Luke 6:17-26 (NRSV)
Jesus' sermon on the plain in Luke 6 reminds us of his more famous sermon on the mount in Matthew 5. They are similar. Yet they are significantly different. The main difference in the content and for of the sermons is in Luke's addition of the verses that concern the woes, the curses. Preachers are to not only bless but also to pronounce woes. the misery resulting from affliction--especially those brought on by our own actions. Here in Luke we find the God takes sides, has opinions. To bless some lifestyles is, at least by implication, to criticize others.
I fear that, in mainline protestant Christianity at least, we have lost this prophetic, judgmental edge in much of our preaching. We've worked Jesus over into the one who always blesses and never condemns. So today's gospel is a challenge for us but it is an opportunity to reflect together on the sometimes demanding nature of the Gospel. This is true because before the Gospel is a comfort, the Gospel is a challenge. Before Jesus brings us blessing, he brings us challenges...and very often condemnation.
All I really know about Jesus is what I heard him say. That's all we know about almost anybody. It's not true that "deeds speak louder than words." Only words speak. The old, "I'd rather see a sermon than hear one." is only true in a limited way. We also want people to "go public" with their beliefs.
Unlike the United Methodist Church, some denominations go through a lengthy "search" process to find pastors. Have you ever noticed that the committees which are formed to search for a pastor are usually referred to as the "pulpit search or pulpit committee"? Seems to me that is an indication that the Church still places a high value upon the sermon, the spoken word.
So let's listen to Jesus' sermon and see what we can learn about Jesus.
Luke 6:17-26 (NRSV)
Please pray with me: Lord Jesus, you bless us with your living presence among us. You come to us in our need and bless us with your healing power. You come to us when life is tough, and bless us with your sustaining strength, You bless us in order that we might be a blessing to others.
And yet, Lord Jesus, you not only bless us, you challenge us with your truth, You prod us with your prophetic zeal, You judge us with your righteousness that makes our meager goodness look silly. Yes, and sometimes you even curse us, and our sinful foolishness that Lord, we so richly deserve. Lord Jesus, give us the courage to listen to you, and in listening, really hear you, and in hearing, follow you, no matter what you do to us and with us. Amen
In today's Gospel, the dust settles, Jesus at last comes down from the mountain, where he had been praying with his disciples to the level plain and preaches to the public. The crowd is hushed. Jesus gets down on our level and speaks. It is a wonderfully self-revealing moment. Jesus did not get the chance to finish his sermon at Nazareth (Lk 4:21-30) a few weeks ago. Now, with everyone attentive before him, and the itinerant Jesus at last seated before us, he will no doubt, lay out his program in more revealing detail. That's one reason why we think of this text in Epiphany, Jesus talks to his disciples, just loud enough for everyone in the crowd to hear him.
As I see it, there is application for the church today, more specifically, for us, the body of First United Methodist Church. That application is first foud in the Beatitudes
1. We want to be blessed
1. Jesus lets believers know that after times of suffering and pain, there will be blessing. We like that, We expect that.
2. We need to know that the positions we assume on various issues, if based upon scripture, will be...not may be...will be met by opposition, sometimes violently.
Applying the "woes" or, more strongly, the "curses" is important for us as well:
1. We cannot hide behind the "future" blessings of our faith and remain deeply entrenched in the life of the non-believing world.
1. Not that we are to retreat from the world, forming monastic communities...that may be God's calling for some...the call of the church is to in the world but not of the world.
2. Seeking wealth, the satisfaction of hungers, what we think brings happiness or the approval of others, doesn't and ultimately leaves the believer empty, broken, and the unbeliever more distantly removed from the presence of God's grace.
The application, however, does not end with the blessings or woes. It has to do with seeking God's will and direction in our lives. Our lists of do's and don'ts are at times helpful, but walking as a Christian, the Christian journey requires looking at the road not just the map. Try following the may when you're driving to an unfamiliar destination...never looking at the road...and see where it gets you!