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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

November 3, 2013

Gospel: Luke 6:20-31
1st Reading: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:11-23

When I read the Beatitudes this week, I was reminded of the bumper sticker, “Wag more, bark less.” To me another way of saying that is, “more blessing, less woe.” I think we’re probably all more comfortable with Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes. He leaves out the woes for one thing. Why does Luke have to be so negative? And Matthew spiritualizes the blessings so that those of us who are actually wealthy have a way of accessing God’s blessing. Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That way you don’t actually have to be materially poor to know God’s blessing. And he says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” That way we don’t really have to be hungry to feel included in this blessing.

It is easy to feel guilty or excluded when we read Luke’s version and stomp off and pout, but I think it is worth sticking with and looking into, because Jesus really rejects our priorities and shows us a whole new way of looking at the world that has plenty of blessing for everyone. The first thing to remember is that this is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. Matthew has a sermon on the Mount to link Jesus with Moses, who got the Ten Commandments from the mountain. Luke’s equivalent is the Sermon on the Plain. This location says something about leveling the playing field and making everyone equal. The Sermon on the Plain, like the Sermon on the Mount, is Jesus’ inaugural address. This is the place where he lays out his agenda, which also God’s agenda. He’s giving a heads-up about the ministry he is about to undertake. It isn’t going to have the same values that most people do. It is going to turn the order of things on its head. It is going to be unexpected and shocking.

Next, we should note that Jesus is addressing his Disciples. He really wants them to know what they are getting into. And he’s affirming all that they will face. They have already given everything up—they are poor. They shouldn’t see that as a sign of woe, but know that God favors them and is looking out for them. They will weep—especially they will weep for Jesus when he is hung on the tree and they will wonder if all they do meant anything at all. Jesus is telling them not to despair. They will be hungry. That isn’t a sign to give up. God will not forget them. They will definitely be hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed. And not only these Disciples, but all these things have happened to the community that Luke is writing to. They have gone through every hardship for the sake of the Gospel. They must be feeling utterly defeated and maybe even ready to give up. But then Luke shares this speech of Jesus’ with them in the hopes that it will lift their spirits and help them continue to do God’s work.

We all understand these blessings, to a certain level. On a page of “Wag more, bark less” T-shirts was another with an excited dog that said, “Happy is the new rich.” We know it is better to be happy than rich and that some poor people we know are some of the most generous people we know.

When I think of times that I have been in mourning, the whole world looks different. I don’t think it is the world that has changed, but me. You know when you are mourning, and you wonder how people can just go on with life as if nothing has changed, when everything has changed for you. It is the one time you look around and wonder who else is mourning a loss. It is hard to believe the idle chatter on the radio, in the grocery store, at work, and among your friends. It reminds us of what is important. It helps us tune in to other’s grief. It makes us see the world in a different way. That is the blessing of weeping. It opens our eyes. It helps us to be more compassionate. We are assured of God’s blessing and presence when we are weeping.

So now we come to the hard part—the woes. Even if I am not rich, full, laughing, or respected and loved, I want to be. Those are the goals. That is what success looks like. Much of the time, I am all those things. Jesus reminds us that those states are not the point of life. First, those states are temporary. Circumstances change. When we come to rely on our wealth, our full cupboards and bellies, the praise that others heap on us, we will find they don’t hold up. Sooner or later we will be hungry, we will be sad, we won’t please someone, and then where will we be? Jesus reminds us that to be rich is a choice. The poor can’t just decide to be rich. But the rich do have a choice and could give it away to help other people and live simply. The poor have no choice but to rely on God. The rich can pretend to be self-sufficient. The woes of the rich, the full, the laughing, and those that are spoken well of, is the pitfalls and temptations that come with them. We can so easily get used to those states, think that we deserve these states, put all our efforts into maintaining these states, and forget God’s priorities which are absolutely the opposite of ours.

Think of all Jesus represented. He could have come as rich and powerful and always laughing and everyone wanting to be with him. He wasn’t any of those things. People like that are a dime a dozen He came because of people like that who have no compassion for others, and whose priorities don’t help the world become a better place for everyone. He came to spread blessing far and wide and to reduce the woes that people face in hunger and inequality and suffering. And Jesus’ priorities and way of doing things is further explained in the rest of the reading. He says to love your enemies—love needs to beyond our own social circle, beyond those who do good to us. God has done this for us, continually. We made ourselves into God’s enemies when we hurt others and neglect those who need our help, yet God comes to us and forgives us and gives us new life and another chance to serve and to be in God’s loving family. Of course, Jesus was struck on the cheek. He turned the other cheek—not as a doormat asking to be hit again, but that he wouldn’t back down, and he wouldn’t resort to violence, either. He gave his life for those who rejected him and raised us all to new life. Now we live with new priorities of sharing that new life and blessing with others.

How do we pass on the blessing we’ve received rather than increase people’s woes? Each Sunday when we leave church, we receive a blessing, “The LORD bless you and keep you.” What does it mean for us to share blessing with others. It means sharing material wealth. It means sharing time in building relationships. It means giving permission and approval for others to find their own path. It means showing appreciation for what others do and who others are in our lives. It means having compassion for others and weeping with them. It means making sacrifices so that others can know what it is like to laugh and be full and be consoled. It means doing unto others, not as they have done to us, but as we would have them do to us. It means barking less, complaining less, feeling sorry for ourselves less, and being violent less. It means wagging more, giving approval more, loving more, and sharing more.

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