Rev. Matthew Zickler’s Sermon for January 29, 2017

January 29, 2017
Matthew 5:1-12

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  This morning we meditate on the words of the Gospel Lesson, especially these: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

What does it mean to be blessed?  Think about that.  When you, or even more so the world thinks of what it means to be blessed what do you think of?  Often being blessed in the world means that you get to be top dog, you get to be the CEO, or the football star, or the president.  That’s commonly considered a blessing, isn’t it?  By that I mean there are a lot of people who strive toward those positions.  When I was in business school, that was the dream of many of my colleagues, they wanted to get into executive positions.  They saw that as the blessing.  Of course, that’s not the only way to be blessed, is it?  No there are many who honestly don’t strive for those sorts of things.  So, what does it mean to be blessed for them?  How about having whatever we want at our disposal?  How about having food in our bellies, money in our bank account, security, and comfort?  My thought is that for many that would be sufficient to consider themselves blessed, wouldn’t you?  But, being blessed in the world is one thing, but being blessed by God is another.  So, what is blessing by God’s standards?

Well, as we look at Paul’s words in the Epistle, we can get a clue that it likely won’t be what we often think of in earthly terms.  What does Paul say there?  He says, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”  God doesn’t operate according to normal human wisdom.  No.  The things that the world thinks are grand, God shows are foolish, and the things that God thinks are grand, the world thinks are foolish.  Just look at the list.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Blessed are those mourning.  Blessed are the meek.  Blessed are the persecuted.

Think about that.  When you walk by the poor and downtrodden do you think of just how blessed they are?  When you hear of those who mourn, do you think of them as particularly favored by God?  And when you watch the news and you hear of Christians being persecuted, do you think that God must certainly be smiling widely upon them?  We don’t think that way, do we?  Our understanding of blessing is often different from God’s.  In fact, I think this is the case in no other beatitude more than it is with this one: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Now you might be wondering, “Pastor, why do you pick that one out in particular?”  Well, I think of that one in particular because I think we often get this totally wrong.  I think a lot of times, when we consider hungering for righteousness, we think of trying our hardest to do good works.  We think perhaps of those people who really seem to do a lot of good in the world.  We think about the Mother Theresas and we think about the Pope John Paul II’s.  Or we think maybe about the Bill Gates of the world who really show a dedication to philanthropy by giving extremely generous donations to seemingly worthwhile causes.  And when we think about that, we often don’t take into consideration any concern for faith.  We look at it, and we call it a good thing – and in human terms many of these things are.  Even from what God tells us to do many of these things are things we should be doing.  But the problem is that we think that this just requires the right amount of effort on our part and our righteousness will be satisfied.  But when we look at Scripture what do we see about righteousness?

Well as Lutherans what we understand about righteousness is that this was the vital piece that we received when God created us in His Image.  When God said, “Let us make man in our image,” what He was saying, first and foremost, was that He was giving to us His perfect righteousness, His perfect goodness.  You could say His perfect capacity to love.  Now, this maybe doesn’t make sense, because maybe you’ve thought that it meant that God looks like a man, and there’s an aspect where that’s possible to an extent, but when we look at what the New Testament says, Paul says to Christians, “you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”  The point being that the old self doesn’t bear that image in the proper way anymore, so the new self must be renewed in that image.  In other words, in sin,you corrupted your righteousness, the image of God’s righteousness, and now in Christ, it is being renewed.

Now, as I say this, this verse is about hungering and thirsting for that righteousness.  Do you do that?  Do you hunger and thirst for that righteousness?  You see, I think there’s a part of all of us that recognizes there’s something to hunger and thirst for, but we don’t know just what it is?  Look around.  We can all tell the world isn’t perfect, can’t we?  I mean, think about it.  What do we often argue about in politics?  What should get priority in making the world a better place.  For example, we all recognize that there are poor among us.  Those to the right say that the best way to care for the poor is to provide an economic opportunity for them to provide for themselves.  Those to the left say that they can’t even get that far on their own and need government aid to assist them toward that end.  But the understanding is there.  This inequity isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

Or look at sickness.  We all get sick, and so we seek cures for diseases.  We want cures for cancer.  We develop vaccines.  We have discovered antibiotics and their ability to aid us in fighting infections.  And yet look at all of this.  What happens?  There are still poor among us, they don’t disappear.  In fact, it seems like the rich get even richer.  And look at diseases.  Sure, we might cure one thing, but then what happens?  The virus changes and we still get sick.  The cancer isn’t defeated.  The bacteria shift and now become antibiotic resistant.  Isn’t it obvious that this isn’t ever going to be the utopia we want?

