November 7, 2010
Rev. Dr. David A. Davis
If you keep reading in Luke 6, if you keep going beyond the last verse I just read, if you don’t stop at “Do to others as you would have them do to you”, you will come upon Jesus saying “love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return” and Jesus saying “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” and “do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned, forgive, and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you.” As you heard, it all starts with the blessings and the woes. According to Luke, Jesus stood on a level place with a great crowd of his disciples, surrounded by an even greater multitude of people, and he looked up at his disciples and said….these blessings and woes.
Blessed are you poor…Blessed are you who are hungry now…Blessed are you who weep now. Blessed are you when people hate you….Woe to you who are rich…Woe to you who are full ….Woe to you who are laughing…Woe to you when all speak well of you. Jesus starts with the blessings and the woes. Then from the lips of Jesus, “But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Turn the other cheek. Give to anyone who begs. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Love. Do good. Be merciful. Forgive. Give. Luke, chapter 6, the sermon Jesus gives from the level place. The Sermon on the Plain.
It’s fairly brief, actually. The sermon ends with Jesus telling a parable and painting some word pictures, using some metaphors. The speck in your neighbor’s eye, the log in your own eye. No good tree bears bad fruit. A man building a house on a rock foundation. And right in between the blessings and the woes and when Jesus speaks in parables, the in between part of the Sermon on the Plain is pretty plain…love your enemies, do good, give, the golden rule, forgive, do not judge, do not condemn. Jesus starts with the blessings and woes, then he says, “But I say to you who listen.” Then comes the plain sense of the sermon on the plain.
The comparison, of course, is to the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. The more familiar string of beatitudes. The much longer sermon that includes many more quotes for the collection: you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world, anyone who lusts in the heart has already committed adultery, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect, beware of practicing your piety before others, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own, Ask, and it will be given you, seek and you will find. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tackles the relationship of law and gospel. Jesus includes teaching on the Lord’s prayer. Jesus includes some puzzling material like “not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven.” The Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain.
Comparing and contrasting goes beyond just content. In Matthew, when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain and that’s where he began to speak. That’s where he taught. Matthew’s Jesus is the Teacher, the Rabbi, the one who embodies the tradition of Moses and Mt. Sinai and the law. There is a sense in which Jesus went up the mountain, as Moses went up to Sinai. Instead of two tablets with The Ten Commandments, Jesus offers to the disciples his list of blessings. The beatitudes from above, from on high, from the Great Teacher. Like a burning bush, and voice calling, pillar of fire by night, cloud by night, a theophany of blessing there in the Sermon on the Mt. According to Matthew, after calling the disciples and going thoughout Galilee proclaiming good news and healing the sick, with all the great crowds following him, Jesus went up the mountain and as he began to speak, he taught them, saying “blessed…blessed… blessed…. .blessed….. blessed….”
But it’s different in Luke. In Luke Jesus had gone out to the mountain to pray. He prayed up there all night long. He called his disciples and together they all came down from the mountain. Jesus stood on a level place. Surrounded by a great crowd of disciples and multitudes from all around, Jesus healed diseases and cast out unclean spirits. People in the crowds were trying to touch him. There in the press of humanity near and far, Jesus looked up at his disciples and said “blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed” and “woe, woe, woe, woe.” Not up on the mountain, not from on high, not like tablets of stone, but from there in the crowd, smack right there among the rich and the poor, among the hungry and the full, with the weepers and the laughers, surrounded by some who were hated and others who were praised. Jesus came down and stood among them. He stood on a level place surrounded by a crowd, by a multitude. He stood on level place surrounded by everyone. By all. Jesus right there and looked up at his disciples.
