The bright vision

Watching for the Morning of November 3, 2019

Year C

All Saints Sunday

(I’m returning from a sabbatical this week, driving home from my Father’s into a state I know is aflame.  This reflection from 2013 fits the texts for Sunday even though, at first blush, it seems perhaps a little too cheerful.  Or simplistic.  But there is nothing simplistic about biblical faith.  It knows we live in a broken world, sometimes stumbling but generally fleeing its maker.  Biblical faith is not surprised by famine or flame.  It is not surprised by marching armies or hateful speech.  It is not surprised when religious leaders defend the king against God.  Biblical faith understands the fallen world.  But still it sings – for it also understands the faithfulness of God.)

There is a thread running through the readings this Sunday: a line in Daniel that the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom; a line in the psalm that God adorns the humble with victory; a portion of the Ephesians reading ending with the hymnic declaration that God has put all things under Christ’s feet; and the promise of God’s blessing upon the poor, the hungry and the grieving.  The texts, as diverse as they are, share a confidence in the purpose of God to rescue God’s fallen world and restore all things.

But there are troubling things in these texts, too: notes of judgment, sounds of vengeance, reflecting a world divided between a wealthy few and a powerless and hungry many, a world of mighty empires and suffering peasants.  In the case of Daniel, it is an empire determined to rid Israel of traditional faith and practice.  People were put to death for circumcising their children, or not eating pork, or keeping Sabbath.

The feast day of All Saints started out like a tomb of the unknown soldier, a day to remember the nameless martyrs tortured and killed by Rome for holding to a faith that claimed there was some other Lord than Caesar.  It would become a day to honor all those saints who did not have their own feast day on the Christian calendar.  Ultimately, for Reformation churches, it became a day to remember all the faithful who had passed into glory, all those who had held fast to a hope in a God who comes to the aid of those in need and sets right the world.

All Saints looks blinkingly on the bright vision of God’s ultimate triumph over sin and death and echoes with the joy of heaven.  It sustains those still engaged in the struggle to bear faithful witness to the way of God in our broken and troubled world.  And it reminds us all that we are not alone: “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witness.”  Like the crowd cheering runners in a great race, the saints above cheer us on.

The Prayer for All Saints Sunday, November 3, 2019

You are our beginning, O God, and you are our end;
You are our hope and you are our path.
Sustain us in your grace that we may live as children of your kingdom
until that day when all heaven and earth are joined
in a single song of praise.

The texts for All Saints Sunday, November 3, 2019 (assigned for All Saints Day, November 1)

First Reading: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
“Four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever.”
 – Writing to the time of the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes IV, the author uses the Daniel traditions to call the community to faithfulness.  Four terrible beasts represent four beastly empires, but these will be judged and “one like a son of man,” a humane empire, God’s empire, will dawn.

Psalmody: Psalm 149
“Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.” –  A hymn celebrating God as king, freeing God’s “humble” people and vanquishing the kings of earth.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:11-23
“That…you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”
– The author’s prayer for the fledgling believers near Ephesus celebrating the work of God in Christ.

Gospel: Luke 6:20-31
“Blessed are you who are poor… woe to you who are rich.” – Jesus declares the poor honored in God’s sight and the wealthy elite shameful and calls on his followers to live out the values of God’s reign: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

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Image: dkbonde: Desert light, Stansbury Mountains, Utah

Joseph forgave his brothers

File:Afghan girl begging.jpg

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

This is the message from Sunday, February 24, 2019, based on the first reading Genesis 45:3-11, 15, (Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers) and Luke 6:27-38, the Gospel for the day when Jesus commands us to “love your enemies.” The other readings were Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 . An introduction to this Sunday and its texts is posted as An audacious and generous love.

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Because of my cough, I need to keep things short and concise this morning. This poses a challenge, since these texts are all so important.

Every time you hear someone talk about how the Old Testament is all about violence and wrath, you need to say simply: “Joseph forgave his brothers.”

