“Of Blessings, Woes, Enemies, and Beggars"

Luke 6:20-31

November 3, 2013

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

Luke 6:20-31 

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “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. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. “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.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

 

Prayer.

 

Today is All Saints Sunday;

the first Sunday following All Saints Day,

always the first day of November.

This is a time to recognize tomorrow’s saints among us.

Turn to your neighbor,

look them in their eye,

and say to them “God bless you future saint!”

This is also a time to remember the saints who have gone on before us;

people who have been endeared to us,

and who have now died

and had their souls received into Heaven

by the Lord God, our Heavenly Father.

These people were gifts from God to us,

gifts of love and grace.

In recognition of this fact,

the Church has come to recognize them as Saints.

Not one of them was perfect.

In fact, each was flawed,

just as each of us has fallen short of perfection. 

Parts of their conduct and character,

their very best characteristics,

have helped to endear them to us.

We remember their words of encouragement,

the care package they sent to us in the mail,

their loving arms that enfolded us

when it seemed like the rest of the world had turned us away.

Today we lift up the very best parts of their conduct and character,

those parts that are deeply rooted in love and faith.

Conduct and character make a difference to God.

Today is also a day we celebrate Holy Communion.

We come to the same communion table

where many of these Saints assembled in the past.

We share the same bread,

the same wine,

the same prayers,

the same lyrics as those who have gone on before us.

We share the same meal as Jesus shared in His last supper with His disciples.

We approach this Holy Table with penitent hearts;

knowing full well,

as did the host of Saints in generations past,

that we are unworthy to partake of these elements

because of our manifold sins.

Yet, the grace of God has been extended to us,

unworthy as we might be.

That grace has accepted us,

just as we are,

and drawn us into Christ’s inner circle

of redemption and salvation.

Our sins confirm that fact

that conduct and character make a difference to God.

Our Gospel lesson for this morning is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain;

a parallel to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus is teaching his disciples in Luke

with the intent of molding and shaping their conduct.

Today, Jesus blesses the poor, the hungry, the bereaved, and the persecuted.

In Matthew, Jesus produces blessings

for those who identify themselves

with the less fortunate individuals.

The corresponding woes confirm the fact that we are already being judged,

and that judgment looms large in the future.

He is in effect

charging His disciples with a list of social principles,

by which we are judged.

These social principles are our party platform.

They are the first fruits of the Christian’s life.

They are the works that result from faith.

Jesus tells us that we are to reach out to the poor

– not the poor in spirit, mind you –

the poor,

those living in economic poverty.

And woe to you if you are rich,

because that money

could have been used to ease the poverty of another.

Jesus tells us here and elsewhere

that wealth and possessions are barriers

to entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

Who are the poor today?

There is a quickly growing lower class in America.

It is composed of the elderly,

single parents,

the under educated,

the disabled,

a high percentage of newer immigrants

and ethnic minorities.

The poor are those who are dropped out of the middle class

by downsizing and layoffs,

they are those who grew up in a cycle of poverty,

those who came to our country seeking freedom and liberty

from oppressed homelands.

Our conduct and character makes a difference to God.

Conduct means we share of the abundance God has shared with us.

Conduct means we reach out and lift up.

Character means we practice what we preach,

and we preach what we practice.

Character means authenticity,

a sincere and respectful attitude in working towards the elimination of poverty,

and all it’s contributing factors.

Jesus tells us to feed the hungry.

Use the abundance given to us

and share it with those who have no food to eat.

This core principle of discipleship is central to our lives of faith.

This makes our bringing forward to the communion table

our gifts of food and money

a sacred act.

The action of bringing forward our gifts

bears out the authenticity

of our faith in God, through Jesus Christ.

Feed the hungry,

Jesus tells us.

Not the hungry in spirit, mind you.

Feed those who are not full.

Likewise, woe to all of us who live on a full stomach.

Because of our fullness,

we have withheld food from someone who is hungry. 

On 434 million acres of cropland in the United States alone,

we are capable of yielding 90 bushels per acre for oats,

80 bushels per acre for barley,

and 50 bushels per acre for wheat.

We can effectively feed the world.

(Source: US Department of Agriculture)

Yet we live in a world where there is hunger;

A world where there is starvation and malnutrition.

This, our world, is one where Christianity

has fallen sinfully short of God’s expectations.

Our conduct and character makes a difference to God.

Blessed are those who weep, Jesus tells us.

And blessed are those who identify and empathize with those who mourn,

Matthew’s gospel would suggest.

At the same time,

God’s judgment upon those filled with laughter

will be mourning and weeping.

God has a tender heart for those who suffer,

those who endure loss,

those who are overcome with the pain of sorrow

– and so should we.

It’s our role as disciples of Jesus

to follow his command

to bless those who weep,

embrace and ease the suffering of those who mourn,

and to temper our laughter.

It is important

that funerals and memorial services

are celebrated in the church,

centered in worship.

It is important that we host receptions,

bake casseroles,

bring cookies,

and serve coffee for families experiencing bereavement.

It is important for us to go the extra mile

to ensure there is comforting music,

beautiful flowers and a warm atmosphere,

that we dress as well as we can

and take the time and effort to attend.

Memorial donations make a difference.

Cards and notes of grace,

embraces and tears of solidarity,

are all the necessary components of following the directive of Jesus,

opening our hearts to those who mourn.

Our conduct and character makes a difference to God.

Finally, Jesus lifts up those who are persecuted for His sake,

and so should we.

We are disciples of Jesus,

and we should stand for Christ and His Kingdom,

always and everywhere,

without exception,

even if it means our personal persecution.

In addition

We are to stand in solidarity with fellow disciples suffering for Christ.

We do not overcome enemies of Christ

with force or power,

persuasion or debate.

We overcome enemies of Christ

with prayer, with love, and with blessings.

We are to go the extra step, the additional mile, the farther journey

to ensure that we treat others better than they treat us.

Dearly beloved,

our conduct and character makes a difference to God.

Jesus works to shape us,

to mold us,

into the disciples He would have us become.

Reach out to the poor, and redistribute your riches.

Feed the hungry, and take less for yourselves.

Comfort those who mourn and weep, by opening your hearts.

Bless those who hurt you for Christ’s sake, by returning to them blessings and love.

Living Saints,

remember on this day of remembrance,

our conduct and character makes a difference to God.

Come to the table,

and let us join together with those Saints who have gone before us.

Let us be united by Christ;

with the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, and the persecuted.

Let us be united by Christ

also with one another

through these gifts of bread and wine.

Amen.