The Beatitudes: Blessed are the peacemakers

A dove on a branch.

Editors note: This is the seventh in an Adult Forum series on the Beatitudes, a class with Pastor David E. Mueller. We meet at 10 a.m. on Sundays (between the 9 a.m. service and the 11 a.m. service). Join us in the Great Room!

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

Traditionally, military personnel wear uniforms, which identify their nation, the service they represent and the rank they hold. They are paid; it is their job as well as their duty. Their purpose is to kill enemy combatants in the event of a war and be ready in the meantime.

Peace “freaks” and “niks” are often viewed as scruffy folk, young and old, who hang out in public places displaying signs and shouting slogans. They often appear as if they do not have anything better to do or cannot find reasonable work. If they do work, most do not use their lunch hours to protest. If they did, they would most assuredly not be wearing expensive business suits. “Peacemakers” seem to have an image problem.

I am fully aware that in all the Beatitudes, there are political ramifications, especially to this one. With wars going on, most of us have serious and sincere political opinions. Most Christians of any depth do NOT want to hear partisan political posturing from the pastor. I will not violate that boundary this morning. My political, military and other opinions are not the point here and neither are yours. If a genuine and complete peace is what we seek, then it is God’s and not our will which must be discovered and heeded.

Our task today is not to discuss peace keeping but Christian peacemaking. THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL! Mercy was the last thing known and shown before reaching the top of the holy hike and seeing God. Mercy is what flows with us as we descend back to the valley below. To refuse peacemaking obligations for the Christian is no less a failure in duty than a soldier refusing to fight. In both cases, it is cowardice.

I have to believe that those who have faithfully climbed and seen God are now descending with a powerful and beautiful sense of God’s presence and promise, short-lived though the audience may have been, and terrifying as it may be to face what lies below. As we descend, peacemaking as children of God is far removed from what is usually thought to be peace. The world at war will refer to us by all kinds of names, but “children of God” is not one of them. All periods of world history involve war.

Christians are not to be striving for the absence of conflict or for simply treating a particular tension. Peacemaking is both the most difficult and dangerous exercise there is. The dangerous part we will need to address next Sunday. The difficult part is that peace, by Biblical definition, has to do with all and not some aspects of life. It is, therefore, very long and hard work. It is comprehensive!

The techniques and strategies for war are studied. We have military academies and other institutions for that purpose. Can the techniques and strategies for peace be studied and learned? Why don’t we have peace academies? We do! They are called “Christian congregations.” This congregation is a peace academy or is not fulfilling its purpose.

War has to do with two or more sides fighting for death. Peace has to do with working for life. Both cost time and money. War destroys property and people by its nature; peace builds and preserves people and property by its nature.

War can be waged on the ground, in the air, or at sea. Peace is to be in relationship to everything. “Shalom” in Hebrew; “Salaam” in Arabic; “Pax” in Latin; “Erineis” in Greek, all speak of peace in every way, in everything with everyone, even if those who use those languages have difficulty equal to our own in achieving it.

It is especially difficult and demanding for Christians to be called upon to make peace where there exists conflict: between nations, neighbors, spouses, races, political parties.

Imagine the six-pointed “Star of David.” Peace with God and with oneself in Christ is at the center of the star. To whatever point in the star one turns, there is opportunity for peace.

Every family has disputes. One could take a side, cast the problem aside indifferently, establish a tough position of one’s own, or prayerfully seek to make peace. This is true with neighbors, friends, enemies, work and schoolmates, and all other points of the star. Are we stars who shine brightly in peace or people who whine nightly in conflict?

Peace, as Jesus gives it, and as we are to make it, is not as the world gives (John 14:27) precisely because it is peace on every front. As we will note next week, much of the world’s people will despise us for being serious about achieving true and complete peace.

Christians, whether we like it or not or are called upon to participate or not, fully understand that war happens. When war is unavoidable, it must be fought with killing and not kindness. Evil is real in our world and cannot be ignored.

Today there are Christians who believe that Jesus is returning to rule the earth for a millennium either before or after a period of tribulation. I am not judging this; Christians can and do differ on Biblical interpretation and theological/ethical position. I wonder, however, why so many of these seem so merciless about the punishment to be dealt out when Jesus returns? For some, even peace is the sign that things are wrong and not right. Why then, does Paul write unconditionally, “Pursue the things that make for peace.” (Romans 14:19) What did Paul have in mind when he wrote: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) David the Psalmist sang: “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it!” (Psalm 34:14) Are these authors of holy writ trying to fool us?

What Christians ought to share above all else is the love of Christ, deep and abiding prayer in Christ, and the peacemaking Christ Himself has given us to do. It is this “peace that passes all understanding and keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Philippians 4:7) It is the absence of this peace expressed which has caused many outsiders to be stressed about Christians. Jews can rightfully ask: where is the peace?

I served as a “Mediator” for over 15 years in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. I was formally trained as a “Peacemaker.” Peacemaking is at the top of a curve, with slippery slopes on each side of the top. On the one side is “peace faking,” which at its extreme leads to suicide. On the other side is “peace breaking,” which leads to murder. Clearly in the conflicts I have been asked to mediate, neither of the extremes were realized and on occasion, genuine peace making was experienced.

Christians, who know the healing of their own relationships with God, self and others, see the potential for peace in the relationships of others as well. Some marriage partners in conflict would seem rather to kill than heal. Just read any newspaper. We know some nations at war would rather kill than seek peace. Just read any newspaper. We Christians keep believing in the “Prince of Peace,” and would rather die for him than kill. We break nothing, we fake nothing, we make peace.

The symbol of our peace is not an eagle with olive braches in one claw and arrows in the other, although I, like you, respect that symbol for what it means. Ours is not a buzzard, which feeds on death, a hawk which looks for prey, or a duck which quacks, but a dove which lights gently on hearts burning to heal in newness and life.

Luther initially wrote the tract: “Can a Soldier be saved?” because his friend, Assa von Kram, a soldier, had a conscience problem and was unable to reconcile his Christian faith with military service. Luther concluded that military service was not inherently in violation of Christian conscience. This is a decision, however, which each Christian must make in his or her heart. Some might in conscience choose not to serve and seek alternative service to military service. THERE IS NO CHOICE IN PEACEMAKING. IT IS OBLIGATORY!

Here also, is a piece of what Luther wrote in his commentary on this Beatitude: “With an excellent title and wonderful praise, the Lord here honors those who do their best to try to make peace, not only in their own lives but also among other people, to try to settle ugly and involved issues, who endure squabbling and try to avoid and prevent war and bloodshed … (others) have no other goal than to stir up unrest, quarrels and war. Thus, among the priests, bishops and princes nowadays practically all we find are bloodhounds. They have given many evidences that there is nothing they would rather see than all of us swimming in blood. If a prince loses his temper, he immediately thinks he has to start a war … they cannot rest until they have taken their revenge and spent their anger, until they have dragged their land and people into misery and sorrow. Yet they claim to bear the title ‘Christian princes’ and to have a just cause.”

