So…hi. How good it is to be gathered this morning…just worshiping together…you not checking me out….me not checking you out… Isn’t that nice?
Who are we kidding? Of course, we’re checking each other out…because the relationship between a pastor and congregation is important, right? The work of faith communities–sharing the message that “God loves you SO much” with others, especially with those who’ve never heard that message before–or who have heard the opposite message–the work of faith communities is critical to healing the world, which means we need to make sure we’re on the same page–or, this is a UCC church, so at least in the same chapter– right?
Think about that…. If we’re all on the same page–or in the same chapter–about sharing the good news of God’s love, there’s nothing we as a community wouldn’t be able to do together in our work of healing the world. Can you imagine?
So…let’s talk about that for a minute, this work of healing the world. Today’s Gospel story gives us one of the best road maps in Scripture for healing the world: the Beatitudes. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kin-dom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. The woes are a tad uncomfortable–Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation… Still, it’s easy to see how much we could learn about healing the world from spending time with these verses.
And that might be something we want to do in the future. Today, though, I invite us to step back and take a look at what led to the moment Jesus shared the Beatitudes with the people, on why he chose to share his sermon, as Luke tells us, on a level place. The story thus far…
Once upon a time, Jesus gets born…Herod’s bounty on baby boys sends Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as refugees to Egypt. Once Herod’s threat is gone, the family returns to Nazareth, where Jesus grows up.
As an adult, Jesus finds his way to the Jordan River, where he gets baptized by his cousin John. In baptism, Jesus gains clarity about who he is. God’s Spirit says: “You are my child; with you I am well-pleased.” The time of testing in the wilderness right after his baptism gives Jesus further clarity…this time about the work to which God is calling him.
As Jesus emerges from the wilderness–certain of himself, certain of his calling–his ministry in Galilee begins. Word starts getting around about this new, exciting teacher.
As the buzz begins, Jesus returns home to Nazareth, where, of course, the home folks ask him to read Scripture at synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus reads from Isaiah: The Spirit of God is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. This Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
The hometown folks are impressed. All speak well of him and are amazed at the gracious words that come from his mouth. Yay! But then they say it: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” We watched little Jesus grow up here. Who is he to say these things to us?
That’s when Jesus tells them: “No prophet is accepted in their hometown.” He also tells some stories where the people who are healed are foreigners, people not like us.
For the hometown folks, that’s the last straw. Do you remember what happens next? When they hear Jesus say he’s come to share the good news of God’s love with people outside their faith, people not like them, “all in the synagogue were filled with rage. (Have any of you been on the receiving end of your home congregation’s rage?) Jesus’ home congregation got up, drove him out of town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” Jesus–being Jesus–simply “passes through the midst of them and goes on his way.” Welcome home, Jesus!
Unfazed, Jesus goes down from Nazareth, which is at a higher elevation, to Capernaum, which is on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. He teaches, heals, collects disciples, and steps away a couple of times to pray and rest.
As Jesus draws larger crowds, the religious teachers start showing up…like when the friends of a paralyzed man lower him through a roof so that Jesus can heal him. When the man is healed, Jesus tells him to go on his way, because his sins are healed.
The religious teachers object. Who is this man to forgive sins? Only God can do that! Jesus says he’s come, not for the righteous, but for those in need of redemption, not for the healthy and thriving, but for those who are sick and need healing.
And, just like with his hometown folks, that’s a problem for the religious establishment. Offering healing to people not like us? It’s just not done! It’s easy to beat up on the religious authorities, but I think in their own minds and hearts, they were doing what they thought was right. They simply suffered from a lack of imagination. They couldn’t imagine God’s love and healing extending to the people Jesus was starting to hang out with.
Like, you’re not going to believe this, but tax collectors, fellow Jews who had become agents of the Roman government. How could Jesus possibly call a tax collector to be his disciple? How could he share a meal at a tax collector’s house with a whole crew of tax collectors? The religious authorities really couldn’t imagine that!
After hanging out with the tax collectors, Jesus continues teaching and healing… then goes up a mountain to pray. He calls his twelve disciples to join him there.
After that, Jesus comes down with them and stands on a level place, with a great multitude of people… and lays the best sermon in all of Scripture– maybe of all time–on them.
But why share the best news of all time–that God loves every person so much, that God hopes for the wholeness of every person–why share news like that on a level place in the midst of a multitude of people?
In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus preaches this sermon, he goes up a mountain, sits down, and begins to speak…like a rabbi. Maybe even like Moses. The Jewish audience to whom Matthew’s gospel was written would have responded well to a rabbi-Moses-like Jesus.
But Luke’s Gospel was written to a gentile audience….to people on the margins of the religious establishment. Those folks had never felt like they were part of the religious community. If they were going to believe the message was for them, the message would have to be brought to them. That’s what Jesus does. He comes down to a level place and meets the people where they are.
And as he preaches on the level place to people on the margins, I suspect his own experiences of marginalization were on his mind…Maybe Jesus preaches his sermon on a level place because he knew what it was like to be a refugee…maybe Jesus preaches on a level place because he had received God’s acceptance of him in his baptism…maybe Jesus preaches on a level place because he knew what it was like to be rejected by his own faith community… maybe Jesus preaches on a level place because he knew what it was like to be rejected by the religious authorities…maybe Jesus preaches on a level place because he enjoyed hanging out with tax collectors and such…maybe Jesus preaches on a level place because he’d looked into the eyes of every person who’d asked for healing and had seen there both desperation and beauty…
Maybe Jesus preaches among the people on a level place because his life had taught him–when it comes to God’s love, we’re all the same. When it comes to who deserves homes and food and freedom to be themselves, we’re all the same. When it comes to fulfilling God’s dreams for the world, it’s going to take every last one of us–the people like us and the people not like us…the people who have it together, the people who don’t have it together…the people who worship God, the people who don’t worship at all…the people who conform to hetero- normativity, the people who love in other ways…
Wednesday, Allen and I drove to Tifton. My brother’s 14 year old came out as trans last year. We had planned to go to court with Lachlan Thursday morning to be there when his name changed legally. Wednesday afternoon we learned the newspaper that was supposed to run an ad about the name change failed to run it, which means Lachlan’s court date has been postponed.
Lachlan’s parents–my brother Brad and his wife Kym–are terrific. Still, raising a trans child in South Georgia isn’t the easiest endeavor, right?
I put out a call on Facebook for my friends–trans folks and allies–to share words of encouragement for Lachlan and his parents. I want both Lachlan and his folks to know that they are not alone. People all over the country are thinking of them and praying for them and supporting them. My heart is so full.
After reading the outpouring of support for a 14 year old trans boy none of them knows, I wondered how different the world would be if every trans child and their parents received this kind of love. How different might the world be if every person of color, every refugee, every differently-abled person, every starving child, every person who struggles with addiction…… what might happen to this world if every person received support for who they are? What if every person who suffers and is desperate for healing receives it? What if every person who needs food or shelter or justice or compassion receives it?
And what if, what if, what if…what if we, church and pastor together, might bring this healing to the world?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2022