Thursday, February 14, 2019

February 17, Epiphany 6, What We See #6: Jesus in the Middle

Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, Luke 6:17-26

What do we see? We see Jesus in the middle of a crowd, a seething crowd, pressing in on him. We see individuals moving in on him and cycling out again; we look closer and we see persons limping and even crawling in on him, touching him, then rising up and walking out as others take their turns. Then we see them all turn toward him, and get quiet as he lifts up his voice to address them.

First he points with one hand, and then he points with the other. He could be speaking of two roads. We guess from other Bible passages that he’s speaking of the Two Ways, the Way of Blessing and the Way of Woe. “Blessed are you” if you do this, and “Woe is you” if you do that. Like in the Psalm: if you walk in the way of the righteous you will prosper. We come in close and listen, and we are surprised that Jesus is speaking of the Two Ways in contradiction, in reverse, upside down!

Because, if you were poor, you might say Woe is me, but he says Blessed are you. If you were hungry, or if you were weeping, you’d say Woe is me, but he says Blessed are you. If people hate you, exclude you, revile you or defame you, then Woe is me, but he says Blessed are you. And if we prosper and are rich, we say that we are blessed, but Jesus says Woe is you. If we are satisfied and full we say that we are blessed. If we are happy and laughing, and if all speak well of us, we say, with proper Christian modesty, Well, we are blessed. Why does Jesus say the opposite, Woe is you?

I do not think he’s saying that it’s better to be hungry than to be filled. He’s not saying that the poor are better than the rich. He’s not classifying people. He’s talking about the condition of being in the way of what God is doing in the world, when God reverses the ordinary way of the world and turns things upside down, which is what salvation does.

So if we have carefully solidified our arrangements to keep ourselves comfortable in this corrupted world the way it is, and if our commitments require the world to stay the way it is, then we’re not going to like what God is doing. But on the other hand, if you have made a royal mess of things, and totally blown it with your life, then what Jesus offers is very good news.

The Lord Jesus is not dividing us into two kinds of people. We are all both kinds. It’s a revolving door. You go through times of blessing that turn into times of woe and you get through the woe to blessing again. You go from days of weeping to days of laughing and then to weeping again. You go from hunger to being filled to hunger, from being praised to being reviled to being praised. In the words of our Heidelberg Catechism, “Rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty,” cycling in and out, like the people in the crowd around the Lord Jesus.

Isn’t this cycle just the law of karma, the wheel of life, inexorably turning, you get what you paid for, what goes around comes around, cause and effect, growth and disintegration, flourish and die, build our golden cities and they fall again to dust. The suffering of existence, the inevitable suffering of reality. To ease the suffering we have our religions, and Buddhism offers an escape from it.

The Christian answer is different—to enter the suffering and turn the cycle the other way round. I invite you to believe that God pours an energy into the world to turn the revolving door towards final hope and blessing. The Lord Jesus calls this energy the Kingdom of God, and St. Paul calls it the power of the resurrection, to reverse your karma, forgive your sins, and bless you if woe is you. The Kingdom of God has power, the power of the resurrection.

This power is inexorable and yet this kingdom does not force itself, it works by love and not by arms. It is subtle, unobtrusive, often hidden, and poor, and hated and opposed, but it is irreversible and very, very patient, and because it is so sure, and yet so generous, and so unconditionally welcoming, it can afford to give its enemies full room and its opponents the freedom to get what they want. Because it is a kingdom of love, it does not insist on its own way, but it also never fails, it never fails to get what it hopes for.

In our Epistle lesson St. Paul is so strong on the resurrection because he sees it as the great new energy injected by God into the world. Not immortality, the immortality of the soul that everyone believed in already, because for St. Paul that means just the same old thing forever and ever, and at the end is only dust. And resurrection not as a metaphor, but as an actual event that happened in the world, mysterious yes, inexplicable yes, but historical nonetheless, God’s sudden investment in the world, God’s new energy to push the wheel of karma back around and turn the woe to blessing.

God prefers to exercise that energy only rarely in doing miracles or intervening in human events. God does not manipulate. God wants your freedom and your own power for blessing. God puts the energy into the proclamation and the testimony, the proclamation of what God did in Jesus Christ and the testimony of what we have seen in the evidence of faith, that when people believe this proclamation they live their lives in new patterns of hope and peace and reconciliation.

You catch that energy in the antenna of your belief and the receiver of your faith and you transform that energy into your own words and your prayers and songs and you radiate that energy by your works of love and your witness to the powers and your service to the poor.

And the energy comes also from the future back to us, in God’s Holy Spirit, sent from heaven to inspire you and strengthen you. You know that in the Bible heaven is not so much up above us as forward in the future, heaven means the once and future Kingdom of God already established by God in eternity ahead of us, shining back upon us like the dawn ahead of you, the light by which you see things differently, the same things as everyone else but in a different light and going in a different direction, and in your own small way you push that revolving door around the other way.

I invite you, one more week, to welcome the news that in real time Jesus actually rose up from the dead, never to die again, and that this makes all the difference. You can welcome this Kingdom with your own life, and learn to see it and bring it out and work its implications out. You live your life in terms of it, your decisions and your bodies, you re-imagine God in terms of it, and you see the world in terms of it.

In your body you feel your blessings and your woes, your wins and your losses, your fullness and your hunger, your health and your sickness, and eventually you will feel the signs of coming death, but you can also believe that your body has the capacity for resurrection, and for eternal life. What the world regards as trouble and a burden, this Kingdom raises into blessing.

So then, God’s Word and Spirit are the energy, from the past and from the future. The Word of the resurrection stops the great wheel of karma. The Spirit blows on it to spin the other way around, that what you get is not what you have paid for, that what you get is not what you deserve, that your future is what determines your now, that dying leads to life and evil turns to goodness.

The church can practice this. The government can’t. Welfare can’t. Even secular charities can’t. But the church can. And we look for our success in the energy of God. We don’t do it for statistics. Nor that the world speaks well of us. We do it not when we are rich but when we are poor. This is why the ministry of deacons is not an extra in the church, not just charity added on, but is central to the church and why we ordain them. They are living witness of our little actions among the hungry and the poor to illustrate the Kingdom of God and the hidden power of the resurrection.

As Jesus stood there in the middle of the seething crowd, so you can stand firm in the turmoil and vicissitudes of your own life. As the Monterey Cypress tree withstands the raging forest fires of California, and even requires the fire to open its cones and release it seeds, so you can be like that tree that is planted by the streams of water, bearing your fruit in due season, precisely in trial and trouble, fruit of blessing out of woe, rising from dying, despair to hope, and misery into love.

Copyright © 2019, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

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