Feb 11, 2007
Return to Sermons
The Beatitudes, or the Sermon on the Mount, is one of the better-known passages of scripture, one of the most beloved. But, at least in my experience, when I encounter them, I think of Matthews recollection and not the way that Luke would have us hear them. I want to remember blessing. I want to find myself within Gods gaze as the blessed. Thats what Matthew does
Blessed are the peacemakers
But this morning we dont have that luxury. This morning it is Lukes word that meets us and not Matthews. Jesus sermon as Luke recalls it is delivered on a level place. It is called The Sermon on the Plain. And Lukes word to us this morning is woe.
Theres little escape from it.
24But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
If you are like me at all, you are trying now to imagine how you simply do not fit into these categories.
I think of my wealth in relation to Bill Gates. That helps! I feel much better. Bill, on the other hand better watch out!
I only had a cup of coffee this morning before coming to church. Boy, am I hungry.
I try to remind myself not to laugh.
However, thanks to the kind words of John Jacobs this week, I must confess that I am experiencing the woe of the last statement. It would seem that I peaked as a preacher last weekend. Thats it. If you missed it, you really missed something spectacular. John says that Ill never top it. Woe indeed to have peaked so soon! Woe to me when John speaks well of me
I must be a false prophet.
I am trying ever so hard to find out how to escape woe
to escape these harsh words from Lukes Gospel. And, sadly, I am not having much luck.
For today Jesus is taking sides. Like his mother, Mary, proclaims in the Magnificat, that song she sang for us in Advent (Luke 1:45-57), Jesus proclaims a Gospel where the poor will be lifted up and the lofty will be laid low. Theres no good way around it if we want to take these passages seriously.
Blessed are you who are poor.
Woe to you who are rich.
Theres no escape into a middle class in this passage.
Its a difficult passage to hear. According to statistics, if you make an annual income of $47,500, you are in the top 1% of wage earners worldwide. By this definition all of us here are rich. Thats a sobering thought.
The poor, and the word in Greek that is used here is ptochoi, are the destitute. These are not just the simple folk, no. We are talking about the people who have been completely cast off by our economic life together. Jesus aligns himself with these people
the economic outcast. Jesus once again focuses his attention on those whom humanity has forgotten. Praise be to God for doing what we have not.
So, what then is the Good News this morning? Well, the Good News is that there is more to the Sermon on the Plain than what was presented to us in the assigned reading from the lectionary. The sermon continues beyond verse 26.
27 But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.
The woes that seem to leap off the page for me are within the context of this deeply challenging sermon on the nature of Gods love and judgment. It is such an upside down and backward perception of the world
and it is beautiful. Suddenly the woes are not a condemnation, a sentence of some punishment. They are descriptions of where we find ourselves when we experience Gods love.
This sermon is a description of the Kingdom that is to come. It is eschatological. It is about what God is bringing to fruition but has not quite yet come to be.
It is a prescription for how the Church should understand itself. Jesus turns to the disciples and proclaims these words. They are not delivered into the ether. They are delivered to the ones called out by God. Luke shares them with his community because he believes that they are the cornerstone to the identity of the followers of Jesus. Mary says them. Jesus says them. We who follow Christ are to cherish them for they speak plainly of what it is like to experience and to express Gods love for all of humanity.
There is grace in plain speaking such as this. Luke's Jesus is speaking plainly about what it is like when we live in the Kingdom. Our poverty is no longer crushing; it is lifted from us. But the opposite is also true. When we find that God is in charge, our need of things to define us, to comfort us, and the so-called "Gospel of Prosperity" are shown in their true light. They are proven false. What is destitution in us is lifted up when Gods grace is poured out on the world. Our riches are given purpose.
We find that we have been struggling because we have been seeking something not of God all along. The economic system we have learned to navigate is found wanting. The order of things is reversed. What we thought was success is no longer success. What we thought was comforting no longer comforts. When we finally find grace, our lives are given new focus, new meaning, and new truth.
Grace is truth-telling. Grace opens the doors to love. Grace admits failure and fear. Our sense of woe is as sign of grace
it is our admission to ourselves of what is not of God in our lives and it is a great gift.
God's grace reaches within and beyond wealth and our own measures of success. It reaches beyond what we do to comfort ourselves. What we find when we open ourselves to God's grace is that none of these things that we think comfort us really do. It is God who comforts.
And as Christs body here on earth, what we find is that our wealth is meant for others, that our skills and talents are meant for others. We are vehicles for grace.
Jesus casts his lot with destitute, the depressed, the starving, the deeply burdened and troubled, and asks us to do the same. Though the Kingdom has not yet come in its fullness, the congregation that follows Christ can point to Gods coming by how it lives in the world.
This is not a glorification of poverty and pain, but a recognition of intense need. God recognizes that need promises to be present within it. We are called out to stand within it.
How is this so? We who are promised woe are also given the way out. We are shown grace and the door to the Kingdom. We are shown a way out. We too are met by Gods love and are released by our own burdens
We are called to be witnesses to Gods grace. We can stand and say This is how God has freed me. This is the grace I have received. When finally see ourselves in the light of Gods grace, whether poor or wealthy, we are shown the door to the Kingdom.
That, brothers and sisters, is good news.
Sermon: Community Church of Wilmette
The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
I Corinthians 15:12-20