The story of Joseph takes up the last fourteen chapters of the book of Genesis. This is the book that begins with the wondrous creation of all things and then tells how the harmony of God’s world was lost, how Cain killed Abel, how violence multiplied in the earth until God felt it necessary to wipe the slate clean and start again. Genesis tells us of Noah, of the tower of Babel, of the call of Abraham, of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, of the birth of Ishmael, of the birth of Isaac and the command to offer Isaac in sacrifice.

Genesis recounts how Abraham sends a servant to search for a wife for Isaac: his beloved Rebekah. It tells of the birth of the twins, Jacob and Esau, and how Jacob stole the birthright and the blessing. Jacob had to flee from his brother’s murderous wrath and has his dream of the stairway to the heavens with angels ascending and descending. Jacob meets Rachel and negotiates seven years of labor that she might be his bride and, on the morning after his wedding, finds Leah in his bed and realizes that he, the cheater, has been cheated. He works another seven years for Rachel and cheats his father-in-law out of the best of the flocks until he has to flee, taking his wives and possessions. Jacob is caught between an angry father-in-law behind him and a murderous brother ahead of him – and then God jumps him while he is sleeping alone at the river Jabbok. They wrestle all night. Jacob wants to know God’s name and God refuses. As dawn nears, God dislocates Jacob’s hip with a touch to force Jacob to let go, but Jacob demands that God bless him. Then there is the climactic scene when his brother Esau comes galloping towards him with 400 armed men.

All of this and so much more is in Genesis – including all those “begats” – but the book still devotes a fourth of its narrative to Joseph.

The Joseph story is critically important – and it is a story that reaches its climax with an act of unmerited forgiveness. Joseph forgives the brothers who hated him and intended to kill him.

The Old Testament is not about wrath; it is about mercy. It is about a troubled and violent world that is not the world God created, but is the world God chooses to forgive, to redeem, to save, to heal.

The forgiveness of which Jesus speaks – the forgiveness that is the heart of the Old and New Testament alike – is a real forgiveness lived in a broken world. It is not carefree young people singing “All you need is love;” it is a gritty, determined, dirt-under-your-fingernails, love.

The beatitudes we heard last week, “Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry, blessed are you who weep,” – these are not romantic ideas; they are real world ideas. And those exclamations about what is honorable and what is shameful in God’s sight lead immediately to this one sentence: “Love your enemies.”

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;
and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you;
and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31)

Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We call it the Golden Rule but, as I have said, it is a gritty, determined, dirt-under-your-fingernails, kind of rule.

And understand why Jesus says this:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32-36)

We are to love our enemies because God loves God’s enemies. God is faithful to us when we are not faithful. God is generous when we are not generous. God is kind when we are not kind. God is merciful when we are not merciful.

We are to love our enemies because God loves God’s enemies. And we are not talking about generalities. They tried to kill Joseph. They did kill Jesus. They showed no mercy. They showed no generosity. They stripped him and beat him and pierced his hands with spikes and his side with a spear. They mocked him as he hung there in shame. And the soldiers, after they had had their sport of dressing him up like a king and beating and spitting upon him, demanding that he prophesy – after they had done their Abu Graib cruelties, they callously ignored him on the cross and threw dice for his few meager possessions. But there were no thunderbolts from heaven, only a sad darkness. And there were no curses from the cross, only mercy and forgiveness.

God is merciful though we are not merciful. God is kind though we are not kind. God is faithful though we are not faithful. And this merciful God summons us to follow, summons us to spread wide the net that gathers all into God’s grace.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:37-38)

Joseph forgave his brothers.

Amen

© David K Bonde, 2019. All rights reserved.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Afghan_girl_begging.jpg Evstafiev [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D

Rich and Poor, Honor and Shame

File:I000073 (10704267663).jpgFile:Homes-LuxuryHome3-Bel Air California.jpg

This is the message from Sunday, February 17, 2019, based on Luke 6:17-26:

Jesus came down with the twelve 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 in 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.”

