Rising Above the Woes and Curses

Bulletin: Bulletin-TL 02-17-2019 YC E6

Scriptures: Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 6:12, 17-26; John 6:16-21

Let us pray:

Holy God, you have given us scriptures to teach and transform us. Open our ears and eyes that we may hear and see what you would have us do and be. Amen.

Charles Taylor once wrote, “We have moved from a world in which the place of fullness was understood as unproblematically outside of or beyond human life, to a conflicted age in which this construal is challenged by others who place it within human life.”[1] I interpret his comment to mean, in his estimation, our common life that used to be understood as in God and belonging to God has become instead a life challenged to turn away from God to a self-centered universe.

Jeremiah has something to say about that, in effect asking us to reflect: Is it about me? Or, is it about God? Looking deeply into the mirror of self-evaluation, I have to challenge myself as a preacher to ask, do I preach Christ crucified and raised to life for all, a part of God’s divine Trinitarian love-ethic for the world God made, or do I expound upon scriptures to my own ends, seeking to define life in terms of what benefits me or my own agenda? In one sense, all of us falter when we interpret our times and our place in it by a rubric of “what’s in it for me?”

But if that is what I live for, than I am shallow, and I have a hard time believing that way of being in the world is anything of God. My undergraduate alma mater’s motto, derived from scripture, says, “Not unto ourselves alone are we born.”

“Jeremiah … pronounces a curse on those who focus on the human, who trust in what we are able to do, who take their cues from personal desire.”[2]

I would hope that I do not reflect that way of being in my life. Instead, I hope that in some measure I might live up to the blessings Jeremiah recounts. The prophet says,

“Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. 8They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.

Ah, yes! Long deep roots reaching out to the stream of pure water that flows forever! This is what I hope and long for…that I might be like the tree planted by the stream. But woe to us if we are planted out in the desert far away from an oasis of life-giving water. Do you ever feel parched, or do you feel more blessed like a tree by the stream? These verbal challenges Jeremiah lifts up for Israel are prophetic metaphors that actually come to pass as they are led into exile and eventually back to Israel to rebuild. Why, God, why did they have to experience such desolation before their consolation? And even then, their consolation was short-lived. By Jesus’ time, Rome had re-conquered their nationhood and held them in subordination once more. Do we have similar times of desolation and consolation? Jeremiah reminds me, uncomfortably, that both blessings and woes are a part of life.

The Gospel of Luke has some similar verbal challenges as we read through the more familiar beatitudes of the New Testament, followed by Luke’s list of “woes.” They reflect, again, two realities of life. One I might recognize as being “in-God” living, the other recognized as “out-God” living, or perhaps what we might understand as ramifications of a “God-less” lifestyle.

Luke’s list of blessings you are probably familiar with:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.”

But the “woes?” We don’t often want to hear these because for many of us, these cut very close to home:

24“…Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25“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. 26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

I’d rather not fall prey to the conditions outlined in these “woes,” would you? How do we avoid it?

Turning to the fifth sign in John’s gospel, what if we invite Jesus into our boat? There we are, adrift over the waters, which represent chaos in Jewish symbolism, and Jesus walks above these waters and comes to us through the storm of our lives. We, like the disciples in the boat, have no need to fear despite our fearfulness. Look! Here is Jesus, and the moment he steps into the boat, the boat reaches shore, symbolizing safety; and Jesus was with them.

How do we grasp what that meant? Perhaps, putting ourselves into John’s shoes after all had been said and done, we might imagine what it might have been like to lean back against Jesus at that final table of grace. All of a sudden we realize we feel and hear the very heartbeat of God. To feel is to listen. To listen is to hear. To hear is to be transformed. Being transformed our compassion is magnified, which leads to action in the world.

Where do you hear God’s heartbeat in the world today? How is God proclaimed in your life? Is the Holy Spirit prompting you to love even more than you now do? What are your storms, your waves? How does Jesus come to you on the waters? In listening for the heartbeat of God, how are you moved to join the throng of those who have gone before in love, in service, and in discipleship of the One who lived and died and rose again for you?

20Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven…”

We have been advised by scripture, taught by Jesus; now, let us go out into the world that needs God’s loving kindness shown unto it; in the name of God the Creator, Jesus our Revealer, and the sustaining Holy Spirit who breathes all life among us, Amen? May it be so.

[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap, 2007), 15, as quoted by James C. Howell, “Homiletical Perspective, Jeremiah 17:5-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] James C. Howell, “Homiletical Perspective, Jeremiah 17:5-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

Questions for Reflection

One commentator on Luke 6:17–26 writes, “‘Blessed’ (Gk: makarios) does
not simply describe a state of happiness or bliss. Rather, it refers in a theological sense to one’s standing before God (Deut. 33:29; Pss. 1:1; 40:4).”* As you reflect on the blessings and woes in Luke’s Gospel and on the use of the word “happy” in Psalm 1:1 and “blessed” in Jeremiah 17:7, how does this meaning of “blessed” or “happy” contrast with contemporary uses of this word, even by some preachers? What is one change you can make in your own life before God that would bring you into closer accord with Jesus’ understanding of blessedness?

Household Prayer: Morning

Gracious God, thank you for the gift of this new day. Ps. 119:133 Guide my steps as I face choices to care for the earth or not,
to show compassion toward others or not, to care for myself or not,
to be true to Christ or not. May each of my choices draw me closer to you. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Tonight I come home to you in prayer, my God. Thank you for guiding me through this day, even when I was not conscious of it.
Now I give this day back to you, entrusting all that I did and all that I left undone to your compassionate care.
May I rest in peace. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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