First Reading Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm Psalm 1
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Gospel Luke 6:17-26
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are many strategies and ways to read and inwardly digest scripture. The methods of approach and study are as numerous as stars in the sky. Add the unique lens through which each of us reads scripture and experiences the living God, it is no wonder there are so many denominations. Today’s lessons might inspire us to ask ‘what is God up to?’ As much as scripture should inform and instruct us about our lives, our lives should be inextricably bound to God’s life. So to do our best to align with God’s life, we must grow in the knowledge of God. But how can we know the ultimate and unknowable? Humanity is finite; God is infinite. God is all present, all powerful, and all knowing. Some scholars suggest it is easier to describe what God is not than what God is, but either seems to be a Herculean task. The Anglican approach encourages us to include scripture, tradition, and reason. In these, we might encounter the living God and get just a glimpse of God’s life. So, what shall we say about God?
Just before our gospel today, Jesus has gone up a mountain to pray, and spent the whole night in prayer. God is available, and seeks to be in relationship with humanity. Jesus then selects the twelve apostles. We ultimately will discover this is a ragtag, motley crew, yet they are called to the mission. God calls humanity to participate, and no matter who we are, God can work with what we offer. Jesus then goes down to a level place, to be among a great multitude, on even ground. God longs to be among us, both in the flesh and the Spirit. The people have come to hear Jesus teach and to touch him and be healed. God is a willing teacher. God wants us to be healed and whole. Jesus then looked ‘up’ at his disciples. Already on level ground, God incarnate assumes the posture of a loving servant of humanity.
Then Jesus offers a gift; a glimpse into the kingdom of God; an image of God’s grace. This gift is not what any of the people asked for, but ultimately what we all need. To all who approach the living God in faith, who have given up all they have to follow, Jesus proclaims blessing. Blessed are you! Jesus proclaims joy and God’s favor, especially to those who seem to have no favor in worldly systems. Those who are poor, whether in money or spirit, are promised reconciliation with God ... the treasure of salvation. Those who hunger will not just be fed, but filled ... ‘filled with good things’ as Mary foretold in the Magnificat. Those who weep, due to any suffering or sadness, will be so filled with God’s joy they cannot contain it, and laugh out loud.
What does this message tell us about what God is up to? God is in the business of life! God wants us to have life, and to live it abundantly, no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in. God’s order reverses the expectations of humanity. God is upsetting the measure of the world. This glimpse into the promise of God’s kingdom is the raw, unvarnished, faith-rattling declaration of the realm of God. It is the essence of the mission of Christ ... to declare good news to the poor, release to the captive, new sight to the blind, freedom from oppression, and the abundance of God’s favor. We are to recognize that we are appointed, anointed, and invited to participate. God is calling us to life!
To put an exclamation point on our call to live God’s life, we must come face to face with death. Part of Jesus’ sermon gift is an excursus into death. “Woe to you.” Whenever we read ‘woes’ in scripture, it is describing that which leads away from life and down the dark path toward death. Woe to the rich, well fed, joyful, and those seeking approval. It is hard to imagine that God condemns good financial planning, food security, having joy in our lives, or popularity. These are not inherently evil. The slippery slope is in how we view these blessings. Do we believe striving for and earning these will give life by themselves? Are we using our blessings to participate in Christ’s mission? To whom do we dedicate our first fruits? Where do we place our faith? What is guiding us? Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote, “it is evident that nothing can bring the will of [humanity] to rest except the universal good. This is not found in any created thing but only in God. Therefore [our] happiness consists in God alone.”
Paul instructs the church in Corinth about death and true life. He admonishes them because some boast they are already in full possession of God’s life. They conversely condemn those who they believe do not possess God’s life. Paul preaches the humility of the already but not yet. God is within and among us, but not finished with us. We are both saved and being saved. Though we may feel good about where we are, this does not eliminate the need for continued discernment and discipleship.
All of Jesus’ blessings are framed with ‘will be’, future tense. Lady Julian of Norwich stated, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Tell that to the poor, hungry, oppressed, and captive. But our call to God’s life is wrapped in the “will be.” We are called to abandon faithful complacency and embrace responsive compassion. If we are not shaking up the order of the human world by living as God’s people, we probably aren’t doing it right!
We are challenged to live God’s life of abundance and invite the world into God’s life. The Messiah’s mission is our mission. There is much work to do. The harvest is plentiful, the laborers few. We may argue about how best to strive for the mission, how best to heal a broken world. But we should not linger there for long. Life in Christ is lived on level ground, in the middle of the crowd.
Jesus healed all who came to him. We are to do likewise. We are to seek out the poor, oppressed, captive, and suffering, and invite them into God’s life. We are to strive for the spiritual gifts, then offer them to others. We are to build the Body of Christ here in this community, and present it to the world. Paul wrote, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20) God is calling us to share in God’s life, live it abundantly, and participate. Life in Christ is realized in the life of faithful communities and faithful individuals. Let us pray God finds in each of our hearts, and in the heart of this community, a suitable place to dwell, and give us life. Amen.