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Last week we talked about some of the material that comes between the portion of Luke’s Gospel we read last Sunday and our reading this morning. In the text last Sunday we heard about Jesus teaching from Peter’s boat, directing Peter to a wondrous catch of fish, then calling Peter and Andrew, James and John to follow him. We connected that story with a passage from Ezekiel to show that the focus of this story is on the wondrous catch of fish as a sign of the dawning of God’s reign. The summons to follow Jesus was a call to gather all people into this new creation, this dawning of God’s grace and life. Peter and Andrew, James and John, were not being asked to join a religious club, but to join God’s mission of reconciling all creation.

It was important, last week, to touch on the material between the wondrous catch and our reading today to better understand last Sunday’s text. And we need to do so again because we are jumping over sections of Luke’s gospel. Presumably we are skipping parts of Luke’s account because we read these stories from other Gospels in other years but, unfortunately, this means we can lose track of the thread of Luke’s narrative. So just as a reminder: Luke is the Gospel that gives us the familiar nativity story about Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem and the shepherds hearing the angels’ song. Luke is quite clear in his narrative about the presence of Roman imperial rule, but the poor and the powerless receive God’s promise and recognize in this child the fulfillment of God’s promise to come and reign.

Jesus is anointed with the Spirit of God and God declares that Jesus is God’s beloved ‘Son’ – a royal title indicating that Jesus is invested with the full authority to speak for God and to dispense the gifts of God. At this point, Luke inserts an amazingly honorable genealogy for Jesus that goes back through David and Abraham all the way to Adam and to God. When the devil attacks Jesus to show that he is unworthy of such honors, Jesus never breaks faith with God. Jesus is worthy of the title he has been given.

Jesus returns to Nazareth, but the people in his homeland are outraged when Jesus stops his reading of the prophet Isaiah without reference to God’s wrath on Israel’s enemies and they refuse to recognize Jesus as God’ s anointed. When he cites scripture to show that God’s grace and mercy are for all people, not just Judeans, they try to kill him. The story foreshadows what will happen in Jerusalem. Israel’s leaders will declare that Jesus is speaking falsely about God and seek to invalidate everything he has said and done by handing him over to be crucified. But, just as Jesus walked untouched through the murderous crowd at Nazareth, God will vindicate Jesus by raising him from the dead.

After Jesus leaves Nazareth, he comes to Capernaum where he is received as true, and great crowds are healed and delivered from evil spirits. When Jesus teaches by the shore of Galilee, and the crowd press in to hear him, he gets into Peter’s boat to teach. Jesus then demonstrates the dawn of God’s day of grace by the abundance of fish, and summons Peter and the others to follow him to gather all people into the nets of God’s mercy.

They leave everything to do that.

So the mission of God has been announced and disciples summoned to gather all into God’s grace. Jesus then goes on to embody and bear witness to this mission. He touches(!) and heals a man with leprosy; the man is an outcast and Jesus restores him to the community. While Jesus is teaching, the friends of a paralyzed man carry him to Jesus and, when they can’t get in the door, climb up on the roof, pull apart the branches shading the inner court, and lower the man down. Jesus releases him from the debt of all his sins. The Pharisees go crazy, but Jesus heals the man and he walks away restored to his life, his family and his community.

Jesus then calls Levi, a local tax gatherer, to be one of his disciples. Levi is a despised person, working for the imperial powers who are stealing the lifeblood of the community. By the very nature of his job, he is an unclean person.  But Jesus eats with him and his companions, gathering him back into the community of Israel.

Jesus is pressed by the Pharisees about the failure of his followers to observe the customary fasts and he declares that you cannot fast in the presence of the bridegroom. These are all signs that the day when all things are made new has begun in Christ. The reign of God is at hand – which, in Jesus, is a day of grace and not judgment, a gathering of all creation into the nets of God’s mercy.

The conflict with the Pharisees continues over the rituals of hand washing and Sabbath observance. When Jesus heals on the Sabbath, they begin to plot his destruction.

Jesus goes up on a mountain to pray and summons twelve of his disciples to be his apostles, to be sent as special witnesses of his mission. Jesus then begins to teach both them and the crowds about the nature of God’s reign – and this is where we pick up today.

