In today’s age of polarization, misinformation, mass incarceration, police violence movements for equality — and backlash against those struggles for equality — what can we take away from Luke’s blessings and woes? In the face of injustice and hardship, God is with us in our crying. In recovering from wrong, God is healing us and healing through us. And as we seek to bring about God’s Kingdom, God empowers us to rejoice even in the midst of struggle.
Guest speaker: Caleb Schrock-Hurst, Racial Justice & Equity Leader, Virginia Mennonite Conference
Main Bible Passage: Luke 6:17-26
Hi everyone, good morning, it is good to be with you! I want to thank Pastor Tig for the invitation, sorry he can’t be here in person today but also glad to give him a chance to get away. Luckily I ran into him last weekend at VMC assembly so we had a chance to catch up then.
Since I was last with you — I think that was in March of last year? — I’ve started a new position with Virginia Mennonite Conference as their Racial Justice and Equality Leader. This role was created, along with a Racial Justice Task Force, in the summer of 2020 after leaders of color in the conference voiced their desire for the conference to take steps to more actively confront racism. I started in August of 21 and am working quarter time alongside my seminary studies. As such, you’ll hear strong currents of African American theology and Liberation Theology in this sermon because I’ve been really steeped in it over the past year.
When I’m invited to preach, I generally have a hard time narrowing down what I’ll focus on — should I pick a text I like, or go with one lectionary suggestion or another? Luckily, this morning the lectionary handed me one of my favorite texts!
It isn’t one of my favorites because it’s simple or easy — it’s one of my favorites because it reminds me how alive the scriptures are and how we can be surprised and learn from different variations of the same story told in multiple books, particularly in the gospels. Recently in one of my seminary classes we talked about how some in the early church thought it was confusing to have four different gospels, and actually the eastern church did some redacting and created one, large cannon gospel; however, the prevailing wisdom is that no individual portrait of Jesus tells the whole story — we need all four gospels to get the most accurate picture of Jesus’ life and teachings possible. Different versions of stories and teachings emphasize different truths about Jesus’ life and ministry.
And this text shows that — obviously it is not quite as popular as it’s parallel passage in Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of the Sermon on the Mount, we are treated to a Sermon from a Level place! Obviously we can’t know exactly what the topography of the place Jesus’ preached from was…perhaps if we did have a unified gospel we could call it the sermon from a level mountain, maybe the sermon on the plateau.
Anyhow — it is fairly clear why we prefer Matthew’s Version of this text to Luke’s. In Luke Jesus states, explicitly, the logical flipside of the Beatitudes, and, it’s fine to admit, it might make us a bit uncomfortable — part of the reason we read Matthew’s version is we don’t like to be condemned most Sunday mornings — and it is an understandable feeling.
But in response I don’t think we should put this passage away; rather, we need to struggle with it and, in this case, we need to find ways to identify with the people Jesus blesses, rather than the people Jesus condemns.
I want to be clear — I think these condemnations are not static. Jesus teachings are just that — teachings, which instruct us on how to live. Jesus blesses us when we live into poverty, hunger, and weeping. We can make choices to identify with the people Jesus’s blesses, rather than those whom he condemns.
So, who are the people Jesus blesses in this passage? Unlike Matthew, Luke’s categories are very explicit and easily identifiable — they are not esoteric or overlyspiritualized. Matthew says blessed are the poor in spirit, and to be honest I still don’t really know what that means — while Luke says blessed are the poor, period. Matthew says blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Luke says blessed are those who hunger.
So who are the poor today? Who are the hungry, today? Who are the people who are hated, excluded, and called evil because of the Son of Man?
Most clearly, for me, these are our brothers and sisters of color, inside and outside the church, who have been excluded from economic prosperity and often been excluded from full membership in the church. I don’t think we can understand Luke’s meaning without getting in touch with our current situation, where black and brown communities are still seen and treated as less important than white communities.
In today’s age of polarization, misinformation, mass incarceration, police violence movements for equality — and backlash against those struggles for equality — what can we take away from Luke’s blessings and woes?
Main Point: I suggest three things we should remember from this passage — in the face of injustice and hardship, God is with us in our crying. In recovering from wrong, God is healing us and healing through us. And as we seek to bring about God’s Kingdom, God empowers us to rejoice even in the midst of struggle.
First, in the face of injustice, we need to cry
Lament is a fundamental ritual of the church which we need to reclaim. From the Psalms to Paul’s letters our scriptures are full of faithful people honestly pouring out the hardships of their lives to God. Unfortunately we can tend to try to make church too positive and avoid the real hardships in our community and world.
Brief story: at MCUSA convention a few years ago a woman shared the extremely powerful and sorrowful story of being sexually assulted. And we held that story of sorrow, lamenting together…for about two minutes, and then we returned to worship time and sang a bunch of upbeat praise songs. And, honestly, I love praise songs, but it felt wildly inappropriate.
We in more protestant traditions especially can be tempted to overlook the deep deep sorrows and wounds of our world and in ourselves and in our churches — we need to learn, again, how to lament, because God is with us when we weep.
We in the US should be lamenting now — right now we continue living through the largest mass casualty event since the founding of the United States — and disproportionately affecting the poor and marginalized, those that Jesus blessed. It costs us very little to be compassionate and to mourn with those in mourning — in doing so, we are the hands and feet of Jesus.