Note that Luther had no patience or respect for either secular or spiritual leaders gone awry. He went on to write: “All this comes from the shameful, demonic filth which naturally clings to us.” He further pointed out how Christians must be peacemakers in both their personal and communal lives.

Things have gotten far worse since Luther, in terms of the numbers, nature and nastiness of conflicts and in the amount of damage that has been and can still be done, most usually in the name of good and not evil. This is the very nature of evil, that is, deception. Perhaps the Psalmist is most timely today as we hear: “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (34:14) Maybe Paul was right on when two millennia ago he commanded us “to pursue the things that make for peace.” (Romans 14:19)

Take peace out of the Scriptures, cut the word out every time it appears, and watch the Bible begin to look like Swiss cheese.

Unfortunately, wars and rumors of same will continue to increase. It is the nature of fallen humanity. Christians will not be blessed by being agents of conflict and war. We are told nowhere in our Bibles to go and wage war. Even President Dwight Eisenhower said that every bomb built, whether dropped or not, is bread and butter taken from the mouths of children. But there is hope and we need to be agents of peace in anticipation of it.

Possibly one of the most troubling matters these days is the apparent complicity of the Syrian Christians with the Assad regime. They seem to be saying little or nothing about injustice and violence on both sides. German Christians were similar 75-80 years ago. And what of us right now?

Listen to this: “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak; for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet, righteousness and peace will kiss each other.” (Psalm 85:8-10)

The Beatitudes: Blessed are the pure in heart

Climbers reach the top of the hill

Editors note: This is the sixth in an Adult Forum series on the Beatitudes, a class with Pastor David E. Mueller. We meet at 10 a.m. on Sundays (between the 9 a.m. service and the 11 a.m. service). Join us in the Great Room!

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

With all the Beatitudes but especially this one, I need to rely entirely on the promises of Jesus Christ. I am utterly unable to make God appear.

In time, each of us wants to be in the presence of God. This is our ultimate hope realized fully when temporal life ends and eternal newness in Christ begins. While “hope that is seen is not hope” (Romans 8:24b), “we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:25b).

The presence of God in the meantime eludes us when we seek God and can spook us when God shows up unexpectedly. We are perhaps more comfortable with the “real” world down below, despite imperfections and even evil the likes of which occurs every day. The presence of God is almost too much to take. Just yet!

Travel back with me to an incident in the Hebrew Scriptures (Exodus 3:1-6). Moses was out and about keeping sheep. On Mount Horeb, he encountered the burning bush. He was intrigued and looked closer, at which time the Lord called out and said: “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father … Abraham … Isaac … and Jacob.” Moses then “hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”

A few thousand years later, Jesus invited Thomas to touch His post-resurrection wounds. Jesus went on to speak about the blessedness of those who do NOT see and yet believe (John 20:29). While at first seeming to be a contradiction, Moses not touching and seeing is complementary with Thomas getting to touch and see. We need to explore this!

With today’s Beatitude, the pure in heart are promised an audience with God that is visual. We must be careful, however, not to make more of the sense of sight employed than the presence of God enjoyed. Moses was to take off his sandals so that he might feel the sacred earth beneath his feet. Feeling God’s presence, hearing God’s word, knowing God’s will, smelling and sensing the holiness and majesty of God are at work here, too. Our whole being needs to be engaged in experiencing the presence of God.

Remember that this Beatitude is the highest point of a hike that included five previous stops. This one, like the others, builds on, flows from and requires the previous ones. Each needs and leads to the next. We arrived at this point having made the whole holy hike. We are on holy ground. How are you doing? How are those around you? We are in this together. We may not all be in the same faith place right at this moment. This, however, does not change the nature of the moment. This is a communal and not merely a personal encounter.

The promise of Jesus is utterly essential. I would never try to conjure up God. We do not practice some goofy form of Christian voodoo. This is not about saying the right words because this is not about words. The marvel of this moment is beyond comprehension and verbal expression. Are you seeing and otherwise sensing God? If not, the clouds blocking vision are not on the mountain but in your eyes: spiritual cataracts perhaps.

Like a pilot waiting to take off, we need to go over the checklist one more time. Have you shown and known mercy? Is there something going on in you that you do not believe God forgives? Are you holding back on forgiving someone else?

Ophthalmologists can look into your eyes with precise and expensive equipment to determine if you have heart disease, which your cardiologist may not have picked up on. Speaking of hearts, the organ of note here, plaque can clog an artery, throw a clot and cause great damage, even death. Sin is like that. It blocks the view and (or) can cause a heavy heart to die and faith to fail. Mercy is the spiritual surgery you need. Jesus died for every sin of every person every where in every time. Believe that or there is no seeing God. A small sin is an impurity; only the pure see. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (James 2:10) The only way to be absolutely and completely pure in heart is to be purified.

God is not hiding. God wants you to see! Again, this is not my promise but that of Jesus. “The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sins.” (1 John 1:7b) Either “all” is all or all is nothing at all. This is a time to take sin seriously and to take mercy faithfully.

Have you been hungering and thirsting for what is right and just or for something else? The “something else” may be blocking your spiritual vision.

How is the meekness coming? Non-meekness is genuine weakness.

Is the mourning over what and who was given up to take this hike? Tears of grief and fears of grace can affect the sight every time.

Do you remain humble and poor in spirit? Only the poor in spirit can be lifted to pure in heart. You have to be perfect at nothing here. Jesus is the perfect one. The Holy Spirit is working hard to allow you, move you, empower you to set aside that which blocks you from being purified and seeing clearly.

You SEE, the audience is on God’s terms and not ours. We are NOT forgiven our sins and empowered to see God in order to continue on our silly, sick, and sinful ways.

This hike is distinctively Christian. We are NOT as Christians to be judging others: (Luke 6:37 & Romans 2:1-11), including Jews, Muslims, Hindus or atheists/agnostics. It is our responsibility to witness to others. “Believe like us or you lose!” “Drop your pagan ways, misguided theologies, conceptions of God which flow from vivid but limited imaginations.” Is that our testimony? Fine, but what credibility and integrity do we have if we fail to follow the very teachings and leadings of Christ ourselves? DO WE REALLY BELIEVE IN AND DO WE PRACTICE SPIRITUAL POORNESS, MOURNING, MEEKNESS, RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND MERCY? We are judged for being Christian rather than for avoiding the pitfalls of other faiths.

The Ten Commandments, or “The Law” in Biblical language, are thought by some to need promotion anywhere and everywhere. But do WE keep them? The whole seventh chapter of Romans, along with many other Christian Scriptures, proclaims that we do not and cannot. With the Law comes the increase and not the decrease of the sin. We tend to judge others who break laws we are good at. That’s hypocrisy! We may be judging others in this very room right now for doing something other than what we feel we do right ourselves. It is blinding us, deafening, numbing, dumbing, destroying us.

