GOSPEL: Luke 6:17-26
17[Jesus] came down with [the twelve] and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people…
20Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Today, our journey into this long season of Epiphany comes to an unusual place… the 6th Sunday after the Day of Epiphany. Most years, we are already heading into Transfiguration, Ash Wednesday and Lent by this point, Epiphany is being put into the rear view mirror of the journey into the Lenten wilderness. But because of when the first full moon, happens after the spring equinox (yes, that is how the date of Easter is calculated), we are six weeks into this season with still one more Sunday to go.
And so on this unusual Sunday, we hear a familiar story out of place. The Sermon on the Plain from Luke, also known as the Beatitudes. We often hear the Beatitudes on All Saints Sunday or in the summer… at times when they speak to who we are. But this time after Epiphany is about revealing Christ and who Jesus is, as we have heard in the stories of Jesus’ baptism, the wedding of Cana, Jesus preaching in the synagogue, Jesus almost getting hurled off a cliff after preaching in the synagogue, and Jesus almost sinking Peter’s boat with a net full of fish in the middle of the lake last week. And so with different ears to hear Jesus’ familiar sermon on the plain, they reveal to something unexpected about who and where Jesus the Messiah is in the world.
“Blessed are you who are poor” Jesus begins.
And we immediately begin to conjure up ideas of what it means to be blessed. To have, to obtain, to be given things of value and worth. We believe we are blessed with health, wealth, and happiness. “In the world of social media, one of the ways to communicate is through the use of hashtags, also known as the pound symbol, or the number sign. It’s a way of categorizing posts, so one can look up what other people are saying about a particular topic. One might look up #wpgjets or #mbroads or any number of other topics. As you might imagine, #blessed is pretty popular. On instagram, as of the time of this writing, there were 106 million posts featuring #blessed. It was [just] Valentine’s Day, so most of them were love related – feeling blessed for romantic love, family, friends, chocolate! Or to be the blessing to others by providing something as a sign of one’s love: flowers, cards, food… chocolate! But there were literally a million other things people felt #blessed about. And that’s not even counting all the other social media venues. To be #blessed in almost all of these situations is to have [or to own, or to possess] something, or someone.”
And yet, even as the people of Israel may have treated blessings in this way in daily life, the bible and ritual practice Ancient Israel did not. The thing or person most frequently blessed in the prayers of the Israelites was not themselves, but God. “Blessed are you O, Lord our God, King of the Universe” was a common way to begin a prayer.
And in Christian tradition it is the same, in fact the most familiar prayer of our worship begins this way, “Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed (or Blessed) is your name.”
To bless something is to name it holy. To declare that God is present in something or someone. To say a blessing is simply to say, “God is here.”
And so to hear the beatitudes in this way, changes them.
God is with you who are poor…
God is with you are hungry…
God is with you are weeping…
Yet this understanding of blessing does not change the upside down sense of the beatitudes. To think of being poor, or hungry or weeping as being blessed is strange… but maybe it is even harder to imagine just how it is that God is with those who are suffering.
And isn’t that the problem, no matter how we hear the beatitudes or who they are about. The way in which they turn the world upside down is just hard to grasp.
Every other message that we hear in this world tells the opposite story. Those 106 million instagram posts are probably not showing pictures of poor, hungry and grieving people. And who among us really believes that it would woeful to be rich, to be full – even after Christmas dinner, or to be laughing.
We just cannot escape thinking that blessings are things we can have, posses and own. Things that will fix our problems, make our lives easier, bring us happiness. Things that we have and that others don’t. And to be poor, hungry and weeping in our view is to not have the things.
So what is Jesus getting at? What is “Blessed are you – God is with you – who are poor”, really about?
Well, the clue is in who Jesus is talking to today.
In the other version of the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount version from Matthew, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom.”
But here on the plain in Luke, Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor.”
Blessed are you.
Jesus is speaking directly to his audience. And he is not philosophizing about some abstract poor. But speaking to us.
Blessed are you. God is with you. I am with you.
You are the poor, you are hungry, you are weeping, you are the hated.
And You… you are also the rich, the full, the laughing, the well-liked.
It is a much richer and broader understanding of these blessing and woes than we might first think.
You might NOT be poor in terms of your bank account, but we are all poor in some way. Maybe poor in relationships, in energy, in community, in time, in health. And we are also all rich… maybe rich in relationships, in energy, in community, in time, in health. And maybe we are both at the same time.
These beatitudes seem to go in a circle. They don’t provides categories or PREscriptions, but rather DEscriptions. They describe the complexity of life, the messiness of it all. Because we are never just one thing or another, we are all these things.
And in the midst of all these things. Poverty and riches, hunger and satisfaction, weeping and laughing, hatred and acclaim… Jesus is there. God is with us.
It is not the things that are blessed anyways.
It is you.
You are blessed. Blessed are you, Jesus says.
Standing there on the plain, looking out and the crowds and his disciples, looking out at the masses, full of complicated and messy people, looking out at a group of people not any different than us… And Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are you.”
Blessed are you, when it is God who is most often blessed.
Blessed are you in the messy, complicated parts of life.
Blessed are you in your poverty and riches, hunger and fullness, weeping and laughing. Because in the midst of all that, you are not alone. God is with you, wherever you are, whatever is happening.
Here in this sixth week after Epiphany, these Beatitudes from Luke speak to us in a new way. They bring us before the Messiah, the Christ, standing on the plain, standing right before us, speaking directly to us. And this Messiah, this Christ tells us something completely different than we hear anywhere else… this Messiah reminds us that our neither our poverty nor our riches are signs of God’s absence or presence. In fact, these things get in our way. When we think God has abandoned us in our want, or that we do not need God in our abundance. Jesus declares that it not these things that tell us where God is among us and what God is doing. Rather, Jesus stands before us and tells us, reveals to us just where God is among us.
And of all the radical things that the Beatitudes seem to proclaim about God’s vision of the world… blessings for things that we don’t see as blessed, woes for things that we usually consider blessings… the most radical thing of all is that none of those things are the most important. The radical thing is that God has come into the world in the flesh of the Messiah, the Christ. That the one whom the wisemen sought, the one for whom the a voice from heaven thundered, the one who turned water in wine, the whom Isaiah was speaking of, the one who filled the empty fishing nets… that this one is here, right here with us, calling us blessed.
Jesus says, blessed are you.