No Wimpy Christians

All Saints Sunday/Baptism
Luke 6:20-31
3 November 2013                                                                               
Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                                  

The Gospel lesson for All Saints Day, which was Friday, is the Sermon on the Plain from Luke, which is similar to the Sermon on Mount in Matthew that Richard and Mickey’s class has been discussing for some weeks now.   But Luke’s version is tougher.   It is not for wimpy Christians.   I’m don’t think we can wiggle out of these hard words by saying that they are trapped in a first century context and not applicable to our own lives.  So put on your big girl and big boy pants and let’s dive into these challenging words from Jesus to his disciples.

Luke 6:20-31
20 Then 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. 23 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.
24 “But 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.
27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 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. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
(New Revised Standard Version)

Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and hated.   Not a natural way to think about life, Jesus.   In fact, we think the opposite.   We think we are blessed when we are rich, comfortably well-fed, happy, and well-liked.   How could you possibly say this,  Jesus?   Did Luke forget to add the “poor in spirit and meek” part that Matthew included?   It would be easier to get around this passage if he did not go on to say hungry, sad, and hated.   Whether you read Matthew’s or Luke’s version, the message is fairly clear that Jesus thinks it is better to be on the weaker side of life, because then you are strong, then you are filled, then you will rejoice, then you will laugh.   Is he giving an instruction or an encouragement to those who are already poor, hungry, sad, and hated?   It seems more like an encouragement, because he doesn’t say and I cannot believe he would intend us to go out and strive to be poor, hungry, sad, and hated.  However if we are truly faithful, we will find ourselves in these circumstances.
But unlike in Matthew, Jesus does go on to warn against the dangers of being rich, full, laughing, and popular.   The woes follow the blessings in Luke.   And we read all the woes, and go “Whoah” Wasn’t it enough to remind us that there are long-term rewards for having suffered in this life?  Now Jesus has to tell us that there are long-term negative consequences for having it all now.

It is only after Jesus issues this description of who is blessed and who should take warning in God’s eyes that he moves to giving instructions:   
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 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. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

For many people, these instructions seem like the imperative to be a wimp – not to stand up for yourself and your rights.   But I think it is really the opposite.  It takes great courage to love your enemies.   Popular culture tells you to hate them.   It takes great courage to pray for those who abuse you because by doing so, you are saying, “the one who has hurt me does not have ultimate power over me.”  

You are trusting God to be sovereign, even over the pain of your life, to help you forgive and find the paradoxical blessing of loving when it hurts.  It takes great courage to turn the other cheek, because you are being strong enough not to be drawn into battle –the battle of fists or of words.   You have the guts not to lower your standards for peacemaking.   To give freely, without expecting anything in return, is courageous because you are trusting God to provide for you, even after you give away things that you might need.   Any wimp can give away what they don’t need.   Give away your coat in Florida – who needs one?   Give away your old clothes, your old TV, your old computer, your old furniture.   Give a donation to the church large enough to benefit you in your taxes, but not to be felt by you.   Any wimp can do that.   
What Jesus is calling for here, in this passage, and I believe, in this church today, is strong Christians.   Christians bold enough to stand up and be baptized as Jordan  Duncan is doing today, in a culture that increasingly devalues the mystery of Christian faith.  We are bold enough to own the mysteries like baptism and communion that we cannot explain but we know mark us by the Holy Spirit as God’s children, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.   We are Christians bold enough to keep reading scripture, seeking God’s message to us today, even though many would have us despair because some verses of scripture are trapped in the cultural context of the 1st century and harder to appreciate.  Yet we continue to dare to shape our lives according to the narrative of God and the people of the Way, because we’ve seen how it changes lives.

Jesus needs us to stop being wimpy Christians when it comes to generosity, because you know we have, by global standards, had it very easy.  Notice I did not say, “We have been very blessed, because Jesus says, we are not blessed by riches but by poverty, hunger, sadness, and being mistreated.”  So let’s make sure we pare down our riches by making generous pledges toward God’s kingdom here and now through the ministries of Peace.   Feel the pinch – identify with the poor by giving more in the coming year.   
You know the more studies on nutrition and health show that people who go a little hungry are healthier than those who are always full.   I can eat that leftover Halloween candy (and yes, I have a lot of butterfingers and peanut butter cups) but they don’t really satisfy.   They just make me want more.  Woe to us to keep filling ourselves with processed, high fat and high sugar foods.   It’s time to get healthy, and go a little hungry.  We pray to God “lead us not into temptation,” but we like to lead ourselves into temptation.   That’s why we bought the candy that we like – for the kids.   :  )   The average person in this country spends $75 for Halloween candy, decorations, and costumes. Let’s make sure that we spend just as much money feeding local hungry children real food this week as we have done poisoning local children and ourselves with sugary junk food.  Thank you for your donations to Peace today, especially extra gifts designated for the Food Bank.

Finally we end with everyone’s favorite verse in the whole passage:   Do to others as you would have them do to you.   It all sounds so sweet if you’re talking about letting someone in the grocery line in ahead of you or driving on the road kindly as you would have others drive in the lane beside you.   Do to others as you would have them do to you is all well and good if you’re teaching a 2nd grader to share.    But what about if Jesus was talking about more serious matter like the global economy?   Or immigration law?   Or healthcare?  Or interfaith relationships?  Or a lawsuit that you could easily win?   No easy answers then.
So as I said before, “No wimpy Christians”  We are called to be courageous and strong, for the Lord our God will never abandon us.   After all, while we know that in Jesus Christ, we are all by grace through faith, called saints of God, we still recognize that certain people through the ages have excelled at faithfulness.   And by their example, we are inspired and propelled to greater faith.   Like Mary, the mother of our Lord, who was able to receive by the Holy Spirit, the human-divine person of Jesus Christ in her womb and to raise him, saying to the angel of God “let it be with me, according to your word”  

People like St Francis of Assisi, the son of a wealthy silk merchant, who took a vow of poverty and shaped the lives of so many by his generosity toward the poor and the animals.   When St Francis was about the age of Jordan Duncan, he was selling his father’s silk, and was approached by a poor man, who was asking for help.   Apparently Francis was so moved by mercy, he emptied out his pockets of all the money he made that day, and gave it to the poor man.  His friends made fun of him and his father was enraged.  But Francis knew who his real Father was.

People like ST PATRICK who was taken captive  in the years of his adolescence, when growing boys are most hungry, from fourteen to twenty.   While hungry St Patrick experienced the blessing of God and a profound closeness to God in prayer.  When released, he went back to Britain, but after being ordained, he returned to Ireland, the land of his captors, where he satisfied the hunger of many for the good news of the Gospel.   He proclaimed the Word for forty years there.
Weeping people like Julian of Norwich who lived in solitude as an anchoress in the sad, sad season of the Black Plague, who had the courage and the vision to believe that “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” No wimpy Christian.  It takes guts to say that when everyone around you is dying, you yourself are sick unto death, and all people think that it is God’s judgment against the world.

Hated people like Archbishop Oscar Romero who spoke out for human rights in El Salvador, who was assassinated while thanking God as he lifted up the cup of salvation, celebrating communion with a congregation.   
These people are blessed, blessed even in their suffering as they lived out the Gospel with courage.  Don’t wimp out on me, and I’ll try not to wimp out on you.  I believe God is calling us to a courageous and generous faith, one that will endure the test of time and still be strong when Jordan has grandchilddren.   We might look like fools for Christ, if we live like this, but if we dare to follow him, we will be blessed.