Blessed Are You!

Sermon on the Plain.jpg

Meditation on Luke 6:12-26

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Feb. 17, 2019

       12 Now it happened in those days that he went onto the mountain to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. 13 When day came, he summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them; he called them ‘apostles’: 14 Simon, whom he called Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip,  Bartholomew, 15  Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus,  Simon called the Zealot, 16 and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. 17 He then came down with them and stopped on a piece of level ground, where there was a large gathering of his disciples, with a great crowd of people from all parts of Judea and Jerusalem, and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were also cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him that cured them all. 20 Then he fixing his eyes on his disciples, he said: ‘How blessed are you who are poor, the kingdom of God is yours. 21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now; you shall have your fill. ‘Blessed are you who are weeping now; you shall laugh. 22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, and denounce your name as a criminal, on account of the Son of Man.  23 Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, look!– your reward will be great in heaven; this was the way their ancestors treated the prophets.  24 ‘But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now. 25 ‘Alas for you who have plenty to eat now: you shall go hungry. ‘Alas for you who are laughing now; you shall mourn and weep. 26 ‘Alas for you when everyone speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.

 

***

I am happy and blessed that our friends from Merritt Island Presbyterian Church are here! John and Nancy and Pam and Brian. They have come for my installation! And they’re freezing! Yesterday, Nancy texted Jim to ask how cold it was here when she and John were boarding a plane in Orlando—and it was probably in the 70s. Jim gleefully told her that when she stepped off the plane in Columbus, it was going to be 35. I half expected her to text back, “Sorry, I’ve changed my mind!” But she didn’t. I was really glad he didn’t tell her that it was going to be a low of 23! She replied that she was wearing all of the winter clothes that she had!

Pam and Brian left Merritt Island late Wednesday and drove all night with their two Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppies, Bliss and Bentley. They were disappointed there wasn’t any snow. Pam brought her purple snow boots. I guess they will just have to stay in Ohio a little longer and wait for the snow. Cause you know I’ve heard that if you don’t like the weather here, just wait 15 minutes. It’ll change!

To all my friends, fellow sisters and brothers in Christ: I am so grateful to God that we have all been chosen to labor together in a ministry of reconciliation, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 5, where Christ’s love makes us new creations in Him, and urges us on to be messengers, ambassadors for him!

During our afternoon worship, we will seek God’s blessing on a new covenant relationship between shepherd and flock, making vows to love and support one another and be faithful to God’s call on our lives. The installation is the culmination of a long discernment process for pastor and congregation that included many hours of prayer and waiting on the Lord, and, for me, some tears and sleepless nights! But this afternoon at the installation, as Sharon Sutton said on Friday when she called to encourage me, “It’s about joy. The word of the day is joy!”

***

And the word of the day is joy—do you feel it?—when crowds of people come from Judea and Jerusalem and as far as the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon to hear Jesus tell the good news of the kingdom and be cured of their diseases. While the crowds are traveling, looking for him, Jesus is traveling to meet them. He goes out to the towns and villages, the rural and outlying areas, to help people in need. Some people have traveled up to 100 miles on foot, looking for Jesus. The most amazing thing is that healing, in this passage, comes to all! For those interested in geography, Sidon is called Saida today (it’s Arabic for fishing) and is an ancient port city in Lebanon, named for the firstborn son of Canaan in Gen. 10. Tyre, which comes from a Semitic root that means “rock,” is also in Lebanon—20 miles south of Sidon, and is constructed on a rock island, a few hundred yards out into the Mediterranean.

Jesus chooses the poor and marginalized, as he will say in today’s passage, sometimes called the Beatitudes of Luke or the Sermon on the Plain, “How blessed are you who are poor: the kingdom of God is yours!” The kind of help that Jesus offers, especially in the gospel of Luke, is physical, emotional and spiritual. For example, after forgiving a paralyzed man for his sins in Luke 5, Jesus tells the man to pick up his mat and walk. He walks home, praising the Lord!

Jesus compares himself to a physician several times in Luke, which is thought to have been written by a physician—the only gospel to be written by a Gentile. Jesus, when preaching in his hometown in chapter 4, says, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!”  He describes his ministry focus this way in 5:31 when he is accused of eating and drinking with sinners: “It is not those that are well who need the doctor, but the sick. I have come to call not the upright but sinners to repentance.”