The Commandments are demands on us which we cannot fulfill adequately. The Beatitudes are a trip Jesus takes with us to encourage us, empower us, enjoy us. He picks us up when we fall or fail along the way. He draws us together in community not of competition but cooperation, not of duty but of delight, a community of faith and not fright. He dies for us that we might walk with Him in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

Listen to this wonderfully appropriate portion of Romans 7 (4-6): “In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”

It ought to be fascinating to us that the Christian life begins at Baptism, a moving down into the depths of water. Here, however, we have climbed in faith to the pinnacle, the height of holiness, where only those who have been washed are pure enough to see God.

This “holy hike” is not a one-time excursion into the incredible mysteries of God, but a daily journey into mysteries that in Christ have been revealed. There is nothing cryptic or complicated about any of it. It is as plain as day.

We are invited by Jesus to follow Him, empowered by the Spirit to believe in Him, freed and forgiven in His blood to serve Him. If anything else in this precious pilgrimage is also clear, it is that we need to make this trip together. You cannot believe for me, but you can believe with me. It is only together that we can see God. I actually need to go one step further. It is only in each other than we can see God.

It has been said that spiritual sight is not like a camera shot of a panorama as much as a surgical scope that a physician might use. With the scope there is more precision and perspective. The camera is more of a broad angle. We could translate all the Beatitudes as “Blessed are the focused, for they will be forever fixed.”

What has happened or should have is that the distractions are gone. We are here looking up and not back down. I like panoramic views, but this is NOT one of them. As we look up to view God, God invites us to look at one another. What we see, indeed, who we see, are not sinners, but saints. We are living saints, “holy ones” not holy in ourselves but having been washed, cleansed, declared holy by THE HOLY ONE!

Down below, in the valley to which we shortly must return, people often look at each other and note the nastiness, focus on the flaws, failures; the fights and the blights and the dark nights. Down there, it is rare to treat others as we would be treated. People are too busy being rude, crude and causing a feud. In all too many instances, there are senseless deaths. Is there any question that at times we can see the devil in certain individuals?

Not us, not up here! We are too near the presence of God. God calls us to look upon each other as He sees us, forgiven; given a new chance. We belong to God; we were “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). We belong to each other because we have bought-ness in common. The “unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) holds us together with God and one another. We see God in each other.

How could it be different? “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. NO ONE HAS EVER SEEN GOD; IF WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER, GOD LIVES IN US AND HIS LOVE IS PERFECTED IN US.” (1 John 4: 9-12)

In closing, there are two things I would ask of you:

1. Close your eyes and imagine being on the top of the mountain on a clear, crisp, beautiful day. It is in the silence that God is: no volcanic eruption, no thunder and lightning. Let there be silence! “Be Still and Know That I am God” as the hymn goes and as the Psalmist says (37:7).

2. Look around at each other! Let go of the past and the arguments over whatever! Look into the eyes of each and every person here, redeemed in the Christ, and see in Christ’s people here, God! The future of this congregation depends on your faith in Christ and your love of one another.

The Beatitudes: Blessed are the merciful

Hands released from handcuffs

Editors note: This is the fifth in an Adult Forum series on the Beatitudes, a class with Pastor David E. Mueller. We have been meeting at 10 a.m. on Sundays (between the 9 a.m. service and the 11 a.m. service). Join us in the Great Room!

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

For any of us who have made a long trip by automobile, especially one made a time or two previously, there is often a milestone or place near the end of the trip which signals being nearly there. For children the classic question is, “are we there yet?” On this holy hike, we are near enough to the very top to say: “We are almost there!”

It has been a productive trip for me once again, studying and praying along the way, being renewed in my grasp of grace in contrast to how graceless life down below can be, perhaps more these days than ever. Being with Christian people like you is a privilege but not pain-free. Growth of any kind, especially spiritual growth, often comes out of pain. There is grace in pain, when it is shared with fellow climber believers.

This, therefore, also has been a truth trip. I remember well an Argus poster of long ago with a contorted Raggedy Ann in an old fashion crank wringer, the caption reading: “The truth will set you free but first it will make you miserable.” It also has been said: “Hell is truth seen too late.” It is not yet too late for us!

Perhaps you have sensed in the Beatitudes the mood swings or, better yet, mood developments. The poor in spirit are empty, their mourning is somber, meekness is calm, hunger and thirst are intense. Today the mood is utter elation, celebration, anticipation. We have made it close to the top and this plateau is a place to stop and rejoice. “Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.”

In virtually every gathering of Christians, there is, because there must be, mercy. Every time we together approach God in worship, prayer, instruction, there is mercy. The same is true when we approach God individually. There is no getting to God except through mercy. The over-riding and underlying truth is that God is merciful.

One reason some folk do not know mercy is because they have not come through what proceeds it: spiritual poverty, grief, meekness, hunger and thirst for the right and just.

In Matthew 9:10-13, Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners and in predictable fashion is questioned about the company he keeps by Pharisees. Jesus responds: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (9:12) He then suggests that these know-it-alls “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’ for I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (9:13)

This is not new. The Prophet Hosea (6:6) said: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The Prophet Micah (6:8) reported: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” When Jesus says, as reported in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount (6:36), “Be merciful, just as your father in heaven is merciful,” we are asked to be who God is in doing what God does. Mercy is at the very center of God’s essence.

If we try to enter at the center, however, without first having known its prerequisites, we can easily cheapen mercy, discount it and end up delaying and denying it to ourselves.

Two convicts were reflecting on a recent visit to the prison by the governor. The one said: “You know, I actually bumped into the governor himself.” “Oh yeah, what did you say?” asked the other. “Pardon me, Governor!” “And then what did the Governor say?” “He said, ‘Certainly!’ but I failed to get it in writing.”

Mercy has to do with kindness, but not without justice. We cannot simply bump into God, say the right words and expect to get off scot free. Justice and mercy go together. Real, honest, complete mercy requires payment. Mercy is not sweeping reality under a legal, moral or spiritual rug. In essence, when someone in temporal life leans on the “mercy of the court” the court on behalf of the people, including the offended party, pays the price in risking another chance or lighter sentence for the offender.

God, as judge, has latitude, choice. We cannot pin God down and demand a free ride. At any given time, God could convict and sentence us, and there would be justice. We all break God’s Law with commitment and constancy. Instead of extending wrath, God chooses to extend mercy, but not mercy without justice.

A boy once said to his teacher, “Is it fair for someone to be punished for something he didn’t do?” “Certainly not,” replied the teacher. “I’m glad you feel that way,” the boy said, “because I didn’t do my homework.” Cute, but mercy is never ever getting away with something.

As we collectively make our way to this plateau on this holy hike with Jesus, we learn and grow but none of it is complete or sufficient. That is what is so exciting about this point on the climb. After having gotten this far, God could say: “Well folks, nice try but not good enough; get out of my sight!” God chooses to be merciful, to pay the price with the blood of Jesus, not only for our wrongs but for our quite pathetic attempts to do what is right. We are free, therefore, to celebrate the moment and joyfully anticipate what still lies up ahead. It is exciting, happy/blessed but it is never cheap. It cost God His Son, His priceless, to pay for mercy grounded in justice.

