January 17th, 2010

197 Browning  Boulevard, Winnipeg, Manitoba  R3K 0L1


Sermon on Luke 6: 12-26

We have all heard the expression - "They are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good." In the passage that we read from Luke Jesus invites us to ask ourselves - "I'm I so earthly minded that I am no heavenly good?"

We need to get some vocabulary clear in our heads or this passage - and the sermon will make no sense. The passage starts with Jesus choosing 12 people from among his disciples and naming them apostles. And at this point we want to say, "Hold your horses - that is not the way I learned this - the 12 people - Peter, John, Matthew, etc. - they are the disciples." But if we look carefully at the way Luke tells the story - that is not how he uses the words. According to Luke - there was a larger group of people who had been following Jesus around and learning form him - because that is all that a disciple was ­ someone who learned from a teacher. We sometimes use the word that way in a university or college setting - someone says, "I am a student at U or W." and we ask "In what discipline?" What subject are you becoming a disciple of - what subject are you learning and being formed by?

So there is the larger group of disciples - followers and learners of Jesus - and after a night in prayer Jesus chooses 12 of them to be an inner circle of the disciples - who he calls apostles- which means the sent ones. So why am I making a big deal about this? Because I think it is easy for us when we hear the word "disciple" to think of the 12 super heroes of the faith - and say to ourselves - "That was for people like the disciples ­ people who are spiritual super heroes - that does not speak to me - it is not about me." But Luke will not let us do that - not all of us are invited to be apostles - but everyone who follows Jesus - who wants to be a learner of Jesus - they are disciples - and they are included in the words disciples. So when Jesus says something to the disciples we can not say - "0 that means that group over there - just the minister, or just the elders, or just the Sunday school teachers" - no when Jesus says something to the "disciples" we all need to perk up our ears and listen - for this is for all of us.

Jesus chose the apostles - then came down the mountain with "a great crowd of his disciples" and there were people waiting to be healed and to hear his teaching. So Jesus taught them al1d healed them. After that Jesus turned to his disciples - to his followers ­ to those who wanted to learn from him - and that means us too - and he said some radical things.

Blessed are you who are poor - not poor in spirit - the poor.

Blessed are you who are hungry - not the hungry for righteousness - the hungry. Blessed are you who weep.

We have heard things like this before - we recognize them as being very much like the Beatitudes in Matthew.

Now some people have looked at the difference between Luke's account of the Beatitudes and Matthew's and say one of them got the list wrong. Because there are differences between the two. Far more likely is that these were among Jesus' favorite themes in preaching - themes he returned to again and again. Every good preacher - if you listen closely to them for a while you will notice repeated themes - repeated concerns that come out in slightly different ways - but which reappear again and again. So it is likely that Jesus in his preaching returned to these themes again and again - and Luke and Matthew are telling us about two sermons - similar in content - but preached at different times - and with differences between them.

And there are some significant differences between what Luke records and what Matthew records - Luke tells us that the poor and the hungry are blessed. But since Jesus is speaking to his followers - to his disciples - he makes this personal. It is not a generic "the poor" - it is specific the personal- "you who are poor." He sees among his followers - among those who are committed to him - people who are poor and hungry and weeping.

And keeping with the same personal focus - Jesus sees among his followers people who are rich and well-fed and who are laughing. And Jesus has challenging words for them:

Woe to you who are rich -

Woe to you who are full- you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh - you will mourn and weep.

We start to move uncomfortably in our seats - we don't like this - because we are the rich, we are well fed. We live in a world where half the world's population lives on less $2.50 a day. We live in a world where 80% of the world's population lives on less than $10 a day. We are the rich. We are the well-fed - for we know where lunch is coming from - and supper. Our biggest challenge is choosing what to have - for many in our world their challenge is not choosing what to have - it is having anything to eat at all.

There is a theological view that says, "If you follow God - if you are a disciple of Jesus - you will be blessed by God. And that blessing will be seen in financial terms, in your happiness rising, in the material and emotional good that will pour into your life."

This view gets called various things - "The Health, Wealth and Prosperity Gospel", "Name It and Claim It Theology", which it is easy to make fun of. But there are more subtle forms of this same view which work their ways into our thinking. Something that sounds like: If people do what God wants them to do they are blessed materially, and if bad things happen it is because they disobeyed God.

