Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Way of God

All Saints’ Day [Observed]
Commemoration of the Faithful Departed
Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
November 2, 2008
Matthew 5:1-12

I invite you to join me on the way. It’s the way the saints who have gone before us walked. It’s a way that’s not immediately appealing. It’s the way of God.

Jesus said of Himself: I am the Way. He wouldn’t have said that had He meant that the way we are to go is so that we may be blessed. This is the way many people hear the Beatitudes. If you are poor in spirit, blessed are you. If you mourn, you will be comforted; if you are meek, you will inherit the earth; and so on. What Jesus says is, “Blessed are those who are such and such a way.”

The Beatitudes are not commands. They’re not even exhortations on how we should be and should live; although there’s as an aspect to them that certainly implies this. What they are are descriptions of who the people of God are. The people who are on the way. The people of God are the people of God because of Christ. If the Beatitudes were conditions of how Christians should be there wouldn’t be any Christians. But they are descriptive of Christ. He alone is truly poor in spirit. He alone is truly meek. He alone is the Son of God.

When God gave the Ten Commandments to His people, He didn’t say, “You’d better live this way or you’re not My people.” What He said was, “You are My people—now this is how My people live. They have no other gods. They do not misuse My name.” And so on.

We are the people of God because He has made us His people. Because of the Son of God we are sons of God. Because Jesus Christ alone is righteous and paid for our sinfulness we are declared righteous. And thus we are on the way. The way of God.

But we run into a buzz saw, don’t we? Those Ten Commandments really nail us to the wall, don’t they? They have a way of convicting us when we see that we don’t live in the way God would have us live. Staring in the face of the Ten Commandments, we are found wanting.

But this is God’s way. His way is the way of Repentance. The Ten Commandments drive home that we fall short of the glory of God. The Law impresses upon our hearts and minds repentance. A turning to God. A realization that we are our own god, that we really don’t want to live the way God would have us live. We’re very comfortable living the way we’d like. All those important things in our lives we don’t want just to be important, but left free from God’s intrusion with His curbs and rules. We’re insistent on our First Amendment rights of free speech, telling God to take hike when He insists we don’t use His name for common exclamations. And while many of us are comfortably in the habit of being in His House on Sunday mornings, we resent the constant badgering that we ought to be in His Word daily and in the consistent study of His Scriptures in Bible Class.

It’s hard enough at times to honor our parents. But God really puts us to the test when He adds government to honor and obey. For most of us it would be easy to go through life without murdering someone. But with God it’s always deeper than that. We can’t even hate, or even think ill of others. And with God it seems a never-ending litany of rules and restrictions: not just adultery or homosexuality, but living together outside of marriage and lust; not just stealing, but taking advantage of others; not just lying about others, but spreading things around that are meant to be private; not just not envying what others have, but helping others maintain what they have.

If this is a mirror, we see that we most definitely do not fit the description Jesus paints in the Beatitudes. So how is it possible? It is possible in what the Beatitudes are: not just statements of blessing—words of blessing Christ speaks to us and in the very speaking of them bringing them about in us. This is the way of God. It is the way of faith. He brings us to repentance so that we may walk the way of faith. Faith is that realization that without God and His eternal love for us in His Son Jesus Christ we are without hope. We are left to our own devices, and through the Ten Commandments we see where that leaves us.

But the way of faith is the way of trust. That when God says He will bless us He will bless us. That when He says we are His people, we are His people. That when we are poor in spirit, in mourning, meek, peacemakers, persecuted, that these are not bad things but good things. It takes faith to realize that and believe it. It takes faith to rejoice in these things. Because Satan would have us believe that these things are pretty weak and pathetic. The world mocks us that we are to rejoice in things that don’t bring us immediate gratification or wealth or prestige or security. Our sinful flesh rages against such boring things as being in the Word of God or rejoicing when we are vilified for our holding faithfully to that very Word of God.

How it is that you can rejoice in such things? Because what God would have you do, how He would have you live, what He gives you is not conditional. The very faith He demands is the very faith He gives. The description of who we are as the people of God is not simply a description—it is a gift. It is what God Himself brings about in His very speaking of it to you and me. He doesn’t tell you how He wants you to live and then leave you to it. He doesn’t tell you how He wants you to live and only then He’ll bless you. He brings about what He says. When He says to you that you’re blessed, you’re blessed. When He speaks His forgiveness to you, you’re forgiven. When He says you’re His son or daughter, you’re His son or daughter.

And that is the way of God. Holy living is not, You’d better live in such and such a way and you’ll be blessed; or, so you’ll be blessed. Holy living is the gift of God. Holy living is what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. His will is done through His Son Jesus Christ. His Kingdom comes through His Son. Our daily needs are met because He has reconciled Himself to us through His Son. We are forgiven and forgive others because it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. We are delivered from temptation because Christ has been tempted in every way as we are and yet without sin. We are delivered from evil because Christ has conquered evil. He is the Victor over sin, death, hell, Satan, and our sinful flesh.

His blessings overflow. They began in Baptism and are nurtured and sustained in His Absolution and His Holy Supper. The way of faith is the way of the cross. Righteousness is at the center of the Beatitudes. That means that Christ is at the center. We hunger and thirst for righteousness—which means we hunger and thirst for Christ. This is the way of God. It’s a way that may be disconcerting at first. It may be disconcerting all the way. The way of God is not our way. God’s way never makes sense to our limited minds and our selfish sinful flesh. But the way of God is not something to aspire to but to be received. This done for you, my dear friends in Christ, in Christ. By Him, because of Him, through Him. He gives you eternal blessings in His Holy Supper. He gives you Himself.

That’s what you need. That’s why when He gave you the Beatitudes He wasn’t saying, Here, get these straight and then we’ll talk. He was saying, Here is My gift to you: Here I am. This is the way of God, Christ for you. Amen.


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