Monday, March 25, 2019
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
March 24, 2019
3 Lent C
Just a week ago, 50 faithful Muslims were massacred in two houses of worship in Christchurch, New Zealand. This week, major flooding has both killed hundreds of people in Zimbabwe and left large parts of Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin underwater. Do you think that because these people suffered in this way, they were worse sinners than other people?
Jesus is asked these very questions this morning when he is approached by some people who tell him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices. Jesus himself raises the issue of the 18 people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. While there is no historical evidence that either of these events actually occurred, nonetheless they raise the issue of why bad things happen to good people, which is a very common question, and a question many of us hold in our hearts these days. In fact, Jesus assumes that is the people's question. "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than everyone else?" Jesus' answer to his own question is a bit unsettling. "No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did."
If Jesus has just stopped with "No, I tell you," that would have been an incomplete, but satisfactory answer. While the answer would not tell us why bad things happen to innocent people, at least we would know that the sin of the victims was not responsible for the disaster. But Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to say "but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did." How do those ominous words answer the question of who is to blame for such disasters?
To further complicate matters, Jesus then tells the people a parable about a fig tree that does not produce fruit. The absentee owner of the fig tree wants to cut it down. Land is precious and should not be wasted on trees that do not produce. But the gardener wants to fertilize the tree and give it one more chance to grow and produce fruit. What does the fig tree have to do with the people's perceived question about whether the Galileans suffered because they were worse sinners than anyone else? Will God really chop us down if we do not produce the fruit we are called to bear?
Jesus' talk about repenting, perishing and cutting down fig trees is harsh. But what happens if we hear the gospel reading through the lens of the reading from Exodus? In that story, Moses is beyond the wilderness when he encounters God in a burning bush. What does God say to Moses? God does not say "See the suffering of my people in Egypt? Such suffering is punishment for their sins." No, God says "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey." God has heard the cries of those who suffer and has compassion on them. God is going to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey. Does this sound like a God who would cause towers to fall on people, or gunshots to destroy their lives?
When we hear the parable of the fig tree through the lens of the story from Exodus, we hear not judgement but compassion and second chances. The fig tree was not cut down after one year of bearing no fruit, nor after two years. Only after three years, was cutting down the tree even being considered. Who would have held out hope for three years that a barren tree would all of a sudden start producing fruit? Even then, the gardener wants to dig around it and give it more fertilizer, giving the tree every possible chance to produce. The Hebrew Scriptures are full of images of God as the gardener-from Genesis 2 where God plants a garden in Eden, to references to God planting the Hebrew people in the Promised land in the book of Exodus, God is often the One doing the gardening. The God who heard the cries of the people in Egypt and led them through the wilderness and into the land of milk and honey is a God who tries and tries to get us to bear fruit, who, when others would completely give up, provides more nurture and more fertilizer before finally calling a dead tree a dead tree.
Jesus' one word answer to the question of whether the victims of such tragedies are worse sinners that others is the word "no." Our God is a god of grace and mercy whose desire for us is a land of milk and honey. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday with the clear message that life is short and fragile as we are anointed with ashes and the words "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return." Jesus' call to repent is the call to make right our relationship with God and our relationships with other people and not procrastinate in doing so. The parable of the fig tree tells us that God provides us with nurture and care to help us bear the fruit we are called to bear. When taken together, Jesus calls us to repent of those things that prevent us from being nurtured and bearing fruit and to believe and trust in the God who calls us to fullness of life.
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
March 23, 2019
What is wrong with this picture? We have a full church, the choir, glorious music, uplifting scripture readings, beautiful flowers, and a lovely reception awaiting us after the service. What is wrong, of course, is that the guest of honor is not here, at least not physically. But if Janet were here, she would have baked at least 6 dozen homemade cookies for the reception, taken a complete meal to the bereaved, made some soup from scratch to put in the freezer for a meal on another day, and written one of her lovely notes to express her love and concern. In the middle of doing all of that, Janet would have realized that the food crate in the coat closet was full and she would have made a delivery to the Hudson Food Pantry. For Janet, as has been said many times, food is love.
Food is love. We are not talking about cheap comfort food here. For Janet, authentic food is genuine love. Janet knew the capacity of a good meal shared around a table to build community. Janet loved to cook for people and to create the kind of space around a meal where people could talk, laugh or cry, and share their lives. Janet also worked tirelessly to make sure less fortunate people had access to food so they could create meals for their own families, participating in any outreach ministry she could that provided food to those who are hungry. Janet knew the power of community to sustain people in good times and in hard times, and she had a gift for making community happen. In the gospel reading, Jesus told us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Then Jesus said that the second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Janet poured her love of God and her neighbor into the world through food. Today, we gather together in this place, a community of people who have come together from all over the country. Many of us do not know each other. Yet we are bound together today to share this very simple meal at this table, in this place Janet loved so much and where she shared so many meals. Janet has once again created community as we share food and stories, laugh and cry together and celebrate the life of our loving, gracious Janet.
Food is love. Janet also knew that food nourishes our souls, and our souls hurt today. We gather to celebrate her life, but we also gather to share our grief and acknowledge the deep hole her death leaves in our hearts. We gather to pray for each other and hold each other in our grief. Scripture tells us that Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, so we have no shame in shedding our own tears at the death of a loved one. Janet did not just make meals for those who were celebrating, or those who were hungry. Janet also made meals for those who were hurting. One of the last things Janet did was to make a meal and take that meal to another family who was hurting. Janet was not naïve. Janet did not think that any meal, no matter how well prepared, how delicious, how healthy, or how much chocolate was involved, would heal a broken heart. But Janet knew that a good meal could make people feel loved, and that love has the power to heal. So feel the love around you. Let that love sink into your hearts. Let the love of Janet surround you and the love of God comfort you. The reading from Romans reminds us that nothing, neither death nor life nor angels nor archangels nor anything in heaven or on earth, not even cancer or grief can separate us from the love of God. Janet and I exchanged a lot of scripture through text messages over the last two years, but we also exchanged some more secular and perhaps less reverent text messages. One of the more secular messages was a quote from Christopher Robin to Pooh, and I think Janet would say these words to you today “Promise me you will always remember that you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” You are brave enough, strong enough, and wise enough to meet the weeks and months to come because between God’s love and Janet’s love you have the bravery, strength, and wisdom that you need.
Food is love. Lastly, Janet knew that food nourishes and nurtures our bodies. Our problem today is with the body and the fact that our bodies do not last forever, no matter how well they are nourished. And yet, as Christians we know that we are more than just our body. We proclaim that death is not the end of life; that, in Jesus, we have been given eternal life. Death does not separate us from the love of God. Death brings us closer to God as we enter God’s eternal presence. In her baptism all those years ago, Janet was united with Jesus in his death and resurrection. In her death on February 28, she was joined with Jesus in new life, in the place Jesus prepared for her, in that place where there is no pain or grief, and God’s love is everywhere. Janet lived her life as an expression of God’s love for the world. Now she lives in that place where God’s love will nourish and strengthen her for all eternity.
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
March 10, 2019
1 Lent C
Kairos is an ecumenical prison ministry designed to bring the love and forgiveness of Jesus to incarcerated men and women. A Kairos team made up of carefully trained people from a variety of churches goes into a prison to lead a three and a half day retreat that creates Christian community through worship, prayer, and small group discussions. The goal, put simply, is to help the men and women in prison begin to see themselves as beloved children of God.
One of the ways the Kairos team communicates the love of God to the men or women, depending on the prison, is through homemade cookies. Each person on the Kairos team is responsible for providing 100 dozen cookies. If a team is 15 people, that’s about 18,000 homemade cookies going into a prison over three days. An abundance of cookies is used in the prisons to convey the abundant love of God. Cookies are available for the participants all day. They are given bags of cookies to give to people they need to ask forgiveness from or people they need to forgive. Cookies are given to the staff. Cookies are used to permeate the prison with God’s love.
I have never been on a Kairos team myself, but parishioners in parishes I have served have been on such teams. Many times, I have stood before a congregation and said “In two weeks, Noel is going into the prison in Lima or London or Chillicothe, and we need 100 dozen cookies by next Saturday.” And, without fail, everyone knew that for our church to reach such an audacious goal, everyone had to help. No one could think someone else would make cookies, or their cookies would not matter, or that they didn’t have time to make cookies.
This morning, and on the First Sunday of Lent every year, we hear the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. What, you might reasonably wonder, could Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness have to do with 18,000 cookies, especially when we are told that Jesus had nothing to eat whatsoever during his time in the wilderness?
Jesus goes into the wilderness, filled with the Holy Spirit, having just been baptized in the Jordan River where he heard the voice of God say “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.” I believe that Jesus goes into the wilderness to understand his identity as the beloved Son of God. Jesus is tempted with special power, when the devil says to him “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” The famished Jesus replies with a verse from Deuteronomy “One does not live by bread alone.” We know that Jesus has the ability to turn a small bit of bread and fish into food for a crowd. We know that Jesus has the ability to heal people of all sorts of illnesses and ailments. But Jesus will not use that power to satisfy his own hunger. He will use that power to benefit others.
Then Jesus is tempted with special privilege. The devil offers Jesus glory and authority over the world. Jesus declines with more words from Deuteronomy “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Jesus does have power and authority, but Jesus’ power and authority will save the world, not himself.
Lastly, the devil tempts Jesus with special protection. “Throw yourself down from here and call on the angels to protect you.” Again, Jesus declines with words from Deuteronomy “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Jesus will not claim special protection even from the cross. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus will say from the cross “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”
Jesus enters the wilderness to understand his identity as the beloved Son of God and what that identity means is not that he has special power, privilege or protection. What that identity means is that he is to be the love of God for the world so that the world will know what it means to be beloved children of God. We go into the wilderness of Lent, where we, too, discover what is meant by our identity as beloved children of God, and we find out that our identity does not give us special power, privilege or protection either. We go into the wilderness to turn away from that which keeps us from understanding ourselves as beloved children of God. We go into the wilderness to better understand how we are called to be God’s abundant love for the world.
We talk a lot about what we do as individuals for Lent-what we give up or take on. But we also go into the wilderness together as a parish, where we are tempted as Jesus was. What temptations keep us from understanding that being beloved children of God means being God’s abundant love for the world?
I believe the first temptation is this: “My little contribution won’t make a difference.” Whether we are talking about singing in the choir, making a meal for an outreach ministry, bringing food for the food pantry, or making a financial pledge, the minute we think that what we have to offer does not matter, the powers of evil have won because if we all think that way, nothing ever gets done.
The second temptation is this: “Someone else will do it.” When a request goes out for cookies, or Sunday School teachers, or people to work at a Habitat work day, or help with a community ministry like First Serve, the temptation is to think that someone else will do that. Our ability to show the world God’s love is diminished every time someone thinks “someone else will do that” because if we all think that way, our ministry grinds to a halt.
The third, but probably not last temptation is this: “I don’t have time.” There are countless good reasons why we don’t have time to worship, or to serve, or give. The powers of evil count on people not having time to be the power of love in the world.
What we learn from Jesus’ time in the wilderness is that being the beloved Son of God was not about power, protection, and privilege for himself, but about having the power, privilege and protection to be the love of God for the world. We learn the same thing about ourselves in the wilderness of Lent. In the Lenten wilderness, as individuals and as a church, we turn from the temptations that call us away from being the abundant love of God for the world and claim the power to use our lives, and our equivalent of 18,000 cookies, to be that love. The world is a wilderness where people are starving to experience the abundant love of God. Amen.
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
March 6, 2019
My least favorite prayer in the entire prayer book is the prayer we prayed at the beginning of this service. The opening collect includes the words “Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness.” A new and contrite heart is a good thing, and the prayer acknowledges that we cannot make that happen ourselves. So far, so good. Lamenting our sins and all the times we fall short of being the people God created us to be is a healthy exercise in honesty, also a good thing. But take issue with acknowledging our wretchedness.
At the 5 o’clock children’s Ash Wednesday service, we talk about our identity as children of God and the meaning of being made in the image of God. We talk about the way Jesus claimed us as God’s own and how we are marked on the forehead with a cross this day as we were marked with a cross at our baptism. We talk about that cross being like putting our name on our lunchboxes or backpacks. That cross is like God’s name being put on us and means that we belong to God. I want the children to know that they are beloved children of God, made in the image of God. We do not always do good things or make good decisions, but at our core we are made in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus, which makes us inherently good.
So, when we lament our wretchedness on Ash Wednesday, what do we mean?
In the gospel reading, which we hear every year on Ash Wednesday, Jesus gives us some instructions for how we are to practice our faith. On the surface, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting seem pretty straightforward. In Lent, many of us increase our charitable giving, perhaps by being more intentional about what we give to the food pantry or using our time to serve others. We may add a time of prayer to our daily lives or attend a mid-week service. And we may give up or fast from chocolate or alcohol or diet coke. We sustain those practices for the 40 days of Lent and look forward to the release that comes with Easter.
