February 17, 2019
The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Service for the Lord’s Day
Indian Hill Church
Reverend Dr. Stephen R. Caine
6:17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. 20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “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 you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe 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.”. (Luke 6:17-21, NRSV)
Let us pray: O God, you spoke your word and revealed your good news in Jesus, the Christ. So, we pray that you will fill each of us with that word again, so that by proclaiming your joyful promises to all nations and singing of your glorious hope to all peoples, so we may become one living body, the body of Christ on the earth. Amen.
Location, location, location. You have heard how important it is, in many different facets of life. Where you live, where you work, where you are seen matters.
A house in one location can sell for quadruple the amount of the exact same house in another location. If you have the corner office with the window view, your paycheck looks a lot different than if your work in the mailroom in the basement.
We see location come into play in the world of politics all the time. Pretty soon we will be gearing up for another presidential election (God help us all), and the potential candidates will choose very carefully where they are seen, where they make their announcement of running, where they give their stump speeches. Will it be in a board room with executives, will it be a large fancy dinner with guests paying thousands of dollars to attend, or will be at a local diner in a small midwestern town where the everyday folk hang out. Wherever they appear it is well calculated to send a message. Location, location, location.
Even with Jesus, even in the Word of God, location matters. Always pay attention to where something is happening. It means something, usually something deep and powerful. Our location impacts how we hear a scripture passage.
For example, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount, up on a mountain, hence Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. It was a sermon he gave to his disciples, his trusted followers, away from the crowds.
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
A powerful message and set the stage for the disciple’s ministry.
But in Luke’s Gospel, the sermon Jesus delivers cuts to the chase and goes right for the heart. None of this poor in spirit or hungering for righteousness. Jesus leaves no gray area, he is cut and dry and brutally clear. But, did you notice where Jesus delivers this sermon? Not high on a mountain, or low in a valley, but on the level plain.
Here is some background for his sermon, the story was out about Jesus, people from all over were hearing about his healing power. They wanted to see him for themselves. Many of them had physical ailments and wanted to be healed. So as Jesus was walking among them, people were clamoring to touch him, to feel his power. Over here Jesus. Heal me, please heal me.
And then Jesus began to speak. You can imagine an immediate quiet fell over the crowd – “Hush, the healer is going to speak. How will he make our lives better?” And so, they listened. His first words must have been such a welcome to the crowds.
“Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the weeping.
Blessed are the hated, the reviled, the defamed, on account of the son of Man.”
The crowd was probably tracking with him, feeling pretty good, agreeing with his message. Then Jesus goes from preaching to meddling. When he says, the “woes,” and the woes change everything.
“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you are full now, for you will be hungry
Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”
You see, location matters, it matters in how we hear this sermon. Where we are in life impacts how we hear what Jesus is saying. Again, back to Matthew’s version, which is much more palatable to our North American ears. While how we hear Luke’s, version puts us in a defensive mode. In Matthew Jesus delivered this sermon high on a mountain, but Luke moves Jesus to a much different location; down in the plains, down with the people, looking them eye to eye, heart to heart, hand to hand. Location matters.
In Guatemala, as in many third world countries, there is a literal pecking order of where people live. The poorer you are the lower on the hill or the mountain you live. The wealthy you are, the higher up you can afford to live on the mountain. At the bottom of the hill is where all the trash is dumped and the sewage flows. Location means everything. You either look up or down at life and the world. It strikes me that Jesus comes down the mountain to the level plain to engage people on the same level, not looking up or looking down. A flat place is where everyone is equal. And that is the vision of the kingdom that Jesus is talking about.
It is a vision of what the Kingdom of God will be.
Blessed are the poor and the weeping and the hurting, because they know they need God.
Woe to the rich and the powerful and the well fed, because they think they are in control and don’t know how to fully rely on God.
Please hear me and understand, that I am not in any way, shape or form, romanticizing the poor or the hungry. No one would choose such a life. Being poor, hungry, filled with grief is a hard life, filled with pain and heart ache. Never knowing where your next meal is coming from, or a warm place to live, a bed to sleep in, joy for your heart. But being at rock bottom you just might be more aware of God’s grace when the meal does arrive.
When you are weeping uncontrollably and hurting deep down in your soul, then you know that God is the only one who can give any comfort or peace or help.
When you are lonely and scared and at your wits end, you just might find yourself on your knees praying God I need you.
But those of us who live comfortable, lives of abundance, who don’t really want for anything. Hear this sermon much differently. Why, because our material prosperity helps us to believe that we are self-sufficient, and it lulls us away from the kingdom of God. When we are so encumbered by things, we can’t see clearly. When we have so much stuff and wealth and food and entertainment, we get more caught up in ourselves with no real need of Jesus and his healing power.
Blessed are those who live in dependence on God rather than self.
Blessed are those who live lives utterly dependent on God for life, for sustenance, for well-being.
Blessed are those who don’t have a grip on life for God will show the way.
Woe to those who don’t know what it is like to need God to trust God alone.
Woe to those who are so encumbered by things that a quest for righteousness is foreign.
Woe to those who are so satisfied with this world that they don’t yearn for the kingdom of God.
So, what does Jesus sermon on the plain have to say to us, well fed, comfortable, rich Episcopalians and Presbyterians? Could it be that it means that we need to come down from our mountain or our hill? We need to visit the plains. See people eye to eye, heart to heart and hand to hand. Rethink our own needs and wants. Re-adjust where we place our trust. Begin seeing the world the way Jesus does, where all are equal, and all are fed, and all are loved. Location makes all the difference in the world.
Perhaps Psalm 1 says it best: Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers. But their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law, they meditate day and night.
May it be so in your life and in mine. Amen.