O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Now and not yet
Now and not yet
Based on Matthew 5:1-11
Preached on Novemebr 3, 2013
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Fellow baptized saints, my eyes fluttered open. I was on the plane - coming home from the Church Workers Conference in Calgary. Slowly things came into focus. I was looking out the window, the checkered Manitoba landscape sprawling out beneath the tiny plane. I was still half asleep, but I couldnít help but notice the dark snake-like line that cut through the fields. It was a river. The Assiniboine. Black and squirming across the multi-coloured land. But it held no colour. Just sad and dark, amidst the cheerful fields. I marvelled at the contrast, thinking the river would yield more life. But it looked so dreary.
Then something caught my eye. It was bright and caused me to squint. It was the sun setting behind the plane. Its light was reflecting off something and striking my eye. I forced myself to look, turning my head towards the sunshine. And there gleaming like the sun itself was the river in all its brilliance. The light of the sun was skipping of its surface turning it into one enormous snakey light bulb. Gone was the dark land around it, hidden by the glorious reflection. Gone were the fields of green and brown, outshone by the radiant river. I could barely believe my eyes. The land didnít reflect the sun, only the river did. It had looked so sad, so dark, but in the light of the sun it was all you could see.
Today, we thank the Lord for His mercies shown to those saints who have entered into their rest. They are in glory and see God face to face. Their happiness is very great, since they are removed from all troubles of this life. However, their joy is not yet complete, because they await the Resurrection of their bodies. But there is no hint of sadness in them, only the joyous expectation of even greater glory to come.
But you are not there yet. You are saints, yet you are very nearly the opposite of the saints in heaven. They have been set free from every burden and sorrow. But you are as Christ describes you: poor in spirit, meek, persecuted and slandered and insulted. You are not in glory. You live a life of pain and tears.
You are the ones who mourn. You weep and sorrow in this life. Many times, you have been injured by the darts and arrows of the Evil One, barbed and sharp and poisoned; he hunts and pursues you, hoping that by the pain he inflicts, he will drive you away from your Lord.
If only the devil alone was your adversary! But he is not alone. The sinful world also lies in wait for you, watching for a chance to strike you. Persecution must find you, as surely as Christ has given you a cross to bear. For the world cannot tolerate you, and would sooner destroy you than anything else. Since the world has hated your dear Lord, then it certainly also hates you.
You have undoubtedly been hurt by the world before, and you will again. Perhaps even you have been injured by your fellow believers. And sometimes, those wounds sting the most.
To make matters worse, you must do battle against your own sinful nature - grappling and wrestling with the old Adam that would pull down your new man. You must deny yourself, you must beat your body into shape, you must fight the good fight, and you must fight it against yourself.
In all these battles, you must endure hardship and pain. You must be struck again and again, as Christ was struck. Yet He did not cry out, and perhaps you also will carry sorrow in your heart without giving any outward sign. "Blessed are those who mourn," yet not necessarily with visible tears.
For a time, you must be one of the downtrodden saints in this world, since you do not set your heart upon this life. True, you may take comfort and pleasure here and there from the blessings God gives in this world. Yet your heart is set upon things above, and a treasure that does not fade or rust. Your inheritance is in heaven and the life to come.
Therefore, you do not make idols out of earthly things. Your God and your object of worship is Christ, who remains yet unseen. Your home is a future hope, yet unseen. You live by faith, not sight.
The religion of Christ is not to improve your life here on earth. You do not work to create a visible, earthly kingdom, but rather you belong to the hidden kingdom that God has already created. In the same way, your God is not a slave whom you order around - "Fetch me this!" "Fetch me that!" - in order to make this life comfy and soft.
Instead, you are called to live in the image of your Lord, who made Himself poor and meek, who was insulted and slandered. You, like He, must be always different than you appear to the eyes of men. Although He looked only like a poor carpenter's son, He was the all-glorious Son of the Almighty. So you also are sons of God and sons of Light, waiting to be revealed in glory on the Last Day. Now, in this life, no halo adorns your head to identify you as a saint.
Until the Last Day, you wait - hidden, often sorrowful of heart, afflicted by sins and trials. Oh, how you long to be freed from every temptation and weakness of your sinful flesh! Oh, how you hunger and thirst to be filled with the holiness of God so that the last remnants of iniquity may be cleansed away! You are at the same time both burdened down by a crushing load of sin, yet also completely delivered from guilt by the precious Blood of the Lamb of God.
You must live in this tension of sinner and saint until you die. The now, and not yet. You must live in great contradictions. You will mourn, yet you also rejoice and are glad. You yearn to only rejoice all the time, for so great is the salvation that Christ has won for you, and so great is your reward in heaven. Yet this corrupt, death-filled world must still weigh heavily upon you. You are immortal creatures who possess the kingdom of heaven even now. Yet your flesh is dying, and the grave awaits you.
Take comfort, therefore, in the Word of Jesus. He shows you what is yours by right, and He promises what you shall receive. Do not look to what is visible and corruptible. Look to the words and promises of your Savior. He has purchased Paradise for you with His death. He has secured the second Earth as your inheritance, as surely as He has given you the adoption as sons of God. He was lifted up on the Cross so that you will be lifted up on the clouds to be with Him in glory.
You can earn none of the blessings He gives, for they are eternal and priceless. So if you are merciful, it is only because the mercy of Christ has worked in you. If you are pure of heart, it is only because the spotless Lamb has cleansed you thoroughly from every blemish. If you make peace, it is only through the royal proclamation of the Prince of Peace. To Him alone is all the glory, because He alone is the source of all good things.
Therefore, I say: Do not fix your eyes on what is visible. Do not pay too much attention to this sorrowful life. If you do, in despair you may conclude that God does not love you. But look past the sorrow and decay, and see instead the face of God. See who He is and what He has done. He is love and grace. He abounds in blessing and mercy. The face of God is Christ, and Christ can only be truly recognized by looking at the Cross. To understand God, see His sacrifice and the salvation He has created for you. See the awesome wonder of God who suffers, God who bleeds, God who dies. Then you will also see the future in a cold, still tomb that stands open and empty. Resurrection is your future, because the Cross is yours now.
Can you still see that river, dark and dreary against the colourful fields? It had looked so sad and so dead, but in the light of the sun it was all you could see. Beloved, you are the river. The light of the Son shines on you. He makes you sons of light. And the day is coming when your glorious reflection will no longer be hidden, when the radiance of Godís Son will be seen in you forever, when His own human face will shine upon you and all the world will see it.
So be patient in your trials. Do not despair at the burdens you must carry, but look forward to the glory that is to come, praying with all the Church of God: Come, Lord Jesus, Come.
In His Holy Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr