Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sermon -- 6th Sunday after Epiphany (February 17, 2019)

LUKE 6:17-26


In the name + of Jesus.

     It has become popular to promote ideas and behavior so that people end up on “the right side of history.”  It is a manipulative ploy, thinking that we should base our attitudes and actions on what other people will think of us.  It often works.  We want people to think that we are good.  We want them to speak well of us.  No one likes to be despised or scorned for having an unpopular belief.  Especially if you feel that you are standing alone, you are likely to reformulate your opinion to gain the world's praise.  Just watch how fast people distance themselves from someone who tweets the wrong message on Twitter.  Everyone is trying to position themselves to be on “the right side of history.”
     The Lord is uninterested in popular opinion.  In fact, Jesus says this about people who crave worldly praise: “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)  False prophets are loved because they often appeal to what is popular.  But to seek the praise of the world is to forfeit the praise of the Lord.
     As the Israelite nation entered the Promised Land and was about to displace the residents there, the Lord appeared to Joshua with a drawn sword.  Naturally, Joshua was concerned about this, so he asked, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13)  The answer was surprising.  The Lord responded, “Neither.”  In other words, the Lord does not take sides.  The question is not whether or not God is on our side; the question is whether or not we are aligned with him.  God is the standard of holy; and anything that opposes him is wicked.  God is the definition of good; and anyone who disagrees with him is in rebellion.  Rather than wonder if God is for you or against you, you ought to ask, “Am I in agreement with the Lord, or am I opposing him?”  That determines whether you are under God's blessing or his curse.
     In today's Gospel, Jesus proclaims both blessings and woes.  A “woe” is not merely a warning, it is a curse.  By it, the Lord declares the status of someone who is outside the kingdom of God.  For those who are still alive, there is still time and still hope to be delivered from this curse.  For, Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world.  Only in Christ do we receive God's blessing.
     The term “blessed” has occasionally been translated as “happy.”  This is unfortunate and misleading.  In Jesus' sermon, it does not even make sense.  “Happy are you who weep now”?  If you are reduced to tears, you are clearly not happy.  Happy is an emotion which changes from moment to moment.  Good circumstances mean a good mood; bad circumstances result in a bad mood.  Just as “woe” is a pronouncement by our Lord, so is “blessed.”  When Jesus declares, “Blessed are you,” he is telling you that the Lord's favor rests upon you.  That does not change according to your circumstances.  Whether all is well or all is wrong, whether you are in pain or in mourning, despised or ostracized, heartbroken or clinically depressed, God's favor remains constant because our Lord remains faithful to his promises.
     Only in Christ do we receive God's blessing.  But his favor does not come in the way we would expect.  Jesus declared, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23)  You might expect God's favor would be matched by people liking you and praising you.  Jesus states that just the opposite will happen. 
     Only in Christ do we receive God's blessing, but that does not mean the world will bless you as well.  For, if you are in Christ, if you believe his word, if you are convinced that God's word is the truth, then you will live according to it and confess it to be so.  The world will not mind if you hold to God's word as an opinion that you choose to live by.  They might consider your faith like a vegan diet or a yoga routine: “Hey, if that works for you, fine; but something else works for me.  That is equally as good.”
     But God's word is no mere opinion.  God has set a standard of right and wrong which is not open for debate.  We do not get any exemptions from it, either.  You do not get to insist, “If no one is getting hurt, what does it matter what I do?”  By our sins, we spurn God.  Does that matter?  By your sins, you encourage your fellow Christians to rebel against God, too.  Is that harmless?  Woe to you!  Repent.  God will judge all who fail to live up to his commandments. 
     When we say loving obedience to God's Commandments matters and when we live like it, do not be surprised when the world excludes you, reviles you, and spurns your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.  People insist on their freedom to live as they please.  They will try to convince you that asserting your freedom is the greatest good, greater than God's word.  Beware.
     It is not only God's Law which will get you scorn and mockery.  Even God's grace will do it.  Christ reveals himself as the only Savior of mankind.  There is no one else who takes away the sins of the world.  There is no one else who gives rescue from the grave.  There is no one else who will present you to God the Father as blameless.  There is no one else who opens heaven to you.  And he does not do this because you have done anything to win his affection or to earn his favor.  Jesus is your Savior because you need to be saved.  Jesus shows you that you are poor, totally devoid of anything God can praise.  God's word makes you hungry now, yearning for the innocence that is not in you.  The Holy Spirit causes you to weep now because you are truly frustrated by your inability to do the good that you should do.  But in Jesus Christ, you receive God's blessing.  You are saved by his grace, his gift, his work. 
     Once again, many will give you scorn and mockery because you insist that salvation is by grace and that heaven is secured only by Jesus.  Sinful hearts always insist, “We are good people.  We are not criminals.  We deserve heaven, and we deserve better now.”  You and I struggle with it too.  Why are we saved?  It is too easy to conclude that we have done something that others have not.  That we are better.  That we are more sorry, more sincere, more devout.  That God favors us because we are more favorable.  But that is not what God says.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)  If you are saved, you have much to give thanks for, but nothing to boast about.  God's favor is not gained because you are good; you aren't.  You are sinners.  God's favor is given because he is good.  Only in Christ do we receive God's blessing.
     We insist on these things because this is what our Lord declares.  We stand firm in it because this is what saves us.  God's blessing comes through this word.  You may be called heartless for saying that there is no salvation outside of Jesus.  You may be called a hater for telling others that sins are harmful and therefore God calls us to repent of them.  Your name may be scorned, and you may be told that you are on the wrong side of history. 
     But if the world does not speak well of you, fear not.  Jesus speaks differently: “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23)  Our concern is that we are on God's side, which is to say that we trust Jesus Christ and his word—in our minds, in our hearts, in our lives, and in our mouths.  If we are condemned by the world, in Christ we receive God's blessing.  If the world declares that we are on the wrong side of history, the Lord Jesus will put us on the right side of the judgment.  In Christ, the Lord God does speak well of you.  He satisfies you with good things.  You will laugh with God and the angels, and you will rejoice for all eternity. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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