Sermon for A Epiphany 4 February 2, 2020

Based on Matthew 5:1-11
God creates what God says. God says, “Let there be light.” Then there is light. God says, “From dust I have made you. To dust you shall return.” And so we are created and we are returned to the stuff of which God makes us. Jesus, Messiah, Son of God does the same. Messiah says, “You are light.” And it is so. Messiah says “On the third day I will rise.” It was so! Messiah says, “And all shall be raised up with me.” It will be so.

We human creatures often neglect—worse, just don’t believe—this truth. We abuse the power of speech that God first spoke as creative. We use the power of speech for ill. God speaks light into being. Humans work hard to hide the truth in darkness and the mists of obscurity. God speaks into dust. Human propaganda returns people and indeed much in creation prematurely back to dust. We live with and on the ironic razor edge: gifted with the image of God, our speech can create for the sake of joy or destroy for the sake of self-preservation and self-inflation.

But God is God! And God creates goodness still. God is merciful. God is so merciful that God penetrates us with the recognition today that I am self-deceived about my own goodness! As Thomas Merton asks, “How much [of our] sin is kept hidden from us by God himself, in his mercy?” God protects us even from the fullest insight into ourselves by keeping the darkest secrets of ourselves to himself, protecting us from despair. God’s mercy truly is infinite.

God also creates us anew for God’s purposes. These are Jesus’ creative words from the mount. By “creative” I do not mean “interesting.” Jesus words mean to do something, to create something, even to create people anew from the chaos and confusion of despair. It sounds like poetry, yes. Because it is poetry in the most literal sense, as ‘poetry’ derives from poesis, which indeed means to “make” or “create.” Are you mournful? Jesus will make you anew from the very compassion and love stirring in your depths that so many people do not know in themselves nor practice. Are you working for peace, hard work indeed? No matter how you presently feel, you will know yourself and be known as God’s children, an heir to all of God, while others invent by fear and greed what will not last and what can never be inherited forever. Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? God already has created the oasis that will nourish and sustain your passion for justice, while others live scantily, if insistently, by the false allure of their desert mirages. Are you persecuted and slandered falsely for doing anything of Christ’s work of spiritual vulnerability, humility, justice advocacy, peacemaking, mourning, and purity of heart? You already have received and will know fully the joy of God’s kin-dom!

But Christ’s blessing is not a only a work of personal chaplaincy for you, as good as that blessing is. Christ has much more in mind. Firstly, Christ does not mean for these benedictions to be social guidelines that one must obey in their entirety so to keep the world well-ordered. That would be nice. But its not realistic. God knows better, because he knows what is in us that we cannot name. Much as I like Kurt Vonnegut’s question as to why people place The Ten Commandments instead of these Beatitudes in public spaces, Jesus does not intend his words to be new civil laws and most certainly not new steps on a steep stairway to heaven. Cue Led Zeppelin.

Here instead is what Jesus means. Jesus here creates a new people. He creates the “the church.” He creates a people who will stand apart from the world so to be what God intends for all the world. This is why when Jesus finally says “Blessed are you” after referring to fellow sufferers in the third person, he says literally, “y’all.”

My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus’ sermon of all sermons is the constitution of the new community of God. By so blessing us, by so speaking us into reality, by so making us, Jesus constitutes a community dependent upon God and each other. For us to “be saved” is to be so gathered. For the world to be saved is for this community regularly to be sent and to serve in our vulnerable giftedness. By so blessing, Christ created and constitutes still a new society—including you! Including Christ the King Church! —like no other society the world has ever seen. And so Jesus gave us a better way to live: with forgiveness; so to refuse the tightening spiral of violence; with drawing on every member’s gifts, so to supplant autocracy; with a new order of justice so not merely reactively to smash the old order of corruption; to shine with hope and purpose, so to lead others from their mirages and nights of despair. Do you know how important a community of vulnerable and humble peacemakers and justice-doers and mercy-givers is to the world when we are brought together for ministry as a diverse and loving community, when we are constituted as God’s rainbow of blessing?

We are at a signal time now in our life as the divinely and duly constituted community of Christ the King. Next week we meet for our annual meeting finale. A budget will be proposed. Based on wise debt-reduction and increased generosity, it envisions more outward mission than has been possible for a long time. Any challenges that recently have arisen have only increased our resolve and focus on the best stewardship practices. And next Sunday you will receive a summary, followed in the mail by a detailed report and recommendation, in response to the invitation from Memorial Drive Lutheran Church. As you know, that congregation has asked us to receive and revive its life and mission under the name of Christ the King Church. I believe God is calling to us to take up new work that was, of course, not anticipated in our recent strategic planning. But if I have learned anything over decades in this yoke, I have learned that the real work of every call I have received was not stated in just the printed words of the call; the real purposes were always between the lines. And God loves to write always and anew between the lines. God’s constitution for the church is just that way. And it always is more pertinent to our plans than we have ever even faithfully imagined.

God has constituted us to be blessings from the Mount. Now that appears to mean that we are called to grow and partner with others especially when the world needs new ways for the church to be church. And God has blessed us individually and together as a community gathered by Christ’s Beatitudes! We are a new people, a unique community for the world, mindful of our standing before a tired world’s tired eyes. You individually and we together are blessed in the exact ways by which God will work your and our larger community’s healing. Because we depend on God who so blesses, we depend on each other, and how greatly we together shall be depended upon. This is God’s work, God’s justice, God’s mercy. Blessed be God.

Duane H. Larson   Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX         February 2, 2020