But I believe Jesus has a little more in mind this morning/evening. When we give, whether money, time, or material goods, to those in need, we recognize our fundamental connection with the whole human family. When we pray, we deepen our relationship with the God who created us and calls us into being. Prayer connects us with both God and all of creation. And when we fast, we recognize our very real dependence on God and how we tend to fill our hunger for God with other things. The practices of Lent, the practices Jesus calls out for us, are all about deepening our connection with God and each other and recognizing that none of us is an island until ourselves.
The wretchedness we lament this day is not an intrinsic truth about our very being that no amount of good works will change. The wretchedness we lament is our failure to live as the extraordinary human beings God created us to be and to treat every single person we meet as the extraordinary person God created them to be. At every baptism, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all people, recognizing that Christ is in all people and that we are called to serve Christ there. On Ash Wednesday, we devote ourselves to a season of practices that help us better see and serve Christ in everyone.
The prophet Isaiah makes clear the fast God desires from us with these words: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
The fast God desires from us, and the prayer and the almsgiving, is that which deepens our connections with God and the whole human family, helping us to recognize Christ in each person. Our prayers this day are prayers that recognize the ways we fail in that connection. In what seems like a paraphrase of our passage from Isaiah, Pope Francis offers these words to frame the practice of Lent: “Fast from hurting words ...and say kind words….Fast from anger ...and be filled with patience. Fast from pessimism ...and be filled with hope. Fast from worries ...and have trust in God. Fast from complaints ...and contemplate simplicity. Fast from pressures ...and be prayerful. Fast from bitterness ...and fill your hearts with joy. Fast from selfishness ...and be compassionate to others. Fast from grudges ...and be reconciled. Fast from words ...and be silent so you can listen.” In other words, fast from those things that separate us from God and each other and practice those things that connect us. Whatever our fast, or our almsgiving, or our prayer this Lent, may our practices draw us deeper into relationship with God, the human family, and all of creation, so that rather than lamenting our wretchedness, we can greet the risen Christ with a deeper understanding of who we truly are as beloved children of God.
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
March 3, 2019
Last Epiphany C
Last Saturday, several of us from Christ Church attended a “Connecting Communities” workshop in Elyria. The idea behind “Connecting Communities” is to give churches tools to better connect with the people in the community around them. Since we have been working on doing exactly that for the past couple of years with projects like our booth at the Hudson Ice Cream Social, our presence at Community Day at the Farmers’ Market, our amazing float in the Memorial Day parade, and opening our doors and our restrooms for the Christmas Eve Frosty 5 mile run, this workshop seemed like a great way to get some new ideas.
One of our first activities at the workshop was to share a story of a time when we were most spiritually engaged and energized in our experience of our local church. We had a few minutes to think about what that experience might be, then we shared them in our small group. Everyone else in my group had a transformational experience of walking into an Episcopal Church from another Christian tradition, feeling the presence of God and knowing they were home. Your very concrete and linear priest took the question in a more focused and recent way. I talked about the way I feel spiritually engaged and energized when we sing a great hymn in church and Mario is going full bore on the organ and everyone is either singing their hearts out or simply dwelling in the music. For me, that is a most spiritually engaging and energizing experience that sends me out into the world to face anything.
Then, last Sunday afternoon, that very experience happened at Roxanne Grattan’s funeral. Mario fired up the organ for the hymn “How Great Thou Art” and the church filled with glorious music as we sang our hearts out. There were posts on Facebook about what an amazing experience that hymn was, and they weren’t my posts! I was not the only person who found our singing of that hymn to be a spiritual experience that bound us together and helped us face the grief at hand. For me, and for others, that was a mountain top experience. And I, for one, would have been quite content to stay on that mountain a awhile.
This morning, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain to pray. While Jesus was at prayer, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white. Then Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, and by the time the three disciples realize what is going on, Jesus, Moses and Elijah are engaged in conversation about Jesus’ upcoming departure in Jerusalem. Since the three disciples were barely awake, they missed the content of the conversation. But they knew they were in the presence of Jesus’ glory and the two people from ancient times who represented the law and the prophets. Peter might not have heard or understood the bit about Jesus’ impending departure, but he knew enough to want to stop time and seize the moment, offering to build a dwelling for each of the three men, holding the moment forever.
God has a different idea. From a cloud, the voice of God says “This is my Son, my Chosen. Listen to him!”
Listen to him. My concrete, linear self would like to point out that, thus far, Jesus has not said anything. Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about his departure, but Jesus does not appear to have said anything. And when Peter offers to build three dwellings, speaking directly to Jesus, the voice of God answers. So, what are we to listen to?
