Sermon Epiphany 6C 2019
The Rev. John M. Atkins

Luke 6:17-26
17 Jesus came down with his twelve chosen disciples and stood on a
level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude
of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and
Sidon.  18 They had come to hear Jesus and to be healed of their
diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were
cured.  19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power
came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then Jesus 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.
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A Member of Parliament once asked
the Prime Minister,
“Mr. Churchill, must you fall asleep
while I’m speaking?”
Mr. Churchill responded,
“No, it’s purely voluntary.”

I’m aware people don’t enjoy being preached at.
That’s never my intention.
I hope you won’t choose to fall asleep,
but rather, listen as we all are challenged
by the Good News Jesus brings.

Reading Luke’s Gospel gives us
a refreshing, yet, pungent flavor
to Jesus’ mission.
Luke insists that Jesus was not only
interested in life’s spiritual side,
but also, our physical state.
More than any other Gospel writer,
Luke appreciates our earthiness.

The Apostle Paul informs us in his letter
to the Christians in Colossi (Colossians 4:14)
that Luke was a physician.
Concern for the body was his practice.
Using herbal mixtures as healing agents
was among his tools.

Luke’s encounter with the Risen Christ
broadened his vocation,

balancing the physical with the spiritual.

Immediately after calling 12 men
to be members of his inner-circle,
Jesus found it necessary to clarify his mission.
Luke tells us that people
were desperately following him everywhere
to be touched by his healing power.
As with many people today,
the ancients wanted what they wanted
– to live disease free
and uninhibited by unclean spirits.
Those coming to Jesus yearned
to be well and free,
within their reality
of Roman violence and religious oppression.
But Jesus wanted to be known for being more
than a traveling miracle-worker.

Within ear-shot of his other followers
and the curious crowd anticipating healing,
Jesus proclaimed 4 promises of blessings
and 4 promises of woes.
They open our eyes to a reality of Jesus’ mission.
“Blessed are you who are poor…

Blessed are you who are hungry…
Blessed are you who weep now…
Blessed are you who are hated for listening to prophetic voices speaking God’s
truths…”
(St. Luke 6:20-22)
Unlike the Gospel of Matthew
interpreting Jesus’ beatitudes spiritually, Luke speaks to the harsh
realities
of our world.
Putting it into our time,
Jesus’ proclamation reminds us that
there are countless people
who are poor and hungry
in the Dayton area and throughout
the United States and the entire planet.
Some people weep now for the world –
regarding how we treat one another;
how some mega corporations
exploit workers
and bribe government to support
not paying their fair share of taxes;
how loud voices continue crafting
an environment of fear and divisiveness rather than an embracing
society
of justice.
Also, similar to the first century,
people faithful to God’s messages of hope
continue finding themselves
at odds and even hated

for exposing the shadow-side
of society, of nationalism
and the insatiable craving of
individual rights at the expense of
the marginalized and the common good.

Luke knew what Jesus was talking about.
For him the world exposed the reality
of people in pain.

Jesus himself was a victim of ethnic profiling.
Roman authorities despised the Jews
because of their faithful allegiance
to God over civic powers.
People were angry in first century Palestine
and throughout the world.
They were angry due to their poverty;
they were angry due to being oppressed.
Some cried out to God –
“Why are you allowing this to happen?”

But many feared expressing their anger,
for if they did,
Jewish authorities might cast them out
of the Temple or synagogue,
or worse, their oppressors would kill them.

Jesus chose not to express his anger,
most of the time,
choosing instead to offer God’s hope.
Jesus brings hope,
promising good things for the poor,
the hungry, those weeping
and those hated for being faithful to God.

For people being abused and marginalized
by society,
Heaven will provide good things.
But they don’t have to wait for Heaven
if we take Jesus seriously.

Jesus gives us insight
to how the world needs to change.
He tells us that behavioral change
is not enough.
We must change our mindset and the power structures.
Yet, before that happens,
followers of Jesus
must form a new community
– an alternative society called the Kingdom of God.
Jesus’ followers must give examples
to secular society

of what justice looks like.
You and I are to take the power structures
society normalizes
and turn them upside down
in order to benefit all people,
rather than the self-appointed,
privileged few.

Jesus gives us guidance on how to form
this new upside down
alternative society of God’s Kingdom.
He does this through his promises of woes.
“(But) woe to you who are rich
and do not care for the poor,
for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now and share little to nothing to feed others,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now because the world’s power structures
favor you,
for you will mourn and weep.
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, because living God’s truths threaten
people’s power and life-choices.”
(St. Luke 6:24-26)

Jesus isn’t just condemning bad behavior.
Jesus is giving all of us hope,
hope for bringing about God’s Kingdom,

and hope for the world.
Jesus is showing those of us
satisfied with the status quo
how to redeeming ourselves.

We are to embody
God’s realm of justice, peace,
mercy and love.
If we do as Jesus suggests,
many of the forgotten and oppressed
will bask in God’s blessings, and so will we.
If we heed the warnings, we will be saved.

The reality is, most of us are privileged
and benefit from the way things are now.
The Gospel writer infers that if we do
as Jesus suggestions, you and I risk
losing our own privilege
but gaining our salvation.
By understanding Jesus’ promises of
blessings and woes within our earthly context rather than the spiritual
dimension only,
we are empowered
to make the necessary changes.
Our power ultimately belongs to God.

Through us,
God is able to empower the powerless
and shape a just society
for the good
of all God’s precious children.
I told you earlier,
Jesus’ Good News is a challenge.
We will be continuing this conversation.
Jesus’ mission got him betrayed by his own people
and violently killed
by the Roman oppressors.
Jesus’ message is a tough one to hear – but desperately needed
To save the soul of the world.

I end with the story of Absalom Jones.
Absalom Jones was born in 1746
in Sussex County, Delaware.
He was born an African-American slave.
His Mother and Siblings were sold
to another owner.
Absalom was taken to Philadelphia,
where he was allowed to attend school.

At age 20, he married Mary King
and soon after
purchased her freedom
so that their children would be free.

At the age of 38,
Absalom bought his own freedom.

Absalom served as a lay minister
at the interracial
St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church.
Yet, discrimination flourished in Philadelphia,
even at St. George’s.
When the growing number of black parishioners
threatened the white parishioners,
without notice, the African-Americans
were told to sit in the balcony.
Most of the African-American parishioners
walked out, never again to return to
St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church.
Absalom and his longtime friend, Richard Allen,
established the Free African Society,
which gave aid to newly freed slaves
and African-Americans in need.
Jones and Allen held religious services
at the Free African Society.

They helped to form what is today know as
The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas
in Philadelphia, a vibrant Episcopal parish
then and today.
Absalom Jones became the first African-American
to be ordained priest in the Episcopal Church.
He preached against slavery,
offered the hope of Jesus
and served both the church
and his community lovingly and faithfully
until his death in 1818.
Absalom Jones never allowed his anger
of American racial inequality
to extinguish in him the grace and love of God in Jesus.

Born a slave, Absalom shared
the hope and love of Jesus,
and by God’s grace, so can we.
Listen to Jesus’ Good News.
It offers hope for us and for the world.

Let’s be faithful in creatively reflecting and working
to make God’s
justice, peace, mercy and love
come alive in us
and the world.