Additionally, how much more pain is caused by unwillingness to admit the pain we face? I think of that woman who shared her story at that convention, and the many women who have shared stories of violence in their lives, who were not greeted by their churches with common tears but were instead asked to start singing praises and overlook the pain they had to go through.
Similarly, too often when our black and brown brothers and sisters come to us with stories of exclusion and sorrow, rather than lamenting alongside them, sometimes we ask them to ignore their pain — or, we are so afraid of being made uncomfortable by stories of racism that we are unwilling to hear them at all.
Being good listeners — and good cryers, and good mourners — is more important to being a good Christian than being a trained theologian or a great worshiper. And that is good news to me.
Jesus, here and in Matthew, blesses those who mourn, and he cries with them — and he pronounces woes on those who ignore pain.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”
We would do well to be open to seeing the brokenness of the world, because God will open all of our eyes to the ways we have wronged others and to the pain of others, and in the end we will all have things to weep over with our brothers and sisters we have wronged.
May we be among those who weep, now, at the state of the world.
Second, In the face of wrongdoing, Jesus is healing us.
Jesus, his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection, all center on healing.
This was initially a surprising theme to emerge for me from today’s text — to show you how I got here, I want to read again the first few verses of our passage for today, because Jesus’ words here are all couched in his ministry of healing.
He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.
All of Jesus’ teachings here, both the positive and the negative, are all taking place while people who had been sick for years, many of whom had gone to extreme lengths in search of cures for their ailments, were cured by Jesus.
Also, the passage doesn’t say that just the most sick were healed — power was coming from Jesus and healing them all. We all have things that can be healed — but only those who go seeking healing are healed.
I could imagine another saying of Jesus being included here:
“Blessed are those who seek healing from their illnesses, for they will be healed.”
When we think about healing racism — or healing any deep division — the first step is lamenting together, as we’ve already talked about at some length. Healing cannot begin before wrong is recognized as wrong and changes are made.
To say that again in the language of this scripture — healing cannot begin while things that deserve punishment go uncondemned. Like Jesus in this passage, we should seek to be explicit in naming the things that have harmed us and prevented us from following God — condemning evil is a step toward healing.
On the subject of Racial Justice, this is why I agree with many that moving straight to discussions of racial reconciliation skips over the important task of naming the evils of white-over-black structures. Healing can’t come unless we are willing to lament past injustice and name present advantages.
To restate, we cannot think about healing until we are really ready to address the wrongs of the past — Jesus empowers and encourages us to lament as the first step toward healing, but that is only step one. Once we lament together in the spirit, we discern together in the spirit what we can do to bind up the wounds of those who have been wronged.
I love the Anabaptist idea of discernment and the spirit — do we take seriously the fact that we, the church, the believing community, now have the power and the responsibility to go about healing society in Jesus name? Do we take the steps needed to heal our communities from past wrongs? Do we help our brothers and sisters see and seek healing for the wounds that are dragging them down?
Just as it is Jesus who empowers us to lament with our brothers and sisters in pain, it is then Jesus who works through us to be a part of the healing process in the world.
Even while facing hardships, we can rejoice
Difference in this passage between laughing and rejoicing
Laughter can be negative — we can laugh at someone in pain, laugh at demeaning jokes, etc
Rejoicing, and true laughter, don’t come at the price of anyone else being put down.
In Jesus, we can rejoice because we are liberated — and note here that Jesus calls us to rejoice even when we are hated, excluded, and marginalized. Our hope is greater than any human hope and we can be joyful even when we remain in the struggle.
We can rejoice because in Jesus we have victory and God is with us.
Like many others I’m continually inspired by the joy of the African American community — so much joy in the face of struggle.
In fact, the struggle for freedom and equality has become a source of joy and a foundation of faith for many Christians throughout the ages. How can this be, that struggle and true joy are deeply intertwined. How can this be, that struggle and joy are interrelated?
The great African American theologian James Cone, in his book God of the Oppressed, has this to say about suffering and joy:
‘Suffering that arises in the context of the struggle for freedom is liberating. It is liberating because it is a sign of Jesus’ presence in our midst…Humanity’s meaning is found in the oppressed people’s fight for freedom, for in the struggle for liberation God joins them and grants them the vision to see beyond the present to the future. Faith thus is God’s gift to those in trouble. It bestows meaning in a meaningless situation, enabling the oppressed, [God’s people], to believe that there is one greater than the power of the oppressors.’
To relate this to our sermon so far today — if we know that Jesus cries with us, if we know that Jesus heals us and supports us in our struggles for freedom, then how can we not find joy truer than any Earthly joy?
Our joy as Christians is not simple human laughter. It is not a superficial joy that denies the real pains we face — it is joy in knowing that God is with us and that we have the chance to be God’s hands and feet on Earth.
True joy does not come from material possessions, or earthly power, or respect — it comes from knowing God cries with us, lifts up and works in our broken communities, and rejoices in our living.
Conclusion — God calls all of us to take the narrow way of crying with all the hurting, being the healing hands of Jesus, and rejoicing in God’s presence with us even in the face of hardship.
This week, how can you come alongside the poor, the hungry, and the weeping? And when you hear Jesus calling you to cry, to heal, and to rejoice, are you willing to listen?
Pray with me.
God, grant us tears, that we may cry with those who are suffering.
God, grant us healing, that we may heal others in your name.
God, grant us joy, that we may rejoice with your people as they follow your way.