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God Will Remain Your Friend
Micah 6:1-8 Psalm 15 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Matthew 5:1-12
Philip Van Dam

I saw the movie "A Beautiful Mind" this past week. In the movie the main character is very dependant on reason and logic and mathematics. He believes that ultimately math is what makes the world make sense. At the end of the movie he comes to the conclusion that math does not make sense of the world, and that only love can make sense of the world. This was one of the issues that Paul was addressing in the second lesson. The people at his time wanted to understand the world. They wanted to reduce the world to a level where they could understand why things happen. I think that what we have seen in our lifetime is this tendency spreading through many disciplines.

Everybody wants to understand the world, and everybody seems to think that the world is logical. What is ironic is that the one discipline that seems like it would be the most logical, physics, has found that the world is not logical. Physicists have known this for years, but people in other areas still try to make the world logical. This is even true of theology. When I was at Trinity Lutheran Seminary there was a pastor I knew who wanted to make sense of God. Part of this was that he tried to explain the Trinity. He tried to explain God and the gospel logically. If, as physicists tell us, the world cannot be explained logically, then certainly God, who is higher than creation, also cannot be explained logically.

We still have this tendency that the Greeks had to explain everything. We want the world to make sense. We want it to make sense according to our level of understanding. But who made us the measure of reality? Who made us the judge of what makes sense, and what doesn't make sense? The Greeks wanted wisdom. They wanted to understand the world. This is still a problem today. The Jews wanted something different. They wanted signs. The Jews looked back to the signs that were given in the Old Testament, and they wanted something similar. They wanted what seemed to be spectacular events to happen to them so that they could be sure of what they were accepting. They wanted bread to fall from heaven like the manna in the wilderness. Or they wanted a pillar of fire, or maybe for God to destroy their enemies. They wanted something that was so clear that it would convince everyone.

But even when Jesus gave them signs and miracles they didn't believe. Do we have this problem today? Do people today require signs and miracles to believe? Yes. This same attitude appears today in a couple of different forms. This problem appears in the form of people looking for proofs that a person is saved, or proofs that a person is a Christian. This attitude seems to come in two major forms. These forms are known as enthusiasts, and prosperity theology. Enthusiast was a term that Luther used. This is a person who believes that if you are saved you can point to a particular emotional reaction that you have had. I remember a pastor who had self-doubts because he had never had a "mountain top experience". He wondered whether he was doing good ministry. The rest of us could see the work that he was doing, and we could see that he was doing good ministry.

I remember other people who believed that in order to prove that you were saved, you needed to speak in tongues. This is again looking at some kind of experience to prove that you are saved. Luther condemned these attitudes. He said that there was only one experience necessary to prove that you were saved. That experience is your baptism. In Romans 6, Paul says about baptism that "all of us who have been baptized into Jesus Christ have been baptized into his death," and "if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, so we shall be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection." Luther said that if we do not believe that we have been saved in our baptism, then we are not believing the promise that God has given to us. And if we do not believe God, then what is the point of asking whether we are saved. The enthusiast question cannot be answered because our emotions do not tell us whether we are Christians or whether we are saved.

The other group, those who believe prosperity theology do not ask whether a person is saved, but how strong a person's faith is. Prosperity theology is the belief that if your faith is strong enough, then everything will go well for you. Jim Baker was a main supporter of this belief. He thought that if you had enough faith then God would reward you with wealth. Some people don't say that you will receive wealth, but they say that if you are sick then it is because of lack of faith, or unconfessed sin. The problem with this is that Saint Paul complained of illness. We don't know what it was, but he wanted God to heal him, and apparently never was healed. Do these people believe that they have more faith than Paul?

Some people believe that through the power of the Holy Spirit you can keep working without the need for sleep, but we know that Jesus had to go off and rest. Do these people think that they are more in touch with the Holy Spirit than Jesus? What these people have done turns out to be foolish, just as with the pastor who wanted to explain God. We cannot understand God. God cannot be explained. God is just accepted or rejected. God will not be trapped in our little ideas of what should be. This is the point of the gospel lesson. Prosperity theology says that if you are rich, and if you are healthy, and if people treat you well, then God has blessed you.

The beatitudes say that if you suffer, if you don't have it well, if you are mistreated, if you are persecuted, if you are poor, then God has blessed you. Jesus turns the world on its head. Jesus and Paul both say that the way humans measure the world is wrong. The way we decide whether a person is blessed, or in touch with God, or saved, are wrong. What should we say today for beatitudes? Blessed are you if you lost the election, for God has elected you. Blessed are you if you are depressed, for God will lift your spirits. Blessed are you if your friends reject you because you try to live out the gospel. Blessed are you if you stay friends with someone that everyone else rejects. For God will remain your friend.