October 30, 2022

Pastor John Calvin’s Sermon for Reformation Sunday, October 30th, 2022

“The Broken Blessed”

Matthew 5:1-4; Luke 6:20-21

 

As most of Calvin’s sermons were an hour or more in length, this is a much shortened version of one of Calvin’s sermons preached to his congregation at St. Peter’s, in Geneva Switzerland in 1560. The language has been updated for modern ears. In this sermon, Calvin addresses the reason for human suffering, even for those who are faithful to Christ, hence the title, “The Broken Blessed.” Calvin’s one and only wife, Idelette died in his arms after only 8 years of marriage. Idelette and John tried to have children four times. All of the children died in infancy. Calvin knew loss and suffering.

 

You will note at the 10 am service that no slides will be used during my preaching time. Calvin was quite concerned with any potential form of idolatry or images which could take one’s attention away from the preached word. Thus his call for churches to “shun ostentation” in any form. His sanctuaries were quite stark in terms of decoration, and I know Rev. Calvin would be incensed at someone like me using images to use while preaching a sermon of his.   

 

The prayer for illumination is also Calvin’s, as is the closing prayer, which has also been abbreviated. Many thanks to translator Robert White, and his book from whence this sermon comes, Sermons on the Beatitudes published by Banner of Truth Trust, Copyright 2006. I have made this sermon gender neutral as is common with our worship practices here today.

 

Prayer for Illumination

“Let us call upon our good God, beseeching the Lord, since all fullness of wisdom and light is found in God, mercifully to enlighten us by the Holy Spirit in the true understanding of this Word, and to give us grace to receive it in true fear and humility. May we be taught by this Word to place our trust only in God, and to serve and honor God as we ought, so that we may glorify God’s holy name in all our living, and edify our neighbor by our good example, rendering to God the love and the obedience which faithful servants owe their masters, and children their parents since it has pleased our Lord graciously to receive us among the number of God’s servants and children. Amen.”

 

“In this first passage we read that, having withdrawn to the mountain, and looking at the disciples, he taught them where our true blessedness is to be found. Here then, we have an introduction, explaining that Jesus began to tell his disciples matters which were most useful to them, and which were to be carefully remembered and obeyed. His aim is to show where true peace of mind lies, and what goals are especially worth pursuing. He instructed them on our true blessedness. There is of course no one who does not desire to live a blessed life. We, therefore, who on the one hand, feel our wretchedness and are distressed by it, on the other are able to discriminate, knowing where true good lies, and make blessedness our aim.

 

Among human philosophers, the more worldly minded maintain that we are blessed when we are free of pain; others, when we are able to satisfy our appetite for pleasure; still others believe virtue alone is a source of true blessedness. Now when all sides have had their say and argued back and forth, it is absolutely true that inner peace is all we crave.

 

 

Yet, as long as we possess reason and common sense, we will never concede that someone can be blessed who is beaten, physically abused and scorned, who is robbed of all his goods and who spends every waking hour sighing and moaning. In short, we cannot reconcile the blessedness and peace we seek with the notion of suffering.

 

Here we need to reflect upon the kind of life to which our Lord Jesus Christ calls us once we are in his school. He asks each of us to renounce ourselves and take up our cross. The word “cross” implies that everyone should carry with them their own gallows, that we should be like those poor wretches who are afflicted and mocked, that not only should death be our companion, but that we should be vilified and slandered as well, insulted and spat upon. We are meant to endure all that, to bear it bravely like a burden placed upon our shoulders, just as a traveler might carry a backpack. And so our Lord declares that we cannot come after him or be counted as one of his followers unless we take up our load. To do that, we have to give up our comforts! We are to be as people condemned, under threat of death, beset from every side. In a word, to take up our load is to be counted as utterly miserable so far as this world is concerned. That is the plain ABC which is taught in the school of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Yet what if we were to cling to the idea so firmly planted in our heads that blessedness is only for those who are comfortable and at ease, that if we suffer affliction, we can never be truly blessed at the same time? If that were the case, which of us would not run a mile from the Lord Jesus Christ? Which of us would willingly consent to be his disciple? In such a case, each of us would take our shoulder from the wheel of faith if we truly held the idea that blessedness is only for those who are comfortable and at ease.

 

That is why our Lord preached as he does here to the disciples, demonstrating that our happiness and blessedness do not come from the world’s applause, or from enjoyment of wealth, honors, gratification, and pleasure. On the contrary, we may be utterly oppressed, in tears and weeping, persecuted, and to all appearances ruined; Yet none of that affects our standing or diminishes our blessedness. Why? Because we have in view the ultimate outcome.

 

 

Christ reminds us that we must look further ahead and consider the final outcome of such afflictions, our tears, the persecutions we suffer, and the insults we bear. When we remember how God turns all affliction into good and to our salvation, we can conclude that blessing will still be ours, however contrary that may be to our human nature.

