The lesson text is Luke 6:20-38a, 46. I deviated from the Narrative Lectionary because, given the political climate, I wanted to preach on the Beatitudes, which those who follow the Revised Lectionary heard from Matthew's version last week.
I arranged the reading to be read responsively by the congregation, based on the translation from the Common English Bible. I include the reading in this post.
P This is the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke, the Sixth Chapter.
All Glory to you, O Lord.
Gospel Luke 6:20-38a, 46
Please read the lesson responsively as marked, by or All,
the (R) Right Side of the Sanctuary, or the (L) Left Side of the Sanctuary.
the (R) Right Side of the Sanctuary, or the (L) Left Side of the Sanctuary.
P Jesus raised his eyes to his disciples and said:
R Happy are you who are poor, because God’s kingdom is yours.
L Happy are you who hunger now, because you will be satisfied.
R Happy are you who weep now, because you will laugh.
L Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and condemn your name as evil because of the Son of Man.
R Rejoice when that happens! Leap for joy because you have a great reward in heaven. Their ancestors did the same things to the prophets.
L But how terrible for you who are rich, because you have already received your comfort.
R How terrible for you who have plenty now, because you will be hungry.
L How terrible for you who laugh now, because you will mourn and weep.
R How terrible for you when all speak well of you. Their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets.
P But I say to you who are willing to hear:
ALL Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.
L Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.
R If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well.
L If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either.
R Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them.
ALL Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.
P If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them.
L If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that.
R If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full.
P Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.
L Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged.
R Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned.
L Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
R Give, and it will be given to you.
ALL Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say?
P This is the Gospel of Our Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, Peace and Mercy to you from God, our Creator and Jesus Christ, God’s Son and Our Savior. Amen.
How many of you have ever coached a sports team? Any sport, baseball, basketball, football, softball, soccer? If you have, you’ve probably realize that you know so much more about the sport than your players know. So you try to get them to learn things that they can remember during the heat of competition. Stay low. Move your feet. Keep your head up. Small statements that you hope come back to them when they need it.
I tried to teach my players everything I knew about football, but it was too much. I needed them to learn what they needed to do, but to remember what is going on during the chaos of the game. So I taught in little bites or nuggets they could, hopefully, remember.
I taught my offensive line a blocking rule called GOOSE. If someone is in the Gap between you and the next lineman closest to the ball, block that guy. If not, is there someone On the line across from you; block him. If not, is there someone lined up Over you, but off the ball, block them. If not, is there someone in the seam between you and the next lineman away from the ball. Gap-On-Over-Seam. GOOS. The E stood for Eleven. There are eleven guys in a different color jersey out there. Block one of them. I didn’t care if they went through the letters and pointed out who they were supposed to block. Then I knew they knew what to do.
That is what Jesus is doing in this, his giving of the Beatitudes during the Sermon on the Plain. Beatitudes is Latin for happy or blessed, and this is called the Sermon on the Plain because Jesus came down a hill to speak to the crowd. In Matthew’s telling of the Beatitudes, Jesus goes up the hill, and so it is called the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus raised his eyes and proceeded to tell his disciples and followers that those who are poor, hungry, mourning or rejected for His sake should be happy. My New Testament professor at Gettysburg, Dr. Carlson, jumped up and in his best game show host voice said the best translation is “Congratulations!!” “Congratulations! You're poor! Congratulations! You're hungry!” He explained that they deserved to be congratulated because these people are totally dependent upon God. They aren’t trying to do it themselves; they can’t do it themselves. They totally trust God to provide for them.
But this is confusing. These people, the poor, the hungry, the mourners, the persecuted, are the most vulnerable in society, be it during the time of Jesus or today, and Jesus says to them, “Congratulation! Blessed are you! You should be happy.” But Jesus calls them out to get our attention as well. Because if they are dependent upon God to help them and to take care of them, then we are the ones who need to do it. We are the Church. We are the Body of Christ. It is God’s work, but our hands.
Luke’s Gospel continually points out that the marginalized and forgotten matter. The poor matter. The hungry matter. Those who mourn matter. The persecuted matter. They matter because they are suffering. They matter because they need help.
There is a cartoon that I’ve seen hundreds of times online. It depicts Jesus giving this sermon, and when he says, “Blessed are the poor,” someone from the crown yells, “No. All Lives Matter.”
God loves all of us. But God has a special place in God’s heart for the poor, the hungry, the mourners, the persecuted, the least, the last, the lost, the little ones and those who are alone. And God wants us to have that special place for them in our hearts.
So, if there is a community, or section of the population where the rates of poverty, hunger, death and incarceration are dramatically higher than other segments of the population, shouldn’t we care about them? Shouldn’t we do something? Can we say that while everybody’s lives matter, their lives matter as well, and we should draw attention to them and their problems?
When we lift up one group of people, especially a population that is in trouble, we aren’t saying that only their lives matter, or that they matter more. We are drawing attention to them and their situation to remind everyone that their lives matter.
