Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Jeremiah 17: 5-10
Luke 16: 17-26

The heart of Jesus’ ministry was to teach people about God and the kingdom of God. Each week during worship we pray the Lord’s Prayer. It is so familiar that we can repeat it almost by rote without giving much thought about it at all: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The kingdom of God, the message and realm of God are radical and counter-cultural. It is in stark contrast to what we know, see, and do. It causes us to think differently, act, and be different. A few weeks ago in my sermon, I suggested that God’s way often pushes our buttons and gets on our last nerve (at least to me) because we may not want to do things God’s way. It is a disturbance to our way of being.

Our instinct is to love those who love us and are easy to love: family and friends. Even that might be difficult from time to time. But, Jesus said: Love your enemies, do good to those that hate you, bless those who curse you.

Our instinct is to carry around our wounds and hurts but Jesus said forgive one another – not just 7 times but as many as seventy times 7 or as often as necessary.

Our instinct is to give a piece of what we have, as small a portion as possible in order to get by, but Jesus said if you have two coats and our brother or sister is in need, we are to give them one of ours.

He said things like: the first shall be last, and the last first, which is counter to our instincts – is it not?

Jesus said that we are to deny ourselves and follow. He was referring to the self that never wants to be denied, that always wants to be satisfied. The self that is bent toward ME, what I want, what I don’t like, what I can get out of something.

Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount runs parallel to the Sermon on the Plain in today’s gospel. In Matthew, Jesus goes up a mountain and looks down on the large crowd.  But in Luke’s gospel, Jesus stands on level ground in close proximity with the people. He stands on the ground able to look them in the eye.

We first notice to whom the sermon is addressed: not to the masses or those who may have gathered out of curiosity or those only looking for a healing, though Jesus healed them all.  This lesson is for those who are already committed to follow.

Jesus addresses believers soon to be called the Church then and now. And we know that it is very possible to be caught up in the crowd and not be a true follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our lesson follows a night of prayer with Jesus and the 12 who have gone up on the mountain. Now they have come down and other disciples also follow along with large crowds from all around Judea, Jerusalem, Tyre and Sidon.

To his followers, Jesus says:

Blessed are you who are poor, because the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry, because you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, because you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you, insult you, and slander your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy. Take note – your reward is great in heaven, for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets.

Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, ridiculed. Unbelievers can never hear these words as good news and blessing. I have seen the poor. There were times in my own life when I felt like I was one of them, though not really. The fear of poverty, of not having enough is too dire to imagine, is it not? Being poor, really poor, is frightening, let alone feeling blessed about it. That’s why we work so hard, so many hours a day and week because all too often our worth and value is tied to it; our sense of self and entitlement.

The poor, the poor, the poor are always knocking at our doors. The poor and the hungry standing in line for a hot meal. The poor and hungry and weeping mothers and fathers and children living in fear. The despised, hated, ostracized and rejected, called all kinds of names, those killed in the streets of our cities for no good reason at all. Even in our pews, make no mistake about it, some struggle week after week to keep their heads up in one way or the other. Jesus said you are blessed! Rejoice, leap for joy, for your reward is great!

Now it takes faith to believe that. You can’t stand outside on the fringe and understand it.  You have to move to the inner circle where God reigns in order to find your reason for living and hope for moving forward. This is plain talk but only for the faithful.

One can only trust these words by trusting in their God. And trusting that others are also trusting and believing that God’s kingdom is coming to pass in and through them.

To follow Jesus is to go against the grain. It is to be radical in our thinking, values, motives, and will. It stretches us beyond our small circle and opens us up to a broader view.

Outside the kingdom of God, we can live independently and isolated with a few close friends. We think we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. But inside the kingdom, we realize that there are those who never had boots in the first place, let alone bootstraps; let alone being able to pull themselves up by themselves. We realize that our life’s work is to help pull them up; that we are because they are.

Outside the kingdom, we think that wealth is all about dollars and cents, houses, and cars, ease and convenience and yes, we need those things but inside the kingdom of God we know that even those with extreme wealth can be poorer than the loneliest beggar. The rich and the poor become equalized because the rich – in tangible and intangible – help those with less.

Outside the kingdom, might makes right; it’s all about power and control.

But inside the kingdom of God, the strong bear for the weak; justice, honestly, and fairness are the order of the day.

Outside the kingdom, we wait for others to act but inside the kingdom, we ask: What can I do? How can I help?

Outside the kingdom of God, we live with anxiety, worry, and fear. All we see is what is before our eyes in this moment.

But inside the kingdom of God, we don’t wait for a breakthrough because we know that every moment is a break through. Every moment, every day, every circumstance, every challenge, every conflict is a God-moment; an opportunity for God to break in on us.

In his book, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, author John O’Donohue writes this:

The word blessing … suggests that no life is alone or unreachable. Each life is clothed in raiment of spirit that secretly links it to everything else. Though suffering and chaos befall us, they can never quench that inner light of providence.

A blessing is not a sentiment or a question; it is a gracious invocation where the human heart pleads with the divine heart … It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another. I believe each of us can bless. When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere … Whenever you give a blessing, a blessing returns to enfold you.[1]

So, how about it this morning? Are you blessed my friends? Are you blessed as you are right here, right now because the grace of God has been poured out on you beyond your wildest dreams? Are you blessed with something to offer: yourself, time, gifts, integrity, truth, and good will? Are you blessed because you have decided to follow the living Christ – even amid your doubts, questions, fears, and anxieties? Still, you have decided and there is no turning back? No turning back.

Are you blessed with life, health, and strength, family and friends, a livable wage? Blessed alive and well, and more determined than ever to be a blessing? I know I am. Thanks be to God!

[1] John  O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, (Convergent New York),  pg. Loc 134 of 3041