February 11, 2007 Speaker: Rev. Braun Campbell
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 6:17–6:26
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
I don't know if you'd be familiar with a band called Switchfoot, but I've got their music on my MP3 player from time to time. One of their songs, "This Is Your Life," has a chorus that begins, "This is your life. Are you who you want to be?" That's the question that confronts us this day: Are you who you want to be? Who do you want to be like?
For the young - and younger - among us, who do you want to be when you "grow up?" Do you want to be an actor, artist, an astronaut, a researcher, a video game designer? For those who are older, some of whom are parents, do you want to rise to the top of the corporate ladder to provide for your family? Do you want to ensure that you have a comfortable life, or see to it that your children get the best education? If you're older, do you want to pursue a long put-off hobby or become a traveler? Who do you want to be? Maybe the answer is simpler. "I just want to be happy... or healthy... or popular... or satisfied." Who do you want to be?
Let us ask this question in a different way: "What do you most earnestly desire in life?" What is it that drives you? What is it that you feel is your greatest need? Do we find our satisfaction in the things of this world - in our riches, our bank accounts and toys? I know that I like toys: gadgets and technology! Or in our full refrigerators and kitchen tables? I had good meals yesterday, and I hope to do so again today! Do we seek contentment in joy, in laughter, in happiness? In the acceptance of our peers? Who do you want to be? What do you most earnestly desire in life?
Turning to our Gospel text for today, in the second half of this introduction to the "Sermon on the Plain," Jesus pronounces woes. Most all of our readings this day talk of curses and blessings. Blessed, blessed, blessed. Woe, woe, woe! What is Jesus telling the people here? What is he teaching us? Woe to the rich. Woe to those who are filled up. Woe to those who have joy and happiness and find acceptance. But blessed are the poor? Blessed are the hungry? Blessed those who mourn or are rejected? From our human perspective, that doesn't make sense! According to the world, it's just the opposite: "Blessed are the rich! Blessed the full! Blessed the happy and joyful and admired! Too bad for everybody else!" But that's not what Jesus says
Take a look back at our psalmody, Psalm 1, in verse one. What is the world that opens this psalm - indeed, the word that opens the book of Psalms? The translation in your bulletin reads, "Happy." "Happy are they that have not walked in the council of the wicked ..." Another way of translating this word is, "to be envied." "To be envied are they that have not walked in the council of the wicked..." When we think of envy, that's a bad thing, right? But here in the psalm, to envy something is to earnestly desire it. So what should we earnestly desire? What does God tell us we should earnestly desire? The psalm points us to Jesus' words in our Gospel text. The word that the psalmist uses here in the Hebrew is related to the Greek work that Luke notes in his record of the Beatitudes. What is it to be blessed? What should we earnestly desire? Who should we want to be? Who does God call us to be?
When Jesus pronounces woes to the rich, to the full, to the happy, what is this? These are the people who have everything they need, right? But when the hard times come, when the things of this world pass away, where are such people left? Where are we left? What do we most earnestly desire in life? What do we pursue with all our passion? Riches, toys, full tables, happiness, acceptance? If so, "Woe!"
Who are those that Jesus says are blessed? The poor, the hungry, the distraught? Is this Jesus "recipe for success?" "Throw out everything that you have, and go be poor and hungry! Give up joy and laughter!" No. The message that Jesus teaches us here is a reversal - it is not an outline for how to be successful in the world. Over the past few weeks, you've heard Pastor Sutterer from Food for the Poor, telling us about the poverty in Haiti, and Pastor Meehan, coming back from his trip, sharing some of his experience in witnessing the work of Mission India among the many people in need there. These are the people who do not have the crutches of riches and full stomachs and endless recreation. Crutches which are transient and ultimately insubstantial, unsatisfying. Woe to those who rely on such crutches. Are you who you want to be?
But blessed - to be envied - are those in Christ! To be envied are those who have that which is to be most earnestly desired in God's gift of His Son. Another sense of "blessed" is "to be touched by God." In Christ, we are blessed. In Christ, we are touched by God. We are connected with the One who is greater than the things of this world.
When Jesus declared the people "blessed" as he preached his sermon on that level place, when he declares you blessed, here, this is a "now" thing. But it is also a "not yet." In the eyes of the world, you will not be more prosperous because you have been touched by God in Christ. You will not see all your problems disappear. You will even be faced with opposition and animosity because of faith in Christ. However, we look forward to the resurrection, to the life beyond this life. God, in Christ, calls us to be who He would have us be. In Christ, we are blessed, because in his cross, we see the great reversal: the things of this world, the things that seem to be those which should be most earnestly desired, fall away. The cross is made a throne. The empty grave on Easter morning becomes a victory banner.
In Christ, we have that which is to be most earnestly desired. That which is true. That which is lasting. In Christ, we have life.