Monday, November 05, 2012

Sermon on Matthew 5:6, for All Saints' Day, "Hungry and Thirsty for Righteousness"

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Are you hungry? How hungry? Just need a snack to take the edge off your hunger? Or do you have a total starving hunger for a real feast? What kind of meal will you find here at Emmanuel Lutheran Church? The food on the menu is not the kind you will find elsewhere, and the eating is a little different from what you’re used to. You drink through your skin and your ears, and you eat with your ears and mouth, and you digest with your heart and mind. The 1st Course was served in confession and absolution—you come with a bag of spoiled food—sins, wrongs, hurts, guilt and shame. We dumped it out in confession, laying that sin and guilt before God, until we had an empty sack. The heart and mind growls and aches from emptiness. Not the kind of hunger pains you’re used to. It’s a longing for things to be right again, a sadness about the wrongs you’ve done, or the hurts you’ve suffered, or the brokenness you’ve witnessed in the world. A hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness to fill the world, to fill us and to fill others. That the world would know God.
Your conscience feels this hunger, those pangs for the world to be set right—to see justice, love, and mercy take hold, in place of injustice, hatred, and cruelty. So with our empty sack, we come and receive the first course of God’s feast in the absolution. With words spoken into our ears, you drink in Christ’s forgiveness of all your sins by His death on the cross and resurrection. Having repented and taken refuge in Him, He now stands between you and the judgment your sins demand. It’s not the first time you’ve had this refreshment. Your thirsty heart drinks in the Word through your ears as you’re renewed and refreshed in that water that first splashed over your skin in your baptism. Baptism, where Jesus first poured out a cleansing flood of forgiveness on you, a wet and spiritual cleansing where your dirty soul was washed from the inside out, and God granted you a clean conscience through Jesus Christ.
Absolution, or the pastor’s pronouncement of Christ’s forgiveness, is a return to your baptism. It’s a reclaiming of the forgiveness that first washed over you in baptism, and remains yours by faith in Jesus Christ. It’s an enduring relationship, like a marriage sealed with a vow and marked by the exchange of rings. God has sealed His name on your forehead, and marked you as His own child. When sin threatens to interfere with our relationship with God, Christ washes our slate clean again through repentance and forgiveness. So this “drink” of baptism, being washed in Jesus, who is the Living Water, is given us once, but is an enduring, eternal fountain welling up to eternal life. It’s a drink that doesn’t run dry. And it is Jesus’ righteousness, His innocence and perfect life that are poured out for us in baptism.
But God gives His grace through multiple means, and you’re now continuing with the 2nd main course, the hearing and preaching of the Word of God, followed by the 3rd course in the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus feeds the baptized and examined with His body and blood. In the feast of His Word, there is a filling and satisfying meal for our hungry hearts and minds. God’s Word of Law sharpens our hunger cravings. God’s righteous demands are set before us, and we see our fallenness clearly in its light. God’s Law also guards against false attempts to satisfy our hunger. What do I mean? Though God spreads a generous feast before us, sometimes we try to “bag our own lunch.” Bag your own lunch?? Yes. Now hold that thought. Remember Jesus says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied?” Now you have to understand that there’s a kind of righteousness that can satisfy that hunger, and an inferior kind of righteousness—if it can truly be called that—that leaves us hungry and dissatisfied. And worse, there are other imitations that can even spoil your stomach (or heart rather), and give you indigestion (or heartburn).
Let’s talk about the lesser kind of righteousness first. It’s what we call “civil righteousness” or perhaps “ordinary righteousness.” You could begin by saying that it’s the opposite of wickedness and wrongdoing. Ordinary, civil righteousness is concerned with doing the right thing, obeying outward laws, being a good citizen, etc. It’s what we count when we look at an ordinary, nice, law-abiding citizen, and say that they are a good person. Hopefully most of us would be considered as having this civil righteousness. It’s on the level of good behavior. It’s what people see on the outside, and what makes for a generally peaceful and orderly society. We need this kind of civil or ordinary righteousness to live together as humans. But if we try to “bag it” and take this in as our “lunch” for God’s feast—we’re going to be left hungry. You see, our own righteousness can’t satisfy the deep hunger cravings caused by sin. Spiritually speaking, it’s “empty calories.” And worse, it’s an insult to God to come to His prepared meal, with food that truly satisfies and drink that truly quenches, a lavish feast of the best He has prepared, and to instead want to put our own righteousness, our “bag lunch”, on the menu. God’s Law confiscates all our “food” we try to sneak in—the Law tells us that if we’re to be satisfied by His righteousness, He alone can feed us, and He alone must prepare the meal.
If, instead, we still try to parade our good deeds before God, He’ll tell us that they might impress others, they might even get us the praise of others (even though they aren’t for that), but they will get us nothing before Him—no praise, no reward. God says that we have nothing to boast about before Him, and that every sinful one of us is equally empty of the righteousness that He alone serves and that truly satisfies our hunger.
