Sermon; Epiphany 6C; Luke 6:17-26
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Part of the Benedictus, or Song of Zechariah, says,
“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
A few weeks ago we heard Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
Today, after spending all night with his disciples on the mountain in prayer and choosing twelve to be apostles, they came down to a level place and he begins what we call the Sermon on the Plain.
“Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you,
and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
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.
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.”
Jesus' Sermon on the Plain with its four blessings and four woes is not something new to Jesus. If we look back at the Magnificat, Benedictus, and the passage from Isaiah that Jesus read in the synagogue, the Sermon on the Plain is deeply connected to all of those. If you notice, each one of those passages talk about raising up and bringing down, and they speak of blessings and woes in their own way.
In the Magnificat, we could read:
Woe to you who are proud in your hearts,
for you will be scattered among those who offer no deference.
Woe to you who sit on thrones,
for you will be unseated.
Woe to you who are rich now,
for you will be sent away with nothing.
Blessed are you who are lowly now,
for you will be granted dignity.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled with good things.
Blessed are you who are forgotten,
for you will be remembered.
In the Benedictus we are reminded that the light and life of God will break upon us, providing light to those living in darkness and sitting in the shadow of death. And Jesus is using the reading from Isaiah to say that he is the one anointed by God to bring good news, proclaim release, allow the blind to see, and offer freedom to the oppressed.
In all of these it's important to note that none of those blessings and woes in any of the passage I've addressed are behaviorally based. They are not cautionary tales or morality based. In other words, none of them say anything along the lines of: if you do X, you will receive Y.
As one of my commentaries says, the blessings make statements of fact about a sure and certain part of God's reign, while the woes simply state the fact that people who appear blessed today (rich, well fed, laughing, good reputations) will at some point experience the opposite, while those good times are passed onto others.
This, I think, is where we have problems. We read that valleys will be raised and mountains brought down. We read about God's justice rolling down like waters. We hear about the hungry being filled, the oppressed and downtrodden being lifted up and dignified. We hear and read about all these images of freedom, dignity, welcoming, and equality, and yet . . . . and yet we aren't there yet.
In the promise of what will be are also the cries of, “How long?”
The psalmist cries to the Lord,
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
How long, O Lord, will you look on?
How long will others batter their victims?
How long shall the wicked exult?
The Magnificat, Benedictus, and Sermon on the Plain all point to the Truth of God's reign. As we are learning in our journey through Revelation, the victory of God is an already event. Through his death and resurrection, Christ has destroyed death. As Desmond Tutu was fond of saying at anti-apartheid rallies, “I've read the book. We Win!” In and through God the valleys have been raised, the mountains have been brought low, the prisoners have been freed, the hungry fed, the outcast welcomed, the oppressed have been granted equality. In and through God, this is a done deal.
But we aren't living in God's time, we are living in our time, and that can make things difficult. We are living in a very long period of Advent – the time of the already and not yet. Already the powerful have been brought low and the lowly raised up. Already those who sit in darkness have been given light and led to peace. Already the hungry have been filled. Already those who weep are laughing. But, as we look around, it is clear that none of those things have happened yet. All of those are the already of God and the not yet of humanity.
It becomes the job of the Church to help move humanity from the not yet to the already. How can we help the poor to see and be part of the kingdom of God now? How can we work to ensure those who are hungry are fed? How can we help those who weep to laugh?
Becoming involved in the reparations project sponsored by the diocese might help. Expanding, if possible, our food giveaways might help. COVID has been the cause of weeping for many. Providing a safe space of caring might help people laugh again.
I don't know specifics of how we might accomplish that, but it seems like our strategic planning team has come around at the right time. As we all answer those questions and look for ways to move forward, it just might be that our answers will be part of how we move from the not yet to the already. And in that movement we will have done our part to show those around us that the fact and Truth of God's reign and reversal can be seen in the here and now.