 

Our Lord begins with the poor in spirit. St. Luke makes no mention of “spirit”: he only refers to the poor. In fact, Hebrew uses the same word to describe both a person of lowly rank and one who has suffered humiliation and loss. This is because prosperity puffs us up with pride and ambition: as a result, we long for the limelight and are keen to get the better of our neighbor. On the other hand, once God takes the rod to us and tames us, our haughty manners disappear.

 

So, Jesus’ expression designates both the poor and the humble. This also applies to our physical bodies. If someone is physically strong, in the prime of life and untouched by illness, they exult, free to leap about as they choose. But after 2 or 3 months of sickness, they drag their feet and become different beings. What is true of the body is also true of the soul. When we get everything we want, our appetites inevitably know no bounds. They are like waves that foam upon the sea: nothing can hold them back.

 

When, on the other hand, God brings us into contempt in the eyes of others, when everyone has had a good laugh at our expense, when our good name is slandered when false charges are brought against us, when we are poor and cast adrift without comfort or aid- when in short, we have experienced everything we call adversity, then we learn the meaning of restraint and hang our heads which once we held too high. The Lord’s meaning then is that those who are poor in all these ways are blessed, so far as calamity has disciplined us, producing in us poverty of spirit. That is, our hearts are no longer proud or set on evil.

 

So far as the text is concerned, Jesus Christ clearly intends to contrast the poor in spirit- those, who, rightly humbled by the experience of affliction, have put aside pride and look to God alone for help, with the rich in spirit-that is, those who foolishly pride themselves on their prosperity:

for all who are rich in spirit, who are wrapped in self-esteem, who love earthly pleasures and social recognition, who claim merit on the grounds of birth or prosperity- all such are accursed and rejected by Christ. That is the lesson we must attend to here. In the song of the Virgin Mary, we hear her sing that God pulls down the mighty and the kings from their seats and lifts up the lowly. What? Does God enjoy changing things around, playing cat-and-mouse games with people, and tossing them about like a ball? If God made sport of us like that, we would indeed think it was absurd. For that reason, the Virgin Mary adds, God satisfies the hungry, but the well-fed are sent away empty. Here the Virgin Mary declares that people who misuse God’s generous gifts will indeed have their fill, but will be sent away empty, and will learn what it is to be bloated only with wind. The hungry, on the other hand, God will fully satisfy.

 

So, this is what the passage teaches: in order to taste the blessedness of which God’s Son speaks, we must first learn that this world is a pathway to something else; it is not a place where we are to rest or where real life is to be found; we must press further on and lift up our eyes to the heavenly inheritance. When we remember that God has placed us in the world in order to test our obedience, that we are only passing through, that there is no place here to stop or rest, but that we have an inheritance prepared for us in heaven- once we are seized by that thought, blessedness is no longer a hidden secret for us.

 

God’s promises are most useful then, in detaching us from the world. And when we have finally left the present things behind, then we will know that poverty, affliction, distress, trouble, and everything else which would destroy us, cannot touch us. It is enough that God loves us, that God’s love has been made known to us, and that by faith we lay hold of that love when we leave this world. Let us go on then, to finish our course, until in due time God confirms these promises to us.

 

 

And when we believers weep, just as someone looks after a precious perfume or costly ointment, so, David says, God stores up our tears. Of course, tears fall to the ground, or else we wipe them away. Nevertheless, when we weep before God, not one tear will be lost: God will carefully preserve them all.

 

We are thus brought back to the theme of consolation of which this passage speaks: that, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we bear our cross and carry it with us, like souls condemned to die, mocked insulted, slandered; yet nothing can ever rob us of our blessedness, or take away our reason for rejoicing.

 

Now let us cast ourselves down before the face of our good God, acknowledging our sins, praying that all our earthly desires might be taken away so that we might learn not to seek the corruptible things of this world, nor look for our happiness in them. And let us not be so drunk on Satan’s pleasures and seductions that we stray from the path of true and lasting blessedness to which God calls and invites us. And when we find ourselves overwhelmed by troubles and distress, let us learn to look to God, whatever the circumstance, and to find in God all our joy and glory.

 

Section from Calvin’s closing prayer after his sermons

“Oh God, grant that we, who are gathered here in Jesus’ name to hear his Word, may without hypocrisy, acknowledge that by nature we are lost, and deserve your punishment, and daily heap up condemnation to ourselves by our wretched and unruly lives. Help us to see that in us there is nothing good, and that flesh and blood can never inherit your kingdom. May we gladly and with steadfast trust submit to our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, and Redeemer. And may he so live in us that, our old Adam being put to death, we may rise to a new and better life, to the praise and glory of your name.” Amen.

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