Both before and after this merciful moment on this majestic mountain plateau, mercy is to have been known and shown by us. It is interesting in the extreme that mercy here is received by those who first offered it to others, primarily to each other on the hike. It is not the natural but new reaction of folk who have gotten this far even if they still fall short. We have hungered and thirsted for Christ’s righteousness because it is obvious that our own does not suffice. When we look around at others, we see those, who, just like us, need Christ’s righteousness. To a person, each is so far behind Christ that it is only by His reach and push that we could ever get this far. We either could have judged one another, complained, compared, contrasted and blasted each other or believed together in the One who was, is and forever will be perfectly righteous, just, loving, caring, compassionate and good.

None of this is without risk to us. Possibly the heaviest and scariest of the parables of Jesus is Matthew 18:23-35. A master forgives the $10,000 debt of one of his servants who then goes out and violently tries to collect a dime owed him by one of his fellow servants. “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?”

If mercy is NOT what is flowing through and to us, then we have gained absolutely nothing from this hike, and would be better off not having made it at all. You can look up for yourself in Matthew 18 what happened to this merciless monster mentioned above. It was not nice. Judgment received for mercy not shown is justice deserved.

If we are in the process of grasping what is going on here and in faith seeing the potential for living very differently and more humanly, then we see in Scripture all kinds of examples of merciful kindness. Merciful kindness is righteousness in its redeemed way.

The familiar parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is all about mercy or the lack thereof. The robbers obviously were merciless in robbing the victim and leaving him for dead. The priest and Levite who walked by were merciless in no less a way. The Samaritan was “the one who showed him mercy,” in the very words of the Lawyer who was testing Jesus to begin with. The battered Jew in the ditch surprisingly did not resist receiving mercy from an extremely odd source. The story is all about mercy.

“Have mercy on us” is the cry so frequently heard extended to Jesus, by the blind (Matthew 20:30), lepers (Luke 17:13) and many others. From hell the rich man who mercilessly failed to respond to Lazarus on his doorstep, cried out: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me!” By then it was simply too late for that.

We have no worship service or any other Christian encounter without mercy as central because it is so central to God’s nature and so central to our need. It is central that mercy be extended through us or there is simply something absolutely essential missing in us.

One doesn’t go to a car dealer to buy linens, a post office to buy celery, a hardware store to buy cookies, a theatre to find nuts and bolts. One does not go to a Christian Church to simply get morality. Strict morality is more apt to be found at a Mosque. In the Church we get and give mercy or it is not a Christian church.

Mercy is as close to God as one can get without actually being in His presence. Next week, having known and shown mercy this week, we get to see God. Truly and eternally blessed are those who do!

The Beatitudes: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Steep mountainside

Editors note: This is the fourth in an Adult Forum series on the Beatitudes, a class with Pastor David E. Mueller. We have been meeting at 10 a.m. on Sundays (between the 9 a.m. service and the 11 a.m. service). The series resumes on Sunday, January 12. Join us in the Great Room for the class!

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)

Our “holy hike” with Jesus Christ thus far has taken us through some fairly deep forest as well as steep incline. We have remained below the tree line, so to speak, but the going hardly has been easy. We were stripped of our typical concerns and attitudes about the world, especially the spiritual ones, and became “poor in spirit.” We attempted to mourn the loss of what and who we may have left behind. We have hopefully gained new insight as we learned the quiet strength of meekness. Obviously most if not all of what we are experiencing on this trip up the mountain is different from and at times in direct conflict with what we have been used to. Yet each step along the way we have been assured by Jesus Christ regarding the “blessedness/happiness” of it all.

We are not quite out of the woods yet and the climbing gets particularly tough today. The incline is steep, even cliff-like. Increasingly we need to hang together, as physical mountain climbers must. Here again we realize that we cannot make this climb alone. Jesus puts us in developing community. We have become poor TOGETHER; faced mourning TOGETHER; realized the power of meekness TOGETHER. Today, therefore, we hear Jesus share, “Blessed ARE THOSE who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

The direction here is clearly onward and upward. “Righteousness” is something to be reached for. There remains a strong temptation to look back and go back down. Righteousness, however, is ahead and not behind. The image is a very natural one. People making a long hard climb become naturally hungry and thirsty, for nourishment, sustenance, a continued filling of hearts left empty at the journey’s beginning.Woman drinking from a pitcher

As is often the case within the Kingdom of God, asking the right questions is far more important than having simple, and often false, answers. A difference between those making this holy hike and those not, may be in our willingness to ask appropriate questions. Please risk looking back down where we had been just this once.

In your past what have been passions for you? To hunger and thirst for something is being driven to it; finding it difficult to deny and live without it.

Many people bounce from pleasure to pleasure, position to position, success to success, cause to cause, etc. to etc. At a distance, it may seem challenging, exciting, satisfying. Up close another story often surfaces. It can be a horror story about people on the run. The running is not so much to the next thing, whatever it may be, as away from the last, having looked for, hungered and thirsted for, perhaps coming close to but never quite having that place or space to call home. It is a tale about those who desperately wish to but cannot stop and genuinely say: “This is it! This is where the running stops. I have found my satisfaction and fulfillment. I am really where I want to be.”

In some ways and to some degree this is about all of us. Granted, age and life-stage may have much to do with this. Chances are, the older one is, the more settled one is. Is settled, however, mere capitulation to reality? The main question remains: Are you settled where you want, need and desire to be? Have you hungered and thirsted for what matters to you and finally gotten satisfied?

We all have our dreams, notions, and images and also fears about the future. It may be in the right lane and not the fast lane that we have been traveling, but it is still an interstate. It is not a relaxing and pretty country drive for most of us. There are those who for various reasons gave up their Eastern or Midwestern roots and moved South or West to find their dream. Some are still in transit! Others have driven off into the sunset and experienced not their dream fulfilled but their worst nightmare revealed.

To walk and climb with Jesus is NOT merely an escape from what was, however enjoyed or detested, but an opportunity to discover something genuinely new and different. It is a chance to experiment with a life style many might think of as strange, but one which can be exciting, challenging, fulfilling, satisfying, even passionate, a chance to be home?

Another way of asking an appropriate question here is: Does what you have committed yourself to satisfy and fulfill you? Honestly? Do those places, people, positions in which you have invested time, energy and money produced the anticipated outcomes?

Is righteousness your primary passion? Do you enjoy the company of righteous people? Clearly at this point in the holy climb, righteousness is up ahead and not yet. It is to be seen but not yet sensed otherwise. But has it become the driving force to go on? Are you weary and famished but aware of the banquet feast soon to be realized? Can you grasp, in deepening as well as heightening faith, that righteousness is well worth having given up all else, that righteousness is the prime thing sought? But what is righteousness in the mind of Jesus?

