"Jesus doesn’t distinguish between rich or poor, hungry or well fed. He just tells us to do it towards everyone. He tells us God is fair. And there is equality in God’s kingdom. Jesus came down to the level plain where God has leveled the playing field."
You don’t have to be a Christian to know life is a mixture of blessings and woes. Those who choose to follow Jesus know that we are called to live with the tension in between the two.
The beatitudes is a fairly well-known passage. Luke’s version, however, is different than the longer one found in the gospel of Matthew. To be honest, it’s not my favorite.
Luke’s rhetorical balance between these four blessings and four woes forces me to look deeper at my faith than I sometimes want to. Moreover, the conditions to be blessed don’t really seem like blessings. In fact, I lean more towards the woeful situations. Even if being rich comes with a warning, it still has to be better than poverty or persecution. And does it really count if I make myself weep or go hungry to earn a blessing?
If we choose to follow Jesus, then we have to hold the tension between these two worlds where we are blessed when we are comforted by God’s grace and love in our times of hardship and pain. But we are warned not to confuse our good fortune for faithful discipleship.
If you want to see God or know what God is up to…well this is it.
As the story goes, Jesus comes down from the mountain to the level plains, where people from all walks of life have gathered.
It’s here, between the mountain top and the streets below, Jesus meets people who are sick and who haven’t eaten in a while. Some are possessed or suffering a mental disorder. While others have come simply because they’ve heard about this rabbi whose new interpretation of scripture was turning everything upside down.
With all eyes on him, he begins to speak. “Blessed are you...you who are poor...you who are hungry...you who weep and are persecuted.” And the people were stunned.
“Hearing this,” wrote Barbara Brown Taylor, “was like drinking from a glass of what looked like lemonade and finding out that it’s bug spray instead.” That’s because people like these folks were not used to receiving tender attention, muchless a divine blessing.
But like I said, Jesus often shocks us, because sometimes that’s what it takes to open our eyes to see God among us. With these words, Jesus tells those who society has deemed unfit or unimportant that they matter to God. People like you and me, God considers blessed!
With open eyes, Jesus wants us to look into the heart of God and discover all the possibilities that come from it. When our eyes are open to how God blesses us, it should be easier to see how we can bless and care for each other - especially those in need.
Thus, it’s here, between blessings and woes, we must make a choice. Jesus isn’t telling us what to do. He’s not saying ‘thou shalt be poor and persecuted’.
When Jesus commands us, you know it. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Jesus doesn’t distinguish between rich or poor, hungry or well fed. He just tells us to do it towards everyone. He tells us God is fair. And there is equality in God’s kingdom. Jesus came down to the level plain where God has leveled the playing field.
Barbara Brown Taylor describes it like riding on a Ferris wheel. She says, “The Ferris wheel will go around, so that those who are swaying at the top, with the wind in their hair and all the world's lights at their feet, will have their turn at the bottom. While those who are down there right now, where all they can see are candy wrappers in the sawdust, will have their chance to touch the stars.”
It’s in this space between the stars and the sawdust Jesus removes any barriers to seeing God's image reflected in our lives.
What does that image look like?
Like our friend who is a single mom, runs her own business, and struggles to keep her head above water – financially and mentally. And to her Jesus says, “You are blessed.”
But it also looks like someone I know who was given a second chance at life and became successful in business and achieved great wealth. Jesus tells him, “You are blessed.”
Yet, to both, he also says, “Whoa!” As in, don’t let your good comfort or your bad situation be your priority. Put your faith in God. Not some of it. But all of it.
As followers of Jesus, we stand between receiving God's grace and comfort in times of suffering knowing we also contribute to both the hardships and blessings of others. We must make a choice. To live into our blessedness. Or not.
Here, in Anamesa, in the space between, Jesus gives us a holy pause, a time to set our priorities and make room for God “who loves everyone on that Ferris wheel.” You. Me. And even the most despised person you can think of. This is who God is. And how it works in God’s kingdom.
As he moves through his ministry, Jesus will go on to show us how our true worth and value does not depend on anyone, or anything, other than God. If you know Jesus, then you know how far God is willing to go to bless us and love us. A love given freely to us with the intention that we will freely give it away to one another.
It’s ours to choose. To borrow from Rev Dawn who reminded me in her sermon this morning, “God trusts our choice.”
So, as we stand here today, in the tension between our blessings and woes, I invite you to imagine Jesus next to you telling you, “You are blessed because you are a person worth being loved and to give love.”
“You are blessed because you are created out of love and live in the embrace of a God who didn’t hesitate to send his only son to die for you.”
Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus believes you and I are worth everything God has to offer. And he will empty himself of everything he has so that we might know it. For those of us who refuse to see our worth in God’s eyes, Jesus tells us there will be woes ahead.
Eugene Peterson wrote it like this, “If you are only satisfied with yourself, and what you can do, your self will not satisfy you for long.”
The good news here is that Jesus opens our eyes to see God. And gives the beatitudes as a map to God’s heart so we can see who we really are: God's Beloved, made in the Divine image of everlasting love.
When we realize this truth, perhaps we will be better at doing what Jesus actually does commands us to do: to share, to love, to pray; to forgive those who, in their own brokenness, have also received God’s blessings.
As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, “No one gets to stay at the top of the Ferris wheel forever. What goes around, comes around. That is not advice. That is not judgment. That is God's own truth. It is the pure blessedness for those on the bottom, who never really expect to get off the ground.”
For those who are on top today, Jesus calls you down to be a part of the Kingdom of God. For those of you at the bottom, Jesus lifts you up so you can bathe in the richness of God’s everlasting light. It’s in our going up and coming down we see all the things that make us laugh, and cry, and hunger for all God has to offer. It’s in this holy space our hearts our open to receive a gift greater than anything money or talent could buy.
To make that choice easier, there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love and no way to repay God for such redemptive grace. All we can do is accept it.
Once we accept that we are absolutely, unconditionally loved by God, once that shocking knowledge of God’s goodness penetrates our hearts then and only then can fully embrace and live, laugh and love like Jesus did.
When we follow Jesus, living in Christ like love, only then can we truly love one another, truly forgive each other, and truly live side-by-side in peace.
It’s in that holy moment we see how truly blessed we really are.
BartLett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol 1. Westminster John Knox, 2009.
Peterson, Eugene. The Message. Navipress, 1995
Taylor, Barbara Brown. Home By Another Way. Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”