Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 17, 2019 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Jeremiah 15:5-10 + Psalm 1 + 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 + Luke 6:17-26

It was the custom for the Apostle Paul to send letters to communities with whom he had spent time in the past, offering encouragement and reminders, responding to questions that may have come to him in writing or in personal visits wherever he happened to be. We don’t have many records about these things so have to infer from his letters what was going on in a particular location. The people addressed in Galatians, for instance, were in for quite a scolding from Paul in a dispute over whether or not the Gentiles had to first take on customs of the Jews in order to follow Jesus. The answer, for Paul, is an emphatic “no.”

In this first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is mostly addressing conflict among the believers, including the posturing and positioning of those of privilege over those without. We do not know if there were disagreements about the resurrection among the people of Corinth, but Paul spends the entire 15thchapter of this letter addressing the subject. At this point in history, we are only about 20 years beyond the events of Good Friday and Easter, and we are also 800 miles away by land, from Palestinian territory to Greek. So Paul’s compelling proclamation about the truth of the resurrection is one of the earliest statements we have.

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17)

This has been one of the greatest sticking points in all of Christianity. I mean, what intelligent person actually believes that the dead come back to life? A former bishop of this diocese was quite outspoken about the impossibility of a bodily resurrection. And yet every week we come here and say the words of the Nicene Creed with the words “on the third day, he rose again from the dead.” And I am quite sure plenty of people do that all over Christendom with their fingers crossed behind their backs.

Then what is there to believe in? Do we follow Jesus because he was a good guy, maybe a prophet, maybe godly but not “true God from true God?” I don’t know about you, but I have not staked my life on following a wise teacher or merely a good person.  If Christ is not raised from the dead, then myfaith is in vain.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Beatitudes are some of the most well-known and beloved words in all of scripture: blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry, blessed are those who weep. But that’s not exactly what they say. Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes, a portion of what we know as the Sermon on the Mount, are not the same as Luke’s. Matthew has Jesus speaking from the mountain, like Moses. He doesn’t talk about the poor, he talks about the poor in spirit. He talks about those who mourn, not those who weep. Luke has Jesus continuing the message he started in his inaugural address in the synagogue back in Capernaum, 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

The good news for the poor is their blessedness. The good news for the hungry is the promise of food. The good news for the ones who weep is a future of laughter. The good news for the hated is reward in heaven. And because Jesus is saying these words to the disciples, I can’t help but wonder if they are poor because they have given up everything; that they are hungry because they gave up their food for others; that they weep because the need of the people who come to them is so great; that they are hated because they refuse to conform to a world that says that whoever dies with the most toys wins.

And what about these woes that Luke throws in here that are not found in Matthew? They sound like curses, don’t they? But they aren’t. I think that Jesus is saddened that those who have not given generously and hold onto wealth, that those with plenty of food who have not shared it, that those whose lives are happy have not sacrificed their own comfort for those who need it, that the privileged and respected don’t use their platform to make life better for all people. We will see next week what all of this looks like in practice, loving enemies and praying for those who persecute us and giving the shirt off our back to someone who needs it. And if we are not able to give so selflessly of all that we have been given, then, for Jesus, that is a woeful thing indeed.

Those of you on social media are familiar with hashtags, those shorthand phrases that connect us with others who use the same hashtag. This week #ParklandStrong was the most trending hashtag. Earlier in the week, I used #WKCDogShow more than once. But perhaps no hashtag is more used or draws more attention than #blessed (hashtag blessed). This usually follows some tweet or Instragam or Facebook post of some good fortune that has befallen someone. I got into Yale. #Blessed. I bought a new BMW. #Blessed. My spouse bought me a piece of jewelry just because. #Blessed.Now, there is nothing wrong with sharing good news, celebrating accomplishments, taking joy in the goodness of life. But #Blessed is not exactly the kind of blessedness Jesus is talking about. I emptied my bank account and gave it to charity. #Blessed. I used my food budget for the week to stock the shelves at In Jesus’s Name Charities. #Blessed. I accompanied a Guatemalan to her immigration hearing. #Blessed.

True blessedness is, as with most things Jesus, not about us. It’s about how we are living out our faith in community, sharing what we have even to the point of poverty, hunger, sorrow, and persecution.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

There are many mysteries about this thing we call Christian faith, and being able to proclaim belief in the miraculous may well be at the top of the list of challenges for some of us. Virgin birth? Resurrection? Maybe, just maybe, faith in the miraculous might give us the eyes to see the resurrection miracles that happens around us every single day: 

  • out of the devastation of the Parkland shootings last year, sanity on the issue of guns is being led by young people who had every reason to withdraw from any kind of public engagement; 
  • a friend with a devastating cancer diagnosis wants to talk to me about how to make her impending death easier for those she loves; 
  • a bus driver not only notices but takes the time to stop his bus to prevent a suicide;
  • teenagers across Europe are walking out of school and into the streets to demand that governments do something about saving this planet from the destruction of climate change.

Sure, all of these things have rational explanations, but they are extraordinary examples of, to paraphrase Irenaeus, the glory of God in human beings fully alive. All of them have the eyes to see and the will to act, of taking that first step, even if they don’t know where the staircase leads (to paraphrase another great human being, MLK, Jr.).

True blessedness is in believing in things we cannot see by following the One who said blessed are you, and pointing the way for others to follow. True blessedness is not about making faith convenient or simple or explicable.  It’s about following where we cannot see, planting trees for a generation not yet born, sharing what we have with those who have nothing, and in being Christ’s resurrected body in the world.

ASEPSermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 17, 2019 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas