Worship Helps for Epiphany 4

Artwork: Jesus preaching on the mount
Artist: Gustave Dore

Worship Theme: Trust in God’s strength! The Beatitudes are hard for us to swallow. Jesus seems to be espousing a Christianity imbued with fatalism at best or defeatism at worst. Look closer, however, and see what he says. The weaker you are, the stronger God is in your life. The weaker you are now, the more ready you are to trust in a future reward. Look at the past acts of God’s grace and you will find many reasons to trust his strength in the face of adversity, persecution or sorrow.

Old Testament: Daniel 3:13-27
13In a furious rage Nebuchadnezzar said to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then these men were brought before the king. 14Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and that you do not worship the golden statue that I set up? 15Now, if you are ready, at the time when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, harp, triangular harp, drum, and all kinds of musical instruments, you must fall down and worship the statue I made. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be thrown into the blazing fiery furnace. What god will be able to save you from my hands?”
16Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “We have no need to answer you about this matter, 17Since our God whom we serve exists, he is able to save us from the blazing fiery furnace. So he may save us from your hand, Your Majesty. 18But if he does not, you should know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods, and we will not worship the statue of gold that you set up.”
19Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with rage, and the expression on his face changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He said to heat the furnace seven times hotter than it was usually heated. 20And he ordered some men, soldiers from his army, to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in order to throw them into the blazing fiery furnace. 21Then these men were bound in their robes, their pants, their turbans, and their clothes, and they were thrown into the middle of the blazing fiery furnace. 22Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace was extremely hot, those men who carried Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—the intense heat of the fire killed them. 23But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who had been bound, fell into the blazing fiery furnace.
24Then King Nebuchadnezzar was startled and immediately stood up. He said to his counselors, “Didn’t we throw three men who had been bound into the middle of the fire. They answered the king, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” 25He said, “Look! I see four men unbound and walking around in the middle of the fire unharmed. What is more, the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” 26Then Nebuchadnezzar approached the door of the blazing fiery furnace. He said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the middle of the furnace. 27The satraps, the prefects, and the governors, and the royal counselors gathered and looked at these men. The fire had no power over their bodies. The hair on their head was not singed, their robes were not damaged, and the smell of fire had not stuck to them.

1. How does the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego help you understand the promises of Jesus in the Beatitudes?

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
26For example, consider your call, brothers. Not many of you were wise from a human point of view, not many were powerful, and not many were born with high status. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are strong, 28and God chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things, and the things that are not, to do away with the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before God. 30But because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us the wisdom from God, namely, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. 31God did this so that, just as it is written, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

2. Why does God often choose the lowly and despised to be his children?

3. What three things does Paul call Jesus? What does he mean?


Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up onto a mountain. When he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2He opened his mouth and began to teach them. He said these things: 3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4Blessed are those who mourn, because they will be comforted. 5Blessed are the gentle, because they will inherit the earth. 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they will be filled. 7Blessed are the merciful, because they will receive mercy. 8Blessed are the pure in heart, because they will see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers, because they will be called sons of God. 10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. In fact, that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

4. What word does Jesus used to describe those who trust in him? What does he mean?

5. Does Jesus really mean that if we obey God, good things will come our way?

6. Where does Jesus even promise to reward us?


Answers:
1. Rejoice and be glad, Jesus said, because great is your reward in heaven. He does not promise to keep us from a martyr’s death or Christian persecution on earth. He promises to reward us in spite of them. That we might trust his promises of future reward, however, he shows us his righteous acts of the past. The God of the three men in the fiery furnace can be trusted! As they stood before great Nebuchadnezzar, these men looked weak. As they chose the path of righteousness rather than accommodation, they seemed stupid. As they spoke about a powerful God, their words and actions seemed powerless. At the weakest moment of their lives—despised, condemned, bound hand and foot and falling into an inferno—they trusted that God was their strength, and he did not fail them.

2. He chooses the seemingly foolish to shame those who think themselves wise. He chooses what seems weak to shame those who think themselves strong. He wants no one to boast before him.

3. Paul calls Jesus “our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” Without us doing anything he makes us right with God by his blood, holy in God’s sight. He paid to set us free from Satan and hell.

4. Jesus calls us “blessed.” He doesn’t mean we are happy, necessarily. He means we have it good, even if we do not feel good. All God’s blessings definitely come to us by grace alone. But surely Jesus means what he says.

5. God should not bless us for doing what we are told, but he says he will. For people who never obey him fully— what grace!

6. Jesus promises to reward us greatly in heaven.

In the Beatitudes, our Savior turns the world upside down. He calls blessed the people this world never would. He calls blessed people that the world would use as doormats! The world praises the brash, the strong, and the self-sufficient. Jesus calls blessed what others see as weak or stupid. To live this kind of blessedness requires a deep trust in the Lord’s strength and a long-term view of life. Jesus calls us blessed even in circumstances like mourning and persecution, because he is looking beyond the troubles of this world to the reward that is waiting for the people of God. Like reading the last chapter of a book, Jesus takes the mystery out of a life filled with sorrow by showing us the end, the outcome of life lived trusting in God’s strength. All the weak children of God can rejoice and be glad—even now—because our reward will be great!


Putting your faith into action
God’s stewardship of blessings runs counter to man’s expectations—or, let’s be realistic: man’s expectations try to swim against the current of God’s values. While man would assume honor and power go to the strong and famous, God’s normal is to choose the lowly, the weak, the despised as objects of his mercy, recipients of his grace. When it comes to our own stewardship of his gifts, it flows with his wisdom when we share them liberally and pour out our efforts in making sure his grace reaches those on the fringes and those who don’t have anything to give back to us.


A reading from the Book of Concord for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
1] Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God's will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification 2] before God. For remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the voice of Christ attests: When ye shall have done all these things, say: We are unprofitable servants. Luke 17:10. The same is also taught by 3] the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone. – Augsburg Confession, Article IV: Of New Obedience (paragraphs 1-3)


Hymns: 347; 763; 491; 499; 349

1  Jesus, priceless treasure, Fount of purest pleasure, Truest friend to me.
Ah, how long in anguish Shall my spirit languish, Yearning, Lord, for thee?
Thou art mine, O Lamb divine!
I will suffer naught to hide thee, Naught I ask beside thee.

2  In thine arms I rest me; Foes who would molest me Cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking, Ev’ry heart be quaking, Jesus calms my fear.
Lightnings flash And thunders crash;
Yet, tho’ sin and hell assail me, Jesus will not fail me.

3  Satan, I defy thee; Death, I now decry thee; Fear, I bid thee cease.
World, thou shalt not harm me Nor thy threats alarm me While I sing of peace.
God’s great pow’r Guards ev’ry hour;
Earth and all its depths adore him, Silent bow before him.

4  Hence, all earthly treasure! Jesus is my pleasure; Jesus is my choice.
Hence, all empty glory! Naught to me thy story Told with tempting voice.
Pain or loss Or shame or cross
Shall not from my Savior move me Since he deigns to love me.

5  Hence, all fear and sadness! For the Lord of gladness, Jesus, enters in.
Those who love the Father, Though the storms may gather, Still have peace within.
Yea, whate’er I here must bear, Thou art still my purest pleasure,
Jesus, priceless treasure!

Text: Johann Franck, 1618–77, abr.; tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1827–78, st. 1-2, 4-5, alt.;

The Lutheran Hymnal, St. Louis, 1941, st. 3.

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