“God has Blessed You”
Luke 6:17-26, February 17th, 2019
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now the reading from the gospel according to Luke, chapter six, verses seventeen thru twenty-six.”
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.” 21 “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.” 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” 25 “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.”
“May God bless our understanding of these holy words, helping us to apply them to our lives in the Twenty-First Century.”
“God has Blessed You”
What is the mission of a church? What is the mission of this church? This is a question which looms for us as a church. It is a question which ought to materialize for every faith community which follows in the teachings of God’s grace and God’s mercy! Our scripture, this morning, clearly points and directs us in this direction! Jesus’ sermon this morning contains for us four of the blessed sayings of his sermon on the Mount, yet it also contains four woes! Clearly, like any preacher, Jesus is drawing from his famous sermon, which many Christians refer to as the Beatitudes. Yet, this sermon mixes woes with blessings. What is Jesus’ purpose in this dialogue? That is our challenge today, to answer this question. What was he saying to us about what it means to be a good follower of his movement, which we moderns now call Christianity? What task or work is he charging his followers to heed? As we work our way through today’s lesson, we must pay attention and be mindful of what Jesus is saying to you and me, we whom now follow his teachings in modern life today, in the here and now. For we must always consider Jesus was speaking of a response which is needed in the present time, just as it was intended all those Centuries ago when he first proclaimed his message. The words, the teachings of Jesus are timeless, thus fully apply to us today.
As we begin this discussion, let us consider the words of Professor William Loader. “Blessedness in solidarity with the poor and the blessedness of the poor lie ultimately in the blessedness of sharing the life of the God of compassion and change, and living out that hope, whatever it means in our situation.” Pondering the words of this professor can only lead us into a discussion about how we, as Christians, are called and directed to reach out to the poor in so many ways. To suggest that this is the only mission of a church would be an oversimplification, just as it is a shallow explanation of Jesus’ references to the poor. For Jesus was not speaking to just those that hunger and thirst for food and water and for those whom lack adequate housing and clothing. Jesus was speaking to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and salvation, a recovery from the human condition of sinfulness. In saying this, does it diminish the responsibility of faith communities, allowing them to shy away from their responsibility to those who stand in line at soup kitchens and food pantries? Absolutely not! There is a moral imperative to share our bounty, our abundance with those whom are lacking. Clearly, this is a very clear and tangible obligation that faith communities share. This is why churches of various theological understandings can come together, without controversy, in our joint ministries to serve the needs of the hungry and the homeless.
Our simplistic effort to collect a meaningful offering of peanut butter, will not resolve the issue of poverty in our community. Yet, our effort will make a difference to those who will receive our gift. There are many ways we can continue to work to feed the needy, and we have made real efforts over the life of this church to do just that – and we need to continue. Our outreach efforts only begin with a simple gesture such as this. Clearly, when we acknowledge that our monthly mission of helping to serve those who show up at the Daily Bread soup kitchen, on the fourth Monday of each month, touches over two hundred and fifty souls, we know there is plenty else that needs to be done. In reflection, of the last six annual memorial services which I have attended, as your pastor, at the Daily Bread, the count of those whom have died while homeless on the streets of Brevard County has hovered around ninety souls each year. As we reflect on this, we must also acknowledge that the plight of the homeless is real and it is devastating. The issue is complex and there are no simple answers, yet, acknowledging it and striving to help where we can, does make a difference. Things like the “Cold Night Shelter”, for homeless men and women at “His Place Ministries,” in our old sanctuary at the corner of Route 192 and Route one, exist because people of faith still endeavor to help – where they can!
