Feast of All Saints Day – November 3, 2019
Blessed Are the Hungry
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text for this All Saints Day is from the Gospel reading, one of the Beatitudes from Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Here ends our text.
Just what is it that you’re hungry for? Well that depends. You might not be hungry for anything because you’re already full of something else. I remember my mother saying to me, “Don’t eat that junk food now. You’ll ruin your appetite for dinner.” (A dinner she was laboring to prepare for my good.) I especially remember her words now every time I eat at a Mexican restaurant and fill up on baskets of salty chips and bowls of salsa before the meal comes. I’ve filled up on the bad stuff and find that I’m too full to eat the good stuff. That’s the problem with us gluttonous sinners. We’re often so full of the bad stuff that we don’t hunger for the right stuff. And when we do get hungry again, we reach for the stuff that’ll eventually kill us. But the saint in us, the holy one – made holy by the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us by baptism and the Gospel – is hungry for the right stuff. The saint hungers and thirsts for the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Jesus experienced these different appetites among the saints and sinners in his ministry. One time, Jesus had retired to a desolate place with his disciples to get some rest, but the crowds followed him there. Jesus saw their sick, and he had compassion on them. His stomach and guts went out to them, and he healed them. Jesus saw that their stomachs were hungry, so he multiplied the five loaves and two fish and fed them. They all ate and were satisfied. But when these same crowds followed Jesus to the next spot, he turned to them and said, “You’re seeking me only because you ate your fill of the loaves. Don’t labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.” Then Jesus starts talking about himself as the living bread that came down from heaven from which they could eat and live forever. But most of the people only burped and turned away. They weren’t hungry for Jesus but only for more bread and fish.
Jesus tells the parable of how the master of a house prepared a great banquet, but when he invited his guests to come, they all made excuses. “I just bought a field and have to check it out. I just bought five yoke of oxen and have to try them out. I just married a wife and have to check her out.” The guests were too full of their own daily bread to be hungry for the table the master set for them. The master told his servant to go out and invite the poor and the hungry. “None of those who were invited will taste my banquet.” And so it will be for those who are full of their own daily bread – food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land and animals – but don’t hunger for the righteousness that God gives at the table in his kingdom.
Now God knows that we need bread to eat. And God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people. But Jesus told his disciples to pray to the Father anyway, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Why? So that we’d realize that all we need for our body and life comes from him and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
But sometimes we think that’s all that God has to give and that he only exists for this purpose: the filling of our stomachs, our bank accounts, our garages, our homes, our cupboards and closets. When any of these things run dry, we’re immediately on the horn to God with our petitions and complaints. We’ve developed a taste and appetite for the temporal things, even the luxuries of this world, and we cry out like a baby in a highchair for more. But there’s no real blessing in being hungry for these things. Jesus said, “The Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Oftentimes though, were so full of the daily bread that we don’t seek God’s kingdom or crave his righteousness.
Of course, we sinners can also be full of things besides daily bread. We can even be full of righteousness, but it’s a righteousness that’ll kill us because its self-righteousness. Jesus tells how two men went up to the Temple to pray, a pharisee and a publican. The Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” The pharisee was full of himself. He was full of self-righteousness. So full that he didn’t have room for Christ’s righteousness. He didn’t hunger for it. And so he went away that day unjustified or unrighteous before God. God wasn’t satisfied with him. He wasn’t blessed.
There was another man who was full of both, both bread and self-righteousness. A rich young ruler came to Jesus and said, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments.” The man replied, “All these I have kept from my youth.” The man thought he was as good as God. He was full of self-righteousness. But even more than that, when Jesus challenged his self-righteousness and told him, “Sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me,” the man went away very sad because he was extremely rich. He wasn’t just full of daily bread. He was bloated with years of bread. His stomach was so full of bread and his heart was so full of self-righteousness that he had no room, no hunger, for Jesus and true righteousness.
What true righteousness does Jesus have to offer? Not your works. Not your obedience. Not your self-righteousness, but his works, his obedience, and his righteousness. After Jesus had fasted for forty days in the wilderness, the devil tempted him to use his Divine powers for his own belly and turn stones into bread. But Jesus overcame the temptation and said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” When the devil tempted Jesus to bow down and worship him in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world and their riches, Jesus overcame temptation again with that Word of God, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Under the greatest temptations, Jesus acted righteously. It is this righteousness, Christ’s active obedience that Jesus offers to you.
But in addition to his active obedience, Jesus also offers you the righteousness of his passive obedience. One day when Jesus was weary from traveling, his disciples urged him to eat something. But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about. My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” The food Jesus hungered for was to do the will of God his Father and accomplish his work. And the will and work of his Father was for Jesus to suffer and die upon the cross for the sins of the world. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked three times for the cup of God’s wrath to be taken from it, yet he prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Jesus wasn’t full of his own will, but he hungered to do his Father’s will. As Jesus hung passively upon the cross, he endured the punishment for our sinful cravings, our gluttonous desires, and our immoral appetites as God’s wrath was poured out on him instead of us. Christ’s passive obedience of allowing his flesh pierced and his blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins is also the righteousness he offers you.
This is the righteousness that Jesus’ disciples hungered for. The rich man left Jesus for his wealth, but the disciples left all that they had to follow Jesus. When the crowds full of bread turned back and Jesus asked the disciples whether they would leave him as well, Peter confessed, “Lord, to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life.” This is the righteousness that the Samaritan woman thirsted for at the well. When Jesus offered to give the water that would become a spring of water welling up to eternal life, she pleaded “Give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” This is the righteousness that Zacchaeus craved when he climbed a tree to see Jesus. He jettisoned half his wealth, ate with Jesus, and received his blessing. This is the righteousness that the publican hungered for when he beat his breast and prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” The Lord said that this man went home justified before God. He went home righteous. The repentant sinner expels his worldly goods from out of his stomach and confesses his sin out of his mouth to make room for Jesus’ righteousness, and thereby, becomes a forgiven saint.
Now just like my mother labored to make a good meal for me, so Jesus has labored to make a good meal for you. Before you’ll be hungry for the good stuff, though, you’ve got to expel all the bad stuff. All the worldly things that you crave you’ve got to vomit out of your stomach. All your sinful desires and self-righteousness in your heart you’ve got to confess out of your mouth. Then you’ll finally be hungry and thirsty for Christ’s righteousness. It’s interesting that in the Lord’s Prayer, just after the fourth petition for daily bread comes the fifth petition, “Forgive us our trespasses.” Here we plead and show our hunger for forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness. And just after we pray the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gives us this forgiveness and his righteousness. We the poor and hungry and thirsty hear his invitation and come to his banquet table where Jesus says, “Take eat, this is my body, given for you. Take drink this is my blood, shed for the forgiveness of all your sins.” You actually take God into your mouth and stomach and his forgiveness and righteousness into your heart and soul. Then you receive Christ’s blessing, “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in the true faith to life everlasting.” You come to his table a sinner and walk away a saint. You come to this table hungry and thirsty and walk away satisfied. God is satisfied with you because Christ has atoned for your sins, and you’re satisfied because your full of the good stuff. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds and stomachs in Christ Jesus. Amen.