Sermon for C Epiphany 6, February 17, 2019
Based on Luke 6: 17-26
I have a new favorite cartoon from The New Yorker. I expect you know how droll their cartoons can be. Their insights on human foibles are always of the “I wish I’d said or done that” kind. This one was seasonal, for Valentine’s Day. Cupid is at the counter of an optometrist. His bow and arrow are sitting on the counter next to a circular display of different glasses. Cupid is wearing some Harry Potter-like round rimmed glasses and says, “This changes everything!” Ha ha. Likely all of us have wondered during the trials of adolescence or worse whether Cupid’s vision was way off. Would that it were just that way. Would that love’s losses were all someone else’s fault. We make our own mistakes, too. Life’s challenges are not only accidental. There are selfish forces out there that mean harm. Life is not idyllic, as Tennyson wrote after reading Darwin’s truth; beautiful nature itself “is red in tooth and claw.” People are diseased and troubled by unclean spirits. It gets worse when cerebrally lazy people given to self-justifying ideology claim that those who are ill and lonely and victim and refugee deserve it and that those who, like themselves, are self-sufficient in their prosperity are blessed by God for their ingenuity.
Such vision is not quite right. Blessing is always marked by compassion. And compassion always produces blessing. This conviction is what inspires Jesus’ Sermon from the Plain.
If that title of Luke’s passage here startles you, it should. This Gospel text is Luke version of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. If Matthew’s recounting is the real deal, then this is a summary. More likely, if Matthew’s version is about instruction from on high along the lines of The Desiderata I quoted two weeks ago, Luke’s version means urgently to comfort and to warn.. And Luke means to say something utterly unique about the human divine Jesus. Jesus stands on equal ground with all humanity.
In this text, Jesus had just prayed on a mountain for discernment. Then, out of 72 disciples he had chosen his apostles. Now, at the bottom of the mountain, on level ground, the apostles and the 60 further disciples and throngs more of regular folk are crowded around Jesus. He looks eye to eyes at the disciples, his emerging church, and gives four blessings and some dire warnings.
For those who follow Jesus, what is lacking will be supplied. Where there is no fairness–the root cause of poverty–there will be justice, which is the Kingdom and Kindom of God. Where food is scarce, full tables will spill with feasts. Where there is sorrow, wholeness of relationship, community, and body will come as waves of laughter. Where the proclamation and doing of simple goodness is denied and denigrated, transcendent respect will ring forever, just as it did and does for all the prophets of the truly holy.
Not so for the false. Make no mistake. There are many popular and purportedly successful leaders proud in themselves whose lives are premised on the denial and destruction of justice love. They may even invoke the name of Jesus for their purity claims. They need new glasses. They are at their dead end and they do not know it.
Let me be as clear as I can about dead ends. We have spoken often about the justice and joy of Jesus here. To some ears that may sound like political jargon that lifts up one side of the political spectrum and disses the other. But we speak with all intended faithfulness to scripture, tradition, and the Living Word of what is central in Luke especially, which is the Justice of Jesus. Note the two inseparable words: justice and Jesus. As Brian Zahnd observes, the “Religious Left and Religious Right are both dead ends. There is a Religious Left that is so exclusively focused on justice issues that it threatens to make Jesus superfluous. There is a Religious Right that reduces Jesus to a mere factor in a salvation equation or a chaplain of empire.”
Heavy and true words. Jesus is not a mere example of moral theory we prefer; nor is he the last ditch authorizer of the biases we hold from the start. He is not on a mountain far and above; and he is not at our disposal beneath our eyes. He is neither left nor right. From where did Jesus speak these crucial words of blessing and woe? In our midst, eye to eyes, on level ground. On level ground, Jesus is among us, with us, one of us. On level ground, the divine become human shows us, speaks with us, and heals us so that our human might be more the intended divine. On level ground, Christ participates in the details of our lives and only on level ground can Christ welcome us into the details of his life now and alive. Are you with him? Are we together with each other in and with and of Christ?
Human divine and divine human things happen when we are on that level ground with God Emmanuel, when we are level and close. There are inspiring personal stories of healing here. There are intimate stories of hope come alive and new laughter erupting here. Where Christ is, there is A Healing Place. Tat A Healing Place people touch Christ as Christ touches them, each uniquely, in ways right for them, and healing power radiates from him.
The fine movie Green Book, based on a true story, follows a concert tour taken by the great Don Shirley in the deep South in the early sixties. Shirley is Black, multi-lingual, and trained in Leningrad’s classical conservatory of music. He can’t play in his expertise, however, because the paying white public wants black musicians to perform more pop stuff. Shirley accommodates and is very successful with a unique jazz trio, and yet allows that he hardly knows the blues and boogie of the current black popular musicians. His driver and protector is a white bigot, recommended by folks at the Copa Cabana and other night clubs. Together they learn from each other, forge a deep friendship, and face off against idiot racism. The climax for me was, after the celebrated performer was refused a place in the dining hall of the private club where he was to perform, Shirley and Tony walk out, find an all-black blues club, where the tuxedoed Shirley sits down at the old upright piano on stage and plays the most magnificent piece of Chopin. The crowd went wild. Then the band joined him and they played boogie into the wee hours. Sheer joy and justice.
My take away: When our dignity with and for each other is level in Christ, when we level with ourselves, because Christ has leveled and is level with us, it’s like Chopin and Jazz breaking it big in a juke joint. When and where Christ and humanity are standing level eye to eye, God happens. It changes everything.
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX February 17, 2019