The Sermon on the Plain

Friday, October 5, 2012 — Week of Proper 21, Year 2

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 985)

Psalm 102 (morning) // 107:1-32(evening)

Hosea 10:1-15

Acts 21:37 – 22:16

Luke 6:12-26

The words that lead up to Jesus’ “sermon on the plain” are like the working of a symphony rising to its thematic emphasis. First, Jesus prays all night, and then he calls the Twelve. They all come down to a level place where a multitude from many regions gather. Jesus heals, and the people experience the power that is his from the Spirit. Then Jesus begins to speak, “Blessed are you who are poor…”

I’ve always had my own personal difficulty with the message of this sermon, a central proclamation from Jesus. I like the first few verses just fine. Jesus blesses the poor, the hungry and those who weep. Throughout the gospel, indeed throughout the Hebrew scriptures as well, we can see God’s particular and special interest for the poor and troubled. It is easy to imagine the Kingdom of God blessing with special care those who have not received their fair share in life. By extension, it seems easy to me for us to embrace the values of the Kingdom as our work in Jesus name. If we are to be Jesus’ people, we can use our political, economic and religious energies to bless and heal those whom Jesus reached out to with such emphasis — especially the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed.

I’m okay with the blessings on those who are punished “on account of the Son of Man.” I’ve seen the price good people have paid for standing up for things that are right but unpopular.

It’s verse 24 where I start to squirm. “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.”

I’m rich. I always have been. I was born into unearned privilege. Simply being born in this country was a rich advantage of immeasurable value. I have received my consolation. With that comes responsibility, I believe. But it distresses me that I am the target of woe rather than blessing. I don’t quite know what to make of that, but it discomforts me.

In a way I can understand the woe directed at the “full.” Those who are full do not experience hunger. I know how to read this verse spiritually. There are times when I am full of things — theology, religious knowledge, settled beliefs. When I am like that, there is not much room for God to feed me. So much of my growth has been from my growing hungry and dissatisfied, spiritually and theologically. I see people who are so full of their certainties that their blindness is obvious to me. How immature I must appear to others who are so much more spiritually mature than I am. How foolish I must appear when I am so full of my certainties. There is something wise about the state of perpetual hunger. One is always hungering for God’s presence and manifestation, right here, right now.

“Woe to you who are laughing now.” There is so much to mourn and weep for. I avert my eyes from so much suffering. I distract myself with entertainments of many kinds. The prophet William Stringfellow was particularly scathing toward those, like me, who love and follow sports. He called it America’s obscene idol, our holy cow, distracting us from the weightier demands of justice in our common life.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you,” reminds me how timid I can be for the sake of not offending. I like to be accepted. I want my church to be rich and healthy. So I often tiptoe around the prophetic message. It was the false prophets who said the things people want to hear.

Over and over Jesus presents the values and choices of the Kingdom of God. All too often they are not my values, for I am attached to my comforts and my privilege. This is vanity.

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