Sermon for Sunday, February 17

Gospel: Luke 6:17-26 (click the image above for the full Gospel text and accompanying art)

Good news statement: The kingdom of God reverses our expectations. It comforts and discomforts. It’s a reversible sweater, and we need both sides.

Introduction: Good morning; I’m so grateful to be with you again this week as we explore God’s word together! Last week, we were with Jesus as he directed his friends to drop their nets for an unexpected catch. That was chapter 5 of Luke. Now we’re a little farther along in Luke 6. Jesus has spent the night praying and he’s just called more disciples. He guides them out to a plain. People are coming to be healed…and to hear his words. A similar story occurs in Matthew but they are on a mountain, and it’s called the “sermon on the mount.” In Luke = sermon on the plain.

Art time: Let’s look at some artistic depictions of the story. (Move through slides linked to above). When we step into a Gospel story, it’s impactful to imagine the scene and the audience. He’s talking to his disciples (and likely the crowds)…those crowds were full of folks who probably felt defeated…and isolated and perhaps unacknowledged by those in religious power.


So what did Jesus say to his disciples in this moment? Blessings and Woes. And these blessings and woes reveal that the good news of Jesus is kind of like a reversible sweater. 

The Gospels are full of references to the “good news.” The good news that Jesus brings into the world is kind of like a reversible sweater…where one side is super soft plush and one side is really itchy, thick wool. And both sides are important and serve a purpose. The Gospel is comfort and discomfort…a fair representation of the Christian life.

Another way to talk about the Gospels propensity to create both comfort and discomfort is described by theologian Richard Rohr as the three purposes of the Bible:

1. Confront
2. Convert
3. Console

Today’s Gospel does all three, and all three are important. Rohr says that if we always jump right to consolation…to using the Bible to make us feel better…we’re missing a lot of why Jesus came to dwell among us. The consoling and comforting is absolutely a big part of the Gospel, but it isn’t the whole Gospel.

There’s parts of this gospel that feel like soft plush: blessed are you who weep…who are hungry…who are poor….who are despised and hated. That’s comforting. Especially to the original audience of new disciples and a crowd of suffering people. And it’s also consolation to all of us. We’ve all wept. We’ve all felt suffering. And in this reading, Jesus is saying that we’re loved by God…that we can hold hope…even in the midst of deep suffering. “Blessed” = loved…valued.

And then there’s this other side. This thick, scratchy wool. It has a purpose, too. These WOES. Woe to you who have wealth…woe to you who have food to eat…woe to you who are laughing and joyful…woe to you when people speak well of you.

Itchy! Scratchy! Discomfort! What does it mean?! If you have questions about today’s Gospel and where to find oneself in it - you’re normal! Me, too! My invitation to you is to lean in and step closer. Like Jesus said last week, “Don’t be afraid.” The Bible is an invitation; not a weapon.

Another way to think about “Woe” = wake up…be aware! It’s like someone warning us before we inadvertently step off a cliff. It’s an alarm.

Jesus is teaching his followers that God’s reality…God’s kingdom…is not exactly as it appears. Sometimes it seems like those with wealth and food and bliss have it all - that somehow they are extra blessed. Jesus exposes that perspective as a lie. He flips over the expectations.

He’s saying to this crowd of people who are experiencing suffering: God is with you. And he’s also saying to this crowd of people - some of whom were probably experiencing the opposite end of the emotional experience: you’re not extra blessed just because things are going well for you. This awareness is fundamental for Jesus; it’s something he really wants his disciples to comprehend. Life is full of ebbs and flows for everyone, and ones level of suffering has nothing to do with whether they are loved by God. It can all change in an instant.

In these “blessed” lines of the Gospel; Jesus is exploring the “blessing of vulnerability”…In each example, Jesus is revealing that in states of vulnerability and need - there is gift and love and hope.

He’s also revealing that when you’re perhaps experiencing a sense of self-reliance…that life is so good and God is unnecessary…that’s actually a “woe” - “curse of the illusion of self-reliance.”

We all need all of this good news at different points in life. Our denominations and churches and halls of power do, too. Sometimes we’re self-reliant. Sometimes we’re vulnerable. If the good news is a reversible sweater - we all need both sides.

Jesus doesn’t provide comfort and discomfort without a purpose. There’s deep value in all of it. There is gift in the “blessed”…a reminder to persevere, to trust, to lean into a community of love. And there’s gift in the “Woe.” The Woe is an invitation, too - toward repentance and conversion…ongoing conversion. To not get too comfortable…to be forever woe-ed and woo-ed into an expanded sense of the inclusive nature of God’s kingdom.

As Alice Camille wrote, “The love of God doesn’t play favorites…and today’s Gospel reminds us to embrace the same approach”

As the church, we’re called to be a place where all are welcome. We are called to be a place where God’s comfort is extended. We’re called to be a place where the Gospel can provoke discomfort and curiosity and a deepened sense of mission, too.

Thank you, Jesus, for inviting us out to the plain with you today to hear your blessings and woes. It is here that we experience your presence as a source of comfort and discomfort. When what we need most is your comfort, wrap us in the warmth of your infinite love. When what we need most is to be discomforted and awakened to injustice and participation in oppression and our own sense of self-righteousness, give us courage to step forward to your truth and respond.

Thank you, Spirit, for meeting us just where we are with open arms. Always. Amen.

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