17 Feb 2019
I am not sure I can believe Jesus what Jesus says in Luke, as much as I would like to so do. It has been 2000 years since Jesus died and nothing is any better, is it? The wealthy control more and more of the goods of the world, it seems, and poverty and oppression abound. No, I think he may have been a bit deluded that day he delivered the sermon on the plain. Sure he consoles those who practice righteousness and condemns those that don’t, but I sure don’t see much evidence it makes any difference in the here and now. Maybe I should return to the theology of my childhood which told me that I needed to be a good girl so when I died, I would go to heaven. Everything good was in the next life; this one was just a short stint in eternity.
But I must admit I was forced to rethink that. In fact, my first sentence, while not quite a lie, is not what I have come to believe. OK, I do believe Jesus, and for that matter, Jeremiah and the psalmist. From the very beginning God pronounced the world as good. Not perfect, not complete, not a place where only good things happen, but intrinsically good.
I have no business being up here in the pulpit if I don’t understand the Good News and don’t preach it. And the Good News is all about the here and now, about the inbreaking of what God has intended all along for humanity, but not only humanity; all of creation. If you were one of those who heard Jesus that day you would be little interested in creeds and orthodox beliefs. Torah was all about the practice of things, be it worship or life in general, and it was all about relationship. God established a relationship with Abraham and Sara, Moses and the Israelites, David and kingdom of Israel. How they worshipped, and how we worship is important, sometimes more so to us than to God I feel, but there are no creeds in the Bible. Even Leviticus is a code about how to live with God and each other, not a set of beliefs to be memorized.
Jesus had gone up the mountain with his disciples (and I will point out that he took his time about appointing the twelve to be the Apostles with a capital “A”) and is now down on a level place in Galilee, not in Jerusalem but in the rural area. Folks are coming from all over to hear this man, this prophet. What does he have to say that would draw you to go hear him? And not only hear his words but see him in action: you might have been drawn there because you were physically ill or burdened with mental illness. “For power came out of him.” Imagine living a life where each day was a struggle to stay alive and the pleasure of creation were few. It was not the world that God intended from the beginning of creation and Jesus, as the one from God, knew this and preached it with words and actions.
This last election cycle I became very excited about a couple of candidates. Normally I pick and choose based on my beliefs about what kind of government we should have, but I don’t get deeply enamored of any one candidate. I asked myself why this time, for really the first time, was I that enthusiastic. The answer that came to me was the word “compassion.” These two candidates had genuine compassion and the knowledge and skills to make that compassion what the Bible calls love: compassion in action for the other. In the end I found that some of my faith in our political system was restored because of people who could see the needs of the people and cared for them as individuals.
Jesus was no politician and he eschewed the entire political system. Now the Bible describes the characteristics of good government and a good ruler (one who cares about and for his or her people and one who metes out justice for all) but being a political ruler was not the concern of Jesus. His concern was for health and the elimination of poverty. He preached a radical equality that has never seen fruition. Blessed are the poor, the hungry, and the sorrowful for those are the people whom God favors. Blessed are those that understand this message and try to make it a reality, for it is not what the powers of the world would like to see. God is with you. Remember the Magnificat!! Those who are downtrodden and those who try to implement the plan of God will be the ones who are rewarded, and I don’t mean in the afterlife for God sent Jesus to bring the Kingdom to us here and now.
If I were listening that day the next words would have been the most astounding, for the culture in which I lived stated that those who were rich were the ones favored by God. The reward of the rich is short lived, those who are well fed will be hungry, and those who are happy while others suffer will regret it. Those that seem on top will be on the bottom and that is to take place when we make it take place. It is not a notion of life in another zone or another life.
This is real and this is serious. As I stand here and deliver a message I always feel a bit like a prophet!!
Jeremiah and our psalmist both tell us what it is like when we trust God and follow the way of right living: we are like a tree planted by water, for even in heat and drought our roots are deep, and we are nourished by God. We have nothing to fear.
We do not need to live our lives in fear. We do need to trust in God. Note I said trust in God and not believe in God, for we have made perverse the meaning of the word “believe.” For us believe means deciding if something is true or not, it is a test of fact vs. fantasy. For the followers of Jesus, the word would mean trust. I trust in God, I give myself over to God, I follow God. You could as well say “belove”, I belove God, for that is what the words meant. Remember: it is all about right practice and not right belief.
Luke brings us incredibly good news today; this is good news not just for Jews but for everyone. I dare say we could condense all of the sermon on the plain to the essence of the great commandment: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Everyone can be part of the incoming of God’s kindom; only you can deep yourself on the outside.
We Episcopalians love our worship and our liturgy. For us it is one of those things that helps access the holy, be in awe of the holy, and give thanks to and for God. Eucharist brings us as close as we can get to experiencing God in corporate worship. This is something we need and helps us experience the love of God.
But Luke would tell us that is not all we need to enter the kindom. We are, in fact, creators of the kindom by our words and our deeds. I invite you in closing to consider the joy of coming together and worshipping God and to share that joy with each other and with all those you see day to day. I also invite you to remember that Jesus said we must live into the blueprint that God has for the universe. So as you leave here remember to practice the love that is so lacking in this broken world. If you are a tree planted by a stream of living water, you will produce fruit to feed the world!
God bless and keep you.