It's Not What You Think
It can be a relief to hear, "It's not what you think," when you see something that looks bad. Then again, "It's not what you think," can be disturbing when it calls into question your view of things. This text does both. The Christian life is not what you think.
Jesus says that poverty is riches; hunger is fullness; weeping is joy; hatred is blessing and honor is woe. It's like the Bizzaro World of Superman where up is down, black is white, and right is left, yet we sing about this nonsensical bizzaro world. We sing that in the service of Jesus "bane is blessing" and "pain is pleasure." We proclaim this divine "nonsense." We stand before living babies and declare them dead in sin. We stand before dead old people and proclaim them alive. And our bizarro talk doesn't stop with people. We stand before Baptismal water and say it is a fountain of youth giving everlasting life. I stand before you and declare your sins are forgiven before God in heaven because I say so on earth. And we come before Bread and Wine confessing that it is the Body and Blood of our God.
It's not what you think, I think, or anyone else thinks. It's what God says. God says life is death and death is life. God says Bread is Body and Wine is Blood. God says ungodly sinners are holy saints and self-righteous saints are damned sinners. What God says is reality, not what men can think, decide, or see. So when God in Christ said the lame could walk, the dead we're alive, and the demonized were free, that's what happened. God said, "Let there be light," "Be fruitful and multiply," and it became reality, so He says, "Be holy, forgiven, and free," and behold we are. He adds His Word of command and promise to Water, Words, and Bread and Wine and behold we have the reality of Baptism, Absolution, and Communion.
Okay, but the Lord isn't speaking about these things in this Sermon on the Plain. He is speaking of the blessedness of poverty, hunger, crying, and being rejected, and these are precisely the things that our latest efforts to produce "The Great Society" are trying to eradicate. You go to a mental health clinic speaking of the blessedness of being poor, hungry, tearful and rejected, and they'll call you nuts. Likewise, if you profess the other side of Jesus' equation: being rich, well fed, happy and popular are woes, you'll be considered bonkers not bizzaro.
These words of Jesus struck His hearers the same way they do you. Then why did He speak them? Because it's not what they or you think. This sermon takes place right after Jesus has spent all night in prayer and selected 12 of His disciples to be apostles. Up to this time, Luke reports that Jesus was teaching, but what Luke spends the time detailing are the healings. Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit, Peter's mother in law of fever, a multitude of people with all sorts of illnesses, a leper, a paralyzed man, and a man with a withered hand. Jesus looks like Miracles-R-Us. Now Jesus launches into an extended sermon to his disciples, and it's not what they thought.
God didn't send His only beloved Son into the world in human flesh and blood to make you or anyone else rich, fed, happy or loved in this life. Jesus wasn't born of a virgin, born under the Law to establish an earthly paradise for you or anyone else. This longing we all feel for Eden again on Earth, this utopia that people have sought through the ages and even tried to establish, is not what Jesus came to bring about. But make no mistakes about it; He could've if He had wanted. God the Son who by His Word created everything out of nothing, God the Son who spoke and demons were cast out, the dead made alive, and the sick healed, could've spoken and there would have been paradise again on earth.
Jesus could have established another Eden, planted the tree of life in it, and placed you there, and it wouldn't have taken Him going to the cross to do it. You could've lived in a paradise free of such things as disease, crime, poverty, hunger, and tears. You could've lived forever in that paradise, but you wouldn't be redeemed or saved. You'd still be cut off from God, not the living dead but the living damned. You would be living the very life the Lord wished to spare you from by driving your first parents out of Eden. Don't you remember what the Triune God said then? "'The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.' So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden."
Don't you see the highest, best, noblest plans of fallen man are nothing more than getting back into that earthly garden? The very garden our Lord doesn't want them in. The very garden our Lord could give us with one word. But that's not why God became Man. God became Man, not so you could live longer in this life, but so He could live the perfect life you were suppose to. What got us kicked out of the garden was disobedience, what can get us back into the garden forever is perfect obedience. How you doing with that? The same as all other sinners. But not so with the perfect man Jesus. He did keep all the Commandments perfectly.
God didn't need to become man to give you riches, food, happiness, and love. He could've given all of that to you without becoming Man, but He couldn't have redeemed you. God had given His Word that all sins would be punished. That was a promise which the Devil gleefully held God to. So, God sent His only Son to gather up all the broken Commandments. Jesus took upon Himself the sins of us all, so much so that He became sin itself says Paul. Then He was nailed to a cross, so all of God's wrath against sins, all of God's curses against sinners could be carried out against Him.
By Christ's perfect life and hellish death, He won for you an eternal kingdom, rich in grace, full of forgiveness and everlastingly happiness. The realization of this rushes you into a Matrix moment. In the movie The Matrix the lead character wakes up to realize that all the good things in life are a delusion. In reality, he is hooked up to a machine that takes life from him and gives him the illusion of happiness. This is how Martin Luther saw the devil working. "Satan causes his captives to believe themselves free and happy. For Satan knows that if man were to realize his own misery, he would not be able to retain anyone in his kingdom, because God would at once pity and help him who recognizes his misery and cries for help."
The Devil doesn't want you to see or feel your misery in this fallen sinful world, or he wants to you think the answer to your misery is making a better place on earth. Build your great societies, establish your utopias, seek your earthly Edens; just don't wake up to the startling reality that the Devil has you in velvet covered chains pulling you ever so gently to hell. The Devil wants you to find your comfort in the things that are here and now: possessions, food, happiness, and friends, not in the things of the Holy Spirit who the Bible calls The Comforter. The Devil wants you to feed and be filled with things not by the Body and Blood of Christ. The Devil wants you to find your happiness in this life not the next. He wants you to care more about what others say about you than what God says about you. "Sleep, sleep my dears," purrs the Devil, "Everything is all right as long you are full now, have friends now, are popular now."
The Eden Satan would keep you in is the Eden the first Starship Enterprise found. It was a planet everyone thought was a space myth till Captain Kirk and crew found it. It was lush and beautiful everything that Eden should look like. But when they ate the beautiful fruit they found it was filled with acid. The verdant vegetation had poisonous thorns. The beautiful butterflies had stingers. The Enterprise crew woke up to the truth about their Eden by going there. You can only wake up to the truth about the Eden Satan would keep you in by Christ coming to you.
What made Eden paradise was not the climate, vegetation, people, life, or happiness. What made Eden paradise was Adam and Eve having God's righteousness which gave them a perfect relationship with God. They expected only good things from Him. Christ Jesus restores this relationship with God. Because He kept all the Commandments for you, God can not be angry at you for breaking them. Because He paid for all your sins, God can not be bill collecting from you. In Christ, God is more pleased and happy with you than you are with a child you dearly love. Now, if you could give to your dear child anything, would this be the best you would do: a world of riches, food, friends, and happiness that is infested with sin and sickness and ends in death? No, if you could give your loved one anything, it would not be paradise on earth but the true one.
And that's what we have in Christ, so it really isn't what we think. It was popular in Medieval times to say, "In the midst of life we are surrounded by death." This is what Satan wants you to think. This is life. This is as good as it gets. Therefore, eat, drink, and be as merry as you can be now because tomorrow you may die and life will be over. Luther turned that saying around. "In the midst of death we are surrounded by life," he said. Here where sin, death and the devil stalk us, hurt us, kill us and our loved ones is not life. Life is with God, and He surrounds His people with it in the midst of this death. Life is your Baptism which is a life-giving water. Life is the Words I speak that not only bespeak you righteous but alive. Life is the Body and Blood of Christ by which God preserves you for life everlasting. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (20070211); Luke 6: 17-26