There are those who define righteousness in moralistic or pietistic terms: good behavior; the avoidance of the nasty, naughty, sometimes truly nauseating behavior all too characteristic of our world. It is deeper than that, however. It is never just personal.

I bow to Martin Luther here:

“That man is righteous and blessed who continually works and strives with all his might to promote the general welfare and the proper behavior of everyone and who helps to maintain and support this by word and deed, by precept and example.” (LW, AE, Vol. 21, Page 26)

He wrote further: “It is not by accident that He (Jesus) uses the term ‘hunger and thirst’ for righteousness. By it, He intends to point out that this requires great earnestness, longing, eagerness and unceasing diligence and that where this hunger and thirst is lacking, everything will fail.” (Page 27)

Finally, he wrote: “The command to you is not to crawl into a corner or into the desert, but to run out … and to offer your hands and your feet and your whole body, and to wager everything you have and can do. You should be the kind of man who is firm in the face of firmness, who will not let himself be frightened off or dumbfounded or overcome by the world’s ingratitude or malice … one that looks for nothing and cares for nothing except the accomplishment and maintenance of the right, despising everything that hinders this end.” (also, Page 27)

Happiness/blessedness eludes most folk because they are looking in all the wrong places, not just morally wrong, but incomplete, unsatisfying. Righteousness is what is lacking and needed most in our world, seasoned obviously with justice. This is what Christians are to long for in the deepest regions of their hearts. We need to talk about love as Christians. Love, without what is right and just, is just another four-letter word and a vulgar one at that. We must speak of peace. Making peace is what the children of God do, but if peace does not come from joy over what is right and just, then it is spiritual hype and not hope.

We need to talk about love as Christians. Love, without what is right and just, is just another four-letter word and a vulgar one at that. We must speak of peace. Making peace is what the children of God do, but if peace does not come from joy over what is right and just, then it is spiritual hype and not hope.

Look at the movement of things here again. Before Jesus spoke of righteousness, we had to shed ourselves of our self-righteous, self-serving, self-satisfying spirits, grieve their loss, accept with meekness the promises of Christ. Then and only then could we open the door to what is truly right.

How about this statement of Jesus not long after the Beatitudes: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5:20) One of the revealing observations Jesus made about Pharisees is that they were like “white-washed tombs.” (Matthew 23:27). At least this means that they looked good on the outside but stank on the inside. The righteousness we are to hunger and thirst for is inside/out, where the hunger and thirst exist. How about this one: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Jesus Christ has put together this journey and has personally invited us to take it with him. Along the way everything is grounded in him and makes utterly no sense without him. We are speaking today of his righteousness. It is not just good behavior but commitment to what God has established as right. It is getting in touch with God and becoming rich in His Spirit and knowing comfort in Him. It is discovering true strength in meekness and not in physical, financial, national, or any other muscle. It is willingness to die for what is right and good and just.

It is willingness to die with fellow righteous seekers within the community of climbers/believers. We are coming to taste righteousness, goodness, love, joy and peace and have plenty left for the rest of the world. We hear the cries from the valley below: “Where is justice? Where is love? Where is righteousness?”

“Here it is!” we call back, “with Jesus and his people. Here is where it is hungered and thirsted for, practiced, fulfilled and satisfied.” Is this what we are saying to our world?

I cannot resist in closing wondering out loud: Do Lutheran Christian people hunger and thirst for a new future which will be “right,” based not on what you want, think, feel, but on what God in Christ knows is right and what is righteous for you? I hope each and all of you are nearly parched and famished for Christ and the future even before you know what it is.

The Beatitudes: Blessed are the meek

Image of lamb and lion by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

Editors note: This is the third in an Adult Forum series on the Beatitudes, a class with Pastor David E. Mueller. We meet at 10 a.m. on Sunday (between the 9 a.m. service and the 11 a.m. service) through mid-December and then again after the holidays. Join us in the Great Room for the class and check out the text on our website if you miss any sessions.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)

A series allows us to dig deeper and look closer at a section of Scripture than is otherwise possible. I have taught on the Beatitudes as a whole, but eight lessons are more instructive and inspirational if the listeners and (or) readers keep up. Each Beatitude leads into the next one. We need to grasp grace in each and all of them.

We started out “poor in spirit” that we might become enriched. We then mourned the loss of whatever spiritual baggage we had left behind. While the mood was somber, we heard Jesus say: “Happy/blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”

Today the mood is restful, relatively relaxed, tranquil. This is what often follows mourning. Once grief and loss are adequately attended to, there is a sense of calm. The wind and rain come and batter our spirits and then the sun shines again. If you appreciate the calm, then hear Jesus: “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”

We climb higher today. When we reach the top in a few weeks, we will be higher than Mount Everest. Yet we need no ropes, pulleys, hammers and spikes. Those of all ages and physical capacities can make this exciting climb as we are all God-led and lifted, God fed and filled. Today, those who truly desire spiritual wholeness and are willing to trust will be separated from those who are playing spiritual games and cannot last.

I readily admit to having my own difficulties being genuinely meek while trying to preach and teach about being meek.

Meekness is presented by Jesus as a blessing against the background of all its opposites in the world at any given time: wars, skirmishes, conflicts, tensions, sin.

MEEKNESS, PLEASE NOTE RIGHT NOW, IS NOT WEAKNESS.

Weak and not meek men harm their wives. Meek men die for their wives, while weak men kill. (See Ephesians 5:21ff.) The weak and not meek harm children. The tranquility of meekness is contrasted with the tension of weakness. The militancy of the moment, horror of the hour, however constituted, is contrasted with genuine meekness. Why? Because the earth belongs to the meek. Their names are on the deed. We simply do not have to fight and scrap, cheat and steal, for that which is already ours. That changes everything!

The world context in which Jesus speaks is a context of war and human passion for fighting where strength is thought to be in iron: spears, arrows, chariots. Humanity, by our time, has advanced within the realm of iron to tanks and missiles but not beyond it. Iron is still used far too often to destroy.

Meekness in Matthew and Paul (Mark and Luke do not use the word) is to be viewed as gentleness. Paul asked the Corinthians: “What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Corinthians 4:21) Here “gentleness and meekness” is the same word. Weakness is not implied in either case. We might think of meekness as “quiet strength.” It is active and not passive, deliberate and not reluctant, acceptance even of seeming injustice or harsh reality. Again, why? Because the earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24) and He has promised it to the meek.

Decades ago, one commentator, whose name escapes me, thought of meekness as descriptive of the frontal of a war chariot, which, even if decorated, needed to pass the 25 mph crash test, withstand battering of all sorts and protect the rider. It was not a moving but strong and stable part of the chariot. It was neither fancy nor noisy. Meekness is quiet and gentle strength. Weakness is the squeaky wheel or the noisy or broken part.

Footwashing scene on a door, from Pixabay

People not on this holy hike with us may think of us as tetched, just as those who are perishing see the Cross of Christ as foolishness (2 Corinthians 4:1-5). In his letter, the Apostle James (1:21) wrote: “Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word which has the power to save your souls.” To keep the wickedness is to welcome the weakness.