Luke has gathered a collection of Jesus’ teachings and assembled them here. It is similar to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and is often referred to as the Sermon on the Plain (our translation said Jesus stood “on a level place”). Where Matthew imagined this moment as something like Moses at Mount Sinai giving God’s instructions, Luke envisions it as something more like Moses’ exhortation in the book of Deuteronomy when Israel was about to enter the land after their journey through the wilderness. It declares who God is, what God is about, and what it means to live God’s way. It announces the reign of God and teaches us how to live that reign.

Both Matthew and Luke start their account of Jesus’ teaching with a list of beatitudes, and it’s important that we understand what these words mean. We tend to talk about blessings as if they were the good things we have in life. We talk about our many blessings and we have in mind our children (maybe our grandchildren) and things like our family, our spouse, our home, our health – all those things we tend to mention around the thanksgiving table. Those are all great and wonderful blessings. We are fortunate if we have them. And all of us have something for which to give thanks. But the word Jesus uses here doesn’t refer to those kind of blessings, those things we refer to as good fortune.

There is nothing fortunate about being poor or hungry or grieving, and we do God and the scriptures a terrible disservice if we try to say that the poor are somehow fortunate. The woman in my parish in Detroit who needed to heat her house with a space heater attached to an extension cord that ran through a window from her neighbor’s house isn’t fortunate. The man who spent Michigan winters in a window well in downtown Detroit with newspapers for a blanket wasn’t fortunate. The mother who lost her son to suicide wasn’t fortunate. The young couple who lost their newborn to an asymptomatic ruptured appendix wasn’t fortunate. And the six-year-old girl who stole food from church to feed her grandmother and two younger siblings because her mother was a crackhead wasn’t fortunate.

There is nothing lucky about being poor or powerless. This word translated as “blessed” is speaking about honor. The poor and powerless are honored in God’s sight. The hungry and grieving are the recipients of God’s mercy.

And they are honorable because they receive and embrace the reign of God. They embrace the kingdom. They embrace the vision of shared bread. They do not steal what belongs to others. They do not reject those who are poor. They do not regard those who are sick as unclean. They embrace this dawning world of faithfulness to God and one another.

When the Bible talks about the rich and poor, these words are not fundamentally about material wealth. Honor is more important than money in the world of the scripture. Your reputation, your place in society, your family land and your family name, these are things that matter.

And in the Biblical world people understood all these things as fixed commodities. As I have said before, these are like land. There is a finite amount of land, so if someone is going to get more land then others are going to lose theirs. If someone is going to get more honor, then others are going to lose it. The most important thing in that society was for a family to protect what was theirs, whether it was their land or reputation. A person who lost their place or position or land was called ‘poor’. You could lose your position because you got sick and became an outcast, or because you were lame and couldn’t work, or because you lost your land and had to work as a tax gatherer, or because you were childless, or became a widow, or because you were a foreigner.

And what do we see Jesus doing? He is restoring people to their place in the community. He made Levi a disciple. He forgave a paralyzed man and returned him to his family. He touched and healed a leper, bringing him back inside the community. And he called Peter and his companions to help in this work.

The poor are honored in God’s sight. God’s mercy, God’s deliverance, has come to them. And they have embraced this kingdom where all are welcome, where all are cared for, where all are reconciled.

But how shameful are those who take instead of give, who do not embrace God’s way of grace, who take people’s lands, who take advantage of the powerless, who plunder the widow and ignore the orphan. How shameful those who do not share their food. How shameful those who live for the praise of others rather than the praise of God.

Amen

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This message was from Sunday, February 17, 2019, based on the assigned Gospel reading for the sixth Sunday after the Epiphany in year C. The other readings on that Sunday helping to shape the message were Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm 1, and 1 Corinthians 15:12-20.

© David K Bonde, 2019. All rights reserved.

