Epiphany 4 2017
Immanuel Lutheran, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
January 29, 2017
Psalm 15:1-5, Micah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-2
It is that time of year when we are through the NFL playoffs and looking forward to the Super Bowl next weekend. At the beginning of the season there was great hope for all the teams; even the Bengals and Browns, but now it has come down to just two. Who will be victorious? Who will be the winner? As you watch the game you will see players scoring touchdowns and then proudly pointing skyward in thanks to God for their success.
You will also quarterbacks get sacked and running backs get tackled for a loss. They will humbly have to pick themselves up off the ground, brush off and straighten their gear. But, almost certainly, you won’t see them point skyward in thanks to God in their humiliation.
We love success. We celebrate victory. We rejoice with winners. We love to be inspired to do more; to achieve more; to be more. It is the American dream.
We love victory and success and then we come to church and we normally start out by getting down our knees and admitting that we are, by nature, sinful and unclean. We admit that we have sinned in thought, word and deed and deserve God’s present punishment and God’s eternal punishment.
This is one of the hard things about trying to advertise to get people to come to church. Telling people that they are sinners is hard to market. The church tells people things about themselves that they do not want to hear and that doesn’t sell.
You want to hear, “You are good enough just as you are.” The Church tells you that you are in bondage to sin.
You want to hear, “You just need to try a little harder.” The Church tells you that you cannot free yourself no matter how hard you try.
You want to hear that everything is ok. You want to hear about success and victory, and the church talks about sin and forgiveness.
There is a simple message at Church, the same message that prepared the way for Jesus. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus continues to preach John the Baptist’s message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” We have the same message today, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The rule of heaven; the reign of heaven; the Kingdom of Heaven is here in the person of Jesus.
Jesus is the Lord and King. Jesus is God in flesh come to be with the people. The people are called to repent because Jesus is here; God in flesh is here; Immanuel is here. You are called to repent because Jesus is here with us where two or three are gathered. You are called to repent because you are baptized into Christ. You have put on Christ. You are called to repent because Jesus is present in His Word. You are called to repent because Jesus is present in Holy Communion.
God is present here for you. You are a sinner who comes into the presence of God and that is a humbling, frightening thing to do. God is holy; you are a sinner. You confess that you deserve God’s immediate and eternal punishment.
Repentance is a difficult thing to do because in repentance you admit that you cannot change the fact that you are a sinner. In repentance you know that no matter how hard you try you are going to sin again. You fear; you worry, you know you are going to return again to that same, stupid, selfish sin. In repentance you realize that despite your best efforts you are not able to stop sinning. You are a sinner in the presence of the Holy God.
Repentance is a difficult thing to do because in repentance you admit that you cannot change the fact that you are a sinner.
You want to try to say its okay. There is great temptation to try to redefine sin or to rationalize sin or to make excuses for sin or to explain away sin but all of these are simply word games to avoid the truth. You are a sinner. You bring nothing to the table with which to negotiate with God.
You are not a spiritual giant. You are not spiritually rich. You do not have things together. When it comes to spiritual things you are poor. You are poor in spirit. You can struggle against sin, but you cannot overcome your sinful nature. You are poor in spirit. I am poor in spirit. Other than Jesus, everyone descended from Adam is poor in spirit.
But some don’t want to believe it. Some people claim that they are spiritually rich. They claim they are doing it; they are good enough. They claim that they are able to conquer sin and achieve holiness in this life. They are fooling themselves. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
You are poor in spirit.
Jesus teaches, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Repenting of your sin and realizing that you are indeed a natural born sinner reveals the key to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus is the key to the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is the door to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is the door to life everlasting. Repenting of your sin and knowing you are sinner shows your need for a savior. It shows your need for Jesus. The door is open for everyone but those that are fooling themselves into believing they are rich in spirit won’t use the door.
Everyone is given the key to Kingdom of heaven. Everyone is given forgiveness of sins in Jesus, but so many think they don’t need it. They think they don’t need Jesus and they throw away the key. They believe they are good enough. They believe they try hard enough. They believe they have done enough and are saved by their own good works. They believe that they may not be perfect but they are not as bad as those really bad sinners, so it is okay.
How tragic that someone has the key to the kingdom of heaven given to them and they simply throw it away because they want to trust their own good works.
You have the key to the kingdom. You have Jesus. You know that you cannot do it on your own. You know and have confessed that you are by nature sinful and unclean. You know you are poor in spirit.
And you are blessed. You are blessed with God’s blessing for now and on the judgment day. Blessed are the poor in spirit.
You are blessed because you are right now in the kingdom of heaven. You are right now in the reign of Jesus. You are right now made holy and perfect through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. Not from anything you have done, but from what Jesus has done for you in his life, death and resurrection. Truly, it is not about you; it’s about Jesus for you. This is great Good News; you are a sinner saved by the Grace of God. Such amazing Good News and yet this Good News drives people away from the doorway to the Kingdom of Heaven because they do not want to admit they are sinners. They do not want to admit they need Jesus. They do not want to admit that they are not a part of their own salvation. They do not want to admit that salvation comes from Christ on the cross alone. They think the cross is foolishness.
And, indeed, Christ on the cross is a strange way of salvation. How is a beaten and bloody man dying in excruciating pain on the cross the source of forgiveness? How can this be? What kind of God would have this incredible humiliation be the source of the world’s salvation? So many people look at Jesus on the cross and think; what kind of God is this? What good is this? Where is the success? Where is the victory? How strange is the cross, but on that cross is where Jesus paid the price for your salvation. On that cross is where Jesus declared, “it is finished.” Your salvation is complete, but so many cannot accept the free gift. They want to do something themselves. That is why in every humanly devised religion salvation is found in doing good works. What do I need to do to be saved? Give me a list of things to do.
But there is no list. There is nothing for you to do. It has been done for you. You are saved because of what Jesus has done for you.
You have been given the key to the Kingdom of Heaven and invited in. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
You are in the Kingdom of Heaven. You are under the rule and reign of Jesus and so you live as a citizen of the Kingdom. You live in daily repentance. You live in love for one another. You live in service to one another. You live out who you are in Christ, struggling against sin and resisting the devil. However difficult life is here on earth, however many defeats and humiliations you suffer, success and victory are yours in Christ. Even in humiliation and defeat when you’ve been tackled by life you can point heavenward in thanks to God who has blessed you for eternity. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Amen.