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October 28, 2018

“Meekness & Mercy”

Matthew 5:5-7; Luke 6:20-21

An Abbreviated & Paraphrased sermon by John Calvin, Delivered by John Calvin to his congregation in Geneva, 1560. The source for this text is from the book Sermons on the Beatitudes, translated from French into English by Robert White.

 

If we would only pay attention to what nature teaches us, we would enjoy the happiest state that humans could ever desire. For God has created all of us in his own image, so that we only have to look at our neighbor to see ourselves. We are one flesh. If only that were firmly etched in our minds, we would be living at peace with each other, in a kind of earthly paradise.

 

The opposite, however, is the case. Everyone around us follows his own interests and looks to his own advantage; everyone wants to rule over others. Hence our pride, our surliness, our venom the instant we are provoked. Harshness and cruelty abound. We are vindictive and cause no end of trouble. And so if we endure hardship in this life, we do not have to look far as for the reason why: the pain we suffer comes from our fellow man. People, of course, have their excuses. They want nothing better, they say than to be meek and merciful, to show patience toward those whom they live with. But, they add, it is not possible to deny our human nature: We must hunt with the hounds because to be a sheep is to risk becoming someone else’s dinner! That then is the excuse usually offered by others to excuse their actions. It is all the more fitting, then, that we remember the lesson which the Son of God has for us here. For although we think we are done in by others when we cannot retaliate against those who ill-treat us, Jesus tells us that it is “the merciful who will possess the earth.”

 

Common sense tells us this promise is not credible. Experience too suggests that victory and success go to the boldest and most aggressive, while the meek dare not open their mouths to protest or complain, even though others may rob them of all they have. Common sense dictates that people who are meek will always suffer insult and abuse, unable even to find some small corner where they can draw a breath or hide from their pursuers-lambs, so to speak among a pack of wolves.

And yet, our Lord Jesus Christ made no false claim when he promised that “the meek shall inherit the earth.”

 

Only those blinded by vanity, lies, and prejudice will fail to see how true this is. We all know how it is with those who prey on their fellow men, who rob and devour and who, out of arrogance and pride, try to gain all that they can. In truth, they never know a moment’s peace. They may own the earth and be mighty lords, yet wherever they go, they are like dead men. For all of their castles and well-armed guards, the fact remains they are in prison. In short, wherever they go, they are like Cain, without peace of mind and beset on all sides with anxiety. In possessing much they finally possess nothing and are incapable of enjoying what they have. That is how it is with all whom this world considers to be great. They are in a constant state of turmoil. Why then, are they like this? It is because God brings trouble on those who bring trouble on everyone else. The whole world may revere and honor them: God will nevertheless stretch out his hand to punish them as they deserve.

 

Conversely, the poor, who walk in sincerity and who patiently persevere, are secure; Why? For they are to inherit the earth. Although they may not own one foot of ground, meadow, vineyard, field or house, they know that it is God who has placed them in this world; and although they may be like birds perched on a branch, they know that God will direct their steps wherever they go, that God will care for them as his guest. When a person has that assurance, when he knows that Gods upholds him, he is infinitely richer than those who clutch and claw their way through life, and who in their haste to swallow everything are satisfied neither with kingdoms, countries or towns.

 

The meek will inherit the earth. Despite what most human beings think, what Jesus declares is true: the best and most preferable course is to maintain our sincerity, to practice patient endurance when we are slandered by others, not to render evil for evil, but rather to overcome evil with good. If we exercise self-control and are patient, and possess gentleness which Jesus requires of us and calls us to, we will inherit the whole earth!

 

If we do this, we will have found the one true way we may possess the earth- not through power and riches, but rather through meekness.

 

That being said, we should recognize that this promise is not yet totally fulfilled. Today we experience its truth in part. Scripture rightly tells us that the last day is our day of redemption, the day on which God’s children will be revived and restored. So, for now, we must patiently wait to possess the inheritance which Christ has promised and to claim the earth as his gift to us. Regardless of where we are, regardless of the trials and struggles, we bear, and the oppression and losses we endure, we should, I say, be content to trust Christ’s promise, that all will one day be ours because we are God’s children and heirs. Furthermore, let us stop envying the proud, the famous, the violent, and the domineering who think it is they who have inherited this earth. That, in essence, is what this verse teaches us.