Faith is seasoned here with redeemed intelligence. Why participate in the craziness of the world’s way of doing things, warring, wickedness, wantonness, worry, and the like, when it is all going to be ours in the end anyway? We are far enough up the mountain to be able to notice below the fruitlessness or utter failure of so much back down there. Isaiah (29:19) reminded his hearers: “The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord and the neediest of people shall exalt in the Holy One of Israel.”

This also means that the meek are free to be generous of themselves and their resources. If we are not expending energy and effort to keep what we have or to gain even more, we are free to give all the more. Giving is living; taking is fooling, forsaking and killing self.

When it comes to banks, Wall Street and other institutions economic, where is the meekness? There is none! Should there be? Or is that which masks and presents itself as success weakness or worse? “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” (Luke 6:24). “At the end of the day” (I hate this overused expression), it all belongs to the meek.

It is an extremely unfortunate reality in our day that there is so much non-meekness, to put it kindly, utter weakness, to put it honestly, masked as righteousness. Those who, for instance, are either for or against war or corruption or greed can both be utterly secular even if they employ religious language to state their case. Look for meekness.

We will be speaking to genuine peace-making in a Beatitude on our way back down the other side of the Mountain. In the meantime, when it comes to meekness as blessed/happy, we are called upon by the Son of God, whose word, way and will neither I nor you can discount, to refuse to let temporal circumstances define us or tempt us away from our walk/climb. One of the great and grave dangers for Christians these days is falling into the trap of becoming like those who hate us. Hate militant Muslims, even if they hate us, and we lose!

None of this, for holy hikers, precludes the support of their Nation, when for just reasons, it goes to war. Nor does war for us, dilute our meekness. The more significant war we must wage is a spiritual one. It is with spiritual and not iron weaponry that we fight it.

I sensed last week a breeze, a holy breeze, holy wind, Holy Spirit. It is fascinating that the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness (MEEKNESS), self-control.” This is to be contrasted with the “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21), which include such things as: “… enmities, strifes … quarrels, dissensions, factions….”

Is a Holy or unholy wind directing us? Meekness is fruit of the former; may the latter not be happening among us! The Earth belongs to those who preserve it, not those who destroy it! It belongs to those who live for each other and not to those who kill each other. It belongs to those who believe in Jesus, yet those who believe in Jesus will be patient and meek with those who do not.

A few years back, Bill Moyer, commentator and ordained Christian minister, offered the baccalaureate address at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. He shared the Jewish tale of Shalom Aleichem, who lived the “Jobian” life of misfortune and tragedy, but who always went about returning good for evil. He died and even the angels of heaven rejoiced to see him. The Lord told him he could have any special favor he wished. He asked only that each day could begin with a hot buttered roll. Then, even the Lord wept! (The Christian Century, June 13, 2006). I am humbled profoundly that this was published on the 35th anniversary of my ordination. I have not become that meek. I, like you, have a long way to yet climb.

In Luke’s Sermon (6:17-49), we are reminded (commanded?) to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also….” (6:27-29a) Tough stuff? For the weak, yes; for the meek, no! For, indeed, we have a Holy Wind directing and empowering us and the love of Jesus forgiving us.

“Blessed/happy are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

The Beatitudes: Blessed are those who mourn

Photo of a rose growing through a wire fence

Editors note: This is the second in an Adult Forum series on the Beatitudes, a class with Pastor David E. Mueller. We meet at 10 a.m. on Sunday (between the 9 a.m. service and the 11 a.m. service) through mid-December. Join us in the Great Room for the class and check out the text on our website if you miss any sessions.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

We began last Sunday at the foot of a mountain. I truly believe that thinking of the Beatitudes as a hike up and back down a mountain is the best way to experience and understand them. We started out naked, bared not so much in body as in soul, as Jesus invited: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there is the kingdom of heaven.” We must shed ourselves of all our spiritual baggage for no one can ascend a mountain so encumbered. We began spiritually impoverished in order to become spiritually enriched.

We are now at the first plateau. We have not come very far yet. The steepest part is still ahead. One might expect a minimum of wear and tear and some remnant of the excitement and challenge that accompanied having made the decision to come along.

The scene, however, is quietly ominous. The hikers are depressed, despairing, dulled in mind and spirit. The tears from much weeping form a waterfall rolling down the mountain. If we are typically human, you and I are not looking up and ahead, but down and back. Already there is a sense of “Hey Jesus, what have you gotten us into?” And Jesus says: “Blessed are those who mourn….” Everywhere up and back WE WILL NOT be dealing with life as we normally would. Jesus is calling us to faith.

We need to discover what the mourning is all about, how the premise and the promise of Jesus differ so dramatically from what we are used to.

In Matthew 7:24-27, a little later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us to build our house on a rock and not sand. He suggests that there will be wind and rain threatening us, but shares how to withstand those forces. Jesus is Himself the rock. On Jesus we build our relationships with family, friends, job, career, economics, politics, and all else. If any of those things comes tumbling down, the house stands because it was built on THE ROCK. If lives have been built on family, fun, or finance, then a bad cardiogram, a shift in the stock or job market could bring down the whole life. This is why I mentioned last Sunday that if you believe yourself to be spiritually adequate or abundant, you would not make it to this week. Today’s Beatitude could pull the rug out from under a false sense of spiritual security really quickly.

The scene is sad with a profound sense of loss looming over everyone and everything. Mourning is the natural response to death or loss. The people with you on this journey are mourning and in their mourning are blessed/happy? Hard to believe? Absolutely!

For some years now, our world has been referring to death simply as a part of life. Human beings have developed practices, especially in recent times, to soften the blow: Funeral parlors with posh appointments and subtle lights. The old pine box has given way to shiny metal or expensive woods with crushed velour upholstery. Embalmers became cosmetologists and bodies get to look like someone out of Esquire or Cosmopolitan magazines so that family can feel better and friends can observe how well so-and-so looks. This all has gotten terribly expensive even if cremation lowers the financial blow for some. In either case, ashes to ashes….

Jesus’ message is different on the matter. On the one hand, death is NOT a part of human life, but the “wages of sin,” (Romans 6:23). It is a painful disruption, an unnatural end. We, too, play the cultural game, however, and preserve some fluff to go with the faith.

Grave markerOn the other hand, the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures makes some odd claims. I re-read Proverbs and Ecclesiastes this past week because so much of the Sermon on the Mount is rooted there. “A good name is better than precious ointment.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1a). We can agree with that one. “And the day of death than the day of birth.” (7:1b) That’s tougher! “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting….” (7:2a) Tougher still! “Sorrow is better than laughter” (7:3a) Ah, come on now! “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” (7:4) “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning” (7:8a). Now that is totally absurd! “Blessed are those who mourn!” There would seem to be in all this a celebration of death, a morbid festivity. Not quite!

