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Luke 6,17-26

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TITLE:   Blessings and Woes                                     SCRIPTURE:    Luke 6:17-26

SERMON:

In the late '70s, a rich Texas cattleman, in love with his gold Cadillac, specified that it be used for his coffin.  After the man died, the funeral director prepared the body, put it in the front passenger seat, and drove to the burial place.  There a big crane lowered the car with its deceased passenger into a large grave.

One of the gravediggers, watching the car and its passenger descend into the grave, commented, "Boy, that's really living, isn't it!"

Some time ago, a pastor attended a ministerial meeting at a small church in Silicon Valley.  The neighborhood wasn't very good -- and the old church building not much better.  The clergy around the table looked a little shopworn too -- a few old men trying to live on small salaries in a big-money town.

One of the men talked about his son, who worked for a big software company.  The son wasn't very happy.  He wanted to do something else with his life, but couldn't find the courage to quit his high-paying job. "Golden handcuffs," the father called it.  His son was imprisoned by his big paycheck -- addicted to money and the things money can buy.

This pastor had to admit that, sitting in those dingy surroundings, the son's situation looked good by comparison.  Rich and miserable beats poor and miserable any day!

So I must confess my sense of discomfort when Jesus says:

"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."

I have been poor, and didn't like it.  I haven't been rich, but wouldn't mind trying it.

Nevertheless, when I hear Jesus say, "Blessed are you who are poor," I know that he is onto something.  He is Jesus, after all, so I know that he wouldn't steer us wrong.  I must admit, though, that he isn't easy to understand sometimes.  He says:

-- Blessed are the poor

-- Blessed are the hungry

-- Blessed are those who weep

-- And then he says:

"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and  defame you on account of the Son of Man."

I have to admit that I don't like any of those things -- being poor – or hungry -- or sad.

I especially don't like being hated -- excluded -- reviled -- defamed.

But this last beatitude -- "Blessed are you when people hate you" – gives us a clue to Jesus' thinking.  He says:

"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man."

The idea is that, when we try to do what God wants us to do, we will sometimes find ourselves in trouble.  That was certainly true of the Christians in Luke's day.  Rome persecuted Christians.  Synagogues refused them entry.  Families disowned them.  It was very, very difficult to be a Christian in those days.

It is sometimes difficult to be a Christian today, too.  It isn't all that difficult for us, but it is difficult for many Christians today.  We don't hear much about it, but persecution is a terrible problem for Christians in China, Vietnam, North Korea, Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India --in too many countries to list.  Christians are suffering and dying for Jesus every day.  Several Christians will die for Jesus today – perhaps many.  To those people, Jesus says:

"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."

It is difficult to be a Christian in many parts of the world.  It can be difficult here too.  Sometimes the compromises that people ask us to make are huge.  How would you like to have been an accountant at Enron – being told to get with the program -- to believe in the shell game -- to support a company doing weird things!  Someone needed to blow the whistle – and someone did -- but most just kept adding numbers and collecting paychecks.

If I had been working as an accountant at Enron, I hope that I would have made a fuss -- risked my job -- tried to protect the employees and stockholders who depended on that company.  It almost certainly would have cost me.  If so, I believe that Jesus' words would apply to me:

"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man."

Of course, you might ask what challenging Enron has to do with the Son of Man.  Isn't Jesus talking about missionaries who risk their lives taking the Gospel to dangerous places?  Why would God care about Enron?

The answer is found in our Gospel lesson today.  These beatitudes make it clear that God has a special place in his heart for the poor -- the hungry -- the grieving ---- for the little person -- the vulnerable person – the widows and orphans of the world.

The fall of a large public company hurts rich and poor alike, but it especially hurts the poor -- the vulnerable -- widows and orphans.  I believe that Sherren Watkins, the Enron accountant who became a whistleblower, was doing a Godly work when she exposed the corruption at Enron -- was doing a Godly work whether she knew it or not.  She was
trying to take care of vulnerable people -- and that is a Godly work. "Blessed are you when people hate you," Jesus says.  "Blessed are you, Sherren Watkins!"

Jesus continues.  In our Gospel lesson, there are also four woes:

-- "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."

What's wrong with being rich?  I don't know any super-rich people, but I know an occasional person who could write a check for a new car -- or a new house.  That is rich by my standards.  I know people who manage without having to go to work in the morning.  That is rich by my standards.  Some live off small pensions, and I wouldn't really call them rich.  But others have money to travel and enjoy life richly.  Most are
nice people.  Why would Jesus say, "Woe to you who are rich"?

TRUE STORY:

In his autobiography, Just As I Am, Billy Graham tells the stories of two men -- both in their seventies -- that he and his wife, Ruth, encountered on a Caribbean island.

The first man was very wealthy but very unhappy.  He said, "Out there is my yacht.  I can go anywhere I want to.  I have my private plane, my helicopters.  I have everything I want to make my life happy, yet I am miserable as hell."  Billy tried to help -- tried to offer spiritual counsel to get the man headed in a new direction -- but it wasn't at all
clear that he succeeded.

The other man was the pastor of a Baptist church -- a widower, taking care of two invalid sisters.  He was full of vim and vigor, and made this bold claim:  "I don't have two pounds to my name," he said, "but I am the happiest man on this island."

After the second man left, Billy turned to Ruth and said, "Who do you think is the richer man?"

Why would Jesus say, "Woe to you who are rich"? It has to do with attitudes that often go with being financially independent.  It is all too easy for well-to-do people to feel superior --to look down their noses at the rest of the world -- to hide behind locked gates and voicemail -- to insulate themselves from other people's needs --and from the claims of God.

And those are two things -- failing to care about other people and failing to care about God -- with which God has very little patience.  There is nothing that gets God's dander up like failing to care about other people -- especially people in need -- and failing to care about God.

So Jesus says, "Blessed are you who are poor!"  He lets the poor know that they occupy a special place in God's heart.  And he lets us know that the poor should have a special place in our hearts as well.

And he says, "Woe to you who are rich!"  His words stand as a warning to those of us who have enough -- enough money to pay the bills – enough food to eat three meals a day -- enough entertainment to keep us smiling -- enough time to do what we want.  He warns us not to drift into a false sense of security.  There will be a day of reckoning, he says, and those who have enough won't do well on that day.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  We who are rich -- and most here today are richer than we care to admit -- few of us have missed a meal lately – the poorest person here living at or just below poverty level is still richer than 2/3s of the rest of the world-- we who are rich can learn from Jesus.  We can turn things around.  We can surprise God.  We can check to see who needs help – and we can begin helping.

And when we do, the woes will change to blessings:

-- "Blessed are you who are rich, because you helped the poor."

-- "Blessed are you who are full now, because you fed the hungry."

-- "Blessed are you who are laughing now, because made life enjoyable for
others."

-- "Blessed are you when all speak well of you -- because you reached out
in kindness to help."

 
 
 
 



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