The Kingdom of Heaven is Yours
Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Occasion: The 100th Anniversary of St. Paul, Wood River, IL
Date: Epiphany IV + 1/29/17
For one hundred years God’s Word has sounded forth from the pulpit of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wood River, Illinois and generations of God’s people have believed and lived that Word, and have been given that new life God gives to those who repent and believe in His Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. First there is the preaching then the hearing, repenting, the living and believing.
I rejoice today with you that I was privileged to preach God’s Word here and live in the God-given fellowship of this congregation from 1983 to 1991 (the 77th-86th anniversary years), and that I can celebrate with you today this significant 100th anniversary.
Many memories. One stands out. Back then there was this tall, lanky kid that always sat in the back row of my 8th grade confirmation class. Not long ago I was asked to preach down in southern Missouri for the ordination of a son of my current congregation. Since I wasn’t flying back home until Monday I looked around to see where I might go to church on Sunday. How pleased I was to discover Christ Lutheran Church in Platte Woods, Missouri (part of Kansas City) where none other than that former lanky 8th grader now the Rev. Tyler C. Arnold is the pastor. It made me feel quite proud to hear him preaching the gospel and teaching Bible class that morning.
And so it goes. What goes? The Gospel of God claiming, restoring and saving generations of lives. This year we celebrate that our congregation is only one-fifth of the five hundred years since Martin Luther began what would be called the Reformation of the Church. He didn’t invent the Church. The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, of course, we inherited and goes back to the original twelve disciples called and gathered around the Savior, Jesus Christ. That is to say that all the priests, pastors and popes up until the reformation are part of our Lutheran history, family and heritage. As we celebrate both anniversaries of St. Paul congregation and the Lutheran Reformation we remind the world of the simple fact that “it is still all about Jesus!”
It is still all about Jesus because He still lives and reigns and preaches and teaches and heals through His body, the Holy Church throughout the World and St. Paul, Wood River as well! As we heard the apostle Paul say in today’s Epistle, “we preach Christ crucified…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
As I said at the beginning of this sermon, in the entire history of the Church “first there is the preaching and the hearing, then the repenting, the living and believing.” The preaching of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount proclaims Jesus as Savior of the world and then the new life that happens to all who believe in Him.
On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation we remember the first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses which says, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” We heard John the Baptist only weeks ago preparing the way saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Then last Sunday we heard our Lord’s first words and they were the same as the Baptist’s, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” So how’s your repentance? Today we can learn what that repentance and that kingdom looks like.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” says Jesus, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Being poor in spirit means, simply, knowing your need of God. When you know your need of God you’ve discovered what that need is namely, of first importance, forgiveness of your sins. That’s repentance. First, sorrow and contrition for your sins and then faith that receives the relief for that need the forgiveness of your sins. As Jesus outlines the new standards for the kingdom of God in the Beatitudes (one book I have on them is titled, “The World Upside Down”), He also reveals our sin, the sin for which we need to repent, the sin of believing and living “upside down” to God’s call and standards. “Poor in spirit?” Hardly, we say. How much of the time do we put on a show and pretend that we are in high spirits, that everything is going okay? But not everything is going okay, do you agree? We cannot ignore for instance the increasing opposition and animosity of the society to what God’s word teaches: the sanctity of all life (from conception to natural death), the biblical view of marriage as the God-given union of one man and one woman, the safeguarding of our religious liberties as citizens, the issue of gender dysphoria to name a few. To repent, to turn and believe and live according to God’s will will mean in part suffering the onslaught and attacks and judgment of the devil and the upside-down world. Nevertheless, it also means that the kingdom of heaven is yours, right now, and to all eternity. That is, God’s grace and mercy to you in your daily life.
“Blessed are those who mourn…the meek…and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” We mourn that death still has such power over us. Meekness is not exactly how we conduct ourselves in the business or academic world, or even in the church
anymore! We demonstrate our lack of hunger for righteousness when we remain satisfied with our own pride and neglect of God’s Word. Because of Jesus’ compassion and His own lowering of Himself to endure the wages for our sin however, in repentance and faith we discover God’s comfort and the true righteousness which is by faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It’s still all about Jesus.
How are your acts of mercy lately, the purity of the motives of your heart, your success at making peace with one another? When you put the Sermon of the Beatitudes that way we hear the call of repentance for our lack of love. In Jesus, however, we discover and receive the mercy of God, the vision of God providing for our every need, our new status as Sons of God. It’s still all about Jesus.
It’s that day-to-day living that’s the challenge, at least it always has been for me. How many times over the past years of our life haven’t we come away from situations knowing that we were wrong, that we didn’t handle things or other people rightly or with kindness, that there are things we wish we hadn’t said or done? Some of our troubles we make for ourselves and cannot be classed as “persecution” from others. Today we have another opportunity first to repent, to confess our sin and need, and then to turn to God and, by faith in the blood of Christ shed for the forgiveness of our sins, to receive that forgiveness anew, almost like never before! It wipes out the condemning power of all those past sins you just cannot forget, that continue to bother you. In forgiveness Jesus says, all those sins are gone. You see, repentance isn’t just a one-time thing, like Luther said. But it is the daily rhythm of what it means to believe and to live by faith. As Luther said on his dying day, “It is true, we are all beggars.” And we add, it is true, it’s still all about Jesus.
100 years. The older I get the more I use that calculation to cover everything I’ve been through in the past saying, “Oh, that was a hundred years ago.” But not everything is to be remembered from the point of view of sorrow or contrition. Today we are to remember not only the Word of God but the deeds of God, the very real deeds He has done in the lives of our predecessors, our grandparents, our mothers and fathers, all those who have gone before us to this day and, indeed, in our own past years. The deeds of God include His adopting us in our Holy Baptism. His deeds include His gracious coming to us in the Sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood giving us the strengthening of faith in body and soul all the way until we reach our final goal, when repentance shall cease and we shall rejoice to see our Lord face to face in the paradise of His eternal kingdom. Now, today, with such a blessed promise in mind, we are called to repent again, to believe again and to live God’s Word especially for the sake of our children, our neighbors and the next generations and to our last day.
100 years? 500 years? All your years, so far? It’s still all about Jesus.
Rev. Allen D. Lunneberg