Jesus Levels with Us!

February 17, 2019

Luke 6:17-26

“Some years ago, on the day before All Saints’ Day, the country’s best distance runners met in Central Park. These included two old friends, Ryan Hall and Ryan Shay. Ordinarily they would be racing in the New York City Marathon, which was to be held the next day, but like other elite runners, they were competing in the marathon trials for the U.S. Olympic team.

The two men started side by side, and three miles into the race, both were near the lead. But this day belonged to Ryan Hall. Over the last few miles, he ran all alone in front, pumping his fists with joy. As he reached the finish, he raised his arms in triumph, knowing that his victory meant a berth in the Olympics.

It wasn’t until the press conference that Hall learned that his friend and mentor had collapsed at the five-mile mark. Shay had died of a heart attack at the age of 28.

Friends remembered a remarkable man who had grown up near the ironworks of northern Michigan and had retained that iron hardness. Teammates recalled how Shay had chided and pushed them to excel. The heart that had pushed them, and has in particular pushed Hall to greatness, had not been built to last. Long ago, Shay had been diagnosed with an enlarged heart. As his father noted, “The thing that made him such a great runner may have killed him.”

Blessings and woes lie close to each other. In ancient times, good fortune was often taken as a sign of divine favor. But in this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus stands that on its head. We might just as well assume that the poor, hungry and grieving are God’s beloved.”[1]

Jesus speaks truth to injustice and reveals to us what the kingdom of God will look like when we move beyond trying to one up the other.

To move to that point where humanity is living in equality is a sign of the kingdom of God. In the meantime, we are far from that! There are massive differences between the rich and poor which just seems to be growing greater. There is a renewed sense of racial hatred. I have witnessed this in Richmond as people have made disparaging remarks about our Latino neighbors. When beliefs do not line up, it seems to be an on-switch to become verbally abusive. To find Jesus amongst these practices and beliefs is nearly impossible.

These are the same issues that Jesus is addressing in his day. He knows that people have lost their way and are taking advantage of one another. It is through his sermon on the plain in Luke’s gospel that he begins to truly irk the authorities. What he has to share, they do not want to hear. The truth can be a bitter pill to swallow.

Jesus’ words are harsh when they fall on ears that are not open to the gospel message of love and grace. These words are meant to challenge us. They are meant to raise us up to a greater awareness. These words are meant to be counter-cultural.

So, what do we do when we are of this world? A world that has become more secular and the good news does not seem so good to many. How do we live as Christians in a world where Jesus’ message puts us on the outside? Outside of the wealth. Outside of the perceived power. Outside of endless blessings.

The first step has already been taken by Jesus. He was born incarnate in this world to bring the message of God’s love and grace to a world that has lost its way. Jesus comes to jar us out of our complacency. Jesus comes to remind us whose we are, and as God’s beloved children, we are already blessed beyond belief. That does not mean our blessings do not come without woes. We are still living on this side of the full in-breaking of the kingdom of God.

Ryan Shay started that race feeling blessed for the God given talent that he had, however the woe that came to him, his friends, and his family through his untimely death was incomprehensible. However, God was there to pick up the pieces and remind them of the saving love of Jesus Christ. We too will have woes. We never know what they will be.

Do we bring some of them on ourselves? You bet!

Are some out of our control? Yes!

But Jesus comes to us. He comes to a level place as the gospel tells us. He draws us even and reminds us that we too are loved. We are not called to stand on mountains and have power over others. We are not to stay in the valleys and wallow in self-pity. We are called to be in that level place with Jesus where the kingdom of God is breaking in. Where love and grace rule the day. Not wealth or poverty, feast or famine, health or sickness, have or have-not. We are called to live into that place where all are equal, and the kingdom of God shines bright.

Let us pray. Lord, you challenge us. Your words and promise bring us to points that are uncomfortable and different from many other noises in society. We pray for your guidance as we try to be part of your movement to bring the kingdom of God closer to humanity. Amen.


[1] Lawrence Wood, Blessings alongside Woes, Sundays Coming, The Christian Century

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It isn’t Easy to Follow Jesus

teachings-of-jesus-christ

January 29, 2017

Matthew 5:1-12

I don’t know about you, but I have always been a little anxious when starting something new. Whether it be a new school year with new teachers, or a new job with several new people to meet. Perhaps, I may have even been a little anxious when receiving a call to Trinity. There is an anticipation of the things to come and a wonder to how everything is going to work out.

I have to imagine that is the feeling that the disciples were having when they followed Jesus up the mountain. They knew there was something different about him, and they were anxious to find out more. I’m sure they had butterflies in their stomachs as they waited for what was going to happen next. As Jesus goes to sit down, the disciples would have known that he was about to teach, as this was the common practice at the time of rabbis and other teachers.

This teaching will continue for the next three chapters of Matthew, although, we will only get through chapter 5 in four weeks. Imagine being able to sit down and take in everything that Jesus has to say.

And so, it begins. Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount, not with a quaint little story, but getting right into the essence of what it means for them to be a disciple. Being a follower of Jesus is not easy.

This lesson on the beatitudes is part of scripture that many of you are probably familiar with. You have probably heard the beatitudes several times and possibly in different variations.  The teaching begins in a way that the disciples were probably not quite expecting. They have not known Jesus very long, and now he sounds kind of like a revolutionary. In all reality, they are living in land occupied by the Roman Empire. The culture in the first century celebrated wealth and military might. Jesus, on the other hand, lifts up those on the other end of the spectrum as blessed.

Have we as a society changed much in the 2000 years since Jesus? The characteristics that Jesus names as blessed are those things that we quite often do not want anything to do with. We steer clear to avoid them in all manners of ways. To be broken or poor in spirit, I don’t think so. We fear those things that bring us to mourn. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is an awful lot of work, can’t you just tell me what to do or think. To be pure in heart is easier said than done, plus doesn’t it take the fun out of things. And, who wants to get in the middle of a conflict and try to keep the peace. If we get this far, you’re telling me that I could get persecuted, reviled, and scorned. Isn’t there an easier way?

There are times throughout history where there is a need for revolutionary people to step up and lead. Jesus was the ultimate revolutionary 2000 years ago, as he brought hope and compassion to his followers and ultimately an unbreaking love that sent him to the cross. Martin Luther was a revolutionary as he started the reformation 500 years ago, steering people back to the grace of God.

Martin Luther King Jr. is a person that we can feel closer to as far as time in our own country. He was seen as revolutionary to some and sought equality for all and knew what the church was called to. He writes in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” “There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society… If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning…”

His words may seem harsh to some, but in all honesty, they are not much different than the counter-cultural message that Jesus brought to his disciples and ultimately the world. Karoline Lewis says, “In the Beatitudes, we hear a call to action to be church, a call to action to make Jesus present and visible and manifest when the world tries desperately to silence those who speak the truth.”

So, where are we to go from here? Jesus has shaken our foundation and everything that we have tried to avoid is now what Jesus deems blessed.

We are called to follow him. Follow him up the mountain and sit down and listen to his teaching. For in the learning is our first act of discipleship. We too are blessed when we follow Jesus and proclaim the Good News throughout our community in our words and actions. The Message translation may give us another take on the beatitudes:

 3“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘careful,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11 “Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.

12 You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! – for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

 

It is in the beatitudes that Jesus teaches us that being more is greater than having more. May you learn how to be with Jesus. May he guide you in your prayers and meditations. May he bless you as you do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.