Epiphany 6C 219

Epiphany 6C 219

Texts: Jeremiah 17:5-10

           Psalm 1

           1 Corinthians 15: 12-20

            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.”

I love this reading in Luke.  I love this reading and I struggle with it every time I have to preach on it.  I love it because it is so real and so raw. I struggle with it because of who I am and where I am.  

I love it because of the hope it provides, and I struggle with it because of the pointed, hard, yet loving words of Jesus that I might not want to hear, but that I most certainly need to hear.

This real and raw, difficult and convicting reading is known as the Sermon on the Plain.  It is akin to Matthew’s better known Sermon on the Mount and it is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes.  Luke’s sermon has some similarities to Matthew’s, but overall it is different from it and is only a quarter of the length of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.

In Matthew Chapter five, Jesus, seeing the crowds, goes up the mountain with his already chosen disciples, and begins to teach them about what God’s kingdom will look like.  In Israel you can go up the mountain and there is now a chapel there commemorating this event and it is called The Chapel of the Beatitudes. Matthew’s purpose in telling this story is to show Jesus as the new Moses, giving the new covenant from on high just as Moses received the laws from on high.

In Luke, Jesus had gone up to the mountain to pray overnight, and the next day, while still up on the mountain, he chooses from those who had been following him, twelve disciples.  In Luke he chooses them on the mountain and brings them down from the mountain to teach them.

Listen to the first line, verse 17, of our reading: “He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people.”  

Luke’s purpose in bringing Jesus down the mountain and to the plain was to show that Jesus stood with the people, that he was accessible, that he was level with them, was literally in the midst of them looking them in the eye, hearing their stories, within an arm’s reach.  

This is the story I love; this accessible, involved, close by Jesus. Jesus who stands with me and by me and looks at me as we speak together. This Jesus is approachable and immediate, not up somewhere looking down on me, but right beside me, listening to me, healing me.

But there is a problem.  This accessible and immediate Jesus, this Jesus who is alongside me, well, it is easier to hear him which makes his message harder to ignore.  It is easier to hear his pointed yet loving, hard yet necessary words. Hearing the blessings is the easy part:

“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 my account.”

This reading would be fine if it stopped right there, but Jesus loves us too much not to tell us the truth, not to be completely level with us, not to speak to us plainly.  And so he speaks not only words of blessing, but words of woe, words not found in Matthew. “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 morn and weep.

Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

Could these hard words, these piercing words perhaps be the reason we look to the Sermon on the Mount more often than the Sermon on the Plain?  

Often times we take these words as a sign of punishment or judgement, as Jesus shaking his finger at us in anger, but they were not said angrily.  Jesus was teaching his disciples and Jesus is teaching us, the church, for whom God’s heart aches, who God sees and hears when the world does not see, or hear, or pay attention.  

Jesus is letting us know that circumstances change all the time.  Nothing stays the same. Jesus tells us about the reversal of fortunes, about the reversal of systems of injustice, about the reversal of what constitutes good news in our culture and time.

And Jesus lets us know that when our circumstances are reversed, when our fortunes are lost, when we find ourselves hungry, mourning, facing social ridicule, that God’s heart then aches for us, that God sees and hears us when we are at our lowest point.

Jesus tells us as a community of faith that God turns things on their head, that God puts into place a new order, a new way of seeing and doing and relating.  Nothing stays the same and that is good news.

These blessings and woes are spoken to the disciples telling them of the difficulties that they will face by following Jesus.  But the blessings and woes are also telling them that things are different in the kingdom of God and that they are very much a part of that kingdom.  

We are the present day disciples.  We are the ones called to a radical way of being and living in the world.  This gospel reading challenges us to look at what and who we value and see how it aligns with what and who God values.  It challenges us to endure when we find ourselves in a time of reversal and change. It challenges us to speak Jesus’ words of hope to those who are marginalized, to stand with those Jesus stands with-the poor, the hungry, the hurting.

The Sermon on the Plain reminds us that Jesus has come down to be with us; that he looks us in the eye to give us the news of God’s kingdom.  

The Sermon on the Plain with its hard yet loving words reminds us that our blessings and woes are inseparable from the joys and sorrows of our everyday life together and that ultimately our blessings and woes are inseparable from God’s very self.  And that is very, very good news.


Robin Whittington