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Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:I000073_(10704267663).jpg Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

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An audacious and generous love

File:Fog of War (18986349660).jpgWatching for the Morning of February 24, 2019

Year C

The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Having declared that the poor, the hungry, and the grieving are honorable in God’s sight (they embrace the values of God’s reign), and calling the rich shameful for enriching themselves at the expense of others, Jesus moves immediately to Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

Our obligation as participants in the reign of God is to live the way of God: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them… But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

A new administration has come, with a new set of values. These are not the values of empire that amasses great fortunes from conquered peoples; these are the values of a God who makes the makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous,” who anointed Jesus to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

At the heart of this new administration is showing to all people the fidelity and allegiance we show to our own people. Israel knew the command to love the neighbor, but who falls inside the circle? Who is one of us? Even the Roman soldiers, says Jesus, and foreign mercenaries marching through their lands, even the tax gatherers helping Rome and Judea’s elites to plunder the people, even the sinners pushed beyond the limits of proper behavior, even the pious full of self-righteousness and judgment.

And why such audacious and generous love? Because such is the love of God. Such is the reign of the Spirit. Such is the new world born in Jesus.

So Sunday we will hear about Joseph’s extravagant grace to the brothers who sought to kill him but settled for selling him into slavery and telling their father his favorite child was dead, dousing Joseph’s special coat in blood to show a lion got him. But Joseph will see beyond their vengefulness to the bounty of God, and will provide for them all during the five years of famine to come. And Sunday we will hear the poet remind us not to “fret because of the wicked…for they will soon fade like the grass.” “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath,” for “the wicked will be no more,” “but the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.”

…In abundant prosperity. In overwhelming grace. In an audacious and generous love.

The Prayer for February 24, 2019

God of truth,
make us attentive to the teachings of your Son
that in his words we may find the path of life.

The Texts for February 24, 2019

First Reading: Genesis 45:3-11, 15
“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” –
Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and receives them with grace.

Psalmody: Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
“Do not fret because of the wicked…Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more…But the meek shall inherit the land.” – the poet meditates on the destiny of the corrupt who ignore our God-given obligations to one another and promises the fulfillment of God’s promise (the land) to those who remain faithful.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
“But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised?”
Arguing against those in Corinth who deny the bodily resurrection, Paul now attempts to convey the notion that the resurrected body is different than our present existence.

Gospel: Luke 6:27-38
“Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
After opening Jesus’ teaching about the dawning reign of God with Jesus’ declaration of those who are honored and shameful in God’s eyes, Luke immediately sets forth Jesus teaching, “Love your enemies,” for this is the pattern of God’s action in the world.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fog_of_War_(18986349660).jpg 1st Lt. Danielle Dixon [Public domain]

Like a shrub in the desert

File:Tree trunk at Deadvlei, Namibia (2017).jpgWatching for the Morning of February 17, 2019

Year C

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

From the mountain where he has prayed and appointed twelve apostolic witnesses, Jesus now descends to the plain to speak to the crowds who have come in search of healing. We know these words as “Blessed are you…” and “Woe to you…” but their meaning is better expressed by something like “How honored are you…” and “How shameful are you…”

It is about wealth and poverty – but wealth and poverty in a very specific context that concerns far more than money. It is a society that thinks about all things as a limited and fixed supply. It is like land: for someone to gain more someone else must lose. The ‘poor’ are those who have been unable to protect what was theirs, whether possessions or lands or family name. The ‘rich’ are those who have used their power to acquire what belonged to others. They are inherently regarded as thieves. (This is different, however, from those who prosper by natural means such as an exceptional harvest or fruitful flock – though such gifts from God require sharing with those not so fortunate.)

We understand something of this. We regard the auto mechanic who takes advantage of a traveler on the road as a thief, as are the pharmaceutical companies that jack up the price of life-saving medications – or those who pushed the sale of opiates. It is shameful to take advantage of the weak or vulnerable. It is shameful to steal from the elderly. It is shameful to abuse children. “Woe to you who are rich…Woe to you who are full now… Woe to you who are laughing now…” It is not a threat of punishment so much as a declaration that such people are shameful in God’s eyes and have no place in God’s reign.

No one is lucky to be poor. No one is fortunate to be powerless. There is no inherent good in being a victim (though good can come if it incites us not to victimize others, if it creates allegiance to the reign of God). The vulnerable are favored in God’s eyes because God has always been their advocate and defender, and now the reign of God has drawn near in Jesus the anointed. But what is expected of the poor – as also of the powerful, though they tend to refuse – is that they embrace this reign where bread is shared and sins forgiven and the human community made whole.

