Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (February 11, 2007)
“Jesus Levels With Us” (Luke 6:17-26)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s Gospel lesson has Jesus preaching what has been called the “Sermon on the Plain.” It’s called that because at the beginning of the text St. Luke writes, “And he came down with them and stood on a level place.” Jesus had been up on a mountain praying all night. In the morning, he called his disciples to him and chose 12 from among them to be his apostles, his special commissioned, authoritative messengers.

Coming down from the mountain, standing on a level place, a great crowd gathered around him. Observe that crowd for a moment, with all their various disease-ridden bodies and demon-possessed souls. The crowd sought to touch him, Luke says, because power came out from him and healed them all. Jesus chose 12 apostles from among his followers, but his power and healing touch were for all...not just a select few.

You are here today, I hope, because you are seeking to “touch” Jesus in some way, whatever burdens you are carrying. But you don’t have to reach very far. Our Lord Jesus comes down in mercy to this level place here and touches YOU with his Word of blessing. He touches your lips with his Body and Blood. The life and salvation he gives is not just for a select’s for all...for all who receive that blessing in faith.

And remember that Jesus’ primary reason for coming was not to be a miracle worker. It was to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. He teaches us about that Kingdom in the very beginning of the Sermon on the Plain as recorded in our Gospel lesson today. He tells us what our lives will be like as disciples of Jesus in the Kingdom. And he doesn’t pull any punches, either. On this level place from where he preaches, Jesus levels with us about life as his disciples...his followers. Listen once more to the words of our Lord:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers 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 shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-26)

Jesus levels with us by telling it like it is. “Blessed are you” he says to some. You are blessed. You are fortunate. You are so very happy and joyful because God is in communion with you through Christ Jesus. To others, he says, “Woe to you.” How horrible it will be for you. Horror, disaster, and calamity will fall upon you because you do not see your need for Christ.

Jesus levels with us by telling it like it is... “Woe to you!”

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches. He doesn’t sugar coat things. He levels with us when he says, “Woe to you.” You appear to be blessed, but a curse awaits you. Take a good hard look around at yourself and the culture in which we live. Is Jesus describing us? I mean, in comparison to the rest of the world, you and I are truly rich and satisfied. We have plenty to laugh about. And we are not really persecuted to the extent that others around the world are.

But we are under the curse of sin. There is a lot of sickness all around us, and not just physical sickness such as in our text. Physical sickness is only a symptom of the real problem...sin. That’s our helpless condition in which we find ourselves. Spiritual sickness is all around us. And we can relate to St. Paul when he said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate...I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin dwelling in me.” (Romans 7:15, 19-20)

And so, to the rich and the well-fed, to those who laugh and who are complimented by all, Jesus pronounces his “woes.” You are rich and content, so you’ve already received your consolation. What else is left for you? How can you possible enjoy eternity if you aren’t even looking forward to it because you have so much on which you rely now? You are full now, so how can you possibly expect to enjoy the marriage feast of the Lamb, where you will be truly satisfied forever? If you are full of laughter now, what tears do you have to be taken away in heaven? You are concerned that people speak well of you, so you say what people want to hear, like the false prophets of old...instead of standing up for the truth of Christ when the opportunity presents itself.

Jesus came down and stood on our “level” so that we might be blessed

So how do we become like those who are blessed? Give away all we have and become poor? Start fasting today so we can become hungry? Start crying and weeping now and never enjoy any happiness in our life ever again? Start acting like a superior goody-two shoes so that we are sure to be persecuted by others?

No, there’s no need for any of that. There’s no need for any of that because of what Jesus has already done for us. Jesus came down and stood on our “level” so that we might be blessed. Jesus became poor for us. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Creator of all things, became flesh, was born in a barn, raised in a backwater town, with no place to lay his head during his earthly ministry...or as St. Paul more eloquently put it, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 9:8) Out in the wilderness, the Son of God went hungry for us, refusing to fall to Satan’s temptation to turn stones into bread. At the tomb of Lazarus, the Resurrection and the Life wept for us, grieving because his friend had died and because sin had brought such pain and sorrow into the world. Overlooking Jerusalem, the King of Kings wept, saddened over those who reject his love. And the one who bears the Name at which every knee shall bow was hated, excluded, reviled, and spurned as evil when he was crucified for us and for our sin.

Through Jesus, you are blessed. You can be so very happy and joyful because God’s face smiles upon you in Christ Jesus. We have been lifted up to Christ’s level...not as God, but as exalted sons and daughters of God the Father with Christ as our Brother. God the Father has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1:3) We are made spiritually alive in Christ and God the Father has “seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6) In spite of being comparatively rich, we can see ourselves as poor spiritually...and Jesus lifts us up to his level and gives us the riches of his kingdom. We can see ourselves as spiritually hungry, and Jesus comes down to our level and gives us the bread of life in Word and Sacrament...and we can look forward to the day when we will be fed eternally at the marriage feast of heaven. We can weep repentant tears over our sin, and Jesus will cause us to rejoice and laugh because he has forgiven us of all our sin...and we can look forward to the day when there will be absolutely no more tears or sorrow forever. Jesus is ascended and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and when he comes again to raise our dead bodies from the grave, he will indeed lift us up to his level. Here’s the way one of our hymns puts it: “He has raised our human nature On the clouds to God’s right hand; There we sit in heav’nly places, There with Him in glory stand. Jesus reigns, adored by angels; Man with God is on the throne. By our mighty Lord’s ascension We by faith behold our own.” (LSB 494, stanza 5)

And even though people may hate you, exclude you, revile you, and spurn your name as evil because you confess faith in Christ, remember that you are covered in his righteousness. Therefore, God speaks well of you. You are baptized. Your sins are washed away through the shed blood of Christ. What the Father said of Christ at his baptism, he now says of you, “You are my beloved beloved daughter...with you I am well-pleased.”

As God’s baptized children who are members of his kingdom, who are satisfied with God’s grace, and who leap for joy because of our great rewards of grace in heaven, we can place ourselves on the level of those who are truly poor and hungry, and we can meet their needs in the name of Christ. Our hearts have been washed clean, so we can afford to get our hands dirty. We can come along side of those who are sorrowful, and comfort them in the name of Christ. And we can lift up in prayer our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world whose physical well-being is threatened simply because they have confessed faith in the Savior. Blessed are they, says Jesus. Blessed are you. Rejoice and leap for joy. Amen.

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