Much of the world, though verbally referring to death as a natural end, in practice seeks to cover it up. Experts believe when done appropriately grieving will take six months. During that time friends will tell you to keep your mind off things (wrong!); keep busy; (“wronger!”); take the trip you always wanted to take (“wrongest!”) The doctor will prescribe whatever it takes to keep you calm and the insurance agent will assure you that you were prudent in increasing the life insurance policy a few years back.

In Jesus’ day, everything came to a grinding halt and for six to 30 days people took to the streets, whined, wailed, threw dust on their heads, ripped off their sackcloth not because of discomfort but disgust, defeat, and despair. That is blessed! It neither runs from nor covers up the truth of it, but neither is that truth the last word. The blessing is in facing the terrors head on!

By implication, Jesus is speaking of all losses: job, dignity, freedom, our dream of what we thought life was supposed to have been. If this hike is going to be holy, then we are bound to grieve the loss of the less than holy we left behind at the foot of the mountain: the nice soft bed; economic security, if there is such a thing anymore; family life even if it was dreadfully imperfect or possibly dysfunctional; availability of various forms of entertainment; the challenge of the more typical human responsibilities. When we look up at the trip ahead, we are tempted to look back and to go back, back to the way it was, imperfect, wrong, even unhappy but predictable, comfortable, typical. Enough!

Jesus knows well that it would be silly to go on if all we did was wish we hadn’t. There is blessing/happiness in attending honestly with our grief over losses taken in following Him. Mourn that stuff, miss it and then dismiss it, get it out of your system and bury it. If you are not grieving and mourning, you have probably not given up much yet, still committed to and saturated with what was and not actually open to what is and what will be. There are risks on the mountain too, by the way. People die along the way, fall by the wayside, fall into the precipice. Listen to Jesus in Luke for a moment: “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn.” (6:25b) We need to mourn what was left behind, all of it, and move on. What is to be is far better, if not yet!

You may remember Lot’s wife! What did she do? She looked back and became a pillar of salt. She was rendered paralyzed, useless. Are you in the paralysis of analysis, wanting to go on but wishing to go back, wanting to have your cake and eat it too, and really getting neither?

Remember at this point that you are not alone! “Blessed ARE THOSE who mourn….” This holy hike, an image of the Christian walk, is communal. We clearly need Jesus, as personal Savior, an utterly essential matter about which we will deal more intensively later in the series. We need Jesus, also as Lord, our collective leader, whose purpose, especially in this Sermon on the Mount, is to draw us together with Him and each other. This is also what makes this holy hike so very important for Christian people right now… You need to mourn the past, righteous though it truly was in large part, and move on into your future, together with Jesus and each other.

In almost every cultural and religious context, death or some other loss tends to draw the support of one’s family, friends, and neighbors, like nothing else can or does. That is a blessing to be sure. Here, however, the blessing is assured because of ultimate comfort. “They shall be comforted.” The blessing is in the mutual circumstance shared and the mutual promise heard. God, in God’s time, will offer ultimate hope fulfilled to the group. In the meantime, we cry together, embrace together, and share together what God will do.

In the first, eighth and ninth Beatitudes, which offer the “kingdom of heaven,” the tense is present: “for theirs IS the kingdom of heaven.” Beginning with the second Beatitude today, including the next five, the tense changes to future: “for they will….” Some of the promises of God are experienced immediately; many are future. Just wait and see!

I sense a slight breeze blowing up here already, a holy breeze, holy wind, the Holy Spirit. My hunch is that we can anticipate more of the Holy Wind, not wind which batters us but Wind who blows to make faith happen in us.

In faith, push on, live on and do so together. We will experience, if we have not already, how a truly festive spirit develops among those making this holy hike. Looking up and on becomes not an escape from the present painful grieving moment, but a moving beyond and through it. Blessings to all of you as you mourn! As Jesus, in Luke, puts it in effect, “The last laugh will be yours.” In the name of Jesus.

The Beatitudes: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Image of a man bowed in prayer

Editors note: This is the first in an Adult Forum series on the Beatitudes, a class with Pastor David E. Mueller. We meet at 10 a.m. on Sunday (between the 9 a.m. service and the 11 a.m. service) through mid-December. Join us in the Great Room for the class and check out the text on our website if you miss any sessions.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3).

For Christians, it begins with baptism, even though there are conflicts among us as to when baptism is to take place and how much water is to be applied. My hunch is that a far more important question is how much water is experienced in the Christian swim (or “walk”) throughout life. Clearly there are those, perhaps many, who long into the Christian experience are still splashing away in the wading pool. Are we willing in faith to grow up and swim out into the deeper waters of grace?

Already, I must switch metaphors. We may just be moving from hydrophobia (fear of water) to acrophobia (fear of heights). I invite you to come on a wonderful climb with me for eight or so Sundays.

The “Sermon on the Mount,” more accurately, “The Sermon on the Mound or Knoll,” represents a Christian faith climb. The reference is Matthew 5-7. The “Beatitudes” fall first in Matthew 5:1-12. Please read those few chapters each week to gain a sense of the larger picture. You may also wish to read Luke 6:17-45, where Luke presents similar material.

This is going to be a happy trip. The Greek word “malaria’s” translates as “blessed/happy.” Happiness, however, is not as in the Bill of Rights’ “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Nor is it what most human beings think happiness is. It is happiness by the definition and description of Jesus. Along the way, happiness will seem at first odd if not the very opposite of what we otherwise pursue.

This is going to be an exciting trip. We will be climbing to the very top and there see God—the high point, but not the main point of the journey. It will not be an easy trip. If it were easy, it would not be exciting.

This is going to be an incremental trip. As with a physical mountain hike, we will be stopping along the way. We cannot move up and on without appreciating each stop. There is no skipping any of the five stops up and two back down the other side.

This is going to be a social or communal trip. Despite notions to the contrary and that each individual must believe for herself or himself, Christianity is a communal faith. We need each other. The language is plural: “Blessed are … for theirs or they ….”

Drawing of a climberIf we do not start out appropriately, none of the remainder of the climb will matter at all. Take an imaginary look up the steep grade and realize right off how ill-equipped you are for the hike. It starts with begging “poor in spirit.” You may be wondering whether or not you want to go on this trip. That’s OK! You may not wish to accept the risks. Good! You may think you do not have the stamina to go the whole way. Fine! You may be inadequately motivated to deepen or heighten your spirit. Let’s just leave this one for the more spiritual folk. Nah!

The ones who think or feel that they have it adequately or abundantly together spiritually; who know it all; who have their faith in great shape; who are on a spiritual high of some kind already; who believe they are so close to Jesus that there is no room for greater intimacy; these are the ones who had better just not come along.

For a minute, please go back to baptism. Whether three or 30 months, nine or 90 years, each and every Christian is poor in spirit anyway. It is on this that infant and believer baptizes can get together. However far along people may get spiritually, they are still poor by God’s judgment. Jesus alone is spiritually mature and fulfilled. All of us are far from his spiritual health, making each and all of us degrees of poor. Recognizing, accepting and acknowledging this truth is exactly where this holy hike begins.