But before we touch on that higher righteousness He wants us to hunger for, we should also point out the imitation of civil righteousness, which often turns out to be hypocrisy. Talk about an appetite killer! Some people lose their appetite for righteousness because they’ve tasted the bitter imitation, and been disgusted by it. Holier than thou attitudes, a veneer of goodness spread over a double life, or secret dishonesty—these are all more than enough to give us a serious case of nausea and indigestion. This is a further reason that all our self-made righteousness doesn’t belong at God’s dining table. Through that spoiled food out! We should be careful that these imitations don’t spoil our appetite for the real deal. Even our best attempts at civil righteousness don’t measure up to God’s “food standard”, and fall infinitely short of providing the satisfying spiritual meal we require. So once God’s Law has ridden us of any misguided notions about what can truly satisfy our spiritual hunger pangs, His Gospel, or Good News, fills us up with the higher righteousness that does satisfy. We stand aside and let Him set the table as He desires and serves the real meal that He has prepared.
So what is that real righteousness? The true spiritual righteousness, or the “extraordinary righteousness” of God. What’s that? It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t come from us. It’s the righteousness Jesus means when He says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well.” (Matt. 6:33). His righteousness means God’s. Jesus, who comes down from above, brings us this heavenly righteousness. He fulfilled this righteousness when He was baptized by John in the Jordan, obeying God’s Law just as us. He lived out this righteousness in every obedient act of doing His Father’s will and carrying out the works He was given to do. Jesus brings the kingdom of God that delivers us from the injustice and wickedness of this world. It’s His righteousness that we hunger and long for. It’s His righteousness that alone can satisfy the cravings of our hungry heart. His death on the cross was how He prepared this feast of His righteousness for us. It’s where He took away the sins of the world and established a new and enduring meal of His body and blood broken and shed for the forgiveness of our sins on the cross; a meal for us Christians to eat and to drink as we proclaim His name until He comes.
Jesus’ kingdom has already begun and taken hold with His rule in our hearts. It’s a kingdom that remains hidden from earthly recognition until Jesus returns. It’s hidden under the weakness and suffering described in the Beatitudes. He establishes His reign in us when we believe in Him.
And His beatitudes, these words of blessing He speaks here, are pronouncements of the blessedness we have because of Him. Blessedness that originates and comes from Him, not us—that comes out of His grace, not a reward for us reaching a certain level of character or set of attitudes. The blessedness we have, we who hunger and thirst for righteousness, is God’s undeserved favor; God who is working His kingdom out through us. Producing in us the humility, the poverty in Spirit, the gentleness, and other characteristics that are the signs that His kingdom is at work in us and among us. Fruits that grow from hands that serve others, and springs of water that well up from our heart when we refresh others with the words of the Gospel. This is the blessedness of those who hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness.
Ironically, hungering for His righteousness and living in Jesus’ kingdom will lead us to things that seem more like famine than feast—to poverty in Spirit, mourning, meekness, and persecution. In fact, Jesus’ hunger for righteousness to be done on earth lead Him straight to the cross. He was humbled, reviled, persecuted, and slandered, and finally put to death. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work.” Though He hungered and thirsted physically and spiritually on that cross, He was deeply satisfied in a way that goes beyond our knowing. Satisfied that the Father’s righteous will was being done. Satisfied that He was purchasing for us an eternal kingdom and the promise of hope and blessing for all who believe in Him. Satisfied that He had prepared such a wedding feast to bless His people with deep and abiding blessings from now until when He comes again. A spiritual feast of which we have a foretaste here and now, as we long for His kingdom to come. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. Come let us eat for now the feast is spread!
            Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Matthew 5:6 says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” How do we experience “hunger pangs” for righteousness? What is missing, that causes us to hunger for it?

  1. What do we long for in this life? Romans 8:18-25; Psalm 63. How will this hunger be satisfied?

  1. Describe the difference between civil (or ordinary) righteousness, and the true spiritual (extraordinary) righteousness that we have from God. Why does man’s own righteousness (civil), fall far short of God’s requirement? Romans 3:10-26; Matthew 5:17-20, 48; 6:1-4. What is “His righteousness” that is spoken of in Matthew 6:33? How will this kind of righteousness, the true spiritual righteousness, satisfy us?

  1. In what ways is a worship service like a Feast that God spreads before us? What is different about this kind of eating and drinking? What does it cost us? Isaiah 55:1-11.

  1. What is our spiritual drink? John 7:37-38; 4:10-15; 1 Peter 3:20-22; Titus 3:5-8. What is our spiritual food or bread? John 6:31-34; cf. 4:34. How is Jesus offered for us to eat in a unique way? Matthew 26:26-29.

  1. When we are spiritually satisfied in Christ, how does this overflow from us to others? John 7:38; 4:13-14; 6:27; 15:1-7.

  1. Though it cost Jesus’ His life to bring us this feast of spiritual blessings, it comes to us free, by His grace and love for us. And now He lives again to share His feast with us. How can we thank Him for all He has done?

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