Luke 6:17-23 (click to display NIV text)
Feb. 24, 2013: Second Sunday in Lent
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“Looking at his disciples, he said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.’ “
When Jesus announced his ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth, he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim Good News to the poor…,” and then he ends by saying, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke goes on to present to us Jesus the teacher of God’s Word, Jesus the prophet mighty in word and deed, and Jesus who is Messiah, Lord and Savior. Now in chapter 6, we hear Jesus teach. He is teaching Jubilee, the year of the Lord’s favor, the time promised in the Old Testament when justice was re-established in the land: debts were cancelled, land restored to original owners, and cropland allowed to sit fallow. Jesus proclaims such a Jubilee in the Kingdom of God. The poor are blessed, the rich warned; the hungry are fed, the full have their turn at going without; those who weep laugh, those who laugh now mourn; and those who face rejection because of Christ are rewarded while those who have gotten used to the compliments of the crowd face judgment.
Jesus spends a night praying on a mountain, and then comes down to choose 12 apostles from among his many disciples. These are the new leaders for the new Israel. Then he teaches a great crowd of people who come from all over Judea. It says “they had come to hear him and be healed of their diseases.” This is the new people of God, those who listen to Jesus and desire to be healed, even healed from their sin.
Now he speaks a message, a message of blessings and woes. He speaks of a new order in God’s Kingdom that is based on grace and received in faith. We listen now to Jesus who is teacher, Lord and Savior. The foundation of Jesus’ words is his view of God as merciful and good. He speaks this to people who might have cause to question the goodness of God. He speaks to people who have not been treated well by their world: they are poor, hungry and weeping. He speaks to people who have been, or will be, persecuted for their faith in him. He speaks in contrast to the thinking of his day, which considered wealth and position as blessings of God. Darrell Bock writes, “Jesus says, the blessings of God’s promised rule belong to the poor, the hungry, the mournful and the persecuted.” Joel Green says, “These are certainly words of comfort to those who have been recipients of Jesus’ ministry: Lepers, sinners, demon possessed, toll collectors, women; anyone who has felt unacceptable in their society is now embraced by Jesus and restored.”
If the poor were ever blessed, it most likely would have been with a small gift, a loaf of bread a few days old, old clothing no longer useful, an old chair perhaps. But Jesus astonishes the poor when he says, “Yours is the Kingdom of God”! To the hungry he says, not just enough bread to get you by today, but “You will be satisfied.” Not just a quiet peace in your grief, but “You will laugh”! When people hate you because of me, you will gain a reward in heaven so great that you will leap for joy.
Who are the poor that Jesus calls blessed? The best definition I found is that “they are the people who must depend on God, because life is beyond their control.” (Darrell Bock)
The reality is that material wealth can create a sense of independence that results in a distance from God, and also a lack of concern for others. The wealthy that Jesus talks about are the proud, the ones with significant resources who fail to be generous, who are not rich towards God. David Tiede writes, “They are tempted to take security in their apparent ‘blessings’ and are unable to let go of such securities to get in on the dynamic mission of the Kingdom.” In a word, the rich tend to have difficulty in hearing God.
So how do we move out of the company of the proud rich, the self-reliant well fed, the cynical laughers? Sometimes a life crisis restores the hearing of those who have difficulty listening to God. There are many stories of people who lost everything and in the process found a life in God and a Savior in Jesus.
But it does not have to be a crisis, a loss of health or job or family. It can also be an intentional commitment to follow Christ and live by his word. Christ the Savior can lead us to the words of Christ the teacher. When you come to the cross and meet the Savior in repentance and faith, your ears are opened and you can both trust the mercy and goodness of God and also do what Christ says. At the cross, your heart changes.
The blessing of God comes through intentional living. None of this is automatic. None of it conforms to what the world considers “the good life” or the marks of a good person. You have to make a commitment to a new kind of life, one centered in the Kingdom of God, in the Jubilee. You plan to listen to the poor, to identify with them, and to serve them.
One way is to make an intentional commitment to spend a Saturday evening at PADS and talk to homeless people, or to help at the food pantry and see the line of people at the door, or to find a ministry at Love, INC. that takes you into the apartment of a family that has no furniture and no plates to eat on. The mission trips have always been good opportunities to see and hear in a new way.
Another intentional path is the commitment to become generous toward God. We read II Corinthians 8:9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Learning the meaning of that verse can lead you to a life of generosity.
Intentional worship and study in seasons of renewal, like Lent, can lead you to obey Jesus in fuller, more complete ways. Setting aside time to go to camps and retreats can help a great deal. I was reading about how the corporate world today has become so fast and demanding that all of life gets jumbled together and work, family, and personal time become an undifferentiated blur. You are really never not at work. But it takes courageous, intentional commitment to take time away for prayer and study and doing the will of God. I Timothy 6:6: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”
I find being involved in a small group of believers is very valuable. In our Wednesday evening groups this year we have been trying out spiritual practices. I do not know enough about them to fill up a whole year, so we repeat what we have learned, we practice them. I find that it works. It reminds me of the old days of playing basketball. We did the same drills every day. It got boring sometimes, but we also got pretty good at those few skills. It works. Practice orienting yourself to the goodness of God. Last week we did a Prayer of Examen once again, carefully reflecting on the last few days and seeing where God was with us. We had a very rich time of sharing. If life is always a blur, you can’t see the presence of God. But if you intentionally move away from the blur, you can see that God is very much part of your days. That is when you come to depend on God, because life is out of your control.
Jesus says “Do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after such things, and your heavenly father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31)
Joel Green writes, “All are welcome in the wide reach of God’s grace. But to stay in that welcome, Jesus gracious invitation must be joined by obedience.”
Commit your life to the way of Christ. Listen, trust and receive his grace.
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