A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on February 13, 2022
Scripture Reading: Luke 6:17–26
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. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“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.
“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 heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“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.
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
The words of today’s Gospel lesson turn the world upside down.
That’s why we want to block them, re-dress them in innocuous illustrations, make them sound like a sort of Hallmark sentiment, try to rinse all the radicality out of them that they might be no more than ignored background.
But power will out; change will happen, and our world will be turned upside down.
First, a few words about the Beatitudes. Yes, despite differences in the details, — Luke describes this as a level place, Matthews says it takes place on a mountain – this portion from Luke is describing the same event as Matthew. There’s a lot to be brought forward in thinking about why the two authors present the event differently, and why there are differences in the lists, but for right now, the important thing is – this lesson is central to who we are as Christians, and underlies everything we do.
In the world outside the doors of this building, who you are, where you come from, how much money you make, how much power you have…. all those things matter. If you’re so stinking wealthy that, like Jeff Bezos of Amazon, you can try to get the Dutch government to tear down a historic bridge so your “huger than anyone’s” yacht can get out of the harbor where it was built…. well all that means you’re really really important.
But not in here.
In here, importance is about Jesus. We’re not working because we want to earn money, or even brownie points with God. We’re working because God loves us. We’re working because we love the vision of a world where the hungry are filled, where those who mourn find joy once again, where wrong is righted, where justice and mercy prevail.
Out in the world, CEOs get 40% pay raises, while workers struggle to pay their bills.
Out in the world, powerful people walk away from their crimes, unpunished, while those without power, particularly Black people without power, get stuck in an endless routine of jail, fines, joblessness…
In this room, in our community, that world is turned upside down.
Some of us have money, lots of money. Some of us have close to nothing.
Some of us have PhDs, some of us barely finished high school.
Here in this place, each one of us matters. And we carry that belief out into our world. It’s not just an equality that works in this space, but outside, we step back into our worldly roles.
God has invited us, called us, to bring that radical equality out of this space and into our world. This is why we do what we do. We feed the hungry because that’s how we hear God’s call. We are kind to the folks running the cash registers at the grocery, because that’s part of God’s call. We allow ourselves to feel the pain of those who have been left out, because that, too, is part of God’s call.
Some of this, let’s be clear, is pretty easy. The whole world thinks the proper work of churches is stuff like feeding the hungry, or operating thrift shops, even maybe running tutoring programs… so long as it doesn’t bother people – by which they mean, clean, well-fed, well-off white people – when the poor, dirty, smelly, come around.
But when we start talking about Jesus’ radical call to wake up to the ways we are called to dissolve invisible walls, and rise right through glass ceilings, well, things get more difficult. The world thinks we live in a world with finite resources, finite opportunities. If someone who has nothing gets something, it must come out of my pot, my pile.
They’re wrong, but that’s what they believe.
We believe, because Jesus teaches us, that there is enough for everyone. Even more, Jesus teaches us that in building a world based on sharing, we will create abundance for all. Whether it’s a Christmas Dinner or a Black Lives Matter event, this is the underlying truth. When we work toward a world where we all have enough, we work to create a world where all have plenty.
Outside our doors, war threatens in the Ukraine. Outside our doors, protests in Canada mean people are out of work in factories. Outside our doors, it’s all me first, I’ve got mine.
But in our fellowship, we are following the path of Jesus; we are turning the world upside down.
© 2022, Virginia H. Child