Scripture Psalm 1; Luke 6:17-26
Psalm 1 (New Revised Standard Version)
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.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Luke 6:17-26 (New Revised Standard Version)
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.
“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.
“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.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
Who is blessed - and who is not?
There’s a lot of cultural baggage around the word “blessed” - particularly in how it relates to our own personal ideas of success - how we measure up in our careers or social norms or family values or education). Money and stuff tend to be the metrics we most naturally default to, perhaps because they are the most quantifiable and easily comparable.
Both our passages challenge those assumptions in that we are invited to see - both ourselves and others - as God sees instead of how we tend to look at others - and these two texts invite us into a different understanding of the word “blessed” - even a different understanding of the word “happy” - and call us to step into a different way of being and living in the world - one that is measured by God’s economy and not our own.
As a reminder, at the heart of God’s economy as Luke tells us in his gospel, is the Year of Jubilee - the year of the Lord’s favor - when the oppressed go free, captives are released, debts are forgiven, land rights are restored - it’s a year of celebration and trust in God’s provision for all God’s people - rich and poor alike. It is a Sabbath year above all Sabbath years, where the even the land was not intentionally cultivated and people relied on stored supplies, on the natural production of the land, and on gleaning.
Such a year where the ideal was this radical redistribution of resources, would have certainly been good news to the poor and marginalized - and uncomfortable at best to those who held power.
This theme of Jesus’ ministry is in the background as we see Jesus standing on the plain among the people - the crowds and his disciples - and he’s healing diseases and unclean spirits and power is just flowing out of him - and then he turns to look up at his disciples and gives this teaching of blessings and woes that are a lot like what we see in the Beatitudes, except they pretty explicitly deal with the materiality of the world. Where Matthew talks about blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and blessed are the poor in spirit, Luke expressly says blessed are the hungry and blessed are the poor. No qualifiers. And, Luke adds some “woes” that Matthew doesn’t deal with.
“Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and popular.” (Debie Thomas)
Pretty cut and dry, doesn’t it seem? Maybe a little harsh, especially for those who find themselves called out by Jesus.
I wonder if Jesus in this moment had been moved by compassion by all those who had gathered around him. The passage tells us of a group of people who had traveled from all over who had traveled to see him, to hear a word of hope, to be healed from what ailed them. This is a massive group of hurting people (enfleshed), some of whom may have expended all they had to come and receive what Jesus had to offer. Those who had gathered around him were suffering - and Jesus turns to them and says that what they are experiencing - their poverty, their suffering, their hunger, their social status - isn’t how it is meant to be - that they shouldn’t have to endure these things that the barriers they face aren’t right - that God is close to them in these moments and that in this great era of God’s kingdom, in this Jubilee year, things will be made whole.
Jesus’s words point out this great reversal of power, and that when we live out the values of God here on earth, we will change whole systems and ways of being. This reversal comes all throughout scripture, as God is constantly paying attention to who is oppressed and harmed and who is profiting at their expense and through the prophets (and Jesus) calling forth a future where the oppressed, exploited, suffering, can thrive and be free.
It kind of makes us ask the question - well, where are we in God’s economy? Are we more blessed or are the woes meant for us? What reversals are at stake for us?
Truth be told, for many of us the answer might be both - we may be privileged in some places in our society because of our gender or skin color, but marginalized in others because of our economic status or social location. We may have privilege through our education and marginalized because of our sexual orientation. We can experience unfairness and suffering and injustice AND have places where we enjoy more power and privilege than others. In this, we can find ourselves both invited to receive blessing and be challenged by what that reversal - what “woe” - means for us?
I love how enfleshed invites us to consider some questions - they write, “What if we choose that reversal instead of waiting for it to come- what if we choose to join the blessed, giving up our power by choice? What if we choose to not simply act out of charity but work instead to radically shift the system we benefit from? Or if we are the ones God promises are blessed, what does it mean for us to believe that God doesn’t just promise crumbs or handouts but a total reversal of that which keeps us down? How does claiming our own blessedness empower us to survive, to thrive, to keep believing that God is working with and for us for something better?”
The commentary continues:
“Sometimes we all need to be reminded that suffering at the hands of injustice, oppression, or normalized destructive systems deserves compassion and companionship. There are so many ways that we face unnecessary barriers each day that keep us from thriving: Public transportation doesn’t come to our side of town because of racism, we live in food deserts, we get misgendered everywhere we go, we can’t get in to see a doctor because it’s too expensive or because they’re all overbooked, we get talked over at work because of sexism, we are overworked and under paid, and the list goes on. There are very few experiences of suffering and pain that are not somehow linked to larger systems of evil that someone else is profiting from. This text reminds us that God’s response is compassion, is support, and is a reminder of what should and shouldn’t and will one day be. Together, we are encouraged to recognize one another’s pain, respond to it with physical manifestations of love and resources, and remind one another, tenderly and compassionately, that feelings of frustration or weariness or impatience are welcome. God, too, feels those things with and through all who suffer.”
Or as Rev. Dr. Monica Coleman puts it, “the community of God is living in this opposite way that inverts, or turns on its head, all of our expectations. To live out the community of God is not to reflect things as they are but to live as things ought to be.”
Each of you this morning should have a stone with you should have brought with you to worship. I invite you to hold your stone in one hand, and cover it with your other hand…..feel the weight of the stone in your hand…the warmth of your skin warming its surface….
…imagine that warmth and that weight is God’s love and presence…and as you imagine that presence, that peace…that love…bring to your mind someone who is struggling right now - perhaps someone who is wrestling with the healthcare system and wondering how to pay for their medical bills….or someone who is trying to figure out housing…maybe someone who is just feeling sidelined by friends and family and wondering if anyone really cares about them…maybe someone who doesn’t know what is next for them…and as you hold the stone, as you experience the warmth and love of God’s presence…imagine that blessing - that presence and nearness of God - being transferred to that person, and that they too are surrounded by God’s love. Say a silent blessing for that person - a reminder that God is near to those who are hurting…that God has compassion on the suffering and the struggling…that God’s community has a place for them…and imagine that blessing being carried by the stone in your hand.
After worship - give that blessed stone to someone - maybe someone in the congregation or someone in your home or at your workplace - who could use the blessing that you put into the stone.
Through it all, we have the presence of the one who holds us all together, who carries each of us and draws us deeper into grace and mercy as we learn to live as members of God’s community together…and we have the gift of each other - to learn from and grow with as people blessed and challenged to live into a more faithful reflection of life in God’s reign.
I want to leave you with this reflection on Jesus’s upside down kingdom written by Frederick Buechner. He writes this: “The world says, ‘Mind your own business,’ and Jesus says, ‘There is no such thing as your own business.’ The world says, ‘Follow the wisest course and be a success,’ and Jesus says, ‘Follow me and be crucified.’ The world says, ‘Drive carefully — the life you save may be your own’ — and Jesus says, ‘Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’ The world says, ‘Law and order,’ and Jesus says, ‘Love.’ The world says, ‘Get’ and Jesus says, ‘Give.’ In terms of the world's sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion."
May the God who gives and takes away, offers comfort and challenge, grant us the grace to sit with woe, and learn the meaning of blessing. (Debie Thomas). Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.