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God Blesses

(Twice a year, the three congregations that use our facility combine for one incredible service.  People who were born in Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia as well North America God has gathered here…. The entire service is in both English and Mandardin and people are welcome to pray during the prayer times during the Creed and the Lord’s prayer in their own language.  Sometimes the songs alternate languages, sometimes the song is sun simultaneously in Mandarin and English.  I was very blessed to have an incredible translator work alongside me today, helping me deliver this sermon.  Cindy’s translation will be up later.
All praise to God, who brings us through all challenges, and unites us in worship. AMEN. 

God Blesses!

Matthew 5:1-12

In Jesus Name 

May the grace and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ instill in us the trust to know that He has blessed us, and the patience to wait for that blessing to be revealed!

God Blesses….

The English Translation of our gospel reading this morning from the New Living Translation adds a small three-letter word that the older translations assumed we would read into the passage.

Yet it is critical we hear that word, it makes all the difference in the world.

The word is “God”.

For it is God who blesses.  It is His blessing, His favor, His healing, His touch on our lives. The word in Greek for blessing is one that is used only for divine, supernatural blessing.  Not just luck, or coincidence, but the touch of God’s hand in our life.

In this life many are crushed by sin, and the world’s pressures crush many of us as well.  The pressure might be financial pressure, or challenges with physical health, psychological health, it could be family issues or even anxiety over death. Pressures that Satan is trying to use to crush us and humble us….

God comes to us, even in those places… and God Blesses.

God Blesses us, (pause)  and God desires to bless all of those outside of this place… even blessing them through us.

It is God, who would bless us all, and that is what we are here to celebrate… AMEN?

Why can’t we always see it?

This is more challenging than it sounds though.  More challenging for a simple reason we see when we slowly read verses 4- 9 slowly. When we see what is common to all.
It says God blesses those, (or Blessed are they) and then it describes people caught in a challenging situation.

Those who mourn,

Those who have been humbled,

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice…. Which means they haven’t seen it, yet. 

Those who have had to show mercy… which means they have been brutally sinned against.

Those whose hearts are pure, which means they have been tempted and either overcome the temptation, or been cleansed of the sin when they failed…

God blesses those who work to make real peace. Not covering up or hiding that which divides people from each other, but those who actually engage the problem and try to reconcile people together.

Each of us, caught in those situations are blessed.  God blesses us.

We rejoice in that!  We truly do.

The challenge appears when we look at how God will bless them.  The challenge is that word I just said.

Will.

God will bless them as He comforts them, as He gives them the earth, as He satisfies their craving for justice and righteousness.  God will show them mercy and they will see Him and they will be called His children.

Will.  Future tense. Something that does not always appear to us yet!  Even though it is promised to be reality. Even though it is reality. Even though God already blesses us, we do not always see it in the moment.

That causes a problem with most of us, as patience is not always something to admit we can exercise.

We want to see healings now, we want the heartaches to fade away in a moment, we do not want to hear we might have to work at our relationships and that being merciful requires to interact with those we need to show mercy towards.

Knowing we are blessed by God is now, realizing how God Blesses us, that may take time, and lot of faith and patience.  It takes remembering who it is that blesses us.  It takes remembering that God does not break promises, He doesn’t change His mind and what He has done, He has done.

God Blesses…  He always blesses us, He always does.  Guaranteed.

Even when we struggle to see the blessing, Even when we struggle to see Him.

He is with us. The Lord is with you!

Except for the two “is”

So how do we deal with the time when we have to be patient, when we have to trust in God that we will receive the blessings, the comfort, our hunger and thirst for righteousness quenched?

We need to look to the two blessings that are not in the future tense. The promised blessing for those poor in spirit, for those who are persecuted for being just, mistreated for living in Christ, for living life in view of God’s desire that all should come to know Him, to be granted repentance, to be transformed.

You see the two beatitudes tell us we’ve become part of the Kingdom of God.  We are in Him, His reign over us is now.  Brought into a relationship where God is our Lord, our Master, we have been made His children. He has made promises, bound Himself covenant promises to us.

