I read words this week that I could not have imagined possible even five years ago, in an
article about the Chicago Cubs.
Expectations from a rabid fan base -- thinking about a Cubs dynasty -- have come up
short since November 2016, wrote Jesse Rogers.
Fans want nothing less than another title -- or at least a better shot at one than the team
gave last season ... as a 95 win playoff team.
Wow, how things can change.
We certainly know this as a church.
Sunday morning opportunities are up and church attendance is down.
Society is certainly not what it was two generations ago.
There have been such massive shifts in technology, population, politics, protocol, and
expectations ... some of them for the better, some of them not.
You can debate the details in the parking lot after worship.
So do we curse this, or do we thank God?
Jesus looked around at a crowd approximately as dense and diverse as the San Fernando
Valley and started his sermon.
Blessed are you homeless with no cash or credit, because God’s estate belongs to you.
Blessed are churches who have shriveled and now struggle to make ends meet,
because you have holy treasure.
Blessed are you who spent Valentine’s Day alone, because you will be adored.
Blessed are businesses losing money because of terrible Yelp reviews, because
that’s how people have always evaluated saints.
But woe to you who have paid off your mortgage and have a healthy savings account,
because you have all you’re gonna get.
Woe to you who pack the pews every Sunday, because it won’t last.
Woe to you who are in love, because one day Sweet Baboo is going to leave you.
Woe to you who have a good reputation, because people have always admired phonies.
The gospel of the Lord.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating; if anything, this version softened Jesus’ words.
They are just as shocking and counter-intuitive and anti-cultural as they sound.
Jesus is riffing hard on the lyrics of his mother’s revolutionary song about God, who has
filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
It is a gift to both, whether they recognize it or not.
It brings them closer together, whether they like it or not.
It humanizes both.
It causes massive shifts and changes for everyone as a gift of love from a God
who is far wiser than our prejudices and assumptions and dreams and desires.
You can debate the details in prayer after worship.
My brother visited me in the Midwest.
He had grown up out here and never been to the prairie before.
After about 200 flat miles in the car, almost shrieking in panic, he blurted out, “Where
are the mountains?”
The open horizon was freaking him out.
Many of us, including Saint Matthew, would probably agree with him.
Matthew positions Jesus for a sermon on the mount starting with eight blessings, many of
them sounding less secular and more spiritual, and none of the woes.
Luke, however, has Jesus standing in a level place, just like John the Baptist described:
the valleys lifted up, the hills made low, the topography equalized, no doubt to the
chagrin and complaint of the toppled mountains.
Luke has Jesus preaching to apostles and disciples and crowds from the holy city and
Gentile beaches, from both sides of the border wall, citizens and foreigners, all
standing together on a level field with the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Jesus has picked a stage with no steps to show what he is saying: that God is flattening
the social order that elevates some and diminishes others as a gift to us all.
Everyone is healed...even those addicted to money and happiness and praise and
satisfaction and success.
Everyone is cured of what ails them, whether they want to be or not.
But Jesus does more than announce this.
He lives it.
He becomes the good news he preaches.
Father Henri Nouwen called it downward mobility.
As Savior and Christ and Lord, Jesus has tremendous status and power, and he
gives it all away.
The ancient world assumerd there was a limited supply of everything—money, power,
honor, even health.
So if one person is healed, someone else will necessarily get ill.
When Jesus cured diseases, power came out from him, so his health must be
Better get to him before he runs out of juice.
That’s the way the world is, except that Jesus is challenging and changing that.
He is announcing and demonstrating a completely new reality in which Cubs fans are
obnoxiously spoiled and longsuffering Yankee fans need compassion.
He is embodying the massive shift God is making in the world, a seismic change that
Luke teaches the church to call salvation.
And how does it happen?
God becomes poor and hungry.
God becomes a tear-stained, blood-soaked wreck.
God becomes hated, excluded, reviled and defamed.
God dies between common thieves on a cross.
For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich,
yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich,
Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
But like Luke, he did not let them, or us, spiritualize this.
It is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need,
so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.
As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.”
That’s not a socialism pamphlet, it’s Scripture.
Luke and Paul are both leading us to follow Jesus to a level place where all have a
place to stand, because that’s how heaven operates.
That’s the topography of the kingdom of God.
So we keep going beyond Sunday morning words to Saturday morning breakfast
supporting Lutheran Social Services, because as the community of Jesus, we work
together to feed the hungry and help the hurting and comfort the grieving and
bless the cursed.
We advocate for laws and policies that level any playing field that is tilted or uneven.
Your call to me specifically directs me to speak for justice on behalf of the poor
We welcome people from anywhere and everywhere and work to heal them of
whatever is holding them back from the love of God, even if that is the popular stress of too much success.
Jesus gave it all to save us all.
Woe to those who don’t want certain people included, for you will be disappointed.
And blessed are you who lose everything, for downward mobility is the road to real glory
and death is the door of heaven.