This journey is for those who feel badly as Christians; for those who find themselves indifferent but open to surprises; for both those who have all or nothing of the world’s goods and in either case, feel there is something missing; for those who read their Bibles regularly, pray daily, attend worship weekly and serve faithfully—but know how much knowing and growing they have yet to do; for those who know what right, just and good are but have a terrible time avoiding what is wrong, unfair and bad. It is finally for those who are open to God-driven change. For this reason, the trip is for members of the Lutheran church. In this transition time especially, you need God-driven change, individual and communal change, not Mueller change, but God change.

It that is a bit scary, it is as it ought to be. We cannot take the Christian walk, hike, swim or whatever we call it too lightly. We cannot take the ministry we share here for granted.

Luke puts this differently. “Blessed are the poor.” “Poor” has no spiritual knighthood which comes with it; it is neither noble nor nice. Wealthy, however, is not condemned in Scripture, unless ill-gotten. There are many warnings especially in the Gospels and other Scriptures about wealth, however gotten. Jesus did comment that it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24). Immediately prior to this statement, Jesus told the rich young ruler to give to the poor all his wealth and follow him (Matthew 19:16-22). In Luke, Jesus brings up the matter of money in parables and other illustrations quite frequently: the rich man and Lazarus, the rich fool, and others. The problem with wealth of whatever degree is the way in which wealth distracts a person from the greater and deeper things of the Spirit. Wealth is, all too often, in the way.

The camel illustration begs for a brief explanation. The eye of the needle is believed to have been a low opening in the wall of a city, too low for a horse to enter and relatively easy to guard against human entry. A camel can get down and with much coaxing inch its way through the “needle.” It is difficult, but possible. But it is still much easier than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, the door and path of which is narrow. (Matthew 7:13-14). A rich man can get in, but not dragging all his distractions and possessions with him.

The point is that wealth affords far too many distractions of a legal and moral kind as well as illegal and immoral kinds. There are obviously more acceptable but still distracting behaviors that the poor cannot afford.

The poor person does not say no to a hamburger in favor of holding out for a steak. The need for food is immediate, essential and defining.

Now then, we must realize: “Poor in spirit” is immediate and defining in just as essential a sense. Whatever else is going on in your life, “poor in spirit” is who you are and how it is with you. Today, as we begin this holy hike together, it is time to shed ourselves of whatever distractions, positions or dispositions are in the way. They are, even if righteous, in the way.

We are hiking to the heights, not only of this mountain but of life itself. Indeed, “Blessed/happy are the poor in spirit,” the empty ones who are open to being full, the sinful ones who are open to being forgiven, the informed ones who are open to being informed and empowered. “Blessed/happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We are being taken here to the very height of eternal life in and by Christ.

This, by the way, is the form in which the Beatitudes are all presented. The blessing is immediate, while the ultimate fulfillment is yet to come. We have only just begun. Please hang in there as we hike together and discover the surprises of grace.

This is Christ’s own sermon. We will listen to Him and follow Him together.

Welcome to an eternal way of looking at things and learning to live, love and be happy.

9.5 Theses for Modern Reformation (2019)

Engraving of the scene at Wittenberg after Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door.

He didn’t use a hammer or nail the message to a door at St. Mark’s. But Interim Pastor David Mueller offered “9.5 Theses for Modern Reformation (2019) — a “tithe” of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses more than 500 years ago — during worship on Reformation Sunday. Reformation Sunday, observed on the last Sunday in October, marks the day in 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. These statements, which criticized the Church for the sale of indulgences, launched what now is known as “The Protestant Reformation.”

Pastor Mueller’s 9.5 Theses are printed here for your consideration:

1. The Church, especially the Lutheran Churches, must return to a Biblical understanding and practice of EVANGELISM. Traditional forms of verbally and personally sharing the “Good News” cannot work. With many young people having left formal religions, there is a new and large mission field. Many, however, know the traditional language, forms of worship, moral priorities and have rejected them. Some other Christians employ the language and tone of fear, as if to scare the hell out of people. New efforts with new language and new approaches of a creative and compassionate kind must be developed and employed, not just by pastors and evangelism committees but by whole congregations. (Matthew 28:19-20).

2. “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17). It is an incredibly unfortunate understatement to suggest that most Christians are Biblically and theologically ignorant and spiritually ill-equipped for the responsibility of living as Christians in the modern world. To obtain knowledge of the Scriptures and read an occasional theological book that is NOT spiritual junk food could take no more than an hour each day, about the same time as watching a typical television program and far less time than the standard sport telecast. At the gate of glory we will not be asked who won the 2017 Super Bowl, the 1962 World Series or the 1999 Emmy for best new show.

3. We confess either the Apostles or Nicene Creeds with frequency but go on to neglect the Third article about the Holy Spirit and Sanctification and totally ignore the First Article about Creation and God’s desire that we use faithful stewardship of creation and seek to preserve it. We argue about climate change politically but need now more than ever to address the issue of the care and preservation of the earth spiritually. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it…. (Psalm 24:1).

4. “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at ware within you?” (James 4:1). “For as long as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving according to human inclinations?” (1 Corinthians 3;3). Christian congregations are made up of fallen human beings and as Lutherans we confess that freely. Conflicts and tensions will arise among us, at times quite serious. We will handle them as cross- and Christ-centered Christians who address one another with truth shared in love or we will surely fall even more deeply into sin. That we surely wish to avoid.

5. “I am writing to you, young people, because you have conquered the evil one. I am writing to you, children, because you know the Father…. I am writing to you, young people, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you….” (1 John 2:13b & 14 a, c). Oh that it were the case with us! We are hardly alone in having far fewer children and young people in our midst, perhaps the greatest scourge of the Churches these days. If, however, that is to turn around, it must be our high priority and not simply an adjunct. Our love of the. Young can be shown in the time, money and energy we employ in reaching out and training them in the Christian way at home and Church.

6. “Oh God, from my youth you have taught me … so even to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not forsake me!” (Psalm 71:17a and 18a). It is quite possible for the Church to effectively minister to and with her youth and neglect her older ones. Balance among our ministries to all age groups must be sought. There are creative ways in which the young and old can minister to each other.

7. The Christian congregation must seek to become a “safe” place where any and every topic or issue, no matter how controversial, can be discussed freely and openly. I truly believe this is crucial and essential. I am truly sorry that we have failed in this in recent years. “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:18a).

8. Networking with other Christian congregations near us is essential to the future health of the Church. We must seek ways to cooperate and not compete! We can and must do that without compromising our theological integrity. “Let anyone who has an ear hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” (Revelation 2:17).

9. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2). The Reformation of the early 16th Century sought to bring the Church back to her most precious belief. In our struggle to become an effective Church in the 21st Century, with all the changers in priority and style necessitated, we cannot and must not deny, discount or destroy the faith-full-ness from Jesus and in Jesus which more than anything else defines us as Christians.

9.5 “WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN ANY HUMAN AUTHORITY.” (Acts 5:29).