You see, God being our Lord is an awesome thing.  That means He has committed to us in a relationship and dwells with us, working on us, in us, and yes through us to reach the world, to reach Cerritos and all in this area.

In Biblical times there was more an obligation on the Lord, than the servant, just like there is more obligation on the parent than on the child. God commits to us in ways that go beyond our understanding… but that is okay, He is God.

It is the Master’s responsibility to care for the servant, His obligation to provide for them and assure their welfare, just as it is parents responsibility to care for their children.  Not our wants, but our needs, and always n His wisdom, which is pure and holy and loving.

We have been brought into the Kingdom of God.
We’ve been brought into the relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That is why the Father sent Jesus to be our blessing.  Why Jesus came and defined each of these blessings.

Why he became poor in spirit, allowing sin to crush Him.

Why He mourned over all the people of God as He mourned over Jerusalem

Why He chose to be humbled and He hungered and thirsted for righteousness so much He died to see that hunger satisfied, He humbled Himself and became a servant to the point of death as Paul writes to the Phillipian Christians.

That is what all these blessings are about, it is what the Kingdom of God is about.  God’s love for us, His uniting Himself to us through the death of Christ.  The mercy of God shown to us, the way in which are hearts are purified even though we have sinned, as He worked to make peace for us, peace with us, for He is the Son of God.

We are blessed, because we are united to Jesus, to His death, to His resurrection.  We have been brought to Christ, marked as His, as has every believer, everyone who trusts in Him. It doesn’t matter if we are from Germany or Taiwan, from Boston or the Philippines, or from South America or Africa or you are a native California.  It doesn’t matter whether we are 6 months old, or 6 years old or 100 years old, God has called us into a relationship to care for us, to provide for us, to heal our souls and make us His children. He brings us into this relationship and commits to us…

He commits to bless us, to be our God, to be our Lord, to be our Father.  

To bless us.

Today we celebrate All Saints Day, we look back at the saints who God has blessed in the past, we realize that He has blessed us and is blessing us, and we know He will bless the next generation of Concordia and Passion.  For He has always done this, He has always taken care of His people, His children.

Even when we struggle to realize it.

For God is always faithful.  He can be counted on, for all of the blessings we find in scripture, including one last one I would leave you with one final blessing, from today’s reading… a look at the day when all of the blessings are fully revealed

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb.

that’s us, and here is the blessing…

15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne

and serve him day and night in his Temple.

And he who sits on the throne

will give them shelter.

16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;

they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.

17 For the Lamb on the throne

will be their Shepherd.

He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.

And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

May it be that we, to whom this blessing speaks, and our children and children’s children, both physical and those children who come to faith as God works through us, may it be that we all realize we dwell secure in His peace… the unsurpassable peace of God.  For it is there we dwell, for we are in Christ, and He guards our hearts and minds in that peace.

AMEN?

Reformation Day, A Day I Pray Would Become… Obsolete.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

22  “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23  I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24  Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!   John 17:22-24 (NLT) 

Most Lutheran churches celebrated a church “holy day” yesterday.  The 496th anniversary of Martin Luther inviting theologians and pastors and people to a dialogue on issues that gravely concerened him. The issue was a very serious one – which affects how we see Christ’ work and the cross.  As you read this, please understand me, this is still the serious issue for me.  It is why I am Lutheran and not Roman Catholic Christian.

But the unintended side affects of that action has resulted in a splintering of the church, as we have taken serious issues, and far less issues and made them “the” points of division.  40,000 divisions, and whether they are over issues like Christ’s work on the cross, or whether we baptize with a little water or much, or what instruments we use, or what we call the guy who preaches and teaches the congregation about Jesus, or about whether something is sin. Those divisions are to be grieved, not celebrated..  Seriously grieved over.

Simply because the division breeds contempt, and often attempts at reconciliaiton – true reconciliation are avoided, ignored, and even mocked. We celebrate these days, and rejoice that God “purified” His gospel, without considering that millions won’t hear it, For if we believe the difference is that important, why don’t we engage is discussion, that the position may be evaluated, tested against scripture, that it might be heard? 

