Sermon 2-17-2019

Scripture Passage: Luke 6:17-26

The Blessings of God’s Reversals!

Good morning! Today’s passage is wonderfully relevant to our current generation! Do you suppose that we might have some folks today, who are sick, physically, emotionally, or spiritually? Do you suppose that these folks would still be hoping and searching for someone like Jesus, who could liberate them from their maladies? I think we all know that the answer to these questions is a resounding yes! People today may not be seeking Jesus, as the one to free them from their diseases, but they’re still seeking a solution to these age-old conditions. This passage is a continuation of Jesus’ call to discipleship in last week’s scripture in Luke 5, when Jesus called his disciples to be fishers of souls and share the gospel. As disciples, we are called to live out and teach these scriptures, which are referred to as the beatitudes in Matthew. In Luke, Jesus preaches this sermon on the plains rather than on the mount. These scriptures don’t by any means summarize our Christian faith, but rather they’re intended to be a ‘call to action’. Interpreting these scriptures in an appropriate and helpful way is tricky, because they are full of lofty ideas, which are hard to unpack. I like to refer to the beatitudes as reversals. Actually, these are dramatic reversals! Basically, Jesus is proclaiming that everyone, who is poor, hungry, sad and persecuted will be liberated to become rich, full, happy and rewarded. This is quite profound! It may appear lofty, but Jesus claims this to be in fact possible. I believe that Jesus was right, that these beatitudes are possible, and we can even see evidence of them being lived out, as we speak.

As I thought about these beatitudes and how they’re being lived out in our current generation, I could not help but think of the I Am Family Choir, who visited us from Uganda last Saturday. Talk about God’s reversals! I was moved to tears by their songs, dances and stories. I think many of you, who were at the concert were also touched. I think their lives and ministries truly reflect the beatitudes. The beatitudes are about a God, who is the God of those, who have nothing, other than God. Well, these Ugandan kids are mostly orphans, who lost their parents to terrible diseases like Colera, a result of unclean drinking water, so they started out with pretty much nothing-except for their faith and trust in God. As orphans, they experienced first hand, what it means to be hungry. I thought Omega’s story about taking food from her own family to feed her best friend, who had lost her dad, was precious. Omega responded with deep compassion to her friend, who was literally facing starvation, because her dad had died and her mom did not have the skills to work and provide for them. Of course, Omega’s family was also facing harsh times, and they did not have enough food, either, though her dad was a pastor and they had more food than her friend. Obviously, Omega’s friend was very sad, because she was fatherless and starving, and so much so, that she had no interest in playing with Omega. Omega’s father and her family, as Christians in Uganda, I’m sure faced persecution for their faith by people, who were not Christian, and in some cases, strongly opposed to Christianity. So, by now, you can obviously see how the Ugandan kids fit in perfectly with the beatitudes!

In these beatitudes, Jesus makes the lofty claims that those, who are poor, will inherit everything in God’s kingdom, and thus become rich. God is infinitely rich, because God holds all the resources of the universe! So, if we trust in this rich God, we too will be well cared-for. Jesus also claims that those, who are hungry, will be filled. This echoes what Luke says in Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s Magnificat. So, those, who don’t have enough food will have plenty of food. Jesus goes on to claim that those, whose spirits and emotions are suffering and who are sad to the point weeping, will become so happy and filled with joy, that they will laugh! Jesus addresses those, who face persecution for doing the right thing and following him, and he promises that all their trouble will be well worth it, because they will be greatly rewarded in Heaven. Jesus even goes as far as to promise that they will be so happy that they will rejoice and leap for joy! Jesus consoles them by reminding them that are being treated no differently than their ancestors were, as prophets. The prophets always had really had hard lives, because God asked them to do the most unpopular tasks, and they were greatly persecuted for doing them! Finally, Jesus has a set of warnings for those, who do not follow him or do the right thing. For these folks, though they are now rich, they will end up being poor and hungry. Again, we see an echo of Mary’s Magnificat. Though they are now joking and laughing, they will end up being sad and crying. Though everyone is now saying nice things to them and pretending to be their friends, they will find themselves in trouble before a holy God; these folks are like the false prophets, who misled the people in the past. So with all these lofty claims, both the positive and negative, do we actually see any evidence of truth in them, today?

