13th February 2022
A sermon preached by Canon Sarah Musgrave, Licensed Lay Minister (LLM), Marlborough Team and Diocesan Discernment Adviser for Lay Ministry,
Sunday 13 February, the Third Sunday before Lent.
(Luke 6.17-26; Jeremiah 17.5-10)
Please scroll to the bottom of this page for a video of this sermon.
I don’t remember the first day of my ministry training, but I do remember the very first morning of my psychotherapy training. After the normal coffees and welcomes, we were invited to talk to our neighbour for 5 minutes, about who we were. As I listened to my neighbour, I could hear others in the room talking about where they lived, partners, children, hobbies, and so on – and I said something similar – the room buzzed with noise.
I wonder what you might have said…
Next, we were asked to repeat the exercise – but to tell our neighbour who we really were for 20 minutes. As you’ve guessed the room was silent for a while, while we all wondered what the question meant and how to respond. After a few minutes of talking, it became silent again – no buzz of chatter this time.
Quite differently, we were being encouraged to consider our meaning and purpose in life, what matters to us, the moments that had changed us, our ethical outlook, our faith, or lack of it and maybe when we last danced out of pure joy or laughed until we’d cried. I realised that the rules were changing. My previous studying had been mainly theoretical, but the years ahead wouldn’t be the breeze I’d hoped for. My response needed to be deeper and required quite a lot of soul searching.
How do you manage a personal challenge? We’ve just heard a Gospel reading that we may have heard many times before, but it is challenging, and at first glance we might reject it or turn a blind eye – but let’s look at it more deeply…
As we come to this passage in Luke, Jesus has started his ministry of teaching and healing and has come to the notice of the scribes and Pharisees. He’s called his inner band of disciples and now he’s come down from a mountain where he’d gone to pray and is standing surrounded by a multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the Gentile areas of Tyre and Sidon.
Crowds of people had come to hear him and were hoping to be healed – and he healed them all – from disease to unclean spirits. I imagine they were astounded, but that’s not all. Jesus also wanted people to know about God’s kingdom and how to live a holy life – not a set of rules, but a whole new way of being.…and it would be a challenge.
Luke’s Sermon on the Plain has strong similarities to the Beatitudes in Matthew’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Some theologians wonder if they were two accounts of the same event – but Luke’s version is shorter and has its own distinctive tone. Matthew presents 9 blessings in the Beatitudes, and Jesus only pours woes on the teachers of the law and Pharisees, later in his Gospel (Matt 23.13-30). Luke presents 4 pairs of blessings and woes.
Did you notice that Luke’s woes counteract each of the blessings?
‘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.
Another difference is that Luke’s blessings use the word ‘you’, ‘Blessed are you who are poor’, rather than ‘Blessed are the poor in Spirit’, as found in Matthew. It seems as if Jesus was talking to people who really were poor, hungry, weeping, and feeling hated and reviled. Those in need were in real need and he promised them his blessing; while cursing those who were rich, full, laughing and well regarded.
Is it a blessing to be poor, hungry, mournful and hated?
Few people would think so, but Jesus was saying that blessedness would come in time. Those who were hungry would be filled and those who wept would laugh and their lives would be transformed with the coming of God’s kingdom. While those who were insulted and reviled for their faith would certainly receive their rewards in heaven.
This is where it becomes difficult…. is Jesus saying it’s wrong to be rich, with enough to eat, to be happy and well regarded? Doesn’t that describe many of us here?
Well … Abraham, one of the Old Testament patriarchs was clearly blessed by God and wealthy; with ‘flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys’ (Genesis 24:35). Isaac was similarly blessed, and in Genesis (26:12-13) we read that he prospered more and more. So, wealth itself isn’t the problem.
Perhaps the prophet Jeremiah speaks into this… ‘Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD’ (Jeremiah 17.5). The lives of those who’ve turned away from God will be cursed. They are wrapped up in their wealth and self-importance, resting on their own laurels.
What about laughter? ‘Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep?’ As we know from Ecclesiastes, there is ‘a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance’ (3:4). Maybe Jesus is warning us not to be complacent – life certainly has its ups and downs.
Instead, he’s saying ‘come on, think about the way you live your life’
– if you truly come and follow me, life will be different, your previous understanding of life will be challenged; and it will take some soul searching to come to a new understanding.
What might this mean in practice? Today is Racial Justice Sunday, so let’s start by putting ourselves into others’ shoes. Let’s listen and seek to understand why some lives have been so damaged by injustice. There is no reason to reject or discredit another person because of their colour, race, ethnicity, caste, or creed.
Could we pray that we learn to value each other, respecting both our similarities and our differences? Could we be a voice for the voiceless, recognising that we’re all part of the same human race? Could we notice and respond to those who are without – whether lack of food, self-worth, or joy?
If we are amongst the privileged, on a local or a world scale, let’s use our good reputation and fortune to contribute to the coming of the Kingdom of God, to build a fairer society and to respond to those who are struggling. If we’re brave and step out of our comfort zone, each one of us really could be an extraordinary blessing to others, the answer to someone else’s heartfelt prayer.
If we are struggling at the moment, even in moments of sorrow, emptiness and self-hatred, let’s risk believing in God’s promises of blessings to come. Let’s trust in his powerful presence alongside us. We’ll gain a wealth of wisdom, far beyond financial wealth.
So, if you, like me, were given 5 minutes to talk about yourself, what would you say….?
and if you were given an additional 20 minutes to talk about yourself, as a ‘Child of God’, what would you say, then….?
Maybe there’s no easy way to follow Jesus; but if we truly accept the challenge, we could be so much more than we can be in our own right, and we would experience hope and love beyond measure. What would we look like then? What would the world look like?
When you leave here today – with God alongside you – what will your next step be?