Just prior to our story this morning, Jesus has said this to his disciples. “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Peter doesn’t want to follow Jesus. Peter wants to stay on the mountain. But we know from the next passage in Luke’s gospel that the three disciples do follow Jesus down the mountain, where they will find people who need to be cleansed of unclean spirits and healed of various diseases and infirmities. They go back down the mountain to do the work they have been given to do and to follow Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem.
Today, we sing some of the great hymns of the church, creating a bit of a mountain top experience for ourselves. Some days, like Peter, I don’t want to follow Jesus down the mountain. I would prefer to stay right here and keep singing these hymns. But we are told to listen to Jesus, and what Jesus said is to follow him. Where Jesus is going is to Jerusalem. So, off we go down this mountain into the wilderness of Lent where the alleluias are buried and there is work to be done. But today does give us a survival kit of sorts as we head down the mountain with Jesus to follow him on his journey.
First, like the disciples, we have seen something of the glory of Jesus and can hold on to that, knowing that neither the Lenten wilderness nor any other wilderness has the final word. The glory of Jesus will have the final word. Secondly, like the disciples, we travel together. Jesus did not go up the mountain alone, nor did he come down alone. He took three disciples with him. Both the glory and the wilderness are best experienced with Jesus and with each other. So, in a variety of ways, we will travel down the mountain and through the wilderness together. Lastly, like Jesus and the disciples, we are called to engage the world around us rather than just wait for Lent to be over and the glory of God to be raised from the dead. We follow Jesus into the wilderness where there is a world in need of healing. Together, we take the glory we have experienced, the glory we know, and leave this place, our little mountain top, to follow Jesus out the door and into the world. We do not follow blindly, but we follow with out eyes wide open, looking for the opportunities to do Jesus’ work in the world.
So, sing your hearts out this morning or simply dwell in the music. Experience the glory of God in this moment. Be nourished, engaged and energized. Then, together, we will follow Jesus down the mountain and out the door, to make a Jesus difference in the world, this Lent and always.
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
February 24, 2019
Roxanne was one of the first people I met at Christ Church. She was from Xenia and I was coming from Springfield, Ohio, about 30 minutes away, so we connected quickly. I soon discovered the Roxanne who met life on her own terms and did not hide her joy or her fear, her hopes or her frustrations. In the few years I knew her, Roxanne had back surgery complete with what must have been a full set of complications, fought her way back, faced down a double knee replacement, experienced much personal loss and grief, and finally confronted the cancer that took her life, but not without a fight. What I found remarkable about Roxanne was her raw honesty about her journey. She was sustained by her faith in the God who, in the words of Isaiah, “gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.” Roxanne was brave enough to cry in church, strong enough to care deeply for others in the midst of her own pain, and stubborn enough to refuse to take “no” for an answer. I can only imagine how tenacious Roxanne was in her younger years. Roxanne’s life and love impacted the lives of so many people over her 65 years. Everyone participating in this service is part of a ministry Roxanne was involved with, from vestry, to Education for Ministry, to the flower guild, to the knitting group, and those were just her recent ministries. Her ministry impacted people everywhere from Christ Church to Africa and a lot of points in between. There are so many Roxanne stories to share as we celebrate her life today.
But as much as we celebrate Roxanne’s life, we also gather today to grieve her death, to loosen our grip on her as wife, mother, sister, aunt, cousin, co-worker, student, or friend, and commit her eternal life to God. We gather to tell stories, but we also gather to share tears. We are told in scripture that Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, his friend, so we have no shame in shedding our own tears when we lose a loved one. The reading from Revelation promises a time when God “will wipe away the tears from all eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” But that time is not here yet. Death is very real, and we are called to wipe away the tears from each other’s eyes. Grief is hard work and demands to be respected. Mark, Lauren, and Mark, Jr., you are surrounded this day by people who love you and want to help you in this work every way that we can.
While we gather to celebrate and to grieve, primarily we gather in this church on this day to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In her baptism many years ago, Roxanne was joined with Jesus in his death and resurrection. In her death on January 19, Roxanne was joined with Jesus in new life. In the reading from John’s gospel, we heard Jesus promise that he has gone ahead to prepare a place for us so that where he is, we might be also. Roxanne has now joined Jesus in that place. Roxanne is in that place where “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Roxanne is in that place where she is strong and whole again. For that, we give God thanks and praise.