For these Ugandan kids, who are literally living out the beatitudes, do we see any evidence of truth in Jesus’ lofty claims? The answer is a resounding yes! If we remember Jonah’s story, he started out as a fatherless boy, like Omega’s friend, and he was so poor that he came to Omega’s father, looking for food. This is how Jonah got connected with the I Am Choir. Now, through God’s amazing grace and love, and radical reversals, like what the beatitudes are claiming, Jonah has not only had enough food, but he has had sponsors through the choir fund his education through high school! Talk about a dramatic reversal! Today, Jonah is seeking sponsors to fund his college education. He is obviously very intelligent and gifted in music and dance. He is also a caring Christian, though his mom began as one, who opposed Christianity and persecuted Christians. Jonah, like Omega’s friend, started out very sad and distressed, as a little boy, who didn’t know where his next meal would come from. Today, he no longer worries about his food, he has a high school education, does ministry with the I Am Choir, and is looking forward to attending college and a bright future! So, Jonah moved literally from poor to well-cared-for, hungry to well-fed, sad to laughing, and persecuted to leaping for joy! We saw some of his high leaps during Jonah’s Swahili dances, too! Jonah faced persecution from his own mom for adopting the Christian faith, but today, his reward even on earth, is already great, because his mom was won over to Christianity-perhaps in part due to his faith and life. So, as I said before, these Ugandan kids fit perfectly into the beatitudes, and their lives reflect in a strong way, the resounding truth in these lofty reversals!

So, what about each of us, who are blessed to be living in the U.S., where the economy is also poor, but not nearly as harsh as in Uganda? I loved what the commentator said about how the beatitudes apply just the same, to each and every one of us! This is because, though we may start out by being rich, having plenty of food and being very happy, all these things are temporary, and they could be taken from us in a moment. We have chilling evidence of this in 2017 Northern California Wild Fires and the 2018 Butte County Fires. One of my doctors lived on Fountain Grove, and she and her family had 15 minutes to grab whatever they could and run out of their house, and they lost everything, but their lives. Natural disasters are a leveling plane, for the rich and the poor. So, no matter how much we now possess, we still belong to God, who is the God of those, who are in fact ‘naked’ before God, who have nothing of lasting value, except God. However, if we follow this God and Jesus, we will most certainly be rich with all the important things, filled with bread that satisfies us, eternally, be rejoicing over things, which cause our hearts to leap for joy, and have rich rewards waiting for us in Heaven!

So, as we celebrate Presidents Day and the Universal Day of Student Prayer, let us keep in mind these beatitudes, which are lofty, but yet at the same time, attainable. I believe that both Washington and Lincoln experienced some degree of Christian faith, and this influenced their leadership for this country and the direction of our history. Washington began as a Donatist, or one who believed in God, but that God was distant and not involved with the nitty-gritty of our everyday lives. I think by the end of his life, he developed a more personal relationship with God. Lincoln began as a child, who was raised by a very strict mother, who engrained the Ten Commandments in him. Later in his life, Lincoln discovered a more loving and gracious God, and his faith informed much of his leadership as President. Lincoln left us with the famous proverb, “You can please some of the people, some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.” That comes in really handy, especially for pastors! As we celebrate the Universal Day of Prayer for Students, we can see how important prayer is for our Ugandan kids. For many kids, they may not have anything else to give them hope and life, except for prayer and God. I think that it’s important that kids from all religions are encouraged to pray, and that every religion is respected.

So, may each of respond to Jesus’ call to action, by living out and teaching the beatitudes. May we remember the I Am Choir and their precious stories, songs and dances of faith, as powerful evidence of the truth in the beatitudes, and that our God is in fact about dramatic reversals. May we remember how important the Christian faith was to our past presidents and how important prayer is for the lives: of our students and of all of us. Amen.

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