Sermon from the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

4th Sunday after Epiphany
January 29, 2023
By: Deacon Ben Remmert
Micah 6:1-8 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Matthew 5:1-12

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus who is the great teacher. Amen.

On these rainy days, it has been a wonderful opportunity to play boardgames with my children. This week, I reflected on the games that I would played as a child and one game in particular that we would play is the game Balderdash? It’s a game where you guess the meaning of obscure words. Take the word “pleach” what does it mean:

1) a peach scented bleach
2) the curved handle of a plough
3) the interweaving of tree branches

The correct answer is # 3. Pleach is the interweaving of tree branches.

The Bible and Bible commentaries would be a good source for Balderdash. After all, words like “eschatology”, and “transubstantiation” aren’t used in everyday conversation. Beatitudes is another word that would work well in Balderdash as we often do not use it in everyday language. Biblical scholars would consider this passage in a collection called, “The canon within the canon.” They mean that these verses speak to us can summarize entire good news of the Bible. Another example of such verse is John 3:16, “ For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” This verse proclaims the gospel message so simply but profoundly.

In these opening words to his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents a vision of the Kingdom of God. It’s a realm of blessedness. When we read these life-giving words, our hearts swell much like a kite on a windy day. We soar upwards to heaven when we hear these words. Jesus blesses us with comfort and mercy. He promises inheritance for the children of God. At long last, justice is completed. The meek are not trampled. Jesus speaks a reality where we relate to one another in an economy of mercy.

But at the same time as we are uplifted, another part of us can sink low. For these words make clear how broken our world is. These verses speak of mourning! They confess our poverty and persecution! There are the poor. There are the threatened meek of the earth. There is sorrow and mourning. Alongside Jesus’ blessing, there is a chronic injustice plaguing us all.

There is a shadow side to Jesus’ words of blessing. And it’s a realm we know all too well. And as that realm of sorrow resonates, it pulls us down. It pulls us downwards because this realm of blessing is not our earthly reality. And we become aware of the separation present in this world. The lifting and tugging create tension like on a kite string.

We live in this tension. The tension on this kite string is dynamic. It doesn’t allow us to fly away into a heavenly escape. No, this tension pulls us back into reality. It keeps us grounded. Our world and its desperate needs keep us tethered to cries of sorrow and want. For the world wants to be loved.

The words of the Lord’s Prayer come to mind. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This prayer feels the same lifting and pulling as the Beatitudes. Our earthly realm and will of God are at odds. We pray for God’s will to be done here on earth, may it come into fulfillment, may it be realized, may it come to fruition and ripen here on earth, just as it is in heaven. This is what we pray every Sunday before we partake the Eucharist. Luther’s explanation on this prayer petition in his Small Catechism sheds a profound light:

The good and gracious will of God is surely done without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may be done also among us.”

We pray for God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We can’t forget the world and its needs. Our Lord’s Prayer doesn’t allow us to cut the string. We aren’t permitted to jettison the world and ride the soaring kite of faith into the exclusive air of heaven. We are tethered. The downward pull will not allow us to forget the world and its suffering.

Jesus’ prayer and his Beatitudes call us into action into the world. They call us to do justice and to love kindness. Where there is mourning, we are impelled to bring comfort. Where there is strife, we act as peacemakers.

Jewish mysticism has a term for this repairing of the world, “Tikkun Olam.” Each of us has the capacity to offer up small actions to heal the world. In our daily lives, we can be agents of blessing. We can be bearers of God’s kingdom in our midst. With each tikkun, we bring restoration to the earth. This downward tugging on our souls calls us into service of the world. But the movement works the other way, too. There’s also an upward swell of hope.

In these Beatitudes, Jesus’ words are more than just blessing. They’re also promise. Jesus bestows a promise of hope. His words vault us upwards. For this earthly realm is not the only one; it doesn’t stop here. For Christ came not just to repair the world. He came to redeem it.

Hearing the Beatitudes, it may seem confusing, even foolishness to the world. The meek are not blessed. And neither are the persecuted. In the logic of the world’s wisdom, it seems impossible that life should come out of death. But the logic of the cross defies this world’s wisdom. God has achieved the ultimate Tikkun Olam. Through his dying, Christ has taken up all the world’s brokenness. Every sin from every time and place, he has taken it up. And he’s taken it with him into the grave. It all died with him. He and everything he took with him into that tomb, and he returned transformed; born again with his victory over death to give us new life. May we be bearers of God’s blessing and live on earth as in heaven. Amen.