Seeking the Kingdom
Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 6:17-26
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[d] 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.
Good morning. My original title for this sermon was going to be #Blessed. If you spend any time on Facebook or Instagram or any other social media platform, you see lots of pictures of all of the wonderful things that are going on in other people’s lives: pictures of children or grandchildren; pictures from vacations; pictures of pets; pictures of new cars; pictures of sumptuous meals. If you’re on social media, eventually, you’ll post pictures of every cool thing in your life.
Some people will post these pictures with comments about how blessed they are to have all these cool things and wonderful experiences. I have mixed feelings about these postings and comments. I do think it’s great that people recognize their blessings and see God’s goodness and mercy all around them. But we always need to be careful about how we do this. It’s easy to see blessings as things we earn or deserve. It’s also easy for us to see other people’s woes as things they deserve.
Even when we don’t do this intentionally, too much public celebration of our blessings can come off as bragging. It can leave the wrong impression for those people who don’t feel like they’ve been blessed. But this sermon isn’t about all the ways I get annoyed with what people post on social media. If you want that sermon, just go to, well, social media. Everyone on Facebook will tell you what everyone else is doing wrong. Trust me on this!
Our reading from the Gospel of Luke is all about blessings. The word “blessed” is a translation of the Greek word Makarios. It means something along the lines of satisfied, unburdened, at peace, or dignified; it's a benefit that's conferred by God on someone.
Honestly, it seems like Jesus has a very different idea about blessings than we do. Jesus says: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” These don’t sound like blessings to me and they wouldn’t have sounded like blessings to any of the people who heard this sermon, either.
If you want to capture the absurdity of what Jesus is saying, here are some blessings for our cultural context:
· Blessed are those with congestive heart failure.
· Blessed are those who are addicted to drugs.
· Blessed are those addicts who relapse.
· Blessed are the homeless, even when it’s cold outside.
· Blessed are the elderly who live alone and have no family nearby.
· Blessed are those who suffer from dementia and don’t recognize loved ones.
We don’t strive for these “blessings.” We strive for wealth. We want people to like and respect us. We eat sumptuous meals and then post pictures of our food on Facebook and Instagram, and then we sit back and wait for everyone to like our posts. We want all of those things, yet Jesus says: woe to the rich, who to those who are full, woe to those who laugh, woe to those who want respect or dignity.
It would be easy to read this list of blessings and woes as a checklist for who will be saved and who will be left behind. But that’s overly simplistic. This story isn’t about judgment; it’s about the kingdom of God. To understand this better, it’s helpful to consider Mary’s Magnificat, which can be found in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
In Mary’s vision, the poor are lifted up, the hungry are fed; the rich and the powerful are brought down, they are made humble.
This is Luke’s vision of the Kingdom of God. Everyone has enough. The hungry are fed, and with the best food. The poor are lifted up, lifted up to a level place. Jesus doesn’t speak to them from a mountain top or even a mountain side. Jesus comes to them and meets them where they are—on a level place. Everyone is equal in the kingdom of God.
This may come as a shock to some of you, but our world doesn’t look like the kingdom of God. People aren’t all equal in the world as it is. That’s as true now as it was in Jesus’ time. And you don’t need me to tell you this. If you want to see it, go home, sit on your couch, order some food and have it delivered to your door, and then turn on the TV, go to your favorite 24-hour cable news channel, and see pictures of how awful things are outside of your bunker, er, um, house.
As I said, Jesus isn’t offering a blanket condemnation of the rich. But let’s not forget that most of us possess a great deal of material resources. And even if we want to pretend it’s not the case, our possessions separate us from the people in the valleys and on the plains.
The woes that Jesus names are a call to repentance, a call to share our blessings with those around us. This is a call to come down off of our own mountains and follow Jesus, into the midst of the crowd on the plain. It’s wonderful to have cool things and go on amazing vacations. If we want to follow Jesus, we have to figure out how to share those things with others.
We have to share these blessings with people who don’t look like us. People who don’t worship in the same churches as us, or people who don’t worship at all. We have to share the blessings with people in our own neighborhood and with people around the world. We have to share the blessings with people who don’t want to receive, such as addicts who don’t want to admit their problems or relatives who are hard to love.
Here’s one last thought. None of us are perfectly blessed. None of us live lives without woes. When we are suffering, we have to share our burdens with those around us—especially here in church. If you need to be uplifted, cry out! Let the rest of the congregation know you need support, so that we may share our blessings with you. Thanks be to God. Amen!
Now, beloved, as you depart from this place, remember that we are called to follow Jesus, come down from the high places, and meet the crowds of people where they are. So, go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!