2022-02-13 Epiphany 6
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
I remember back in the day when I was a kid I loved to play with magnets. I would sit for hours in front of my Grandma King’s fridge and play with all of the different magnets that she stuck all over it. Magnets are a whole lot of fun! You can pick up all kinds of metal objects almost like magic. I also remember that I had a really fun Magnet wand and iron filings game where you could move the filings around and make neat designs. But I think above all other fun things you can do with magnets, my favorite would be to try and jam them together! If they were the same, then you couldn’t do it, no matter how hard you tried! But if they were opposite, then it was a snap. Even as a four year old kid I quickly learned about opposites. In fact, the world is made up of opposites! Think about it: our Epiphany theme of light and dark, or computer binary on and off, happy and sad, fun and boring, right and wrong, good and evil. There are lots of opposites! And Christianity is no different. There are those who believe in Jesus Christ and have eternal life, salvation and the fullness that God’s grace gives. And there are those who don’t. They have the opposite. They have eternal death, damnation, despair and emptiness. The Old Testament (Deut 30:15-20; Ps 1:6; Prov 4:18-19; Jer 21:8;) and some Early Christian writings (Didache 1:1) called this the “Two Ways.” The Way of Life and the Way of Death.
Such a stark contrast is blazingly clear in Jesus’ most famous “Sermon on the Plain.” This is quite similar to the perhaps even more famous Sermon on the Mount. But here, Jesus contrasts a few key themes like poor and rich; hungry and full; weeping and laughing. It is interesting to note that this text from Luke begins with Jesus and the big crowd. These people heard Him and experienced and witnessed His miracles of healing from disease and the release from unclean spirits. Luke says these large crowds tried to touch Him because power was coming out from him healing everyone. But then comes a strange phrase “And He lifted up his eyes on his disciples,” - the audience changes. Everybody and their dog loved to follow Jesus around and receive some healing and blessing and what have you. But only His Disciples, that is, those who Hear God’s Word and do it will be able to palate what Jesus is about to preach next.
Indeed this Sermon from Jesus is a strange contrast of two things: Blessings and Woes. On the one hand, it paints a picture of Christ Himself. He is after all the One who was poor FOR us; the One who hungered in the wilderness for 40 days FOR us; the One who wept FOR us as He entered Jerusalem; the One who received hate, insults, and exclusion FOR us; the One who was cast out and crucified as an evil criminal FOR us! This is a Rembrandt Painting of Christ Jesus - the Son of Man. On the other hand, it also paints the picture of a Disciple of Christ. When one is Baptized and given a new spiritual life and brought into the church, the Disciple now lives the life that Christ lived. It is indeed a blessed life - but blessed in rather reversed ways that we wouldn’t necessarily think about at first.
When you think about blessings, you often think about getting stuff! Our society says blessed are the super rich! Blessed are you when you are full to excess! Blessed are you who enjoy the good life and ritz it up! Blessed are you when people love you, idolize you and put you up on a pedestal of perpetual popularity! This seems to make sense to us and ring true in our ears. Yet oddly, in the Sermon on the plain, Jesus says the opposite! Blessed are the poor! Blessed are the hungry! Blessed are the weeping ones! Blessed are the hated and rejected ones! Wow! His words throw us for a loop!
The jarring question seems to be why would Jesus speak this way? What is He trying to point out to those who hear His words?! It’s actually simpler than you may think. When people have lots of stuff, be it money, food, easy times, lots of toys, etc. what do you lack? Well, the answer is nothing! In fact, when people have so many “blessings” in their lives they actually turn towards themselves and their own accomplishments and trust in them and value them and treasure them above all things. People then neglect God - the source of all of “their” blessings. Then people run from Him. They despise His Word and don’t come to church because they don’t “need” Him. Look at Canada. Look at the US. Look at Europe. People largely only come to God when they feel that they need Him like in a crisis. Or when He’s cute at Christmas or festive at Easter. Or when planes fly into buildings or a viral boogaloo. Then, life gets better and then the people are gone again.
The reality is that people chase after stuff. They seek fulfillment in stuff. Their lives have value based on stuff like material wealth and possessions. Or even popularity and celebrity success. They want more, more, more. And then all of these more, more, mores start becoming a god to people - whatever they fear, love and trust above all else in their lives. But you know what happens? You die. And when you die, you can’t take it with you. What have you got when you’re dead when you’ve spent your whole life chasing after stuff and not the One True God Who is the giver and the taker? Ya, that’s right, you’ve got a whole lot of woes! You’ve led a life without true wealth, or true value, or true fulfillment, or true happiness! It’s a life without truth! It is a life without Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is the Way of Death.
Contrasted to this is indeed the Way of Life. It is the life in Christ. It is blessed with Faith which began in holy Baptism and is maintained by Holy Communion. It is made up of individuals who Hear the Word of God and do it. It is a Life of Blessing - just not in ways naturally expected. Luke loves the theme of reversal! Keep in mind the Magnificat, the sermon in the synagogue and now the sermon on the plain. “Blessed are the poor!” Why? Because in Christ they have true wealth, riches and value, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. Their treasure is in heaven. “Blessed are the hungry!” Why? Because God will fill them with Good Things: His Love, forgiveness and heavenly food. )“Blessed are they who weep!” Why? Because God will change their crying into laughter! All of these blessings that Jesus points us to cause us to gaze heavenward - and when we finally get there, we will experience true perfection, no more sin and problems and worries and cares.
Finally, “Blessed are you when you are hated, excluded, insulted and rejected because of the Son of Man’s name upon you.” Why? Because this world hated and killed our Lord. The Lord of Life suffered and died for this world - yet it received Him not. Therefore, it doesn’t want to receive you who bear His name either. Jesus points out that the Old Testament Prophets were treated likewise. The Christian Martyrs - the same thing. Ironically enough, St. Stephen’s words before his martyrdom proclaimed this same message “they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered” (Acts 7:52-53). Yet, we always keep in mind who has the last laugh? Jesus does - and all of His faithful ones who bear His name in their Baptism! The one’s who hear His Word and do it! These are the ones who will rise in the resurrection with the last laugh!
We have a vivid picture of this from our Old Testament prophet Jeremiah reading today. He gives us this same teaching but interpreted with a green thumb. He says “Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land” (17:5-6). Trusting in people. Trusting in our own strength and abilities. Hearts that are not turned toward the Lord of Life. This is a dry and parched shrub in an alkali flat! We’ve all seen that, a lonely, little dead bush on the prairie. Hope and life are all but dried up in that thirsty, drought ridden wasteland. It is a vivid image of the Way of Death. On the other hand, the person who hopes and trusts in the Lord and leans not on his own understanding is like a tree whose roots go down deep into a stream of water. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jer 17:7-8). Even when heat comes and the droughts come, it’s leaves are always green and it continually bears good fruit.
What Jeremiah means here and what Christ our Lord preaches is perspective. Having a heavenly perspective in the midst of earthly struggles. Being filled with heavenly light though we walk in earthly darkness. Hard times, hardships, struggles, persecutions, the wasteland of sin and the drought of persecution, despite it all, we trust in the Lord remaining faithful to Him and His promises to us. The Living Water of our Baptism daily comforts us and refreshes us with God’s promise of forgiveness, life and salvation. The manna in our wilderness, the Lord’s Word and His Supper, fills us with His own strength and power in His body and blood to speed us along on our journey walking in His ways, walking to our Heavenly home by faith. Truly blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord. Amen!