Reflection: February 17

Published on Feb 19th, 2019 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         It has to be said that the Scripture readings for today are quite challenging in some ways.  For those that don’t know, we use the same readings as other mainline churches, what we call the lectionary.  It is a 3-year cycle of Bible readings for worship and in these other churches, preachers are dealing with the same texts as we are this morning.

         Part of what is challenging is that we are not used to hearing curses or woes; it is not part of our religious culture.  In the United Church, we have tried to cultivate a culture of acceptance, love, community and compassion.  And so, when we hear words that seem to point to curses and woes, or judgment, we are uncomfortable.

         When understanding these stories, we have to learn the historical and cultural context of them.  Morgan read about the context for Jeremiah and the psalm writer.  To expand on what was said with respect to Luke’s Gospel, there’s an important word-geography lesson at play.  Matthew preached what we know as the Sermon on the Mount; it was preached on a hill above the Sea of Galilee.  It is a much longer sermon than the one that Luke portrays, and Luke has Jesus preaching his sermon on the plain.  It is a difference in geography with a much deeper meaning to explain the differences.

         As written in the background, Matthew’s Beatitudes tend to be more spiritual than Luke’s.  No question, though, that Matthew’s version was meant as a criticism of the leadership and culture of the day, but the Beatitudes were given on the mountain, a traditional place of prayer and reflection.  So, Matthew’s emphasis is partly on the spiritual dimension of change.

         Luke has Jesus offer his blessings and woes on the plain, or literally, on a “level place.”  The level place is significant for Luke.  According to scholars, the Greek word for “level” has roots in the Prophetic tradition of ancient Israel.  The word “level” in Jeremiah, Daniel, Joel, Habakkuk and Zechariah—prophets of ancient Israel—refers to “places for corpses, disgrace, idolatry, suffering, misery, hunger, annihilation, and mourning.”[1]   From a theological perspective, Luke has Jesus offering his blessings and woes in the midst of all kinds of trouble.

What Luke is saying of Jesus is that part of the Good News, echoing Psalm 139 and other psalms, is the declaration that even in the farthest limits of the sea, even in the place of the dead and other troubled situations, God is present; in other words, there is no place we can be where God is not.  Even when we experience such dire challenges as death, shame, abject suffering, poverty, extreme grief, and other calamities, we are never alone; God is with us. God’s Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words as Paul says.

         Luke is also declaring that Jesus is making a statement that God’s Commonwealth, God’s KinDom—the family of God, as we call it—is about a radical reversal.  That these places of corpses, disgrace, idolatry, suffering, misery, hunger, annihilation, and mourning will see a radical reversal.  As Ronald J. Allen at workingpreacher.org puts it, “While standing in a broken level world Jesus teaches the ways of the present and coming renewal via the Realm of God.”[2]  God’s love is found even in places of misery and hopelessness and more than this, God works in and through us to reverse this misery.

         The God of love accompanies us through challenging moments in our lives and in the life of the world. The God of love accompanies us in our hopes for transformation and change.  The God of love inspires in us our own re-formation and the re-formation of the world in which we live so that others (or us) don’t have to live in “level” places of death and shame.  Love lifts us up; sometimes, there are moments of transformation when love lifts us that happen in a flash but more often, they take a lifetime.  We are always re-forming and learning about the ways God’s presence gives us courage.

         In this third week of Black History month, let me offer the wisdom of a modern prophet Maya Angelou. Last week, I quoted her; today, let me quote her again.  Maya Angelou was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2011 and then interviewed shortly afterwards.  In the interview, she was asked about being a Christian.  She said, “I’m always amazed when people walk up to me and say, ‘I’m a Christian.’ I think, ‘Already? You already got it?’ I’m working at it, which means that I try to be as kind and fair and generous and respectful and courteous to every human being.”[3]  Those are wise words, a lifetime spent in working at being a Christian… a lifetime spent in being kind, fair, generous, respectful, and courteous while at the same time being prophetic and challenging injustice and selfishness.

         Our collective calling as people of faith, of whatever faith, is to ensure that no one and “no thing” that has life in our world has to live in such a place as a “level place” as I’ve defined it… a place of death, shame and fear.  One of the important things about being part of a community of faith is that the experience of God’s love is tangible and real in the expressions of support and love people offer in challenging times.  A community of faith grounds us in the loving embrace of our kin, and, just as the Red Bull commercials say, a community gives us wings to fly.  With this support and love—God’s transformative presence—even the level places are lifted up and become places where justice is practiced, where peace is experienced, and where new life in love begins again and again.

         Amen.

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[1]See Working Preacher and Ronald J. Allen’s commentary: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3960.

[2]Ibid.

[3]You can see the interview here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturevideo/10861920/Maya-Angelou-Im-trying-to-be-a-Christian.html

 

 

 

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