Sermon: Surprising Teaching

This past week I had another one of my “God” discussions with someone online. I guess because I am a minister, I attract people who wish to have these discussions with me, but sometimes it can get downright distracting. Most of these types of conversations bear some fruit in the end but, getting to the end, can be difficult and painful, no one likes to see the sausage made, the old saying goes. I would also add that for the most part, these conversations are genuine but from time to time, and this not one of those times, a trap is being laid for me, and it takes all the skill I have to avoid it. However, I am getting better at it.

So the conversation began innocently enough, and it was in response to an article I had posted about a disaster and how disasters can shake our faith in God. Anyone who has ever been through a disaster, natural or man-made, might have had the experience of questioning where God was in all this? I have mentioned to you before that, on several occasions, I have responded both with the church and with the American Red Cross, to disaster situations in New Orleans and other places. I have often found it difficult, in the midst of it all, to see where God is, but, it is a natural question.

The response to the posting was something like, “if God were on their side they would have been okay.” I could feel the anger welling up inside me at the sheer nonsense of that statement. Not long after a disaster such as a hurricane or a tornado or other such thing one of the TV preachers comes on and speaks about God’s will and right some sort of wrong. This is not only bad to say to folks who have just had their entire life changed in an instant; it is also wrong, horrible, theology.

I believe I have mentioned before about my feeling towards those who claim to know the mind of God, well I am uneasy around these folks as well, and this is what I told my friend with the comment. We cannot begin to know the mind of God, and in just saying so we limit God who is limitless. I even say that calling God, God limits God; this is why when God appeared to Moses, and Moses asked God’s name God responded with “I am who I am.”

Scripture is filled with glimpses of God and what God desires of us and from us, but we will never truly understand the mind of God. We get one of those glimpses in today passage from Luke.

This passage may sound familiar as we also hear it in the Gospel attributed to Matthew, but there it is called the “Sermon on the Mount.” In that sermon, Jesus is standing up on a hill preaching to the assembled crowd, and it is where the Beatitudes comes from. Luke presents a very different picture. Jesus is not up on a hill but he is on a plain, he is on the level with those around him. But Luke also presents his “Blessed” if you will, in a different form. Matthew presents the “Blessed” with something they will receive, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of God will be theirs.” For Luke, there is no qualifier it is just, “Blessed are the poor.”

Luke presents the words of Jesus not as a sermon to the world, not really even as a sermon to all those that are present at the moment. Luke presents this sermon as a sermon to the disciples, and not just the 12, but all who would follow Jesus, this is a pastoral letter to the church rather than an address to the world. Unlike Matthew’s presentation, this is a call to action, a call to action to live a life of discipleship and that life of discipleship requires us to live the life that God has called us to be and to live that life we have to live to our full potential. We are to follow the example that Jesus has left for us, but at the same time, we have to find our own way.

Luke uses the image of the poor, the hungry, and those who weep and calls them blessed because everything has been stripped away and they have nothing but God to rely on. Unlike Matthew, Luke uses the image of the poor, the hungry, and those weeping without qualification. It’s not poor in spirit, it’s not those who hunger after righteousness; it is merely the poor, the hungry, and those weeping. They have nothing, in many cases, they do not even have their dignity, but they have God and need to rely on God and the people of God.

From a spiritual sense, this is what we need to do as well.

Last week we spoke about taking a chance, pushing out into the deep in our spiritual life but also in our church life. We need to be at the point where we “let go and let God” take control. This is the point in the sermon when I would usually sing the Carrie Underwood, Son, Jesus takes the wheel, but I will spare you of that today. But the sentiment of that song is right, we need to allow Jesus to take the wheel of our lives and direct us, blessed are those who have had everything stripped away, so their reliance is entirely on God.

One of my all-time favorite religious movies is the 1972 Franco Zeffirelli classic, Brother Sun and Sister Moon.” If you have not seen this movie, it is a must see. Anyway, it is a musical adaption of the life of Francis of Assisi in the style of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. Along with the fabulous soundtrack, there is a spiritual message, but I will draw your attention to one particular scene. Francis has come to the realization that he is to become God’s servant and this has angered his father. Francis came from a rather wealthy family, and his father had big plans for him. When Francis makes his announcement that he is going to serve God, his father gets angry and tells Francis that he will be cut off from everything, money, housing, food, etc. Standing in the public square, in front of the entire town, Francis strips off everything his father has given him and stand naked before his father and the whole town.

Now, I am not suggesting that you follow this example in a literal way, but the point is more a symbolic one. We have to strip down, strip away all of our preconceived notions about God and the world. We have to cast off those things that keep us from seeing people and the world as divine creations, and when we do that, we are ready for God to build us back up. For Francis that meant to strip it all away literally, but for us, it might be something different, and we have to figure that out.

But Luke does not leave us there, he uses those who are rich, who are full, and those who are laughing in contrast. Let me be very clear with this next part, being rich, being full, or laughing are not, in and of themselves bad things. Luke uses this example merely to show us that when we have nothing, it is easier to understand, from a spiritual point of view, the reliance on God. When we have everything, riches, food, and humor, it is not impossible; it will just be harder to understand the need to rely on God.

I started this sermon off with an example of the danger of placing limits on God. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a radical way of life that requires us to think about things from a different perspective. We cannot think of things in black and white as there really is nothing black and white about our spiritual life and the life of discipleship. I have said this before, any policy or understanding of scripture that devalues another human, or places us above others, is not the path that Jesus has set before us. Luke has Jesus on the plain, he is on the level with those around him and here is a significant spiritual significance to that. Jesus does not place himself above others nor should we. The life of discipleship, the life of being a follower of Jesus requires us to look at everyone the same way and to help them all the same way.

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is less about a plan to get us into heaven it is about how we can create a little bit of heaven, a little bit of God’s kingdom right here on earth. Scripture tells us that in God’s kingdom there are many rooms and that there will be no Jew or Greek, but all will be one. That is the little bit of heaven we need to create here on earth where all are treated the same, all are looked at the same, and all have equal dignity. It is not up to us to determine who is and who is not worthy of that love, it is our job to love everyone.