A Catalogue of Promises
First in a Series of Seven Sermons- Series Theme –“Cornerstone”
Matthew 5: 1 - Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them,
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our sermon series theme is Cornerstone, and the refrain in a new song we’re learning in this Season of Light includes these words, When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, My anchor holds within the veil….(Refrain) Christ alone, Cornerstone; Weak made strong in the Savior’s love. Through the storm He is Lord, Lord of all.
Three little stories and three little questions we have this morning to help us to think about what it means that Jesus is Lord of all in every one of the storms of life.
Story #1 comes right out of the Sermon on the Mount, which is perhaps the most famous, the most preached about, the most familiar of all sermons of all times. It is the first of five discourses in the Gospel of Matthew, and although it is full of parabolic language, it really only has one real parable. It is a double parable, where the person who is hearing and doing God’s Word is compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock, and when the rains fell down and the flood waters came up and the winds blew against, this house stood strong. In contrast to the person who is not hearing and doing God’s Word is compared to a foolish man who built his house on sand. When the rains fell down and the flood waters came up and the winds blew against, you know what happened, the house fell in spectacular fashion. Question #1 – Do you have any idea how blessed, how fortunate, how privileged you are as often as you hear the Word of God and keep it?
Story #2 has to do with the fact that one more time I and millions of other overweight people have entered into a new year vowing to lose all kinds of weight. Vowing to do all kinds of exercising, vowing to drink all kinds of water, vowing to eat all kinds of healthy foods, and in my case vowing to drink less beer and more grapefruit. As I was eating my obligatory grapefruit the other day, Debi was reading our morning devotions, and I heard her read this, “Jesus Christ is not in us just to hang out. He is in us to be worked out into the world.” Question #2 – Do you have any idea of how blessed, how fortunate, how privileged you are as often as the love of Jesus Christ bubbles on up inside of you and spills out into the lives of others?
Story #3 - Just yesterday, as I was contemplating eating my obligatory grapefruit, I read a devotion to Debi, which included a story about how in one of the Olympics, the theme was “Light the Fire Within.”, about how a young boy skated in on the ice carrying a lighted lantern. He was followed by hundreds of children with lighted lanterns, dispelling the darkness. The author Leo Symmank wrote, “That is a picture of the Church as a thousand points of light in a darkened world, inviting others to join in the celebration of the Christ, who forgives all sins and makes all things new.” Question #3 – Do you have any idea of how blessed you are, how fortunate you are, how privileged you are to spend your days lighting candles instead of cursing the darkness?
On this first Sunday after Epiphany, our sermon theme is “A Catalogue of Promises.” Back in my day Sears and Montgomery Wards and JC Penney catalogues were big deals. All kinds of folks of all ages looked through those catalogues, dreamed of buying things out of those catalogues, and once in awhile, depending on how much money was in the checking account, would order an item of two. In today’s text, Jesus lay before us a list of 8 promises, one listed twice, promises already bought and paid for on a dark Friday afternoon, promises guaranteed on a glorious and sunshiney Easter Sunday morning, promises delivered into your hearts and souls as often as Baptism waters splash, as often as the very body and blood are tasted, as often as the promises of Almighty God are believed.
This morning, we take a run through this catalogue of promises, also known as the Beatitudes, first hearing them as the people of Jesus’ day would listen, and then hearing them as the baptized and blessed people of God in this new year of 2017. To be blessed by God isn’t at all to have smooth and easy sailing in the outward circumstances of life, but rather to have an inner sense of joy and peace because you are right with God by the grace of God and through faith in Jesus Christ. As is His custom, Jesus turns conventional wisdom on its head, as he describes what it means to be blessed. Dr. David Scaer of the Ft. Wayne Seminary says that “in the Beatitudes, catechumens are not faced with moral demands, but are promised great things from God….Especially in his suffering and death, Jesus fits the description of the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger, etc…he who is poor in spirit calls catechumens to share in his poverty. Hence the Beatitudes first are Christological descriptions of Jesus, then descriptions of his followers.”
