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Epiphany 6C Sermon
Jeremiah 17: 5-10, Luke 6:17-26
February
17, 2019

 

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Luke 6:17-26

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
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 on 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.

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Thus says the LORD:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the LORD.
They shall be like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see when relief comes.
They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

I often find it necessary to share something about the background of certain words in our scripture texts as I try to make the message of gospel connect with us today. This morning there are three words I want to talk about: blessing, woe and religion. What do those words mean to you? Think about that while I share a little about what they mean to me and a little about their etymology.
The Greek word that Jesus uses in the four beatitudes which is translated as “Blessed” in our Gospel is, “makarion.” While we usually think of being blessed as receiving some kind of measurable benefit conferred upon us from God, makarion actually has more of a sense of being content, confident or at peace with one’s situation. Jesus is telling people that they should not mistakenly assume that great wealth, plenty of food and good times are signs of God’s special favor. In fact, God’s blessings are more important for those who are poor, hungry or weeping because we often think that those are the people who are not content, confident or at peace with their situations in life. Poverty and grief are not signs of God’s absence; they are things that happen to all kinds of people and they are especially things that happen because of the presence of sin and greed in the world. Confidence, contentment and peace in the face of the challenges of life are God’s blessings so that we can live life on an even keel, never thinking that God has abandoned us, no matter how poor, hungry or grieving we may be.

The four “woes” that Jesus then talks about reflect the reversal of fortune which has been a theme in Luke’s Gospel ever since Mary heard that she was going to carry God’s son and proclaimed that the God is about to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty. Wherever the Greek word for woe is used in scripture, it never carries with it a final condemnation, as if there is no chance of redemption or joy ever again. It is more of a lament, a warning and call to repentance. In Jesus’ words we are reminded that an abundance of food, riches and laughter are not necessarily signs that God finds special favor with us – as a matter of fact, Jesus reminds us that these things in which we often put our trust are temporary, fleeting, and not worth the value that we put on them ultimately. Thinking of them as special signs of God’s presence is sinful, and we are called to repent of that and find true joy, confidence and contentment in the presence of God instead.

Which brings me to the definition of a third word, that being religion. I have always appreciated how theologian Paul Tillich defines religion: “That in which I place my ultimate trust or concern.” Religion can, and often does, have a faith element to it, but it doesn’t have to. I have always said that devotion to a sport or to a sports team can be a person’s religion. A job, a relationship, an expensive car, home or bank account might be where a person puts their ultimate trust. Extreme nationalism exists when people put their full trust and/or concern in and for their nation. And it is to those folks that Jesus speaks the woes, the warnings and calls to repentance, because if we look to these things for our ultimate meaning, we are like those people that Paul talks about – people who only have hope for THIS life, and we are most to be pitied. The good news is, Christ has been crucified, which is the basis for our eternal hope as well as the basis for our contentment in this life as well. In the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, God gives us a sign that even when life itself (or that which we think we cannot live without) is torn away from us, there is new life, new transformation and joy.

The similes that Jeremiah uses in our first reading speak volumes about the blessings that we desire from God. It is about trust, and it is about blessings and woes. The picture of a tree planted by a stream, drinking the life from the water even when the sun scorches and there is famine or wind is a vivid and wonderful visual to what it means to put your ultimate trust in God through Jesus Christ. The picture of the dried out sage brush, broken and withered in the hot desert winds, is an equally vivid illustration of someone who puts their trust in themselves or in their earnings, in their abilities or in the stock market or even in the promises of their most trusted friend or their nation for confidence, contentment and peace.
In light of these words I have focused on – blessing, woe, religion – and the picture of one who trusts in God being like a tree planted by a stream I want to ask … where do you get your water for life? Where do you draw nourishment? If you are like most people … and quite frankly, like me a lot of the time … you tend to depend on yourself for all that is important, or on external sources, like money or laughter or success. Jesus’ call is to spread your Christian roots to him through prayer and worship, scripture and reaching out to others in service in Jesus’ name. Our confidence in God through that trust is what keeps us steady and hope-filled when circumstances around us may be dire.

So I ask you to consider again my question: where is it that you draw your water for life? Is the source of that water the living God, or is the source a human-made object, substance, or ideology? Do you have wealth enough to be comfortable in life? Do you get to laugh a lot? Have you enough to eat? Don’t think that because this is true that God has blessed you in some special way over and above those who don’t. And remember that putting your trust in protecting those things for yourself is a false religion, based on temporary circumstances.
Are you hungry, poor and weeping? God has not abandoned you! Be content and confident that God’s presence ensures the possibility of joy and peace no matter what storms flare up around you in your life. And whatever state of poverty or wealth, hunger or fullness, weeping or laughter you find yourself in, put your trust in the one who’s presence is enduring, Jesus Christ. And as a community filled with people who live in many places on the spectrum of rich and poor, we are called together to trust in God. No matter how much or little you have, you are part of this family of Christ. God has promised never to abandon you – we may hear word of blessings and woes, but our community is built on trust in the stream which flows from God’s throne of grace. Thanks be to God that this stream will never run dry and will always nourish us in all circumstances of life. Amen.