Jesus’ words on Sunday are full of grace to the beaten down, but they challenge the privileged – even as Jeremiah and the psalm contrast the tree drawing life from a stream with the dry shrub in the desert.

The Prayer for February 17, 2019

God of Mercy,
Redeemer of the world,
bring your healing to us and to all
that, transformed by your Grace,
all may know your justice and mercy.

The Texts for February 17, 2019

First Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-10
“Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals.” – The prophet condemns the king whose confidence in power politics has led him to an alliance with the king of Egypt to rebel against Babylon, a course of action that will lead to the destruction of the nation. The timelessness of the wisdom saying is pointedly applied to the nation’s leadership.

Psalmody: Psalm 1
“Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.”
– The psalm, written in the singular (“Blessed is the one”) opens the Hebrew psalter with an affirmation of the importance of individual fidelity to God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” – Paul challenges those in Corinth who deny bodily resurrection.

Gospel: Luke 6:17-26
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.’” – Having ascended a mountain to pray and then chosen his twelve apostolic witnesses, Jesus comes down to teach a great crowd of his followers, beginning with these declarations of those who are honored and shameful in God’s sight.

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Fat and happy v. poor and hungry

Saturday

Luke 6

crosses

crosses (Photo credit: istolethetv)

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.

Sunday we read the version in the Gospel of Luke that is more familiar to us in Matthew as the beatitudes.  Matthew has Jesus say. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

The difference between the third person and the second person, from “the poor” to “you poor”, is deeply significant.  In Luke, Jesus isn’t talking about the poor, the hungry and the grieving; he is talking to them.  They are standing before him.

So when, in Luke, Jesus goes on to say, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation,” the rich, the well-fed and comfortable are also standing before him.

It is a fairly typical ancient Mediterranean dichotomy.  Jesus isn’t interested in nuanced statements of comparative wealth; he is pressing a black and white contrast between the privileged elite and the peasant masses.  There are two ways of being in the world: fat and happy, poor and hungry.  One of them is honorable; the other is not.  And we have to decide to which we belong.

The word ‘blessed’ means ‘how honorable.’  The word ‘woe’ means ‘how shameful.’  Better to be poor and hungry in the world than one of the rich elites.  Better, not because it’s so much fun to be poor, but because the rich and powerful elites have departed so far from the call and command of God.

Of course, the wealthy and powerful don’t see it that way.  They have brought honor and glory to God with this great and beautiful temple.  They have brought honor and glory to God with their many offerings and great public rituals.  They have brought honor and glory to God by their careful observance of the purity laws and Sabbath laws.  They even tithe their garden herbs.  When they go to cut a little bay leaf for their pasta, they set aside a tenth for God.  They even have their own evangelism program, trying to make others like themselves.

What they do not do is share their bread.  The one with two coats does not give to the one who has none.  They may give away last year’s fashions for a tax write-off, but they are not likely to see a poor man on the streets and take him to lunch.  They like the positions of honor at banquets and public acknowledgment of their goodness (to be seen praying on the street corners).  They neglect, says Jesus, the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy.

Wealth in that time is above all land.  And the wealthy “add house to house and join field to field” (Isaiah 5.8), pushing the peasants off their land, making them indentured servants or slaves, though the command of God is to help your neighbor keep his land.  The rich get richer and the poor poorer.  More honorable to be poor, says Jesus.

And when those who are wealthy join the Jesus movement, when they sit down in fellowship with fellow believers who are slaves, peasants and urban poor, they will be cursed and reviled by their wealthy compatriots.  How honorable are they, says Jesus, they should rejoice when cursed for they have aligned themselves with heaven.

Choosing to follow Jesus realigns your life.  It realigns where you see God present in the world (in a gorgeous temple carefully zoned to keep it pure or in the open arms of a broken body on a cross?).  It realigns your thought and action in the world (prospering yourself and family or loving your enemies, blessing those who curse you, giving to whomever asks of you?).  It makes you true children of heaven rather than children of our broken earth.

Those who align themselves with Jesus will inherit the kingdom of God.  They will be filled with joy at God’s table.