Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
What hits you? What word or phrase stands out for you?
This is a portion of Jesus’ sermon on the mount (In this Luke version it is the sermon on the plain), which we call the beatitudes. It has kept scholars and theologians very busy because there is much debate about how to interpret them.
When St. Jerome translated the bible into Latin, the phrases each begin with the word “Beati” which translates in English as “Blessed” or “happy are they”. That’s why they have been called the Beatitudes.
Some scholars think that Jesus’ sayings were an intentional exaggeration to make a moral point while others think that they were standards for the original disciples only.
Martin Luther Reminds Us – We Can’t Keep the Law
Other scholars take this group of sayings as an absolute; a set of characteristics that followers of Jesus must strive for and still others, like Martin Luther, believe that the sayings are law, but a perfect law that we cannot keep.
According to the Luther understanding, Jesus’s intent, was to have the disciples and even the crowds see what they cannot accomplish on their own, and in turn, run to God’s mercy and grace.
Law or Gospel?
The Beatitudes can be read as law or gospel. As law, they are rewards for good behavior. As gospel, they are gifts that motivate good behavior. Consider the difference: The law says IF you are poor in spirit, THEN the kingdom of heaven is yours. The gospel says: BECAUSE the kingdom of heaven is yours, THEREFORE you recognize your spiritual poverty. The law says IF you are merciful, THEN you will receive mercy. The gospel says BECAUSE you receive mercy, THEREFORE you show mercy. The law says IF you make peace, THEN you will be called children of God. The gospel says BECAUSE you are children of God, THEREFORE you make peace.
So what do you think when you hear the beatitudes?
What do you think Jesus is saying to us today?
Let’s talk about this!
As [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” – Mark 13:1-5
The Suspense is Killing Me…
Have you ever read a book and just had to peek at the last few pages to see how it ends?
Maybe it was a romance… Maybe it was a mystery… and it was so intense that you couldn’t wait to find out what happened at the end? Maybe you just had to know if the two people get together…. Or maybe you just needed to know if the “good guys” win… in the end.
Every once in a while, I have found myself doing that because somehow it made it easier to keep going, if I knew that everything turned out okay in the end.
Fear of the Unknown
Seems that real life isn’t that different, is it? One of the things that scares us the most is the unknown.
In their conversation with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, Peter, James, John, and Andrew wanted to know how things would end before they had even begun their work of spreading the gospel of peace to people of all nations. Jesus refused to tell them how or when their world would end.
He did not believe that revealing the end to them would help them be better disciples or more effective evangelists. Would knowing the end of the story have strengthened their faith in any way?
In some ways we are not unlike those first followers of Jesus. Most of us have moments when we are curious to know how and when things in this life are going to come to an end.
While We Wait – Living Faithfully
However, we do know how the story ends, we know that Jesus was raised from the dead so that we could have life and have it more abundantly. But let’s not stand around waiting for the end. Let’s be about the task of doing the work of God now. The future is open. What matters is not that we know the end of the story but that we live faithfully in the meantime.
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:15-16
Don’t Pick Me, Please Don’t Pick Me
Remember when you were in class as a student and you knew that the teacher was going to call on you to answer a question that you KNEW you did not know the answer too? You would do everything that you could think of to become invisible. (avoiding eye contact, looking down at the floor, pretending to be asleep…or actually being asleep) You were not confident in your abilities, your skill or your intelligence. And somehow it seems as if the teacher knew these facts, and they would go out of their way to call on you.
Let me tell you how different this is in God’s kingdom. God knows that we are, sometimes, clueless so God sent us Jesus to make a way for us where there seemed to be no way before. We call that GRACE (G.R.A.C.E. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.) Christ came and lived and died so that we could have life and have it more abundantly.
Be Bold – God has the Answers
Knowing about God’s gift, we can have the courage… the strength… the ability to approach the throne of Grace with BOLDNESS. To approach the throne with the boldness to know that we do not have to have the answers, because God has already answered all of the questions. We don’t have to hide or try to become invisible, because we have a God who loves us and wants us to be at that banquet table with heads lifted high, celebrating our freedom in Christ.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. – James 2:14-17
I Have Faith
James is reminding the people that it is not enough to just say “I have faith.” Even thought Martin Luther, originally, thought that this book should not be a part of the bible, he later came to understand the power of this statement from James. As Lutherans we understand that we are Justified by Grace through Faith, and that our salvation… our Hope… our Redemption is NOT about the things that we do, but they are about what God has already done though Jesus.
