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Traveling with God: Week of February 17, 2019

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

 

Traveling with God Week of: February 17, 2019
Devotion

At first blush, this sermon Jesus gives in the Gospel of Luke sounds very similar to the famous Sermon on the Mount we hear in Matthew's gospel. There are, however, a few key differences. 

One is that in this passage Jesus doesn't just tell us who is blessed, but he gives us some "woes" as well. Thus we learn not just what or who we want to be, but what or who we definitely do not want to be. A second difference is that Jesus speaks more directly to this crowd. In Matthew he says "Blessed are those" and "Blessed are they," keeping his message a step removed from his listeners. Here in Luke, he speaks more intimately - "Blessed are you" - as if he knows exactly who in the crowd he is calling out with his words. 

The third key difference has to do with where Jesus gives this sermon. In Matthew's gospel, he is on a mountain; he is above the crowd and they are below him. In Luke's gospel, this has been referred to as the "sermon on the plain" because the beginning of the passage tells us that Jesus "came down and stood on a level place" while the crowds gathered around him. 

Author Karoline Lewis thinks this place of giving the message is significant - for it shows that Jesus was willing to be on the same level as the people around him. He lived in a time when society was extremely stratified, there were people deemed "more than" and people deemed "lesser than". If we are really honest with ourselves, we know that our society is still very much this way. Lewis wrote "at the end of the day, analysis of our society and observation of the human condition suggest that no one really wants to be on the same level. If that were the case, the rich would not be as rich as they are and the poor would not be as poor as they are."

We might like to think that we are above this way of thinking, or outside this attitude of our society, but I suspect if we all really take a good look at ourselves we will realize that it has infected us, too. There are people we look down upon, that we think we are better than. And there are people we look up to, that we think are better than us, or "out of our league" to borrow a phrase. 

Yet Jesus calls us to a level field. Perhaps Jesus calls us to level the field. Lewis wrote further, "I suspect we don’t like being on an equal level with others. A level plain assumes a rather blurred view. You have to stand on your tippy toes to see. Vision is not clear. Things and people are in your way. We know this experience. Imagine a concert. Trying to see over the heads of others, in between the bodies of others, so as to bring into view the reason you are there.

Asked of us in this story, demanded of us in this story, is our call to find the level plains of life and ministry. The level plains that insist church, faith, and belief see the world from that perspective. The level plains that seek to call out the haughty and uplift the lowly. The level plains of being okay with a less-than-clear view. But, a less-than-clear view might reveal vistas that actually enable us to see the Kingdom of God."

Prayer

God of the mountains, the valleys, and the level fields, helps us to see those around us in a different light. Help us to see that we are all created equal, created in your image, and we must work together to bring about your Kingdom. Open our eyes to what we can do, right where we are, that is your work in this world. Amen.