4 November 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 5:1-12 (Rev 7:2-17, 1 John 3:1-3)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
This week, most people in this church will do something very important with lasting consequences. In fact, it will be the most important thing you can do. For you will act on your conviction, and you will participate in an action that will change our future together as a people forever in ways that we may never know.
In fact, by participating in this rite of our people, you will be taking part in something eternal. The most important thing you will do this week is not happening this Tuesday, but in the next few minutes: for you will partake of the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins and in the mystical communion with the Most Holy Trinity and with all the saints “who from their labors rest.”
The world has different ideas about what is most important and about whose word you should believe. And it all boils down to this: hope.
Politicians of all stripes make promises of hope, but they cannot speak infallibly. They cannot speak without error. They cannot speak knowing the future. They cannot speak as God in the flesh. The politician cannot speak as our Master, Redeemer, Savior, nor as one who truly gives hope.
In fact, Holy Scripture cautions us not to put our trust “in princes.” For they do not offer real hope grounded in an unbreakable promise as God does, dear friends.
For as hard as it may be to believe, there is something God cannot do: He cannot lie, He cannot deceive, He cannot spin reality to get something from us. Instead, “see what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.”
The world puts its hope elsewhere, dear friends. This is why churches across the land are empty, but political rallies are full. All over the country this week, people will cram by the thousands into football stadiums. People will crowd onto highways and subways to get to work. People gather in multitudes and throngs to be entertained.
In their right place and time, politics and entertainment, work and recreation all have a role to play in our lives. But do these things bring us hope – especially the kind of hope as from One who cannot lie, who never disappoints, who even overcomes the grave?
The world seeks after vain hopes: riches, happiness in possessions or passing victories, in the good feelings of entertainments and worldly pleasures, in the promises made by politicians. But the world does not know Him, dear friends. “But we shall know Him when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”
For the time being, we see through the glass darkly. We see a wafer of bread and a sip of wine. We see frail bodies and minds, imperfect people singing hymns often out of tune. We see a church outnumbered by those who place their hopes elsewhere.
And yet, dear friends, we still have hope: true hope rooted in the unbreakable promise of our Savior!
This is how Christians express their hope even in the face of death. Yesterday, I presided over the burial of Cleo Smith, our sister in Christ who lived nearly a century. She was laid to rest in the family tomb, the 19th person in nearly a hundred years to be placed inside that small space. It is a stone structure filled with bones. “Can these bones live, O son of man?”
We gathered at this tomb with the body of Blessed Cleo. And while we mourned, we also celebrated. We read Scripture, prayed, sang, and drank wine. In hope of the glorious resurrection, we partook of the Lord’s good gifts! And in this place, dear friends, nowhere near as crowded as a show or game or place of election, we too read Scripture, pray, sing hymns, and drink wine – the wine of Christ’s true blood, even as we partake of the bread that is the very Bread of Life in the flesh!
And though we may see a sparse and aging flock, full of contention and struggle, what is the underlying reality? “After this, I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne, and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’”
There is more to reality than meets the eye, dear friends. For truly, in this hope, these bones can live, these bones do live, these bones will live forever!
And we do not have to put our trust in princes or place our hopes in money or political parties or winning championships or winning elections, in striving vainly after worldly respect or any of those things that the world, which does not know Him, hurries and scurries after.
Our Lord has again shared with us His unbreakable promises upon which we hang our hopes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Even if the world looks down on you for your poverty or your lack of position in the community, you, dear friends, you baptized children of God, you forgiven saints, have been promised possession of the kingdom.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Our morning is for a short time, as the fallen world is being recreated anew, providing us with a sure and certain hope of the resurrection and eternal life! That is our comfort!
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The new earth will be far better than this old decaying habitation, and it is promised not to the rich and mighty, but to the baptized and forgiven, to those whom the world holds in contempt, because even as they do not know Him, nor do they know His bride. But we are His bride, dear friends, and our Hope is in our perfect groom who lays down His life for His beloved.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” We hunger and thirst because of our lack. We are not righteous. We are sinful. And yet, dear friends, we are forgiven sinners, and therein lies our hope! Our desire to be righteous will be satisfied by Him who is righteous. That is His promise. That is our Hope!
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” The world hates mercy. The world celebrates crushing one’s opponents into the dust. The world glories in bloodlust and domination. And yet, we who are so often ground under the heel of the unmerciful have hope in the One who is merciful to us!
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Dear friends, on those rare occasions when we do act in purity and truth, we often pay for it at the hands of the world. Purity is mocked and derided by a culture that glories in vulgarity and vileness. And lest we fall into the temptation to be like the world that does not know God, let us press toward the hope of seeing the God who sees us even as we are, and who saves us by His grace!
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Peacemakers are considered weak. But our Lord urges us to turn the other cheek, to forgive, to seek a higher way than the road of payback and revenge. It is our hope to have such communion with God that we are truly His children, “and so we are.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” For two millennia, the followers of Jesus Christ, the children of God, have been persecuted, arrested, bullied, tortured, imprisoned, and put to death. And they endured this faithfully because their hope exceeded their pain. We have the hope of the Lord’s unbreakable promises which even trumps our breakable bodies and fear of pain, isolation, slander, and death itself.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Dear friends, this is the hope of all the saints, of the martyrs, of those who continue to bear the cross today. For even when we are attacked, slandered, marginalized, mistreated, or even persecuted for our confession of Christ, for our faith in the One True Hope, for placing our trust in the One Prince in whom we can trust – we have the hope of a heavenly reward, following in the footsteps of those who went before us in glory, winning the “victor’s crown of gold,” and yet marked by the blood of the crown of thorns.
Indeed, let us go about our important works this week, carrying out our activities as conscience dictates. Let us enjoy our lives, and let us work at our vocations, carrying out what our Lord has created us to do. But let us place our hope only in our Lord.
For on this most holy occasion of Holy Communion, we join with them who eternally
…enjoy the Sabbath rest,
The heavenly banquet of the blest,
The Lamb, their Lord, at festive board
Himself is Host and Guest.
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In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.