Sermon from Sunday 17th Feb

Luke 6: 17 - 26

Sermon

The population of a small village was shocked one day, when their beloved leader met with a terrible accident that left him crippled in both of his legs.  With the help and support of his friends he learned how to use crutches, and although the process was slow and painful, he was eventually able to move around again.  In fact, he became rather good on his crutches, and began to move around quickly.  He even learned to dance and perform little pirouettes for the entertainment of his neighbours, which impressed his people greatly.

Having developed such skills he wanted to put them to good use, so he began classes and taught some of the young people how to use crutches, and soon they also became very skilled.  Others were envious of their talents, and the admiration they attracted, so they wanted to learn as well.  Soon became all the rage to walk around on crutches.  Before long, everyone was using them.  The result, was that after a few generations, there was no-one in the village who could remember how to walk without crutches.  Indeed no one wanted to, for crutch production had become central to the village economy, and they produced them so well that they were exporting them to many other places.

So, when a young traveller arrived one day, people were scandalised by his apparent lack of interest in their crutches, and were horrified at his insistence on walking around on nothing but two legs.  They were scandalised even more, when they heard him encouraging people to lay down their crutches down and live without them.  Worst of all, some people were beginning to trust him, and were trying to take steps on their own.  The village elders quickly had a meeting and agreed that the trouble maker had to be thrown out of the village before he caused complete chaos with his wild ideas.  So that was what they did, and although some still spoke with enthusiasm about his ideas, few ever tried to put them into practice.  And the life of the village continued in the way the people believed it had always been, and they continued to need all their crutches.

 

Is it too far fetched to imagine that people could be so silly?  Is it too crazy to think that anyone could be so misled, that they would allow themselves to become dependant on something they don’t really need?  Is it too crazy… or is there a sense in which we all tend to accept aspects of our lifestyles that we have been taught to regard as normal, without really questioning them, without ever seeing that they might be ridiculous.  This morning, once again, our scriptures come to us like a traveller from another place, offering us thoughts and ideas that are so far from our thoughts and ideas that we find the words, if not shocking, then at least a little disturbing.

When Jesus sets out his understanding of what life is really all about, we find a vision that is so different from all our normal preconceptions that we might be led to stop and think.  He says nothing about careers, or achievement or success or bank balances.  He makes no mention of popularity, or status, or any of the other things that we might normally regard as our aims in life.  He points to quite different qualities as being valuable, and in doing so, we get the impression that he is never likely to become the flavour of the month in a place like Beauly.  His words are perhaps a little too shocking, a little too scandalous.

Jesus describes people whose lives are blessed and he describes people whose lives are woeful.  I would defy any of us who might claim that we would have come up with the same description as him.  He talks about what it means to be blessed, about how you might recognise if someone is living a live that has been touched by God?  Here is how Jesus describes them: they are poor, they are hungry, they are weeping, they are hated and excluded, and insulted, and rejected.  These are the people who are blessed by God, according to Jesus.

He also talks about those who are filled with woe.  How might we recognise someone whose life is in a mess, someone who is heading for trouble?  Jesus says: they are rich, they are well fed, they are laughing, they are well spoken of.  These are the people who are heading for trouble, according to Jesus.  Can you see why the leaders of his felt the need to get rid of him, and his crazy ideas?

So what might it mean? 

Blessed are the poor

It is not, that there is something wonderful in not having what you need.  There is no evidence in the bible that poverty is the will of God for his people.  But perhaps it is when you don’t have what you need that you know what it is to long for something better, and without a longing for something better, how will we ever really discover God at the heart of life.  How will we ever come across what is of greatest value in life, if we feel no need to search?  It is as easy for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God as it is for a camel to squeeze itself through the eye of a needle.  The poor, it seems, have no such difficulties.

Blessed are the hungry

We recognise that children have problems if they fill up with junk food leaving them with no appetite for the things that would give them the nutrients they need for a healthy body.  Perhaps we find it more difficult to recognise that we always have problems if we fill our lives up with expensive but worthless possessions and have no appetite for the things eternity that we need for healthy souls.  Those who know true hunger understand what it means to search desperately for the things they really need, while those whose lives are full cannot understand such motivation.

Blessed are those who weep

We do all that we can to avoid the pain and sorrow that would bring tears to our eyes, and rightly so.   Not only do we have a wide selection of painkillers and other drugs, but we surround ourselves with enough entertainment to distract us from thinking too much or feeling too much.  But perhaps sorrow and joy are closely related, and we cannot appreciate one without the other.   It is those who love most fully and freely who weep most deeply, while others may be laughing all the way to the bank, apparently successful and prosperous, but ultimately shallow and empty.

Blessed are those who are hated, and excluded, and insulted, and rejected

We can choose to live quiet lives.  We can choose to live safe lives.  Moderation in everything, go with the flow, don’t rock the boat… There is no reason to get ourselves into such bother.   But I wonder if that way of living really fits with the kind of life in all its fullness, that Jesus said he had come to bring.  The writer, G. K. Chesterton, said: “I like getting into hot water, it keeps you clean”.

Poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted, rejected.  Who would chose a life like that?  Who among us could honestly say that anyone fitting that description was blessed by God.  Yet it was the description which Jesus gave of a person who was blessed and in the end it turned out to be a description of Jesus himself; poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted, rejected.

These are disturbing words for us.  These are disturbing thoughts and no amount of explanation can get rid of that.  The last thing I want to do with them is to turn them into a nice, well rounded sermon that would cause us to miss out on the impact they might have, for I believe it is the impact they are intended to have.  We plan our lives so that we can achieve wealth, and satisfaction, and fun, and admiration.  Then Jesus suggests that we might be focusing on the wrong things, that we might be misled, that we might be missing the point?  Jesus implies that we might be making our lives dependant on things we don’t really need, using ambition and entertainment and material possessions as crutches to avoid facing the real issues of life, to such an extend that we are hobbling blindly along a road whose destination will not be what we might imagine.

So I simply suggest that we try to live with these uncomfortable words, and see where they might challenge us, and look for any truth that they might enlighten for us.  Perhaps we might discover some crutches that we have been depending on a little more than is good for us, and perhaps we might discover a little more of the freedom, and the joy, and the abundant living, that the gospels promise.