 

Next, scripture says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake, for they will be filled. St. Luke simply says, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be filled.” First of all, our Lord warns us that we will not enjoy a state of rest or repose, but that, on the contrary, we will hunger and thirst, and our wish for all of life’s necessities will be disappointed. It is not surprising if, when we are in the right, we should never the less experience hunger. We may be innocent of aggression and seeking special advantage over others; we are meant nevertheless to endure hunger and thirst. God will leave us to languish for a time in order to test our patience and faith. For if today we are perfectly at ease, lacking nothing, what would be the point of urging us to practice what Christ teaches here?

 

In regards to righteousness, we should be hungry and thirsty for prayer to God. And although he allows us to suffer affliction even when we live in righteousness, we must not give way to sadness, despair, and panic. We should hold firm that, in the end, God will provide for all our needs. That is something else our text teaches us.

 

 

 

What about others who suffer outside our own community? We must bear the afflictions of our neighbor. We must assume their identities, so as to be deeply touched by their suffering and moved by love to mourn with them. We must weep with those who weep, as St. Paul exhorts us to do. Of course one can give to a poor person, but it can be more like a tribute, or fee given grudgingly and with reluctance. There is no suggestion that when a rich person gives of his substance, he says to himself, “here is a member of Christ’s body, we are all joined together.” It is all the more important, therefore, to understand that helping others amounts to nothing unless we are moved by a love which comes from the heart, and which bids us to bear our share of the misfortune we see around us. And because God has bound us all upon this earth together, no one can turn away and live only for himself. There is no room here for indifference, which promises false tranquility and the pleasures of a comfortable life: we must enlarge our affections as the law of love requires. So when we see some who are sick or poor or destitute, and others who may be in trouble and in distress of body or mind, we should say, “This person belongs to the same body as I do.” And then we should prove by our deeds that we are merciful. We can proclaim our pity for those who suffer time without number; but unless we actually assist them, our claims will be worthless. We must learn, therefore, first to be kind and compassionate toward those who suffer; and then to make diligent use of the opportunities which God provides. The result of such actions, as St. Matthew reminds us, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

 

As our own welfare and salvation depend wholly on God’s mercy, should we not rejoice in his promise of pity and compassion when we, who have shown pity to our neighbor lay before him our burden of pain? God is moved to welcome us, to be merciful to us, though because of our dreadful sins he might well have cast us out! Since we have this promise of God’s mercy, we would have to be mad, out of our minds to ignore God’s call to be ourselves merciful!

 

Christ intends all of this for our instruction. In the first place, we must learn to be mild-mannered and patient in every trial. Next, to hunger and thirst, remaining meek even when we are unjustly persecuted though we have done no wrong. Lastly, we must learn to have pity on those who suffer and be sincerely moved to help them as ability and opportunity allow.

We must do all these things, without forgetting the word now which St. Luke adds. This means that although God allows us to experience in this transient life the truth of his Son’s teaching, its joyful fulfillment is kept for us until the last day. Let us then learn now-that is, amid the perplexities of this earthly life-to have pity on those who suffer, and also to suffer ourselves, so that if we are troubled and afflicted, we remain gentle and kind, however much cruelty and brutality may be used against us.

 

At the last, we will surely find that the one who spoke these words possesses all true power; all dominion has been given to him, and he will accomplish everything we read of in this passage when he receives us into that heavenly union for which we now yearn. For one day, we shall inherit the earth. Amen.

 

I have a short announcement to make. The Town Councilors have agreed that our brother Pierre d’Airebauddouze, who has lately served as minister in the town of Jussy, should be called to this city. He is to be presented on Sunday next. Since all church members have the right to be heard, anyone who has an objection concerning him should declare it to the Councilors between now and Sunday.

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