Sunday, February 17, 2019
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany / Lectionary 6, Year C

Prayer of the Day
Living God, in Christ you make all things new. Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your glory, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Jeremiah 17:5-10 Blessed are those who trust the Lord, they are like trees by water
Psalm 1
1 Corinthians 15:12-20 Christ has been raised, the first fruits of those who have died
Luke 6:17-26 Jesus speaks blessings on the poor and hungry; woes on the rich and full

Sermon
Title:  Didn’t Know Until…

Perhaps you have heard the old adage, one doesn’t know what one has until its gone.  Perhaps you have lived it.  Whether it be a person or a possession, a position or a pet, we know we take things for granted only to value them in the epiphany that dawns on us in their absence.

This past week, I have had sort of a variation of this “didn’t now until it was gone” reality.  But it was not regret that filled the epiphany at the absence but rather joy.  In the spirit of “didn’t know until”  –   I didn’t know just how much administrative tasks were taking up my time in a given week until I was able to let go of them and share them with someone else.  Josh (who we are about to install into his new position as parish administrator), in his first week, has already helped me to see how much time these tasks were taking me away from other work, how much energy they were absorbing that could be invested in other responsibilities.

This coming week, I am sure that Scott and I will be having a similar epiphany when we arrive in Belize and are sitting on the beach only to truly realize just how much a vacation was needed.

All of this “didn’t know until” realization got me approaching these Beatitudes in Luke from a different angle.  Now I know that we are used to hearing these teachings of Jesus that we call the Beatitudes – “Blessed are they that __________ “ (fill in the blank) –  as they are recorded in Matthew.  Maybe this morning you even found yourself, when hearing “Blessed are” were left wondering:  What happened to the meek inheriting the earth?  (Certainly, a very real and timely hope as we see the rich and the powerful destroying the planet’s resources and ignoring the reality of climate change.)  And maybe our current war-drum beating context highlighted the absence of “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  Because we all know we need some hard-working and wise peacemakers right now.

Yes, the familiar version found in Matthew comes across a bit more like the job description for a saint (after all, we do read the beatitudes on the feast of All Saints), they ring a bit more like a challenge for living as a disciple.  Be meek, hungry for righteousness, pure in heart, a peacemaker.   Meanwhile, Luke’s version has an urgency, an encouragement, a comfort even.  (Well, until you get to the woes, but we’ll get there soon enough.)

The differences between these two witness’s accounts are important not to create controversy and confusion, but to see the expansiveness and inclusiveness of Christ’s teaching.  In Matthew the crowd has gathered from Jewish populated lands and cities.  He climbs a mount and delivers what could be seen as a new law.  He is to be seen as the new Moses, if you will.  Matthew’s audience will pay attention to and understand this imagery.

The crowd that Luke sees gathers from Jewish lands but also from Tyre and Sidon – areas populated by Gentiles.  (We have heard the story of the Gentile mother in the region of Tyre who comes to Jesus begging for healing for her daughter.)  In Luke, the Sermon on the Mount becomes the Sermon on the Plain.  Jesus stands in the midst of this crowd on a plain.  Plains are where teachers of wisdom teach in Greek tradition.  And Luke makes a point of saying that this diverse crowd has come to hear Jesus AND to be healed by him.  You can almost feel the pushing and jostling as the eager crowd was trying to even just touch him, we are told, “for power came from him and healed all of them,” Luke writes.

And then Jesus looks up.  Not down from a mountain to deliver a proclamation or a new law.  He looks up.  He is with them in their day to day struggle to feed themselves and their families.  He is with them, one of them, a fellow peasant who grew up in an insignificant town, filled with insignificant people.  He knows what it means to suffer pain and loss.  He looks up at them and he speaks words of hope.

“Blessed are you”…I have often suggested a better word is “Happy are you”  One commentary suggests using the words “Congratulations, you who are poor.”  Whatever the word, Jesus is saying to this throng that has come from all over, even those who are considered outsiders and untouchables, he speaks to those who have come seeking healing, those who know they have nothing.  Jesus is saying to them all – Good for you.  By admitting that you have nothing on your own, you are free to see that you are blessed with God’s abundance

But woe to you who collect and clutch, hoard and hide, by not letting go, by thinking you have it all, you are unable to see that it amounts to nothing.

Using Jeremiah’s imagery, the trees that are dying in the arid lands don’t even see when relief comes.  They are in no position to experience the flowing river that is filled with life.

In God’s economy and by God’s mercy, we don’t have things taken away from us so that we will appreciate them more.  All that God gives is there.  Is here.  Will be forever.  We are the wise ones when we see that for all our striving, on our own we have nothing, and in that absence, when we have stripped away what the world tells us will save us, when we have let it go, THEN we will see that by God’s grace we have it all.  (Paul is reassuring the Corinthians of this in the portion of his letter we heard read.)  When we see that we are hungry in a way that nothing on earth can fill us, with God’s love we are filled.  When we see that our joy is not found in any of the distractions that surround us, then we can see, and laugh even, in the true joy that is found in the hope that is ours in the crucified and risen Christ.  And when we see that the judgement of others will never work out well for them, we will share in the spirit-given power to live into the courage of Jesus who turned the world upside down.

And to those who were standing back, watching Jesus, those who believed they had no need to touch and be healed.  Those who just wanted to keep the status quo, hold on to the power, oppress the poor, solidify divisions, to them Jesus said “Woe.”  Said “Too bad for you.”  Said “If you only knew.”

If you think you have it all – good luck with that.  It all crumbs at some point.
If you think you are filled and well nourished with your earthly delights – you have no idea how malnourished you are.
If you think you have stuff that makes you happy – you are going to weep when you realize what you are missing out on.

And if you think you are the winner by being the last one on the island, getting that last rose, ruling the house, getting the most votes, having the most people at your inauguration – well, the fickle masses have been wrong before, have been wrong a lot.

Don’t know what you’ve got?  Listen to the promises God made to you at the font.  Embrace the new life that Christ won for you as you rise up out of the water as naked and helpless as a newborn baby.  Breathe in the breath of the Spirit that animates the fullness of life. And come to the table, encounter the presence of Christ, join in the fellowship of believers here and the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us trusting in the fullness of God.  Didn’t know until?  Well, know it anew today.  Know it and know you are blessed by God.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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