The Message, February 13, 2022, "Blessed and ... Whoa!"

The Message, February 13, 2022, "Blessed and ... Whoa!"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
February 15, 2022

 

“Blessed and … Whoa!”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Luke 6:17-26

            Years ago, my friend Joe told me the story about his son learning how to play soccer. Jamie was four years old. Joe dressed him in his little soccer uniform and took him to the high school field with all of the other four-year-olds. The children took to the field with their coaches and dropped the soccer balls on the ground. And then, the group of children began kicking and chasing the balls running and laughing all the way.

            However, the children did not know that when the coach blew the whistle they were supposed to stop. They just ran!

            They did not know that when they reached the white line on the side of the field that they were supposed to stop. They just ran!

            They did not know that when they got to the next field full of players playing a game that they were supposed to stop. They just ran!

            They just ran and ran with coaches and parents running behind them.

            It was bedlam … and it was pure joy!

            Thinking about this story this week reminded me of how my brother and I learned how to play tennis. Our father took us to the park with the public tennis courts, gave us racquets and balls, and then we began hitting the balls back and forth. Of course, our introduction to tennis included using the tennis racquets as guitars, and singing silly songs and dancing between points!

            “Presto, presto! Do your very best-o!”

            I have watched hundreds of tennis matches on television over the course of my life, and I must say that I have not seen any other players that have achieved that level of accomplishment! (And in my opinion … adding an artistic component would certainly add interest to some of those long, five-set matches!)
            Getting back to Joe’s story, the point of a four-year-old soccer team is to have fun. They got that right. However, they coaches did not give the children any instruction before turning them lose on the field.

            Jesus was not going to let that happen. The disciples needed to learn. They needed to learn ho “to play.”

            This passage that I just read follows immediately after Jesus called the twelve disciples. They had been up on the mountain praying, and then they came down to the plain where the people had gathered.

            People had come from all over the region. There were people from every walk of life, people from a variety of backgrounds, people that lived in communities that had differing understandings of how the world was structured. There were likely even Gentiles in the crowd. And they all came to see and hear Jesus. This was not a hostile crowd. This was a crowd that came to be touched, to learn, and perhaps even to have their lives changed forever.

            The words that Jesus offered are familiar to us. We have heard them before. This is Luke’s account of the Beatitudes. This is the central core of Jesus’ teaching. This is the foundation for all of the teaching that follows.


            In this sermon, Jesus gave the disciples and all of those gathered there a vision of how God’s world works. He did it offering four promises and four warnings. He did it in much the same way as Israel’s great scriptural codes that we find in Deuteronomy; hundreds of blessings and curses for those who follow the Law and those who do not. But Jesus did it in a much more concise manner. And his vision was not performative. You do not do this to get that. He simply stated what was.

            And what was turned the world upside down! It was a radical vision for the world. Jesus brought Good News to the poor! The poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated and rejected were all blessed. That was likely surprising news for the poor and hungry among the crowd. The certainly did not feel blessed.

Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, the people had heard that God was the protector and defender of the poor. They were familiar with the words of the Prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn
,” (Isaiah 61:1-2)

            And what they heard from Jesus was that their hope had been realized; the prophecy had been fulfilled. We remember Jesus’ proclamation in the synagogue in Nazareth when he said: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) The prophecy was no longer a long-awaited hope. It was now! And what they also heard was that this is the agenda for the followers of Jesus Christ. This was the official proclamation of the way of life inside and outside the reign of God.

            Over the centuries, there have been those who have tried to romanticize being poor. There were attempts to spiritualize this radical new vision. Even Matthew’s account did so. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” But Jesus was not talking about any romanticized or spiritualized examples. He was talking about real, live poor people. He was talking about people that struggled to survive every day. He was talking about people that had to beg at the city gates, people that had to labor until their backs broke to scratch out a meager living. He was talking about people that go to the soup kitchens and the food pantries. He was talking about the people that humble themselves and show up at our doorstep asking for assistance.

            He was talking about real people, real struggles, real hunger and real weeping. The hunger and the weeping are aspects of poverty. And he was saying that God blesses those who struggle. God does not desire that anyone live in harsh or difficult situations. One of the hallmarks of the Kingdom of God is God’s commitment to the poor and the redemption of the poor. They would be released from their degradation.

            Those people who were poor, hungry and weeping because of the injustices of the world would be blessed. Of course, it stands to reason that those who benefit from the injustice structures and practices of the world would oppose this new vision that Jesus proclaimed.

            That was why Jesus offered the fourth promise. The fourth blessing envisions those situations in which the disciples of Jesus, the proclaimers of this new vision for the world would be excluded, hated, reviled and abused. Jesus knows that they will be rejected because they desire to follow the Word and the Way of God. He knows that they will be hated because they stand against oppression and injustice. He knows that they will be reviled because they stand for love and welcome. And because of that, they too are blessed by God. They too find favor with God.

            We welcome those words. They are familiar and comforting words. But then Jesus troubles our hearts with those woes. Those are the words that make us take pause. Those are the words that may cut a little close, because we might resemble those to whom the woes are directed.

            We like the Jesus that blesses. The Jesus that convicts is not our favorite Jesus.

            Of course, we can say, “But Jesus … I am not really RICH. Oh sure … I am not hungry, and I do enjoy a good laugh, but I am not rich. And what is so bad about people talking well of me?”

            To be sure, there is nothing inherently wrong with having enough money to survive or to put food on the table. There is nothing wrong with being joyful and happy. However … if one does it at the expense of others, if one benefits from injustice, then their “reward” will be very different indeed. Woe to them. The passage tells us that they will not receive their “reward in heaven” because they have everything now. Jesus is essentially saying: “If you set your heart and bend your energies to obtain the things that the world values, you will get them … but … that is all that you will ever get.”

            God’s vision for the world is all about compassion and generosity. Jesus asks the citizens of the world to make a decision. ‘Will you seize on the pleasure and profit of the current moment? Or … will you make sacrifices for the greater good?’

            Jesus tells his disciples … it is one or the other. You cannot do both. The challenge of the Beatitudes is whether we would rather be happy in the world’s way, or will we be happy in Christ’s Way?

            I have a friend named George. George was very successful. He lived in Los Angeles, had a lucrative business, lived in a big house, drove a fancy car, had a swimming pool. He lived the life that we think of when we say the word “rich.” He flew on private jets and hung out with celebrities. He had it all … until he didn’t.

            He entered into a business deal that went bad. He lost everything. He and his wife ended up in a homeless shelter. He learned what it was like to be poor and hungry. He learned about weeping.

            He began to rebuild his life and started a new business. He rented a tiny office in Providence just down the street from the homeless shelter. Every day he had to navigate around the homeless men sitting on the steps to his building. And then he remembered his time in the shelter. He went home and asked his wife how much money they had in the bank. She said, “Twenty-four dollars.” He took it all … twenty-four dollars and went to the store and bought lunch for the six homeless men on the steps. And that moment … that gift changed his life in a way that he never imagined.

            He has been feeding the homeless ever since. He eventually gave up his business altogether and began his own feeding ministry. If you ask George, he will tell you that he is blessed. He was blessed in every hardship and struggle. He was blessed by every tear he shed.  And he in turn has blessed thousands through his feeding program.

            We can choose whether or not we desire to set our hearts and energies toward the pursuit of that which the world values, or we can follow the Way of Christ. Jesus makes it clear.

            Will we choose to be a disciple?

            Or not?

            Amen.


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