Called to Step UP and Step Out
What James reminds us is that as those who know what Jesus did for us, it is not enough for us to simply be okay with that. Once we understand the tremendous power and sacrifice of the cross, then we should have no choice but to love one another as GOD loves us. That means that we are also called to step up, and step out in that faith and offer help and hope and a hand up to all who we meet.
September 9th was our “God’s Work, our Hands” day. We packaged more than 10,000 meals for those who are in need. That is putting a good work to our faith!
Some years ago, with the help of the younger generation, I secured a Facebook account. I didn’t use it. Never opened Facebook. If during that time people unfriended me, I was blissfully unaware. When I retired in 2013, I began to check out Facebook. About all I knew to do was press like. Even then I wasn’t sure where like was going in cyber space. Such timidity limited my being social on that medium.
Through art, we are able to break bread with the dead, and without communion with the dead a fully human life is impossible.
A Moment in Time
What draws me to stay on Facebook are pictures. I welcome seeing folks together, observing where they are, peering in on what they are doing. One day I opened Facebook and there to my surprise was a wonderful picture of someone celebrating another birthday. I was jolted. Although the individual was radiant, smiling, and effervescent, this person had died several years before. Unless someone intervenes, as long as Facebook exists, that picture, frozen in time, will show up each year, acknowledging another birthday—a birthday for someone who has ceased with birthdays. It’s happened several times now. May it continue!
Here is yet another way to connect with the communion of saints … on Facebook. Who would you like to show up on your Facebook page? Wouldn’t it be glorious to gaze upon a long gone loved one? To just one more time capture the gleam in their eyes, the color of their hair, the particular features which made them … them? And why stop there? Scroll back through the years, well before you and I were around.
We Lutherans observe the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation this year. Let’s go back to Wittenberg and study there Martin, Katie, Phillip, the Princes and the Popes. “We have this cloud of witnesses around us,” declared the writer of Hebrews. We are surrounded by them. We are strengthened by them; bereft without them.
Cloud of Witnesses
Let’s be intentional about those deep, abiding spiritual witnesses. What fun it would be in worship, right in front of our brothers/sisters in Christ, to address such questions as these:
- Who from the cloud of witnesses helped you answer the call to love Jesus?
- Who in the cloud of witnesses is still encouraging you to run the race of
- What obstacles have you had in running the race of faith?
- Who might one day name you as part of the cloud of witnesses who encouraged
To answer such questions, is for us in the body of Christ, a real way to be … social.
Picture a haggard old visor. It used to be blue, like the sky. Now it’s virtually devoid of color, long clouded over, obscuring any real color. The elastic band is bereft of elasticity. The metal adjustment clasp could use a dab of rust remover. What once snugly sat on a young man’s head could now fit loosely on an Incredible Hulk.
I’ve been unwilling to part with this visor. By reasonable estimates it’s been in my custody for some 50 years now. I wear it only once a year. It doesn’t fit. That doesn’t matter. Some things deserve a proper burial; not this dome appendage. Frankly, it has no real value. And that, at least to me, is the visor’s real appeal.
The potency of Christianity is it’s nevertheless against the givens of life. Jesus renamed the discarded blessed. He snatched a fearful few and built his church on their faith. He called those settled and safe to being born anew beyond their control. Jesus hung out with followers, detractors, and those identified as used up visors. He still does.
Seeking the Fullness of Life in Christ
I’m deeply honored to be the temporary shepherd of Grace Church, Raleigh. Thanks to your congregational council for entrusting me with this privilege. I hope to be among you for a time between Pastor Frye, who served here for some 16 years, and the as yet unknown new pastor called by the Spirit to lead you. Admittedly, I’m hooked by your mission statement: seeking the fullness of life in Christ for all people. It teems with depth…and grace! No one is a cast off visor.
I’ve got a lot to learn about you, Grace’s ministry and history, it’s culture/norms, hopes/hurts, joys/fears, challenges/opportunities. I think it will be fun. And I hope you will say the same.
By the way, I have a name for that old visor: Always being made new! And by the grace of our Lord Jesus the same can be said of you, Grace Lutheran Church.
