[Jesus] came down with [the Twelve] 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. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 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. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “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. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
Pastor Marc's sermon for 5th Sunday after Epiphnay (February 17, 2019) on Luke 6:17-26. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
Woe is one of those words we don’t hear very often. In my social circle, I usually hear the other word that sounds exactly like it but that’s used to express a sense of awe and wonder by people like Keanu Reeves and Joey Lawrence. It’s easier to say “woah” when we see something amazing and unexpected. But I find it much harder to use “woe” like Jesus did. This “woe” wasn’t meant to be awesome; it’s meant as a warning. Jesus told those with enough wealth and food and good cheer and who were admired by their peers to “watch out.” Now, our instinct might be to try and distance ourselves from Jesus’ “woe” groups because we, culturally, like to focus on what we lack. We all can point to someone who is richer than us and we might have that friend on instagram who always looks amazing and whose children seem incredibly well behaved at all times. It’s easy to believe that we don’t have enough, giving ourselves permission to run away from Jesus’ words. But let’s not do that. Instead, let’s sit with the “woe” and notice what Jesus’ words are doing to us. If you’re feeling a little squirmy or if you’re trying to pass these woes on to someone else, hold that. Don’t rush pass it. And if you are hurting, if you have no idea how to pay your bills or if it feels like you’ve forgotten what it’s like to laugh, let Jesus’ woes speak to you. Grab onto whatever you’re experiencing right now and hold onto it. Because I know we are a community filled with all kinds of people, including people who have enough, who are suffering, who are indifferent to the suffering of others, and with lots of us somewhere in between. These words from Jesus are meant for each of us. And none of us are supposed to experience Jesus’ words in the exact same way. Instead, we’re here to hear Jesus. And that means holding onto exactly what Jesus is doing to us, right now.
This reading from the gospel according to Luke is a reading we haven’t heard in church in awhile. Since the date for Easter changes every year and we follow a 3 year cycle of bible readings for Sunday morning, there are weeks when our readings from Luke are cut off because Easter comes too early. The last time this text was read on a regular Sunday morning was in February, 2004. For almost 15 years, we didn’t spend much time with Jesus’ woes. But this text might have reminded us of something we’ve heard before. In Matthew’s version of this story, Jesus was also followed by a large crowd. He needed to take a bit of a break so he went up a mountain and was followed by his disciples. He began his great Sermon on the Mount with, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth; Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:3-6) These words from Matthew are similar to what Luke wrote but did you notice the differences? For me, Jesus’ words in Luke feel more personal. He’s wasn’t talking about “those” or “them”; instead, he talked about “you.” And this you wasn’t only for people who were poor in spirit. Jesus named those who were economically poor, truly hungry, in tears, and who were being excluded. Matthew’s version can sometimes be spiritualized to the point where its connection to our everyday life melts away. But we can’t do that with Luke. Jesus saw the poor and named them. He saw the hungry and promised they will be filled. Jesus did not rush past the sufferings and joys that are part of our everyday life. Instead, he came down from the mountain and walked into them. The diverse crowd that surrounded him came from everywhere. They were sick, suffering, and longing for his words. Jesus did more than just heal them; he offered them a vision of what God wanted life to be. Jesus didn’t run away from the parts of life where suffering, or our indifference to suffering, caused us to look away. Instead, Jesus chose to be there. And while in the middle of the sick, the suffering, and those whom society usually stands against, Jesus knelt to offer blessings and to announce God’s woes.
So, are you still holding onto your experience of Jesus’ words from earlier in the sermon? I hope so. Because I want you to look down and see Jesus looking up at you. Not only were the words Jesus used in Luke more personal; but as we read in verse 20, Jesus didn’t look down on his disciples. We can imagine that Jesus knelt to touch someone who was sick or to hold someone who couldn’t walk. And while getting his hands dirty in the mess of everyday suffering, Jesus looked up. In the words of Thomas Frank, Jesus looked up, “as if to say, what are you doing right this minute? People are sick and dying right here, tormented by spirits. They have come from all over the land, from the coast to the river, from south to north as far as you can go in a few days’ journey. Will you get down here with me and help?” (Feasting on the Gospels, Luke volume 1, page 160). Jesus’s words are an invitation for us to join in with what Jesus is already doing. Because Jesus not only knows the poor, the hungry, and those who are weeping. Jesus also knows you. He knows your hurts and fears. He knows the last time you laughed and he knows what gives you your biggest smile. Jesus knows that, even if you don’t have enough, you are enough. And he also knows that if you do have enough, you can follow Jesus into the crowd and participate in the work he’s already doing. There are times in our lives when we might find ourselves relatively at peace and feeling satisfied. But there will be other moments when we need a warning from God to stop us from assuming that our privilege defines the worth and meaning of our’s, and others’, lives. It’s in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, where we discover that God has already decided that the world, and its people, have value. And when we notice the different ways we run from Jesus’ words, we are, I believe, seeing how Jesus is already transforming our lives. By holding onto our honest experiences, we can follow Jesus through them and into a place where God’s values, rooted in God’s justice, becomes our own. Now, this holding onto is a struggle and one we will have our entire lives. We will often want to run away and rush pass whatever we’re experiencing. But when we don’t, when we hold onto our experiences of Jesus’ words, we discover not only God’s calling for our lives but we also finally see God’s view of the world and God’s view of us. It’s these kinds of moments that give us a sense of awe and wonder at the amazing gift of God’s love; and we are left with nothing else to say except: whoa.
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