Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, February 13, 2022

YEAR C 2022 epiphany 6

Epiphany 6, 2022
Jeremiah 17:5-10
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Luke 6:17-26
Psalm 1

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We sometimes call this reading “the beatitudes of Luke.”  They are slightly different from the Beatitudes of Matthew.  Matthew only gives us the blessings.  In Luke’s version, Jesus also adds the “woes.”  In Matthew, it’s the sermon on the mount.  But in Luke—as you might have noticed—it specifically says "Jesus came down . . . and stood on a level place.”  This is one of the themes of Luke’s gospel.  Lifting up the lowly and casting down the proud.  Leveling the playing field, as we might put it.  In Matthew it’s a mountain; in Luke it’s a level place.  In Matthew it’s about blessing the downtrodden; in Luke it’s also about announcing woe to those who are rich and happy and satisfied with how things are.  Go back to the song of Mary, the Magnificat, in the very first chapter of Luke’s gospel.  God has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich God has sent empty away, which then makes them also among the hungry, so God can fill them with good things too.  That’s Luke, in a nutshell.

But first, let’s look at the other readings we heard this morning.  In Jeremiah, we heard something very similar to those beatitudes from Luke.  The prophet writes, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord.”  And then also, “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord.”  In less poetic language, we could say trusting in God is a blessing in itself.  Trusting in ourselves is a curse.  And our reaction to that, here in the land of self-made, up by the bootstraps entrepreneurs, is nuh-uh!  From the moment we are born we are told, trust in yourself, believe in yourself, watch out for yourself.  It seems Jeremiah begs to differ: Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.

Then, let’s turn to today’s Psalm.  “Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked . . . Their delight is in the law of the Lord.  It is not so with the wicked; they are like chaff which the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes.”  Again, in less poetic language, the ones who are happy, who are blessed, are the ones stay connected to God, the creator of all that is.  On the other hand, those who are not connected to God have no foundation.  They are like a gorgeous, soaring house of cards.  And though we might be tempted to envy them for their self reliance, and success, and confidence, they will not stand upright when judgement comes.

But take note:  The wicked do not perish because they are being punished.  They perish because they are not connected to God.  They do not have the one thing that matters in this life.  And here’s the problem:  We think of these as those who are happy, or blessed, because we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what truly matters.  According to the Psalmist, the truly happy ones find their delight in the law of the Lord, and they meditate on his law day and night.  The law of the Lord.  The wicked are a law unto themselves.  And not to put too fine a point on it, but the word autonomy literally means “self law.”  Yikes!

These are harsh things to hear in a nation that so puts self-reliance on a pedestal.  But according to these first two readings, building myself up does not equal happiness; the goal of life is not self-sufficiency; and getting what I want does not equal prosperity.  Even though you have probably heard the opposite from the first day you waddled into your kindergarten class.  Relying on God is wisdom; relying on yourself is foolishness.  And when we doubt that is true, all we have to do is take a walk through any cemetery.  All the earthly success, all the fortunes passed down to their kids, all the streets named after the ones buried in those graves is not going to help them if they are not connected to God.  Mastering the power of positive thinking and reading “Your Best Life Now” will not raise us up from death.  Sorry.

So, that’s the first two readings.  Now let’s look at the words we heard from Jesus a few minutes ago.  Jesus says, “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.”  It’s important for us to notice that Jesus does not say, Blessed are the poor because you are poor!  Being poor is not what makes them blessed.  You know why the poor and hungry and weeping are blessed?  Because Jesus is blessing them.  Jesus sees them with the mercy-filled eyes of God, which is a completely different view from what you and I have.

You and I—living here in the land of self-reliance—would tend to say, “You know who’s really blessed?  Those who are rich; those who are full now; blessed are those who are laughing now.”  You see the problem, right?  We equate blessing and happiness with everything that is the actual opposite of what Jesus is saying.  Every self-help book and better business practices manual tells us that Jesus is wrong.  That Jeremiah is wrong.  That the Psalmist is wrong.  Which is why when this collection of readings comes up every three years, we all lose our footing and start thinking, “Well, that’s not really true Jesus.  You’ve got it all backwards.  Blessed are the rich and woe to the poor, Jesus.”  We don’t want to think about these lessons because these lessons stand opposed to everything we’ve been taught from the moment we could be taught anything at all.

So what are we to make of all this?  How do we reconcile what we see in the world with what God is telling us in these three readings?  Well, maybe our main takeaway is just that:  Things are not as they appear. Because God’s perspective is different from ours.  What we call rich and famous, God calls selfish and despised.  What we call poor and downtrodden, God calls blessed and admirable.  And, not in some future pie in the sky kind of way, but right now.  Today.  God does not see the world as we see the world.  God does not judge people the way we judge people.  And that is good news, believe me!

Because this means that when people reject you, God calls you blessed.  When you find that people are leaving you out and putting you down, God is drawing you in and lifting you up.  In those times when everyone you know is turning away from you, God is turning toward you, because God sees what mere mortals cannot:  That you are precious, honored, and loved.  Blessed.

And here is the most interesting thing of all.  If we could see with the mercy-filled eyes of  God, if you and I could see things as God sees them, we might also say, what the world calls powerful, we call weak.  What the world calls successful, we call failure.  And, more importantly, what the world calls ugly, we call beautiful.  And what the world rejects, we seek out and embrace.  

Being connected to the Creator of everything that is, seen and unseen, this is what truly matters.  Whether you are rich or poor.  

Trusting in God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, that is what truly counts.  Whether you are hungry or full.

Living our lives in the hope of the resurrection is what makes life worth living . . . Because what the world calls dead, God calls alive.

Listen again to today’s Collect:  O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed.

May God give us the grace to put our trust in God, who is our only strength and our redeemer.  You are treasured, and honored, and redeemed—no matter what the world around us may say—because you are connected to the one true and living God.


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