Freed and Renewed in Christ,
Pastor David Sloop, Grace Interim Pastor
The season of Epiphany encompasses the eight weeks between the festivals of the Baptism of Our Lord and the Transfiguration. During the final weeks of Epiphany we experience some of the most well-known texts in the Bible, from John the Baptists Here is the Lamb of God to Micah’s What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God to Jesus’ powerful Sermon of the Mount, beginning with the Beatitudes.
People often consider this time after Christmas as a long hiatus before the season of Lent begins; but, if they do, they are missing some very important messages focusing on how Christ transforms our lives by calling us to experience the joy, the struggle, and complexities of the Christian life. The Gospel messages throughout this season finds Jesus hard at work teaching, healing, calling disciples, and preaching on the mountain. Again and again we hear the themes of light, baptism, cross, and discipleship.
We are also reminded during the season of Epiphany that the goodness and justice of God extend far beyond our community of faith into all parts of the world and among all people. We are not meant to just hear the words of these scripture passages; we are also meant to be advocates for applying them in everyday life.
Epiphany could well be called a growing season for the church and for its mission. How can each of us cultivate new and exciting ways of serving God and one another? What can we do for the sake of the gospel that we may never have done before. Can we leave our comfort zones in order to minister to the poor, the afflicted, the grieving, the dying, and the persecuted? I should hope so, and I encourage you to give this some serious and prayerful thought.
As the hymn says:
“Listen, God is calling, through the word inviting,
offering forgiveness, comfort and joy.
Jesus gave his mandate: share the good news
that he came to save us and set us free.”
While having lunch in a nearby restaurant last week, I was aware that the two people at the table next to me were engrossed deeply in conversation. I wasn’t really aware of the topic of their conversation until one person asked with a raised voice: “Well, what are the marks of a true Christian?” At that point I was completing my transaction with the server and on my way out of the restaurant. But, that question lingered in my mind.
How would you answer that question, “What are the marks of a true Christian?” Saint Paul certainly had no problem giving his opinion in his letter to the Christians in Rome:
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” (Romans 12:9-13).
Paul’s answer certainly leaves the impression that one’s Christian identity is lived out, not off to oneself, but in relationship with fellow Christians and with others in this world. That is one reason Christians seek out communities of faith in which we can worship and be fully engaged. Our vision for Grace Lutheran Church is that we are fully committed to proclaiming Christ as Savior and Lord by sharing the very things that Paul was describing in those few sentences.
Christian discipleship involves growth – spiritually, faithfully, prayerfully, and in our generosity of our time, our personal gifts and talents, and in our financial support of our ministries in the congregation and in our community. You will be hearing shortly from the Stewardship Team about “Celebrate Generosity,” our fall commitment program. There are many innovative and exciting components to this program, and the team is looking forward to sharing through video, temple talks, and printed information the story of Grace congregation’s discipleship and outreach. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at the far-reaching impact our congregation has beyond 5010 Six Forks Road, as what we are capable of accomplishing through faithful witness and generosity.
“God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (II Corinthians 9:8).
Yours in Christ,
Whenever the month of July comes around, our thoughts certainly go to the Fourth of July and our appreciation to our ancestors for bravely establishing the foundation upon which our nation has been built for these 240 years. We also remember the countless number of brave individuals over the decades who have placed their lives on the line, as well as those who have given their lives, to preserve the freedoms and rights for their generation and the generations to come. We owe them our gratitude, our respect, and our commitment to continue living by the principles of justice and freedom established so long ago.
As Christians we are also aware of God’s call to be faithful to the Gospel and to our call as Christ’s disciples, both in our communities and in our world. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, proclaimed
For freedom Christ has set us free
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself
As a dual citizen, both a Jew and a Roman, Paul lived within the laws of both nations. As a follower of Christ, Paul also knew that he must never relinquish the law of love to which Christ had called him. Following Christ allowed him to make some tough decisions in his life and in his ministry, even though doing so brought him into conflict with powerful forces that took issue with where he stood. Martin Luther later took similar stands, based upon his knowledge of the scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Both placed the will of God above all else.
Whenever we are faced with making decisions in matters of conscience, let us also remember that we, too, are citizens of two kingdoms while we live on this earth. Therefore, as ones whose lives are guided by God’s Holy Spirit, let us also remember these words of Paul: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another….let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”
Yours in Christ,