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
February 19, 2019
6 Epiphany C
I met my match last fall when I starting taking the Monday yoga class here at Christ Church. A new practice would be good for me, I figured, and how hard could breathing and stretching be? Was I ever in for a surprise! Yoga takes concentration, balance, flexibility, and strength, none of which are my strong points, along with the ability to breath at the same time. Yoga requires a lot of practice to achieve the mental clarity and focus that benefits daily life. In fact, as our teacher says to me repeatedly, yoga is a practice. A good yoga teacher changes everything up so often that yoga will always be practice and will always take a lot of practice, at least for me. Sixth months in and the main difference for me is that now I have some idea what I am in for!
The twelve apostles must be wondering what they are in for this morning. Jesus is standing with them on a level place along with a great crowd of other disciples and throngs of people seeking healing. But it is the twelve to whom Jesus is speaking this morning. Jesus’ first words seem palatable enough. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” These sound like words of comfort to those who are poor, hungry, or sad. The problem is that there is no evidence that the 12 were any of those. Some owned boats, and one was a tax collector. A few chapters later in Luke’s gospel the 12 will be told to take nothing with them on their journeys, so they must have possessions. These are clues that Jesus may be up to something other than words of comfort here. But then, however, Jesus takes his teaching to a new level. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.” How does Jesus think he is going to attract and keep disciples talking like that? And then, Jesus gets down right rude. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” The irony of hearing those words on the Sunday we have the Big Reveal Party for our capital campaign is not lost on me. What on earth does Jesus have against the ability to support oneself, a full belly, or a good laugh?
We don’t know what the 12 apostles made of Jesus’ words, although we know they did not turn tail and run. The real question is what are we to make of these words as 21st century Christians in Hudson, Ohio where relative to most of the world, we are rich, full, and happy?
First, to be clear, Jesus is not saying poverty, hunger, and grief are good. Nor is he saying that riches, food, and joy are bad. He is simply saying that those who are poor, hungry or sad are blessed, a word that in the Greek means content or at peace. Jesus is saying “woe” or “watch out” to those who are rich, full, and joyful. Jesus is not saying that one group is saved and the other group is damned, even though there is an eternal ring to Jesus’ words. Jesus is not saying that those who are poor are the only ones who are blessed or that those who have riches cannot be blessed. Jesus’ followers included many people of some means in Luke’s gospel. Mary and Martha hosted Jesus in their home. Zacchaeus the tax collector climbed a tree to see Jesus then hosted Jesus in his home. The book of Luke/Acts is written to the most excellent Theophilus, likely a patron of some means. Poverty is apparently not a criteria for being a follower of Jesus.
So what is Jesus saying? When Don and I lived in Springfield, Ohio, a city a lot like Akron but smaller, we encountered people in poverty on a regular basis, whether in the public schools, through our food pantry or the yearly neighborhood fair. In conversation, the folks in line at the food pantry would tell me about their faith and all the ways God had blessed them. Just getting out of bed and facing the day was a practice of faith for many of them. Their stories were raw and often involved shut-off notices, evictions, prison, raising grandchildren, addiction, the humility of standing in line for free food, and problems I cannot begin to imagine. Many of them relied on God for their security because there was not much else reliable in their lives. I, on the other hand, have a home, family, friends, a great job, a retirement plan, and all sorts of other thing I can hold on to for a sense of security. According to Jesus, the people at the food pantry are blessed because they have only God to hold on to for security, and they are well aware of their dependence on God every day. They put their trust in God into practice day in and day out, when there is no food, money, or much else to hang on to.
The prophet Jeremiah says this morning “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord.” Their roots are shallow and cannot find water when they need it. Jeremiah then says “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.” The roots of their faith are deep and find water, in the words of both Jeremiah and the psalmist. Jesus says to those of us with plenty “Watch out! You can too easily put your trust in earthly things.” Jesus is telling us that if we want our faith to sustain us when the going is hard-when grief or hardship or illness strike and our possessions and accomplishments give us little to hold on to-we have to practice trusting God for our security and our joy now.
Perhaps what Jesus is saying is this: “Blessed are those who will sit with their need, their hunger, and their grief, for I will fill that hole. Woe to those who can fill their need, their hunger, and their grief with work, food and drink, or another order from Amazon Prime because there will be no room for me.” Jesus comes to level ground to offer deep and lasting security to all of us. Some of us just need a lot more practice loosening our grip on what we have and trusting the security Jesus offers.