If that were true - that material blessing is a sign of God's blessing - then how do we explain the number of very wealthy people who have ended up being exposed as liars and thieves and rather nasty people. And if it were true that a lack of material blessing is a sign of God's displeasure - why is it that the Christian community in Africa and Central America is far healthier - far more energized than the church in North America. They have little - we have much materially; they have much and we have little spiritually.

Jesus in this passage would have us do a radical re-think of that approach - for he says it is the poor, the hungry, those who mourn who are blessed. Blessed because they will be filled - they will find laughter - they are heirs to the Kingdom of God. Those who are well-off, those who well-fed, those who are laughing all the way to the bank - Jesus is broken-hearted for them. We need to hear his "woe" as a "woe" of sorrow - of weeping for what is coming to those who are focused on the material benefits of this life. The material benefits of this life - financial wealth, being well-fed - they are only for this life. And they last only in this life.

Jesus is inviting us to not be so earthly minded that we are no heavenly good - Jesus is inviting us to understand that there is a higher stakes game going on than who has the most toys in this life. It is so easy to measure well-being by what our eyes can see; it is so easy to put hope in what is in the bank or the regular paycheck; it is so easy to think that those things are signs of God's blessing.

Jesus weeps over those who have placed their trust - their hope - their confidence in the wrong thing. Jesus weeps over those who are spiritually bankrupt unable to see that the material things of this world can not save them, are not worthy of their trust.

Now if that were not bad enough - Jesus takes his challenge one more step. Jesus

says, "You are blessed when people exclude you, laugh at you, slander you - because you are a follower of mine. When that happens rejoice, because that is how the prophets were treated." And in balance with that Jesus heart breaks as he says, "Woe to you when everyone says great things about you, because that is what they said about the false prophets."

But from everything you hear in the media being a Christian seems to mean being nice - getting along with everyone - not ticking anyone off. Clearly Jesus sees things differently. It turns out that being a follower of Jesus means living by a pattern different than the way the rest of the world.

For example, it means living by a model that says - "The dollar is not the most important thing". And while people are quick to say "yes" that is true the dollar is not the most important thing. Listen to how people talk - "The bottom line (the thing that matters the most) is the money." The thing that catches our attention the most quickly is what something costs - how much is being spent. Jesus says "money is not everything, money is but a tool- there is a bigger game - a more important set of things going on."

It means living by a model that says, "My loyalty is not to this world - not to the structures and the values of this world - rather my loyalty is to the kingdom that God is building." And in that kingdom the only way in is through recognizing that the way this world works is completely upside down from the way God wants the world to be. But when we live our loyalty to God and God's kingdom - when we live as followers of Jesus Christ there will be people who will be angered by our decision. They will say that we are judging them - that we are following a pattern of life that will create havoc - they will wonder why we can not just decide to go along with everybody else. Why can we not just be quiet about the fact that this world is not the way it is supposed to be.

When we get criticized for living by a pattern that is out of step with the rest of the world, Jesus invites us to rejoice. Rejoice that people are recognizing that following Jesus is not the same as following this world - rejoice that people are recognizing that our lives are different because we are disciples of Jesus. Living this way may be even harder than choosing the path of poverty and hunger and weeping - because we are trained to value what other say to us. We do not like it when people tell us that we make them uncomfortable - we don't like when people don't like us. But Jesus says that if we are serious about following him that is exactly what will happen. That those outside the community of discipleship - those who are not following Jesus will be upset with us.

So where is the good news in this - the good news is that those who are prepared to be among the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the ridiculed - in other words those who are prepared to recognize that the things of this world are but a passing reality - which are merely tools to be used in the greater game of building God's kingdom. Those who are prepared to be nothing in this world because of their commitment to Jesus Christ. These are the ones who discover that they are fed and filled with joy and made citizens of God's kingdom.


      Jesus invites us to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good - so focused on his coming kingdom that we are not drawn into the passing reality of this world. Jesus invites us to get our priorities right - Seek ye first the kingdom of God.

Teaching the Word