St. John's, Centreville
February 17, 2019
Epiphany 6 C
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our readings this morning focus on drawing a contrast between two opposing ways of life - the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. The way of the righteous are those who follow the ways of God. The way of the wicked are those who follow the ways of the world.
In our reading from Jeremiah, the prophet sees the difference between those who depend on themselves and those who trust in God. "Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength. They shall be like a shrub in the desert. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream." Even in time of drought, they need not fear and will continue to be fruitful. The roots of those who are righteous go deep so, with God's help, they can withstand whatever pain or suffering comes their way. But those who trust only in themselves will have shallow roots, like a shrub in the desert, and will not be able to withstand the trials and tribulations of this world.
Jeremiah lives in a desperate time when Judah was on the brink of ruin. The nation's leaders relied on themselves to deter the threat of Nebuchadnezzar, instead of trusting in the Lord. As a result, Jerusalem was captured, the temple was looted and the people were marched off into exile.
The writer of Psalm 1 has the same theme. This author, too, draws a contrast between the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. "Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful. But the wicked are like chaff which the wind blows away."
In our gospel lesson from Luke, Jesus also presents the contrast between two different ways of living, through the teaching of the Beatitudes. Jesus has spent the night on the mountain in prayer in order to discern the calling of his 12 apostles. The next day he calls the twelve and comes down from the mountain to stand on a "level place". Often referred to as the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus is surrounded by those in need of healing from various types of illnesses, physical and mental. This large crowd has come a long way to see him, to be healed, to touch his cloak.
Addressing his disciples, Jesus describes those who are blessed by God. To be blessed is to entrust one's life to the Lord, which results from following the ways of God. A woe is a pronouncement of God's disfavor and disapproval.
Those who are poor, those who suffer from economic deprivation, are not self-sufficient and they know they must depend on God. Jesus says "woe to you who are rich" because they are more likely to trust in material wealth and possessions instead of God. Now that is not to say that all poor people are loved by God and all rich people are not. Jesus is saying that it is often harder for people who have everything they need in life to put their dependence on God alone. Not that it can't be done, and many rich people have given away much of their money to help those in need.
If we are poor, it is often easier to put our faith in God as we have nothing else. In the poorest countries in Africa, people will walk for miles just to be able to attend a church that is little more than a hut. People are baptized by the hundreds. They find it a privilege to be in a house of God and their churches are growing faster that any we have in the United States. In the US, where no one has to travel very far to find a church, many stay away because the service is too early, or the sermon is boring, or they don't sing the kind of music they like. The poor come to church in Africa with joy and celebration because they are able to worship God, the source of their lives, the source of hope. Many in affluent countries won't go to church because it is too inconvenient.
Blessed are you that hunger for you shall be satisfied. Are you spiritually hungry? Is that hunger not in your stomach but in the depth of your being? Do you hunger to know God more intimately, to have God at the center of your life? Your hunger can be satisfied. God can fill your hunger, that longing you have for a relationship with the Almighty.
Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. Do you have problems or worries that weigh you down? Ease your burden. Put your problems in the hand of God. God will help you and support you and walk with you, not solving all our problems for us, but giving us strength to face them. And someday you will laugh with the joy of being in the Kingdom of God. Those who trust only in themselves will not know the joy of our dependence on God.
Blessed are you when men hate you and revile you and exclude you on account of the Son of Man. Your reward will be in heaven. No one wants to be hated. But if that is what we encounter as we seek to do the will of God, then so be it. God's work comes first, not the accolades of humans.
In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus is explaining to his disciples what it will be like to be part of the Kingdom of God. They will be richly blessed. They will know happiness, even though they will suffer. They will laugh and sing with joy to their Creator. They will stand against those who persecute them because they are followers of Jesus Christ.
Jesus says the same thing to us. To be followers of Jesus Christ is to know joy and happiness and laughter, even though we may suffer or be in pain or be persecuted or be poor or hungry. Because we know the love of God for us, because we depend on God, particularly when times are tough, because we know God is with us always and loves us, no matter what.
Those who put their faith and trust and hope in God are blessed, made holy, consecrated to do God's work in the world. May we be a blessing to others as God has richly blessed us. Amen.