Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Feb 17, 2019

    The 6th Sunday after the Epiphany

    Passage: Luke 6:17-26

    Preacher: The Rev. Sarah Carver

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Epiphany

    Detail:

    One day while we were all in the car, our daughter, Elora was telling us about her day. And from what she was sharing with us it sounded like she had indeed had a pretty good day at school with her friends. However, as she was talking her tone turned a little dark and skeptical when it came to her sharing with us about her time on the bus. It turns out that one of the boys was going on about how his dad was a hero and that he saved the world because he was in the Navy. It was clear she thought this was ridiculous and I responded by saying: “Oh honey, its ok. All little boys and girls need to think that their parents are superheroes.” The speed with which she responded was just as humbling as what she had to say. “Well, I don’t believe that” she shot back. And I thought: you know, if you can’t be a superhero in your own child’s eyes, there is no chance. Ever.  

                But with Jesus there is always hope, we can always be superheroes of the faith. We are familiar with the beatitudes, which we are hearing today, but we are less familiar with Luke’s version than with Matthew’s. In Matthew’s version, Jesus is giving us his Sermon on the Mount, and there are nine beatitudes. In Luke, Jesus is standing on a plain, or a level place and there are only four beatitudes and they are followed by four woes. Both invite the hearer to imagine what the blessed community looks like. Both offer images of model disciples. Yet Luke’s version has this edge to it that grabs one’s attention.

                In contrast to Matthew’s mount, Luke’s level place is significant. Commentators argue that “level places are often thought of by prophets as those places of corpses, disgrace, idolatry, suffering, misery, hunger, annihilation, and mourning.”[1] Another way to describe this is to say those places are the places where the world’s brokenness is seen most clearly. Jesus is speaking to us from the gutter and not from some high holy place where everything is fine. For Luke, everything not being fine is a theme that runs throughout the gospel. It is from this level place that Jesus describes what God’s saving work looks like and what that means to the disciples and the crowd surrounding Jesus. These are people who find themselves dwelling in all kinds of level places. They are there with Jesus in order to try and touch him in hope of healing for their bodies and for their souls. Jesus’ words are a promise of relief from their suffering. Jesus is offering them hope in the new world that God will usher in.

                But for those who want not, there is condemnation. Now, this may have shocked Jesus’ listeners because suffering was often thought to be the consequences of one’s sinfulness.  You suffered because you sinned—righteousness was rewarded. If you were doing well, then it just reflected your righteousness. But Jesus flips that on its head. Jesus levels the playing field and challenges the assumptions of the whole community, especially those who did not have to concern themselves with the needs of those without because they could simply write them off as being unworthy. If you can blame the poor for their poverty, then it isn’t your problem. But that is not how God works. God is most interested in those who are hungry, poor, and weeping—those cast out of society, those the world has rejected.

    Now, for us modern listeners, it might also shock us to know that Jesus is not talking of individual sinners and saints. Jesus’ teachings here are about the community not the individual. So all of you can stop thinking about whether or not you are adding up to the standard set out here because you aren’t and you can’t. Not as individuals. You see, we are not called to be saved as single people, we are called to join the Body of Christ and in that community we will find salvation. It is within the Church that we find and participate in God’s saving work as disciples. This goes against our fiercely independent, can-do attitude, and in a world where one can be spiritual and not religious, this is rather counter-cultural. Stanley Hauwerwas and William Willimon in their book Resident Aliens argue that “American Christians have fallen into the bad habit of acting as if the church really does not matter as we go about trying to live like Christians.”[2] These authors feel that too often we use the church to try and influence society through politics or culture, and that we are too dependent on society to find our value and meaning as the church. But, they point out, the church is utterly alien to these things, because it is a community that takes its identity from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which to the world is an utterly crazy story. But this, they say, is the only story that tells us who we are and how we are to live in the world. And it is a story that tells us how important the Body is. It is a story that flips everything on its head because God’s will for the world and for us is so radically different from what the world wants and what the world values.

    Which means this: human suffering, Hauerwas would argue and which Luke’s gospel talks about at length is our problem, the church’s problem—not society’s problem, not the government’s problem, but it is our problem because our God cares about those who are hungry and sad.  Because our God cares deeply for those are suffering we are to care deeply for them too, and not to laugh in indifference but to use our gifts and ourselves to come to their aid and build up the Body of Christ with them through God’s grace. And in doing so “they” become “us.” This doesn’t mean we are to fix poverty all around the world, but only that we are to care about it and those it affects and respond to the needs and the people we encounter. After all, God promises us that in the end all will be made right. Keep in mind the beatitudes are not suggestions, they are not something we hope to accomplish, or aspire to, but they are a vision of the Kingdom of God that is breaking into the world. It is the world God us leading us into, that is the truth to which we cling.

    Because the church is predicated on God’s will and the values of God’s kingdom, superheroes of the faith are not super because they are powerful, or wealthy, or smart, or good looking, or mavericks, or any of those things the world thinks of when it comes to superheroes. They are superheroes because they are faithful, they believe in that vision of the kingdom of God that Jesus describes today, they are deeply connected to the church, submitting to God’s will and God’s transformative love and walking in community. Indeed, Hauwerwas writes that “Through the teaching, support, sacrifice, worship, and commitment of the church, utterly ordinary people are enabled to do some rather extraordinary, even heroic acts, not on the basis of their own gifts or abilities, but rather by having a community capable of sustaining Christian virtue. The church enables us to be better people than we could have been if left to our own devices.” We need one another. I have watched as perfect strangers in this community have met one another in the midst of trouble, where one was struggling with illness or grief, the other entered into that level place, that plain of suffering and remained there as a holy companion, helping to hold the burden, walking through the pain and through doing so testifying to the love and faithfulness of God. It is in community that we can comfort the sorrowful, feed the hungry and house the homeless because as part of the church we embody what it means to live in the Kingdom of God.

    Being in Christian community is a spiritual practice. Keep in mind that we don’t go to church, we are the church. We are the church. Not called to fix the world or to be perfect, but to be faithful to the One who is perfecting us and making all things new. I grew up hopping around from one church to another as my parents tried to find the right one. Church shopping can end up being just an extension of our consumer culture and it assumes that we go to church for what we can get out of it. Rather, we should discern where God is calling us, and when we find that place we should plant ourselves and be the church, be a participant in community, be a disciple who is being transformed by the power of the Spirit becoming all God is calling us to be.

    What we become is beyond what the world can even begin to image, what we alone can imagine. It is beyond poor and rich, good and bad, superheroes and ordinary folks, but where we are simply children of God. Amen.

               

     

    [1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3960

    [2] Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony.