Luke 6:17-26 • February 17, 2019
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
I was blessed to spend a few days this past week with several other pastors in our synod doing a little wondering and learning within the Leadership for Faithful Innovation mission project that Good Shepherd is part of. I think much of what we tried to learn together on Monday and Tuesday is a reflection of our gospel reading today.
One of the key learnings I’ve had with this gathering of fellow pastors in the first six months of our time together is learning how to listen better. To listen more deeply to myself, to others, to the congregation members we are called to serve, to the communities around us that our congregations are called to serve, to God.
It’s been good.
Because people who are not pastors assume that people who are pastors are good listeners. Which I’m here to share with you is not always the case.
As pastoral colleagues from across our synod, we spent a considerable amount of time listening to each other as our coaches challenged us with questions like – What are people in our congregations feeling?
What are people in our congregations spending the majority of their time doing?
What are people in our congregation’s yearning for?
What are some of the challenges they’re are facing?
And maybe the most difficult question presented to us was this – what is one thing that keeps you up at night?
Think about that for a minute. What is the one thing, as you sit in this worship space today on this cold North Dakota day, what is the one thing that is keeping you awake at night?
I would guess that the disciples and the other people who gathered around Jesus in today’s gospel may have had some interesting answers to that question.
As long as I am alive, it will never cease to amaze me how God is present in the ordinary, everyday people and places along our path. These are times of blessing I say to myself. Or are they woes? Or maybe they’re a blessing at some times and woes at other times?
This section of the gospel according to Saint Luke is one of the longest teaching sections in this gospel. It’s called the Sermon on the Plain. In Matthew’s gospel, this teaching is called the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is on a mountain in Matthew talking largely to what we would think of as church people today – pastors, so to speak.
In Luke, Jesus is on level ground teaching to his disciples and ordinary people who have seen the miraculous healing power of Jesus first hand.
In Matthew, there are nine beatitudes or blessings. Many of them are philosophical or spiritual in nature, blessed are the poor…in spirit.
In Luke, there are four beatitudes or blessings followed by four woes. Luke eventually gets to the other blessings in his gospel. He just doesn’t lift all of them up in this section of the gospel.
Luke’s blessings and woes are a bit more direct than Matthew’s. Rather than just being offered in a spiritual sense, they point directly to you and to me – blessed are you who are poor. Woe to you who are rich.
If you have ever been told by someone that following Jesus is easy, I question how much time that person has actually spent studying the teaching and life of this savior Jesus.
You and I don’t exist in this world alone.
You and I don’t live out our faith alone. We don’t live in a faith bubble all by ourselves.
Everything we do as children of God reminds us of that.
Jesus teaching of the blessings in Matthew and the blessings and woes in Luke are saying just that. And this teaching and this way of life is anything but easy.
Martin Luther – the 16th century church reformer who happens to be the reason why we are called Lutherans today, said – “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”
Pastor Shane Claiborne was speaking at a youth worship event that I was at a few years ago. He talked about his faith journey and call into Christian leadership. I don’t remember all of the details of his testimony, but I do remember this. He said that before he started following Jesus he had everything in his life together. Everything made sense. And everything was under his control. And then he met Jesus, and everything in his life got messed up. He didn’t think about helping people or loving people unconditionally or serving people before he met Jesus.
After he met Jesus he began to think constantly and live his life in ways that help him discover every day how he can serve the poor, feed the hungry, speak out against things that oppress people, and love his neighbor unconditionally.
Jesus showed him those things.
And Jesus continues to show him that path of faith.
One of the key purposes of Pastor Claiborne’s ministry today is building movements of Christians that look like Jesus again. Christians that take Luther’s quote seriously and seek to make something beautiful and life-giving out of something that many who are not Christian see as being worth nothing.
Christians that care deeply for one another and the world God continues to create.
French philosopher Jacques Ellul said, “Christians were never meant to be normal. We’ve always been holy troublemakers, we’ve always been creators of uncertainty, agents of dimension that’s incompatible with the status quo; we do not accept the world as it is, but we insist on the world becoming the way that God wants it to be. And the kingdom of God is different from the patterns of this world.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Ellul?wprov=sfti1]
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the blessings and woes that we receive from the 6th chapter of the gospel of Luke today may seem like a burden we can’t possibly carry. A burden that keeps us awake at night.
God knows that. If God didn’t know that, why would God have sent us a savior?
And that savior, Jesus, says to us “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)
Jesus knows that we aren’t always going to get it right. We aren’t always going to be perfect examples of the body of Christ alive in the world today. Yet, Jesus still comes to you and to me. Stands on level ground. Holy ground. Ground that looks an awful lot like the ground we are standing on right now. And that Jesus, offers healing and hope to everything that’s keeping us awake at night.
In the narthex today there is a large poster on the wall asking the question “What one thing keeps you awake at night?” I invite you to stop by this poster and take 20 seconds of time before you leave the building today. Write your answer to that question. Because I am certain that I’m not the only one who has an answer for that question. And as we share our answers to that question with one another as a community of faith, maybe they won’t keep us awake at night quite as much. Because we’ll be reminded once again that we are not alone along this journey of faith.
And for that truth, all God’s children say…Amen.