One theologian named Thomas E. Phillips says it clearly. “The crisis of poverty in the world’s largest cities, which is growing exponentially worse in the new era of globalization, should overwhelm us. However, it should not paralyze us. Scripture may not offer an easy answer, but it does provide a consistent moral imperative.” The blessings and woes of which Jesus speaks, in our lesson today, are meant to be guides to things which can lead us to be filled with the joy which comes from knowing the love and salvation of God through Christ. We can take our poverty, our hunger and tears and turn them into that feeling of fulness, richness and joy, when we allow ourselves to move into the new territory, the new space which Jesus invites us to be a part of. Part of what Jesus is pointing to is a new pathway, something different than the day-to-day dusty trail so many take each day. Holding their heads down, feeling hopeless and helpless, thinking they are doing this ‘all alone’ weights too heavy on way too many folks; folks whom live in our neighborhoods which surround our church today. “Jesus is seeking to feed us while teaching us; heal us while teaching us to heal ourselves and others!” My thanks to Rev Aaron Lauer for pointing us to this line of thought in his recent ‘Lectionary Reflection.’
So where do we go with this? How do we expand upon our efforts to reach out to our neighbors whom live in our community? One jar of peanut butter at a time is a good start. Our venture to build a pyramid of peanut butter jars – to donate to the local food pantry is not enough you say? Well how many of you remember the story about the Star fish I shared with you a few years back? It is a simple story really. A man was walking on the beach early one morning, after a big storm had passed and he found the beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see. Off in the distance, he noticed a young lad approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves.” “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.” The man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.” The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!” /adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley/ The families that receive one of those jars of peanut butter, its nourishment will make a difference in their lives.
We, you and I, we need to remember that we are the blessed ones! We are the ones whom can help others. We are the folks whom have had the privilege of coming to know God through many different avenues. By our presence here this morning, we are part of a faith community whom is willing to consider ‘new avenues’ to reach out to our neighbors, stretching our resources to help those whom may need a helping hand. As one theologian said: “We are no longer strangers with anyone. We are all children of the same Creator God.” /David Berg/ In the neighborhood where Lois and I have a home, we have not met everyone whom lives around us. Sure, we have had conversations with a few of them, but we don’t really have a deep relationship with any of them. However, they are our neighbors and even the ones we have not yet met – we are their neighbors, as they are ours. We all have the same God, even though we may not speak of God in the same terms and we each may understand our Creator in and through different expressions – yet, there is only one God. Those who live near this our church, I only know a few and some of you are sitting here with us this morning. Yet, many others have brought their children to one of our church functions, like our trunk or treat event, or a pot luck dinner. Others may have come to an Easter Egg hunt or a worship service. Still others may have come out for our ‘Bless the Animals’ events over the past years. They too: “are all children of the same Creator God.”
We all want the blessings which Christ speaks of. We want to be filled with God’s love, we want to feel joy not sorrow, we want to know there is a place for us in the kingdom of God. None of us want to become so isolated from the needs of those around us that we become woeful – dreading the day we will need to explain to our Creator why we did not share our abundance with those whom needed our help. Woe be us if do not share even the little we do have. Nor do we want to be held accountable for neglecting to share God’s love, God’s compassion and understanding, with those whom needed a friend or at least a simple friendly gestor. The four woes in our scripture are a ‘not too’ subtle warning that we must not forget that being a follower of Christ means we must be doers of the Word, not just hearers. If we have riches, we need to share some with those without. If we are filled with God’s love and our bodies have been nourished, we are called to share with those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and need a good meal. If we do not take a risk occasionally, letting others know the truth of how we have come to know God through Christ, then we risk that we shall not be recognized – when we stand at the gates of heaven.
Yes, our lesson from ancient scripture does speak to us today, and yes, the words of Jesus are timeless. Likewise, a church’s quest to reclarify and confirm its mission is also a timeless task. A task which has been done repeatedly, by all healthy faith communities whom wish to remain in and counted in, the solution to the woes of the people of God. Churches do so, thereby ensuring that they shall continue to be the church; the church that serves the people of God – just as Jesus sought to do! Blessings are bestowed upon us through the grace of God. We whom have felt the grace of God’s mercy know how that feels and thus we are compelled to pass on these blessings to others. We do so `out of gratitude’ and ‘out of a desire’ to continue to be held in the hands of God’s grace’.