Promise #1 – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. In the Old Testament, the poor in spirit was the nation of Israel taken into exile. The promise of Isaiah was that a Messiah was on the way who would be anointed to preach good tidings to the poor. The poor in Jesus’ day had few possessions, they were usually oppressed, they had little power and less hope. The poor in spirit were and are those who are humble before God. They come before the King as beggars with nothing to offer. The promise is that a broken and contrite heart, this King will not despise. The promise for you, here and now, no matter how seriously you have sinned, is that your sins are forgiven, your soul is saved, your blood is royal by virtue of your connection with Christ.
Promise #2 - Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. In Isaiah’s day, the nation was in the grips of ruthless rulers because of their sin. Isaiah promised them a day when the Messiah would bind up the broken hearted, mourners would be comforted, ashes would be replaced by a crown of joy. To this very day, the promise of our God is that weeping lasts only for a night, joy will be coming in the morning. How comfortable you will be as often as you make the sign of the cross early in the day and remember the promises of Baptism. And how reassured you will be late at night, as often as you go to sleep with a conscience washed clean by Jesus Christ in the flesh.
Promise #3 - Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. The meek are those who have a spirit of gentleness and self control, Moses was described as being meek and humble, the promise for Israel was that they would possess the Promised Land. They would fight their battles knowing that God would be handing them the victory. The promise for you, dear friends, here and now, is that no matter how intimidating are your enemies and no matter how overwhelming are your days, ultimate victory is yours, a new heaven new earth are on the way, and in every one of your moments, it will always be an option for you just to be still and know that God is God.
Promise #4 - Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are those who desire to be right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God has worked in them a desire to seek first the kingdom and to trust that all these other things in life will be added unto them. As life goes on, they find a passion growing on the inside of them to love what God loves and hate what He hates. A Sunday School teacher asked her students what it meant to repent. Student #1 answered that repentance meant being sorry enough to say I am sorry for doing the wrong thing. Student #2 got it even more right when she said that repentance means being sorry enough to quit doing the wrong thing.
Promise #5 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. The kingdom of God is like a teenager girl from a strong Christian family who gave birth to her firstborn before she was married. Although initial reactions included all kinds of judgment and shame, as time went on, family and friends loved her as they had been loved, they forgave as they had been forgiven. For the next 60 plus years of her life, she had a special place in her heart for unwed and single and struggling moms. She reached out in a thousand different ways, but always with a single message, your Father in heaven loves you, your Lord Jesus Christ forgives you, the Holy Spirit of God has a plan to prosper, to heal, and to use you in wonderful ways for years to come.
Promise #6 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. The pure in heart speak and act without ulterior motives. As promised, God has created in them clean hearts, and in them he has renewed a right spirit. What you see in them is what you get from them. What they say, they mean. What they promise, they will do. On the last day, they will be able to stand before God, He will have remembered their good works and forgotten their sins, they will see him face to face into eternity.
Promises # 7 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called esons1 of God. Peacemakers do more than sit by and refrain from causing trouble. They actively strive to make peace where there is enmity or hostility. Always, peace is their desire, but not peace at any price. God has worked in their hearts a passion for those who have drifted from the church, a passion for those only loosely connected with their Savior. I read research recently that suggested that one third of the unchurched have plans to go to church in the future, that 78% of the unchurched are open to a Gospel conversation, and that 55% would attend church if invited by a family member. Twin promises of God I suggest, in response to those statistics….1)Jesus offers a peace the world will never be able to give, and 2)the fields are white for the harvest/ all kinds of folks are open to the Gospel burning in your souls this very moment.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for jso they persecuted the prophets who were before you. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town whose very foundation is the Bible and whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ. On the one hand, they are finding that their mainstream and traditional teachings are not so much in the mainstream and less and less appreciated. On the other hand, they are finding dozens and dozens of people in their circles of family and friends who are getting tossed to and fro by the storms of life, their family and friends seem to be searching for what they already have, more and more they begin and end their days knowing how blessed, how fortunate, and how privileged they are to have Jesus Christ holding them by the hand and leading them. Amen.
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