you with the baggy pants and a split lip and that silly crown of thorns?”

In God’s story, the kingdom is exactly opposite from what the world supposes it to be. The message of the beatitudes is that we’d better take another look before we bet on the sure winner or say who is certainly a loser.

While the kingdom of God sounds like a once-upon-a-time ridiculous way that Jesus described on an idyllic hillside, there is a right-now quality to the kingdom.

We need the way of life that Jesus described so succinctly. We need today the kingdom God gives to those who call on him.

We must look inside ourselves. We may appear to have things under control, to be in charge, but you and I know that the person inside is often different from what we show the world.

We may think no one else has such wrenching times, such a sense of life just not working out. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

We may tell ourselves we have met the world’s idea of success. But when we go home and take off the mask, we see that we’re just not winning the game.

Therefore we comfort ourselves with the blessing of Christ who died for us.

Welcome to the world of blessed are the meek.

Not many of us are wise according to the world’s standards, or powerful, or of noble birth, as Paul wrote to his beloved Corinthians.

But God in his love has chosen and called us, even though we may be low and despised in the world, so that we who have nothing to boast of in the sight of God shall find the source of life not in being wealthy or happy or winners – but in Jesus Christ crucified for us all..

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

We live sustained and comforted in an ungodly world because God sustains us and gives us comfort day by difficult day and night by restless night.   Blessed are the pure in heart.

We are already living by God’s grace

We are already truly blessed by God’s love.

We are already at home because day-by-day and moment-by-moment, we, the people of God, are living already in the kingdom of God.