youth hands largeMessage for Epiphany 6 on Luke 6:17-26 on February 13, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

We want a Jesus who is calm and soothing, a Jesus who only welcomes and never challenges, but that is rarely the Jesus we encounter in scripture. In the sermon we hear this morning, Jesus’s blessings and woes sound shocking, even judgmental and divisive. His words unsettle us, but they are not surprising if we have been paying attention.

Take his mother, for example. She has been singing lullabies about scattering the proud in the thoughts of their heart, bringing down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly since Jesus was in the womb. Mary spoke of filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty. Mary, an unwed peasant girl, experiences the newness of God in her life and she sees a vision of life turned upside-down from the way things work.

Take the start of Jesus’s ministry: it does not begin at the Temple with the approval of religious leaders—it is at the river with a baptism by a wilderness prophet calling for repentance. The sky breaks open, the Spirit descends, and then – instead of a seminary education, Jesus is tested, hungry, lonely, and bereft. From the outset, Jesus’s ministry is all about the world being turned upside-down.

Take Jesus’ inaugural sermon in his hometown of Nazareth—he quotes Isaiah’s vision of good news to the poor, sight to the blind, the oppressed going free, and the year of jubilee. This vision celebrates all property being returned to its original owners and all debts forgiven! Everyone would be released from crushing poverty and properties and finances would be set back to a level starting place. Again, the world is turned upside-down.

The sermon we hear today is not so surprising then, although the setting tells us something new is happening. “Jesus came down to a level place.” How odd! Usually Jesus went up – he went up to pray, he went up to commune with God, he went up to preach. But in this sermon he came down to a level place in order to put everyone on a level playing field together. In the Kingdom of God the social world is flat—no hierarchy, no status, no gradations of power or privilege.

By coming down to a level place, Jesus also made himself accessible—so that people from all over—Jews and Gentiles, neighbors and foreigners, friends and enemies might approach him to be healed. Even those who engaged in exploitative economic policies toward Israel from up in Tyre and Sidon came down to see and hear and be healed by Jesus. Rich and poor, hungry and well-fed, laughing and weeping. Everyone wanted to be in Jesus’s presence. Everyone wanted to hear what he had to say. Everyone was ailing in one way or another, and all wanted to be healed.

Those who are especially needy—poor, hungry, sick, blind, crippled, leprous, feverish, and demon-possessed are starving for the upside-down world that Jesus embodies. Their need for God is clear—there are no illusions they can make it on their own. For them, life has never been a do-it-yourself project. They live with little pride, no false self-image, and no distractions about who they really are. Their life is a mess, they need healing. Without God’s help, they will not make it. Of this, they are clear!

Those aware of their needs press in to touch Jesus and receive the healing that emanates from his being in dynamic waves of power. For those at the bottom of life’s rung, Jesus’s healing, Jesus’s touch changes their status and their life almost instantly. Their lives flip like a mattress airing out in the sun. They go from cripple to dancer, from beggar to worker, from burden to provider, from outcast to in-crowd, from rejected to included, from weeping to laughing, from crushing isolation to beloved community.

For them, the floor has literally been raised and the field has been leveled.

• Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
• Good for you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
• How respectable are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
• How enviable are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, on account of the Son of Man.
• Rejoice because you get it!
• Rejoice because you see it!
• Rejoice because you know that you need God…every second of your life.
• Before, the world battered and abused you, but now you live in the upside-down kingdom!
• Now you exist on a level playing field where everyone’s needs, and everyone’s status is equal before God.

These are the ones to whom Jesus’s blessings are spoken. But Jesus did not come simply for the poor and downtrodden, for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that WHOSOVER believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Jesus offers healing and ministers to all. The poor and the rich. While standing on the level place, Jesus also sees many who are rich and well-fed, those who are laughing and well-respected, who do not get it. They have come to rely on their own status, distracted by their worldly comforts, their pride, and what they can provide for themselves. While they may feel uncomfortable entering the shared spiritual experience on the level plain with those of lower means, a different class, race, status, and income, they also know that they, too, need Jesus.

Jesus’ word to the wealthy is not easy for them to hear, but his challenging words are healing for them as well. In his book, a Spirituality of Fundraising, Henri Nouwen writes, rich people are poor in other ways…many rich people are very lonely…they struggle with a sense of being used and suffer from feelings of rejection or depression.” Jesus sees their need and their reluctance to step out of the comfort and safeguards of their status, and he challenges them to consider the upside-down healing of the kingdom:

• But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation (don’t you get it that food doesn’t satisfy –that you cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord?)
• Be careful you who are full now, for you will be hungry—your emptiness will remain if you stay distracted by wealth!
• This is a warning to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep when your loneliness is not satisfied by stuff!
• Watch out when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets—admiration is not the same as true community and love—come join the party of healing and wholeness –you’ll find joy and belovedness, and dancing in the Jesus’ community of the redeemed.
• Everyone over here is filled with love and new life!

A healing Jubilee is taking place where so many are being restored to wholeness and those who are well-off and well-fed are welcomed to have their souls made whole, their fears calmed, their relationships restored, their anxieties quelled, and their loneliness assuaged.

Jesus is both warning and inviting them to release their grip on the fleeting security of their social status and step forward to receive Jesus’ dynamic healing balm with the rainbow of humanity around them. Like the older brother of the prodigal son—they are invited to come and join the party where all are welcome, all is forgiven, and all can enter in! Don’t miss out! Join the Blessing party!

And some of them do! They are like Levi the tax collector turned disciple, and like Zacchaeus, who upon encountering Jesus, returned four times as much back to anyone he cheated. They see their resources as blessings from God and use them in service of God’s mission in the world. They encounter the newly healed from their own town and begin to network with who needs work, who needs to get in touch with the matchmaker, who needs a new stall at the market, and who needs help to see the priest to be declared clean.

Because that’s what happens when all these diverse people--Jews and Gentiles, neighbors and foreigners, friends and enemies, rich and poor, hungry and well-fed, laughing and weeping, come together for healing—for a shared experience of God’s presence in Jesus. Real community. Real healing. Differences do not divide, they energize for learning, sharing, building up, and growing together.

This is what it means to be the church—to live in the upside-down level playing field of God’s kingdom, coming together as a diverse a community, for shared experiences of God’s presence in Jesus, for that is where our healing takes place.

And in the shared experiences of Jesus’ presence in our lives, the barriers that might divide us be they status, culture, gender, race, politics or whatever—diminish until we can clearly see Jesus’ upside-down vision of the kingdom. The plain is flat, and we are all on the same level. From our shared experience of God’s love, the Spirit energizes us to share and grow and learn to be God’s people together and to invite more and more people in to share an experience of God’s presence with us in Jesus.

This is why we engage in a campaign to repair our building—not just so it looks nice, but so that we have a place to gather diverse people for shared experiences of God’s presence in Jesus. And when we experience healing here, we are equipped to carry it with us in our daily lives—treating everyone on this level plain and seeking ways to share an experience of God regardless of our differences.

So, who can you invite to the party this week? (we are literally having a party next Sunday for our 65th Anniversary, so invite som friends and neighbors!) For this is where healing takes place, this is where we are made whole. Join the party where all are welcome, all is forgiven, and all can enter in! Don’t miss out! Join the Blessing party!

Image SourceThanks to Avondale Pattillo UMC, Atlanta, GA

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