At the beginning of today’s reading in chapter 6, Jesus climbs a mountain alone, losing a night of sleep to discern God’s will for those who will be in his inner circle. Notice the Old Testament symbolism; Jesus climbs a mountain to be with God, like Moses. Jesus will come down to the level of the people to teach from God’s Word, touch, and heal; Moses will return with the Ten Commandments to form a new community, gathered around God’s Word.

The 12 seemingly ordinary men are more than disciples; for Luke calls the crowds who come to Jesus to hear and be healed “disciples,” too. These 12 are “apostles” from the Greek word, apostolos meaning “one who is being sent out or sent forth.” But they don’t know yet that they have been chosen to carry on Christ’s mission when he is no longer with them in the flesh.

Luke’s list of the 12 agrees with Acts 1:13, minus Judas Iscariot who is replaced with Matthias after prayer and casting lots. But Luke’s list of the 12 differs slightly from Matthew and Mark’s lists, which also differ slightly from each other. The names are less important than the number 12, says biblical scholars. All 4 gospels, Paul in 1 Cor. 15:5, and John of Patmos in Rev. 21:14 say the number 12 corresponds to the number of tribes in Israel. Historian and theologian Justo Gonzalez says that for Luke, “it is not that Israel has been rejected and the church has taken its place…Israel has expanded so that now…(as Acts will show) Gentiles can be added to the people of God.” (p. 90)

The apostles, who are named but have no part in the teaching and healing in this passage, will learn from Christ, so that, when they are sent out to minister in His name, they will know what to do—and to whom they are being sent. In Luke 9:6, “They go from village to village,” (the rural areas) “proclaiming the good news and healing everywhere.”

After Jesus heals each one, he blesses them, demonstrating God’s compassion for the suffering of the world. Jesus knows the situations of these people who are invisible to and scorned by the rich and powerful. They are living on the margins of their communities, their sickness making them social and religious outcasts. Without concern for his own health and safety, Christ touches the poor and hungry, and those who mourn, and those who will be inspired by this day of joy and healing to live a new and abundant life. Some will follow Jesus in gratitude and risk persecution and rejection.

With Jesus’ list of woes in the NRSV or “alas’s” in the New Jerusalem translation, it’s clear that Jesus doesn’t stand with the rich and proud who aren’t concerned for the starving multitudes, whose daily life is struggle.

Jesus speaks words of comfort and welcome, “How blessed are you, who are poor! The kingdom is yours!”

***

Friends, I look forward to our worship this afternoon that will be a celebration of what God has done for the Church! This is truly a day of joy!

My prayer is that this is the beginning of a season of joy as we seek God’s vision. May our ministry take the shape and form of the compassionate ministry of the Lord. May we be stirred to help those with whom Jesus clearly identified—the poor and hungry, the sick and those who mourn. Like Jesus and his disciples, we are led to live and minister to rural folk, reviving a spirit of hope where hope has become, for some, despair. We who live in the country are precious to the Lord!

May this beautiful building be known for generations to come as a place of hope and healing, a place to learn and grow. You will leave this building today better equipped as His apostles to minister beyond the church walls. Like the first 12, you have been chosen and sent out to carry on Christ’s mission by the Spirit’s power. Walk in grace and be your true self; let yourself be vulnerable, like Jesus did, so that others will feel safe to be vulnerable with you!

Like Jesus, let us remember the importance of solitude and prayer. The next time you have trouble sleeping, instead of worrying—just pray!

And as we seek to serve, heal and restore to wholeness what is broken, we can offer words of comfort and welcome to those with whom Christ identified,

“Blessed are you who are poor: the kingdom of God is yours!”

 

Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for the promise of your kingdom, that you ushered in when you came in the flesh long ago, a kingdom that will come to fruition when you come again to reign over us in glory! Help us, O God, to live each day as witnesses to your present and coming kingdom of peace and justice, seeking to help, heal and bless our neighbors around the globe, those with whom your Son identified—the poor and hungry, the sick and those who mourn. Build up our hope and faith so that we may  be emboldened to engage in compassionate ministry for Christ’s sake. In His name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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