This sermon offers some context for Luke 6 before talking about what it may have meant for Jesus to meet people “on level ground.”
Sometimes preaching is about
undoing bad theology
as much as it is about
sharing the good.
And sometimes the “good news” is that
the “bad news” we THINK we hear in scripture
isn’t so bad after all.
Today is one of those days.
In order to find what is beautiful and true and good in this text, we first have to deconstruct the text a little bit.
So I’ll start by saying that I don’t particularly like this version of the Beatitudes.
There’s another version of this scripture in the Gospel of Matthew.
And it’s a little more poetic and little more affirming.
Those of you who have sung in church choirs or who grew up in a church and had to memorize Bible verses, Matthew’s version is probably the version you’re most familiar with.
While Luke says:
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Matthew’s version is a bit more inclusive.
All of us, at some point in our lives are poor in spirit.
All us, at some time in our lives hunger and thirst for righteousness.
All of us aspire, at some point, to be peacemakers and to be merciful and pure in heart.
In Matthew’s gospel, the kingdom of heaven belongs to all of us.
But in Luke, it seems like the only ones who are blessed are those who are suffering.
On top of that, Luke adds this whole piece about woe. There’s no woe in Matthew.
Luke says woe to you who are rich.
Wo to you who are full now.
Woe to you when all speak well of you.
Woe to you who are laughing.
I am not a fan.
But I’m also not one to throw out sacred texts just because I don’t like them.
So let’s figure out what Luke is actually doing here.
If we read up on Luke,
we discover that he was a good friend and traveling companion of Paul.
And Paul, at least at first, really believed that the end of the world was just around the corner.
He thought Jesus was coming back any minute and that God would make everything that was wrong right.
And that Jesus would flip the world on its head and bring in a new era of heaven on earth.
And in Luke’s version of this text, Paul’s ideas about the end of the world come through clear as day.
Luke is NOT talking about us in 2019.
He’s talking to an audience in 80AD, shortly after the fall of Jerusalem, in the midst of crisis and chaos and some of the worst persecution of Christians.
And he’s telling them, it’s not going to be like this forever.
The end of Rome, the end of ALL human empires is coming.
At any minute, God will swoop in and fix it.
IT WILL GET BETTER.
And in THAT context, yes – blessed are those who are poor now. Blessed are those who are hungry now. Blessed are those who mourn now.
Because they won’t be poor and hungry and mourning for long.
And yes, woe to those who believe they’re satisfied with food and wealth.
Because Jesus is bringing something altogether different and more meaningful.
And those who are attached to wealth and things—they’re going to hurt for a second while Jesus strips it all away to reveal God’s new world.
It’s NOT saying that if you’re poor or hungry or mourning today in 2019 that you should be happy about it. Or feel blessed.
Certainly, you can find blessings in the midst of any situation, but it’s not only the poor or the hungry or the mourning who find blessings.
And it’s NOT saying that if you’re rich, all you can expect is woe.
That’s not what Luke is trying to say.
He’s trying to reassure his specific audience that whatever their situation, it’s not going to be permanent.
Today isn’t all there is.
There’s something beyond this realm.
And in the end, we will ALL find satisfaction, SPRITIUAL satisfaction and wholeness, which will surround us in the light of love when we pass from this world.
This is good news.
Whatever pain we experience today WILL one day be over. Maybe in this life, maybe beyond this life.
But the circumstances we face today, positive or negative, they’re temporary.
That’s only bad news if we’re not seeking spiritual wholeness.
It’s only bad news if we’re not seeking peace.
It’s only bad news if the only thing that brings us joy is money and food and jokes.
If that’s the ONLY thing, then we’ve got some work to do.
All of this is to say that if the world is ending tomorrow, this text makes a lot more sense.
You with me?
So if Jesus, the historical man and divine child of God, did NOT come back in 80CE and turn the world upside down, then we turn instead to a different interpretation of scripture.
Which is that WE are the Living Body of Christ.
Jesus the one man did not return, because we, the church, we the people of God, are tasked with continuing Christ’s work in the world.
So what does that look like in today’s scripture?
Well, let’s take a break from Jesus’ words for a moment and look at Jesus’ actions.
In Luke’s version, Jesus doesn’t give this sermon on a mountain top.
He comes DOWN from the mountain, and he stands on a level place.
A place full of all types of people – people seeking good news, people seeking healing, people who are curious, and people who want a change in their lives.
And he stands among them.
On level ground.
On the mountain, he has a good vantage point.
But among the people, he’s at their mercy.
And people are reaching out, grabbing at him. Wanting things from him.
People who are richer than him and poorer than him. Healthier and sicker. Men and women, elderly folks and children.
And he basically dives head first into the entire group.
And THAT to me, is the most powerful witness of this entire text.
Not Jesus’ words, but his actions.
His choice to stand right in the midst of everyone.
And if WE are the LIVING Body of Christ, that is where we too are called to be.
Not on the mountain top, although that’s a beautiful place to be for a moment.
Ultimately, we’re not called to stay there though. We’re called to be with those who need the love of God.
As Christians, we’re taught often that our place is specifically with the hungry and imprisoned and sick and mentally ill and homeless.
We’re taught that it’s our job to get to know and care for people who have fallen on hard times.
And that is absolutely true.
It’s also true that Jesus teaches and demonstrates that as the Body of Christ, we’re also called to be with those who are free and who have shelter and who have material wealth.
Just because someone is wealthy doesn’t mean that they don’t need God.
For some, wealth is a burden in its own way.
And there are plenty of people who have material comfort, but who struggle with other pain that is just as real and just as life-changing.
We are called to be in the midst of all of it…
It’s not that money is irrelevant.
It has an impact.
Even the church needs money to operate, and that’s a practical thing we cant ignore.
But how much we have or don’t have has no impact on our access to God.
And it should have no impact on where we, as the Body of Christ, go with the Good News of God.
Rich and poor and everyone in between – we all benefit from knowing that God loves us. And that there js a community that loves us no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey.
So my challenge to us this week is to consider who in our lives may need that good news that perhaps we’ve overlooked.
Perhaps we’ve overlooked them because they ARE struggling, and it’s difficult for us to engage them, because we’re not sure just what to say.
Or perhaps we’ve overlooked them because we think they have it all together.
May we show up, be present, and be a force for love.