Jesus is saying “Poor Lives Matter. Hungry Lives Matter. Mourning Lives Matter. Persecuted Lives Matter.”
One of the parts of the Beatitudes that Luke includes that Matthew does not are the “Woes” or “How terrible.” How terrible it is, and will be, for the rich, those who have plenty, those who laugh and those who people speak well of, because you have been blessed, you have been fortunate.
That may hit close to home. Jesus is saying be happy now because you won’t be happy later. What are you doing with those good things? How are you sharing the blessings God has given you? Are you using them to take care of you and yours? Are you helping those whom God has a special place for in God’s heart, and that God hopes has a special place in your heart?
Just in case you’ve tuned me out, give me the next 30 seconds please. Think about the last time that you did something to help someone in need. You gave money. You gave clothes. You helped someone. Think of how good that made you feel. Hold onto that feeling for a moment. Now, while thinking about that memory, how long ago was it? Were there, are there, other opportunities you’ve missed?
When I was playing football for Alma College, my position coach, Jim Cole, knew how to motivate me. When I messed up, which was often, he would stand next to me, and put his hand on my helmet. On that hand, he wore a National Championship ring that he won in his playing days. He wouldn’t hit me in the head, but put that hand there and I could hear and feel that THUNK. Then he’d say, “Campbell, I thought you were better than that.”
That was my button. That motivated me. That challenged me.
The Beatitudes, the “Blesseds” and the “Woes,” the “Happy’s” and “How Terribles” are meant to shock and grate at us. Jesus expected to upset those who heard these words. That is why when he continues, he says, “But I say to you who are willing to hear.” Jesus’ words are meant to make us think of what we are doing and to try to do as he tells us. Just as a coach will challenge their players to motivate them during a game, Christ challenges us to lead lives worthy of the gifts and grace God has given us.
After words to chafe and challenge us, Jesus gives us crazy talk.
Jesus calls us to do good things to those who want harm to come to us, to be generous to those who want to hurt us. Why would we do that? It makes no sense.
Except that is EXACTLY what God does through Jesus Christ. To a people and a world that has rejected and denied God and God’s commands, God sends the Son to suffer and die for their sake. To a people who self-identify as His followers, but who do not follow his commands and teachings, the Crucified and Risen Son tells them, “You are forgiven."
Jesus came to describe a way of life radically different from the way that we lead our lives. He calls us not to focus on ourselves, to not look out for number one, not to love only those who love us and to hate those who hate us. But to love one another as Christ loves us. He calls us to show mercy and grace to those who do not deserve it, just as He has done for us.
The only way to get away from being inward focused, loving and caring for ourselves and our circle of loved ones is to love someone outside of that circle. Not doing so to earn anything or receive anything, but because they need to be loved.
That is what God does. God doesn’t need our love. We’ve done nothing to earn or deserve God’s love. But God gives us love, grace and mercy. God gave the Son to suffer, die and be raised to show us that even crucifying Jesus cannot take away God’s love. So as God loves us who are unworthy, we should share and give that love to those who do not care for us.
Jesus’ warning against judging is common sense. We tend to get back what we give off. If we aren’t judgmental, we are less likely to be judged. If we are friendly, we may have more friends. This isn’t a threat, but a promise. If we share God’s love, we will be loved in return.
Among the greatest joys I had in coaching is when a player finally ‘gets it.’ It’s usually toward the end of the season, and a player has something that they just haven’t gotten right. It might be an assignment or responsibility on a play. It might be a skill or technique that they haven’t mastered. Then, all of a sudden, they ‘get it.’ It become natural to them. Seeing that is the joy that I found in coaching. I think that is the rejoicing that goes on in heaven when we finally ‘get it.’
When we ‘get it,’ when we love those who don’t love us, when we care about the lives that matter that are in jeopardy, I truly believe the celebrations in heaven will put any touchdown celebration you see in tonight’s Super Bowl to shame. Can you imagine what a high five looks like when you start to add in an angel’s wings?
When we stop being inwardly focused, and focus on the wider world. When we stop being selfish, and begin to pay attention about those who are marginalized. When we stop worrying about what matters to us and care about whose lives matter to God. Then we get it. Then we do it. Then we live out the name given to us in our baptism when we were called “Child of God.”
A coach wants their players to remember what to do in the heat of the game. Christ wants us to remember what to do in the heat of life. That’s why the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Plain/Mount was given in little nuggets or sound bites. That’s why I had you read them responsively. Because I’m hoping something you said, or something you heard sticks; not just sticks with you, but sticks under your skin, and bothers you. Because that will cause you to act and to do.
Just in case, Jesus closed the Sermon on the Plain with one more challenge, one more push. He says one more thing to try to inspire you to action. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say?”
I pray that you hear and heed this call to action. I pray that you show love to the lives that are in jeopardy and that matter. I pray that you show love to those who need to know they are loved. I pray that your actions set off a celebration in heaven. Amen.