And so, we hunger for something.  Now, as I say that, I know you all have been hungry and thirsty before.  I’m guessing most of us haven’t really known true and deep hunger and true and deep thirst, but we’ve all experienced this on some level.  For example, I know some days when I haven’t eaten anything all afternoon, I’ll go home from work and I’ll be really hungry.   And so, what do I do?  I just grab the first thing in sight.  And by in sight, I usually mean in my line of sight when I am staring at something in the place where we keep whatever sweets we have.  And I dig in.  And as I dig in I want more of that something sweet and I keep eating it.  After all, I am hungry here. Then, at a point it’s too much sweet, so I go for something salty.  Then that makes me feel like I can eat sweet again.  And I go back and forth, and by the time I finally stop myself, I probably have consumed enough that I really shouldn’t eat dinner.  But of course, that’s what my body really needed in the first place: something to nourish it, something that would really satisfy it. But this is us.

St. Augustin, a father in the early Church, whom I am guessing many of you have at least heard of.  He said, toward God “You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”  This is the truth, we won’t find our satisfaction until we realize that our hunger and thirst is for righteousness.  But so often we don’t.

Even as Christians, so often we do exactly what I described.  So often, we seek our filling from sweet stuff.  In the sense of righteousness that comes from the approval of others, even in the sense of righteousness that comes from gossiping about others, or being angry at others and looking down on them because we are better than them.  Look at all that has gone on in the political realm since the election, or even just since the inauguration.  I look at my Facebook feed and I see articles proclaiming that the end of the world must be here because Trump is our president.  And then I see articles that make it sound like Trump must certainly be ushering in the Messianic Kingdom.  And both look down on those who feel the opposite.  And it’s easy to get sucked into this, isn’t it?  Into this filler for our righteousness.

And it’s all the easier to seek to fill ourselves in the things that distract us from the unrighteousness of ourselves and of the world.  To fill ourselves with security in this insecure world by padding our bank accounts.  Or to distract ourselves from problems with entertainment and sports.  Or to drink away the stresses of having to labor by the sweat of our brow.  All of this is so easy to do.  It’s so easy to gorge ourselves on the sweetness of one thing and move to binge on the saltiness of the other.  Yes, we can eat and drink all of this up, but what does it amount to in the end?  It amounts to a blood sugar crash, a caffeine (or maybe even a real) hangover, and a mouth full of cavities, doesn’t it?  It just isn’t going to cut it.  So, what are we really hungry for?  From what cup should we really be drinking?

At the end of the day we should be filling our cup with the grace of God, we should be eating the bread of His Word.  Rather than plopping down on our couches with a bottle of wine and our Netflix, or our evening news, we should be going to our closets and dropping to our knees with our Bibles and reading and praying.  Or rather than focusing our Sundays on the latest battle between the Bears and the Packers we should make sure that it is honed in our hearing our Lord’s Word for us.

But as I say this, why?  Why should we be doing these things?  Should we be doing this because it’s our obligation?  Because if you don’t you may not be a real Christian?  No, because if that’s how Christianity is defined, I’m guessing all of us are in trouble.  I’ll be the first to admit that at the end of a long day sometimes, and enjoy a delicious pour of whiskey while I watch one of my favorite shows.  You see there’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying God’s gifts so long as we’re not abusing them.  Or when it comes to sports I think you all know that I enjoy those too.  No, the problem is in our hearts though.

We should be doing this because this Word is our food.  This is our need.  This Word is God’s righteousness that satisfies us.  In our sin-corrupted world, our spiritual bellies empty far more quickly than we realize and we need to fill them.  If we’re not careful we don’t even know how to digest real food.  But this is where the real food is.  This Word reveals, interprets you, like I said last week.  It accuses you by God’s commands and shows you the real thing you are lacking, the real thing for which you should hunger and thirst: righteousness.  And not only does it tell you that this is what you need, it brings that righteousness to you by bringing you the One who is that righteousness: Jesus.

Jesus is that One who knew no sin, who knew only righteousness, but He became sin for you on the cross, that you might become the righteousness of God.  And as You hunger in this broken world, He fills you with the finest Surf and Turf of His righteousness.  He fills you with it in His Word, in His Body and blood, giving it to you to feast on, and to guzzle down, because He promises that this hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied.  See that’s the other part of this blessing, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be satisfied.

Now that’s a future tense, there, which means it will happen, it’s a promise.  As you hunger and thirst now, He gives you a foretaste of what’s to come.  But that foretaste will most definitely be fulfilled.  And it will be fulfilled in His Eternal Kingdom where there won’t be the sugar crashes and the hangovers and the cavities.  No, there we will be satisfied perfectly, perfectly in the righteousness of God Himself.  And there we see what true blessing is.  Blessing not in the world, but blessing by God Himself.  Amen.

Rev. Matthew Zickler