2/17/2019 Sixth Sunday after Epiphany The text is Luke 6:17-26.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
One has it all…the other is destitute. One has possessions…the other had nothing.
The rabbi says, “How easy it is for the poor to depend on God, on what else do they have to depend? And how hard it is for the rich to depend on God; all their possessions call out to them, ‘Depend upon us’.”
One has all the amenities of this world…the other has none. One has it all…the other is lost. But which is which?
The word you have just heard were written by Pastor Lintern as he reflected upon the series of blessings and woes that form the introduction to Jesus’ sermon on the plain in the Gospel of St. Luke. They are thought-provoking words, in which the writer wrestles with the implications of Jesus’ teaching. Yet, these thoughts are not as challenging to social norms as the profound words spoken by Jesus to his disciples as he begins his best-known and most beloved sermon.
The beatitudes, a series of blessings that are clear in our minds, were never meant to be quotable nuggets spoken in the hope that we would hear them some day while spinning the radio dial. They are truths which challenge us to take a good hard look at our priorities in order to re-evaluate our values and change our lives to reflect God’s grace.
Those who are blessed, according to Jesus, have all the outward signs of being deprived. They are poor and mournful. But, of course, there is nothing particularly happy about being poor. There’s nothing uplifting about having your phone disconnected, or about wondering how long before the landlord kicks you out, or about playing Russian roulette with medication because Medicare and retirement income doesn’t keep up with the increases in medical costs. Poverty, in and of itself, does not necessarily bring you closer to God.
Neither is there anything particularly wonderful about weeping. Surely not all tears receive God’s blessings. Take the Nazi commander who spent his days herding Jews into gas chambers and then at night would go home, put on a record of a Wagner opera and weep at the beauty of the music. Surely those are not the tears that Jesus would commend.
And consider the woes. Jesus tells us, “Woe to you who are full.” Does this mean that everyone who has enough to eat is somehow at odds with the Kingdom of God? And we are told, “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you.” What does that say about Mother Theresa?
Obviously, there is a deeper meaning, a deeper truth to the blessings and woes than what lies on the surface. It is not that Jesus seeks to commend poverty or ill health to people as if they are virtues to be eagerly desired. Instead, Jesus is giving a warning to those of us who find ourselves in a state of having it all – that we should not assume that physical comfort will satisfy us or be something we can count on to last forever. God alone satisfies our deepest needs. God alone can be trusted to endure. God alone is the source of all blessings, be it possessions or health or anything else in this world and the next. Anything less than God, no matter how alluring, is not where we should place our trust.
So, the poor are blessed because they are lured into placing their trust in a wealth of material goods. The rich may find their consolation in the comforts of this world, but those things will not last forever. The security that can be found in “stuff” deludes us, encourages us to have a false sense of independence, and misguides our values. When we come to trust in our possessions, in what we earn and what we produce and what we have, we begin to trust in ourselves and forget our need of God, or at least, put God on the back shelf…and nothing is more detrimental to our spiritual well-being than this.
And, so, Jesus claims that the poor are blessed. They are blessed not because they are impoverished. The poor are blessed because they have delusions, no false sense of security in material things. They know their dependence upon God. For without a welfare system, which provides for the basics of life, the poor have no place to turn other than to God for help and security.
The hungry? The hungry find themselves in a similar situation. They find themselves placing trust in God to provide for their daily survival. For those of us who have plenty on our tables, the line in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” does not have the same impact on our lives. For, we live in a country and at a time where we have the luxury of going to a grocery store to pick and choose the food we want to eat. We purchase the selected items with money we have earned. And we keep God out of the equation as we forget that the money, and the ability to work and earn a wage, as well as the food itself, are all gifts from God. Our trust is to be in God’s ability to provide for us, not in our own ability to provide for our families and ourselves. We are a dependent people, a people who are dependent upon a gracious and merciful creator. And, blessed are those who are aware of this dependency on the goodness of God. Blessed are those who hunger to be close to God and to find meaning to their life in a relationship with him.
But, “woe to you who are laughing,” Jesus said, “for you will mourn and weep.” Happiness is transient, at best. It comes and goes with the season. No one can buy happiness. No one can be happy for a lifetime. Mourning and weeping are also part of life. Without God, where can we turn in our sorrow? Where can we find comfort in the face of death? Forgiveness in the face of guilt? Companionship in the face of loneliness and isolation? Those who have wept, who have gone through hard times and turned to the Lord for strength, know the consolation of God’s love and they are truly blessed.
And, blessed are they who weep for others, who share the pain and struggles of those whom God has made. Their tears are tears of compassion. And they are signs of God’s kingdom. But woe to the person who has never struggled with pain and loss. Woe to the person who has never allowed him or herself to get involved in another person’s struggles and pain, who has never reached out with God’s grace and ministered to those in need. The time will come when that one will weep. For life on earth is uncertain. And if there is a time for laughter, there will be a time for tears.
So, woe to us who have found security in the things of this world. And blessed are we who have placed our lives and trust in the Lord who came down from heaven to minister to us in our need and who died for us on the cross so that we may live. For the Lord God will not let us down. The Lord will not let any of us down who have found our security in him. But woe to us when we place our faith in ourselves and the things of this world. For they cannot stand forever and will not earn us a place in God’s house.
One may have all the amenities of this world…one may have none. One has it all…the other is lost. But which one is which? This is the question and challenge that Jesus sets before us as he invites us to wrestle with his ethical teachings. Who is blessed…and who is not? And from where do blessings come?
May we accept the challenge laid out for us in this introduction to Jesus’ most famous and beloved sermon. May we be blessed by placing our trust in the Lord. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.