January 28, 2023 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills
EPIPHANY 4/A (01/29/2023): Ps. 15, ant. 16:1; Micah 6:1-8; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; Matt. 5:1-12.
Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven … “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (vv. 1-3, 10).
Being part of the crowd is dangerous. There are any number of secular circumstances commending a contrarian posture; you probably know some of these; but let’s stick with the danger to the “religious” crowd. On seeing the crowds Jesus separated from them, attended by his disciples for instruction.
It is not that Jesus didn’t preach or teach the crowds; he often did for their conversion, but not today. Today’s “Sermon on The Mount” is intended for his followers. The danger to the unbelieving or merely curious is precisely what occurred, separation from God and his word.
Consider your attendance in the congregation Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day, and for some midweek worship and Scripture study. Paul explains, you reject “the wisdom of the wise” (1 Cor. 1:19) for a “walk with God” (Micah 6:8).
The curious and unbelieving crowd has a mindset that rejects what you hold dear, the power of God’s word in your life. The crowd once hearing God’s word, might think, “one and done”; or “see you on Christmas and Easter”; but “Sermon on The Mount” initiates Jesus’ nascent NT church, a teaching too precious to “cast before swine” (Mt. 7:6).
God, instructs by Micah: “[W]hat does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). Well, this is problematic. Of ourselves we might “do justice” aligned with self-interest; be concerned with “kindness” and “mercy” without the love of either, grudging prideful, or legally obligated; and our walk with God more by inattention to his word taking praise and thanksgiving for granted.
You might dispute our failure; but in the end our case will be submitted to “the mountains and the foundations of the earth” to confirm the Judge’s verdict (vv. 1, 2); these witnesses will laugh man’s hypocrisy to scorn.
God requires what is beyond man’s competence or ability; thus, Jesus removed himself from the crowds to teach his disciples of heaven’s reign. What is required, not according to law, but in the power of divine blessing is poverty of spirit, mourning over sin and its deadly wage, humility in the face of undeserved grace, hunger for God’s righteousness, love of mercy, purity of worship, peace with God and man; and for all these expect persecution for union with Christ (Mt. 5:1-12). Of course, Jesus separated himself from the crowd!
Are God’s requirements too stringent; after all, we disciples are no less sinners on trial for our lives than the crowd? If Jesus’ teaching on The Mount calls us to do justice, love of kindness, and humility before a gracious God, and it does; then our plea before the “mountains and earth”, must cry, “Woe is me!” Seemingly, we are condemned when Jesus urges, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v 48).
But Jesus’ beatitudes are not jury instructions for guilt or innocence; rather they are the Church’s constitutive power for righteousness, love of mercy, and humility with God; indeed, the beatitudes are a gracious withdrawal all legal allegation in settlement with Wisdom before Judgment (v. 25; Lk. 12:58).
Let’s understand beatific wisdom. Jesus’ blessings do not follow upon our acts of justice, mercy, or humility; rather they are sourced in God’s word, promising the effect of power for Christian living on way to our last day. The Beatitudes do not confer rewards for what we do; they bestow on faithful followers a new status as children in God’s kingdom. Of course, Jesus separated himself from the unbelieving, curious crowd!
Last Sunday St. Paul concerned for the congregation at Corinth titillated by eloquent, logical, and sophisticated preachers, who by their factions undermined “word of the cross [as] foolishness to those … being destroyed, but to [those] being saved … the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:17, 18)
Paul’s teaching is counterintuitive to ears that believe God is like us; he is not! (Isa. 55:8, 9). Look to the Altar and crucifix on it, representing all that Paul would have us comprehend of God and our worship (1 Cor. 1:23, 24). Our Altar is the sacramental place of Christ with us in the Resurrection. Altar and crucifix visages God’s justifying grace, loving mercy, and our walk with God.
Christ crucified, even as art is incomprehensible such that modesty impels, we scrub the obscenity, a “desolate abomination standing where he ought not to be” (Mk. 13:14). There is nothing eloquent, sophisticated, or reasonable conveyed by cross and corpus. It is a grotesque, low, and irrational picture of sin and God’s sin bearer; yet Paul preaches the cross for eyes opened to the heart of God; what we are unable to do for ourselves, he sent his obedient Son to do for us.
By the cross Jesus entered the abandon of hell (Mt. 27:46) to confer blessings in power for a new righteousness, love of mercy, and humility in the knowledge of a gracious God (Jn.17:3). In Christ, God’s justice, mercy, and love is captive to the man Jesus, true Son and new Israel. God beholds only Jesus and his wounds and has no discourse other than with his enfleshed Son and we baptized into his wounds.
“Poverty of spirit” and “persecution” possessing the kingdom of heaven does not command; but urges reflexive action. Jesus did not bless the crowd, then or now; rather faithful disciples, his Church. By his word God delivers divine wisdom, Jesus’ obedience in resurrection power. His blessings are to the image of God and likeness of Christ, baptized and sustained in Eucharist worship.
In various times and ways, we submit to the persecutions of the crowd in an unbelieving world; but we are assured by our crucified Lord of a new creation coming into being, making us “perfect, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect”. Amen.