Our Gospel narrative this morning is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but with significant and striking differences. These differences tell us about their perspectives on Jesus and his mission (or ministry).
Matthew’s account is more infamous as the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.
Luke’s account is the Blessings and the Woes from the Sermon on the Plain (“level place“), which is significant. In his account, we experience three primary emphasizes that are the foundation of Luke’s imagine of God and his mission/ministry.
But, before we dive more deeply into it, I want to caution us about a trap:
The desire to envision everything as dualistic, thus everything as “either or”:
- Black or White
- Good or Bad/Evil
- Right or Wrong
- Blessed or Cursed/Woeful
Scripture, Jesus’ teachings, and our life experiences teach us that this simplistic, dualistic viewpoint is not reflective of our reality. It does allow the extreme voices to be heard while ignoring and silencing the infinite shades of gray that exists in-between.
Lutheran teaching, however, embraces this grey scale with our teachings of the ‘paradoxes’ or the ‘both and’:
- We are both sinner and saint.
- We need both the law and gospel.
- We live both in the civil realm and the divine realm (well, glimpses of it).
- We are both blessed and cursed/woeful.
Thus, let us avoid the dualistic trap and I will explain further in a moment.
Our first emphasis in the text teaches us about Jesus.
Jesus is not standing elevated above nor separated apart from the crowd that has gathered to not only listen to him teach but also to be healed from their illnesses and to be exercised from “unclean spirits”.
Jesus is standing among the people, who are touching him. Jesus can feel the divine power flowing from him healing them from illness and releasing them from the “unclean spirits”.
In the ancient world, the people who were poor, ill, or demon possessed were considered to be separated from God and ‘cursed’, often as punishment for their sin. Additionally, these people could share their ‘curse’ and ‘corrupt’ others by simply touching them.
And yet, Jesus who is God in human flesh and bone stood among them. These people were touching him. He was not ‘contaminated’, ‘made dirty/unclean’, or became ‘unholy’; but the people were healed from illness and released from “unclean spirits”.
Society had said that God had abandoned the ‘cursed’…
but Jesus (God in human flesh and bone) was standing among them.
Similarly, throughout the Gospel of Luke, Jesus attends one dinner party after another. Although these were occasionally hosted by one with power/authority, Jesus is more often with the ‘cursed’ and the ‘sinners’.
It reminds me of a Facebook post that reads:
Be like Jesus. Spend enough time with sinners to ruin your reputation.
It also reminds me of Miranda Lambert’s song A Heart Like Mine, which begins:
I ain’t the kind you take home to mama
I ain’t the kind to wear no ring
Somehow I always get stronger
when I am on my second drink
Even though I hate to admit it
Sometimes I smoke cigarettes
The Christian folks say I should quit it
I just smile and say “God Bless”.
‘Cause I heard Jesus he drank wine
and I bet we’d get along just fine
He could calm a storm and heal the blind
and I bet he’d understand a Heart like Mine.
Although we prefer to think humankind as evolved since the ancient world, the above Facebook Post and Lambert’s A Heart Like Mine is evidence that Western Christianity (especially in the United States) may not have. We often speak of those with material means, those in no need, those with good health, and those with a support system of loved ones as “blessed”. Although these are ‘blessings’, it implies intentionally or not and consciously or subconsciously that those who are in poverty (poor), those in need, those who are ill, and those without dependable support systems are ‘cursed’ and abandoned by God.
Jesus demonstrates during this Sermon on a “level place” that the assumption is false:
- Jesus, again God in human flesh and bone, stands among them.
- God, through Christ, understands their hearts.
- God has not abandoned them.
The next ’emphasis’ is perhaps a misperception of Luke.
People tend to especially hate Luke during a Stewardship drive, because the perception is that Luke hates the wealthy. This perception may be harsh and misguided.
Jesus is critical of the wealthy. The theme and tension recur in Luke’s Gospel.
But, I have been preaching recently that power and authority are tools to be willed for good or ill, which our material and financial resources are no different. Our wealth are tools to be willed for good or ill.
Thus, Jesus is critical of those with power, authority, and wealth who did not will these tools for ushering God’s kingdom/realm.
This brings me to the third emphasis, which is the foundation of Luke’s Gospel: the Grand Reversal.
We hear the “Grand Reversal” echoed throughout Scripture, especially in Luke.
- Jesus’ mother, Mary, sang her about it in her Magnificat:
the proud will be brought down while the humble will be lifted up and
the poor will have their fill while the rich will be sent away with nothing.
- Jesus reads Isaiah, announcing his mission, which is
proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor;
release to the captive;
release to the prisoner;
release to the slave;
release to the oppressed; and
forgiveness of debt.
- Jesus teaches it in this Sermon with the Blessings and the Woes for those who we think are ‘blessed’ are not while those who we think are ‘cursed’ are not.
It might be tempting to envision the “Grand Reversal” as “Black or White”.
Since it is the Daytona 500 Sunday, I must include NASCAR. Right?
NASCAR has an annual All-Star race featuring a limited number of drivers. In the previous format, the fans got to vote deciding how much of the field would be inverted at approximately the half-way point of the race.
- You could vote for none of the field to be inverted.
- You could vote for a portion of the field to be inverted.
- You could vote for the whole field to be inverted.
I do not recall watching a NASCAR All-Star race that the field was not completely inverted. If your driver was running in back, you were happy. If your driver was leading, you were NOT happy.
We tend to envision the “Grand Reversal” as a completely inverted All-Star NASCAR field with the rich sent to the back and they lose EVERYTHING while the poor are moved to the front and given EVERYTHING.
BUT, that is an extremely simplistic and dualistic approach to the “Grand Reversal”.
The “Grand Reversal” is to usher in God’s Kingdom (Reign or Realm), where
- No One is in need;
- No One is sorrowful or in mourning; and
- No One is left behind.
God’s Reign is of radical inclusion, radical equality, and radical love where no one would be put among the ‘cursed’ or ‘woeful’.
Thus, the “Grand Reversal” is not about inverting the field. It is about our time, our talents, our resources, our power, and our authority to ensure ALL are well cared for, served, and loved.
In fact, we pray for the “Grand Reversal” each week with the Lord’s Prayer:
‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.
AND we know how to make “it” happen.
Scripture has taught us and it has been included in our baptismal rite.
- We are called to SEEK that radical JUSTICE.
- We are called to ACT with radical COMPASSION, MERCY, and LOVE.
- We are called to SERVE ALL PEOPLE.
The “Grand Reversal” is NOT about the ‘blessed’ becoming the ‘cursed’.
The “Grand Reversal” is NOT about the ‘cursed’ becoming the ‘blessed’.
The “Grand Reversal” is about ALL having a place at God’s table.
It is about ALL being loved by God.
It is about ALL being ‘blessed’.
It is about NO ONE having to question that in this life or in the life hereafter.
And for that Thanks be to God. Amen.
Scriptures were Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; and Luke 6:17-26.
Originally Preached on 17 Feb. 2019 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).