There are times where it would seem like reconciliation is impossible, like when Luther had a death warrant on him.  But that doesn’t mean we stop praying for the church to find that reconciliation, even praying those from whom we are divided. It doesn’t mean we stop engaging in discussion when we can.  It means we trust in God, even risking all, to depend on His working these things out, in His performing miracles.

You see, any sense of unity that would happen, would happen not in board rooms, but at the foot of the cross.  It won’t happen through negotiation, but through absolution.  It happens as we are broken together before God, and we praise Him together for saving us, redeeming us, reconciling us to Him.   Where we celebrate Christ uniting us to Himself in Baptism, and we find we are together there.   That is when I believe that we will begin to find unity that demonstrates the love of the Father for the Son, for the Trinity for us.  That unity is found in no other name, no other label, in unity or disunity with no one else.  For only Jesus can deal with our sins, those very things that divide us from God, those things that divide us from each other.  We can’t deal with sin, any sin, especially the sin of division, unless it is there, in Christ.

Wittenberg All Saints' Church. The "These...

Wittenberg All Saints’ Church. The “Theses Doors”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I doubt I would ever sit down with my own Synodical President, never mind Pope Francis  (who I greatly admire, perhaps more than any church leader in my life so far) That doesn’t stop me from praying for them, praying to see what the theologians call the “invisible Church” be more clearly manifested in the “visible Church”.  That Christ would be known by the world.

Yeah- I Pray that Reformation Day would become obsolete, preferably by its 500th anniversay…..and I struggle to celebrate it.  Because the next day… matters even more.  The Day we celebrate All Saints, as we have testified along with countless others, that God has one, holy, universal (i.e. small c catholic) and apostolic church.  A church that rejoices together in God making us His people, and it being revealed to us He is our God.

Sainthood

Devotional/Discussion thought of the day….

” Tell Our Lord constantly and sincerely that you desire to be a saint and to do apostolate… Then the poor vessel of your soul will not get broken. And should it do so, it will be put together again and acquire an added attractiveness, and it will continue to be of use for your sanctity and the apostolate.”

This morning, as I prepare for Sunday’s sermon, I am thinking about those I know who have passed away in the prior year, and the names just seem to keep coming.

Some I know well,  Warren, Joseph, Shirley, JoAnn, Frank and Peter.  Other’s I know of, because I know their families or friends.  Janice, Melanie, LaVonne.  There are other friends that I still can’t believe are gone, Clyde and Armando, Rich, Richard, Dale,  These people make a mark on our lives,  and among those names above are some people whose lives spurred an increase in my faith, as I watched them live, even as their bodies were betraying them.  The lessons they left me are invaluable – the faith they modeled inspired.

Today is All Saints’ Day, and depending on one’s church traditions, it is celebrated differently.  I remember preparing for it as a young student, looking through the lives of saints and seeing how different they were.  Francis, Bonaventure.  As a Lutheran pastor, we look to those who have gone before us, to join the “great cloud of witnesses” as described in Hebrews 12, or in the words of our liturgy, the whole company of heaven.  It is rare that in reciting that line that I don’t think of some of the names above, or other names that have impacted my life over the years.

But if there is a reason to consider those who have gone before, it is to remember how God sustained them. How God worked through them in so such diverse ways.  Some where, as the quote from St Josemarie notes above – broken, yet in their brokenness, they found God’s beauty in ways we can never explain, except to agree – it demonstrated how God had set them apart, how God had made them holy, and how that holiness was such that it called people to them.  As we see what God did through them, even though they were bed-bound, even thought their bodies were broken, we realize that God can do such in our lives, He can and does work to heal our brokenness.  He can bring us into places, where we are His representatives, His apostles, brought there to share His mercy and grace.

We are called to be holy, we are called to be saints. we are called to be His children.

Learn to desire it, looking to those who have seen it happen in their own lives, imitate them, even as they imitate Christ.

Lord, teach us that you do have mercy on us, even as You had mercy on those who have gone before us….

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1413-1415). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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