Sermon on the Plain
It’s good to be back.
Out of fatigue I’m returning to my manuscript this morning because I wanted to make sure my sermon was somewhat coherent.
As many of you can see from my social media posts over the last few weeks, we had the most incredible pilgrimage to the holy land. In fact, I’m still processing it in many ways- in part because of the magnitude of the experiences, but also because I’m just exhausted!
So many memories- we will certainly try to do a slide show presentation once we get our act together. So stay tuned for details.
And I will likely be leading a group back next February. Assuming I get the ok from Kristan..so let me know if you’re interested.
Yes, so many powerful experiences- too many to count.
Imagine- a pastor getting to shepherd his first church to the holy land.
And while there, having the privilege to perform a baptism in the River Jordan.
The River. Jordan.
I hid tears on the bus afterward just trying to understand how in the world God called someone like me to participate in such sacred moments.
To say I felt (and feel) inadequate is an understatement.
But that’s how our God works, isn’t it.
I even got to perform a renewal of vows for 4 couples in the wedding chapel in Cana.
I mean, really?
My bucket list trip was far more than I could imagine or even deserve.
We traced the footsteps of Jesus, starting in the towns along the Sea of Galilee and continued down to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
We were able to walk where Jesus walked, and to be present where he taught and lived 2,000 years ago.
I was able to physically touch the site believed to be where Jesus was born.
I was able to place my fingers on the rock believed to be Golgotha where he was crucified.
I stood in what could have been the entrance to the Temple in Capernaum where he preached to the crowds.
And yes, I was able to stand on the grassy slope looking out onto the Sea of Galilee where he preached the Beatitudes.
Many of these places look different than they would have so long ago. Most of them are enshrined with big beautiful churches, adorned with gorgeous mosaics and inspiring artwork.
But you still get a sense of what it must of been like. And it’s almost like your Spirit knows that where you are standing was indeed hallowed ground.
In many ways, these places are trapped in time.
Like in today’s gospel, Jesus preached these words in that particular place to a particular set of people, at a particular time.
On the same grassy slope – in Luke’s gospel he stood on a level plain— he preached his sermon to a large crowd.
I can imagine what the crowd would have been like-
children and women lingering in the back maybe
In the front the Zealots— those political activists hoping Jesus was going to give words that would fuel their quest for an uprising overthrow the oppressive Roman rule.
Also in the mix would have been the tasseled robes of the Pharisees, eagerly monitoring every single word of his sermon, hoping to catch him in some theological misstep.
But there were also the peasants and the common tradesmen and shepherds, respectful and humble, quietly listening and hoping for an uplifting word from the teacher to ease their burdens heaved on their backs.
Jesus, with great boldness
with great courage
proceeded to lay out a sermon which articulated the Kingdom of God.
Knowing it might ruffle some feathers
trigger some anger and outrage
Because It would be the great reversal
it flipped everything the audience would have known about how the world worked – or how they thought it should work
Blessed are the poor
Blessed are the hungry
Blessed are those who weep
Blessed- some translate Happy – others maybe more along the lines of “to be envied”
are all used to describe those at the bottom of the heap
Jesus was cultivating a new way of making sense of the world
Proclaiming a world view that flipped on its edge everyone’s understanding of power and privilege.
And unlike Matthew’s Beatitudes – known as the Sermon on the Mount- same sermon, just a different perspective- Luke includes “woes’
Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry
Jesus isn’t saying that those who are successful or who have a lot of resources are bad
Not at all.
Jesus is challenging those who are resting in their privilege, resting in their wealth and their power while neglecting the needs of the poor
If you are rich or if you are full now- if you’re comfortable and turning a blind eye to the needs of the downtrodden,
well then woe to you.
That’s Jesus’s message.
And that message resonates today.
As I stood on the mount where he gave this sermon
And while I visited the sites of some of these powerful messages from Scripture it became very real to me that this gospel—
this message – these sermons
might have been trapped in time
but are truly timeless
God intends for them to be listened to and lived into for each and every generation.
Because the truth of the gospel is that God is always siding with the marginalized.
Every time a generation draws a line, there is God showing up on the other side, beckoning us to erase it.
Throughout history there is that triangle of power:
Pharoah at the top, slaves at the bottom-
there at the bottom enters God, flipping the triangle in favor of the oppressed.
Same with Herod- there’s Herod at the top
the marginalized at the bottom
there enters Jesus to side with the downtrodden
And flipping the power structure on its head.
It beckons the questions-
Where are our Pharaohs today?
Where are our Herods?
Because in our generation and the generations to come we as Christians are tasked with coming alongside the oppressed
to proclaim justice and to enact righteousness
wherever we encounter them.
We know from Biblical history that this rarely goes well.
People in power
People with privilege
Don’t like to be challenged
Just as I visited the places of Jesus’ challenging, radical messages
I also visited the place where he was tormented
and put to death as at traitor.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in haven; for that is what their ancestors did to prophets.”’
Well, I’m definitely no prophet.
But in my Letter of Call it states “Every minister of Word and Sacrament shall speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world”
And that’s often unpopular.
Especially when it challenges someone’s privilege
or deeply held political ideology.
Just like 2,000 years ago, we are in fractured times to say the least, but Jesus made it clear that the church has a voice in these areas, especially when decisions made in the public arena impact the lives of the poor and the oppressed
Especially when equality and fairness and compassion and justice are at stake
And I’ve often failed in this area- failing to speak out faithfully on key issues- especially political ones- for fear of making people angry
or heaven forbid, people not liking me.
But it took a pilgrimage to trace the footsteps of Jesus— to completely immerse myself in the world Jesus encountered —to understand more deeply that the Kingdom of God doesn’t just manifest itself on its own in each generation- it requires the partnership- the coordination-of God’s people at that time.
And I intend to do my part.
Its not easy work.
It’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears
it’s also scary.
Risk is involved.
Reputations can be at stake.
But we are summoned outside of our comfort zones into the realms of the unknown
in solidarity with our brothers and sisters outside the margins.
Whoever and wherever they might be.
We are called to love our neighbor
Our Homeless neighbor
Our black, white, Asian, Latino neighbor
Our immigrant neighbor
Our mentally ill neighbor
Our neighbor with differing sexual or gender identities.
We are called to love— not questions asked.
God always calls us to the side of the underdog.
Unfortunately, God doesn’t call pastors so they’ll be liked. Jesus certainly never modeled a ministry of universal popularity.
I mean, the man was forced to a cliff where the people wanted to throw him off!
But I can’t stand in the very place where Jesus proclaimed justice for the poor and the oppressed and then go back to a ministry of “feel good” theology.
I’m changed. But in a good way.
This hit me in a very real way one day when I was standing on the Mount of Olives looking out over the Kidron Valley at Jerusalem. I was in the same spot where Jesus stood before entering the city. I read from Scripture how he wept while overlooking the city and said, “The time will come when your enemies will build walls around you, encircle you, and attack you from all sides”
It dawned on me that that time had indeed come. But it continues to come. Again and again. Generation after generation.
I had just left our hotel in Bethlehem, the very city where Jesus was born- and it is now surrounded by a massive wall, armed with guards.
We continue to fight with one another, hate one another, build walls to keep the other out when Jesus is urging us to remember that our neighbor is always on BOTH sides of any wall.
Ours is a faith of radical love, radical hospitality.
It’s as countercultural today as it was 2,000 years ago.
But it offers us a glimpse of the reality Jesus calls us to
Blessed are the hungry
Blessed are the poor.
Blessed are those who weep.
For the Kingdom of heaven is yours.