The plain sense comes from a Jesus fully immersed in all that is human, from a Jesus surrounded by the extremes of our experience; poor-rich, hungry-full, sorrow-joy, hatred-praise. The plain sense comes when Jesus looks up at his disciples and the great multitude all around him and says, “this just isn’t it.” Here so early in the Gospel of Luke, listeners of Jesus have heard him proclaim the kingdom: Every valley being filled. Every mountain and hill made low. The crooked made straight. The rough places smooth. All flesh seeing the salvation of God. The kingdom come. The reign of God. Good news to the poor. Release to the captives. The blind seeing. The oppressed going free. The year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus looked all around and said, “Yeah, this isn’t it!” He stood there up to his eyeballs in the human condition. He was surrounded by the rich and the poor, the hungry and the poor. He saw the joy and the sorrow, the hatred and the praise. He looked up at his disciples, with those blessings and woes, he was saying, “This, isn’t it”
Blessings and woes. One could hear them as promise and threat, but maybe with a preacher’s rhetorical flare, Jesus was simply trying to communicate how the ways of this world will be so turned upside down when the kingdom comes. How the first will be last and the last first, how the valleys will be lifted up and the mountains made low. Blessings and woe. It was a way for Jesus to proclaim that kingdom of God is something different from some getting all the praise while others are so hated. The kingdom of God is something other than some dancing with joy as others know tears all night long. In the kingdom of God there can’t be some who are full while others go hungry. In the reign of God, you can’t have it where some are so rich and others are so poor. Jesus looked up at the disciples and the crowds and the multitudes and the world, and said, “this isn’t it”
But I say to you that listen, that have ears to hear, that see, that look around, I say to you that know intuitively, or instinctively, or faithfully, those of you who know that this isn’t it, I say to you: Turn the other cheek. Give to anyone who begs. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Give. Do good. Be merciful. Forgive. Don’t judge. Don’t condemn. Love. When you find yourself confronted, surrounded, up to your eyeballs in something other than the kingdom of God, when you know “this isn’t it”, then as a follower of Jesus there ought to be a certain plain sense that kicks in, that takes over, that guides, that inspires, that defines you.
On Wednesday the Princeton Clergy Association met at the Jewish Center. One of the topics we discussed with our speaker was bullying and how local communities of faith could assist in the conversation in light of recent events and given that social networking goes so far beyond the classroom. I was able to share about the initiative here at Nassau next Sunday evening: an all church gathering, a discussion led by our own young people, not just for youth but for all of us. A faithful and faith-filled response to what we all know isn’t and ought not to be part of the kingdom of God. The youth will lead us in developing a covenant, much like happens on a retreat, or a mission trip, or at Montreat. Promises and commitments about behavior, support, and the creation of a safe place. Or in other words, a covenant of plain sense in which we voice our desire to be a sign of the kingdom in the world.
That Wednesday meeting was the day after the election. Reports estimate that 2 billion dollars was spent on house and senate races across the country. What I haven’t seen is how much of that was spent on what is called “negative advertising.” Commercial after commercial, every side of the political aisle, full of name calling, threats, half-truths, manipulated sound bites and pictures posted, fear tactics, rumors sparked. Negative advertising in politics; everything but spitballs. It’s bullying in the public square. It’s there because it works. A candidate who doesn’t use it will be candidate who doesn’t win. So they say. But somewhere not even all that deep down, people of faith ought to look around and say, “this isn’t it”. Not a lot of plain sense here. The plain sense that Jesus taught for those who listen, who yearn to be a sign of the kingdom.
Friends, this is the joyful feast of the people of God. They will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God. The feast, the meal, the celebration. It is a sign of the kingdom of God. You and I are nourished again and again by the grace of God, the promise of Jesus, the body of Christ, the cup of salvation. Nourished for the life of faith, nourished in our witness to resurrection hope, nourished in our yearning for the plain sense of gospel life.
There are those grace-filled, blessed, sacred moments and parts of life where you and I get to taste and see and live the kingdom in our midst. But some days, most days, every day, my hunch is that most of us look around and know this isn’t it. So if you have this craving, this yearning, this hunger and thirst for the kingdom of God? Then come, come to the Table, and feast again on the promises of God.
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