A sermon on Luke 6:17-26
There is a greeting of peace that is shared within the Jewish community, a blessing that is given one to another, like we bless one another when we pass the peace. This Hebrew greeting, shalom, is often translated to mean peace, but it also means so much more above and beyond peace – it is a blessing that conveys best wishes for deep and complete wholeness of the person receiving it. When you speak shalom into someone’s life, you are speaking wholeness into their life, and it is this wholeness which brings peace.
There are so many places in our lives and in our world that need shalom; places of brokenness that need to made whole. Where divisions threaten to destroy friendships and families and in places where power and wealth discrepancies loom large, there is a spirit of fear that becomes part of the fabric of life.
In individual lives where illness threatens to upheave life at any turn, where financial stability is more hope than reality; in times when mortality is an ever nearing inevitability, and grief seems a constant companion, loneliness and worry can set in, breaking our hearts and wounding our spirits.
Though we are centuries removed from the multitude of people gathered as we read in this passage from Luke, we can almost effortlessly find some common ground, and a common brokenness: the wear and tear of the human condition. The process of existing can be wonderful and filled with opportunities for gratitude, praise and thoughtful reflection. At other times, it can be wrought with pain.
In pain, illness and distress, we come to Jesus, looking for hope, as did the multitude that day – people from near and far, ready to learn from Jesus, and hoping to be healed.
Often, to find the truths of a passage of scripture, it helps to imagine your way into the passage, and to become a part of it, too.
So, let’s take a walk together, and go on a journey to join this gathered multitude…
As the days grow weary with the daily grind, and fears that come with living under an oppressive administration rise to the surface each day, news continues to spread, that the holy healer, the one who teaches with authority and purpose, continues his ministry and has chosen 12 people to come along with him, and help him in his ministry. In fact, they are traveling this way.
We pack a few things for the long walk– bread and dried fish, and a woven blanket – and set off on the dusty road toward the horizon. We walk and talk along the way, sharing together the latest we’ve heard about Jesus, and about the vibrant growth in our respective home church gatherings.
Finally, we come to a large gathering of people like us, worn and wearied from life ready; to hear some good news. With our arms and hearts full of our own brokenness which we have brought with us in hopes that Jesus can make it better; we see him not on a mountain ready to teach eager and listening ears, but on a level place, or plain.
Down in the trenches with the sick the poor, the lame, Jesus is immersed in contact and conversation with those people who represent the things in life we fear the most. Lack and want, illness and disability, pain and loss.
And, as if sensing our presence in the midst of all that is happening, Jesus, kneeling in prayer with a paralytic, looks up. He smiles at us with a smile that says “I see you. I see your pain, and the heavy burden that you carry. And yes, I can make it better.
But, right now, I need you to come and help me. Come down here, kneel down in the dust with me, and be with this person. Reach out your hand to take theirs and stay here a while, with me, listening to these hurting people.
We join Jesus in the midst of the crowd, and as we follow his lead, as we become a presence of hope amidst a void of brokenness, we experience an invitation to serve with him. And in our obedience to Jesus’ summons, the power of healing that has been going out from him to those gathered, has also gone into us and has indeed healed us of our brokenness.
As we reach for the beggar and give bread to the hungry we are one with Jesus. As we speak prayers of healing and comfort into the lives of the hurting, we have looked into the face of Jesus, and in our Christ- like service, we are over and over, being made whole in the power of Christ.
Christ’s power is not a power that the world understands. It is not strong military power nor does it place barriers between those things which cause us to face our fears. It is not an oppressive power, but a transformative power;
a power that makes broken places level, a power that tears down walls. Jesus’ power creates wholeness by inviting its recipients to choose love instead of fear, to embrace diversity instead of division. To make straight paths in the dust of the plain, where all can follow in his footsteps.
And now that we have experienced the power of Christ to heal and make whole, having served with him among those who most need his love, we are ready to experience the teaching of Christ that will help us carry wholeness into the world around us.
From his kneeling spot in the dust of the plain, Jesus looks up at us and says
“Blessed are you who recognize your need for God, because God is ready to be found by you. At your greatest point of lack lies a wealth of truths that God is ready to share with you – truths about God’s dream for the world and when you recognize your deep need for God, you are ready to be a part of God’s healing and transforming work in the world.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, and who have experienced hunger – both for food and for belonging, for you know better than anyone else how wonderful it feels to be welcomed at someone else’s table and the ultimate joy of being welcomed at the table of the Lord.
And blessed are you who still have tears to shed for the injustices you see around you. You can shed these tears freely because you know that the world around you and God’s dream for the world are at odds – and you know that when those odds are reconciled, great will be your rejoicing, indeed, together with all of those who have experienced rejection and want.
And blessed are you who afflict the comfort of the people around you so much, that they take to slandering you and talking bad about you – even to the point of hating you. Revel in this because it means you are taking my teachings seriously. And you are not alone – take comfort in the similar stories of the prophets – God’s hand- chosen mouthpieces to share God’s word in the world.”
“You will have a hard time, however, if you’ve got it all, or even if you feel like you have it all because your ability to quickly meet most of your needs by yourself will mask your greatest need: the need for God and God‘s guidance in your life. Being able to provide for yourself on your own will get in the way of fully knowing God’s transformative healing for you and for others through you.
And you will have a hard time if you feel satisfied right now. True satisfaction, though it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, comes from a constant and deep hunger to learn more, to love more, to serve more.
You will have a hard time if you are comfortable. If your life is always laughter and never tears. Because if you cannot shed tears for the world around you, you’ll never truly be able to engage others in service the way that I have called you to.
I have invited you to serve others in a selfless way, because I know that it is good for your own heart as much as it is for the people around you. To lack the ability to shed tears for the suffering around you is to lack the internal readiness to receive my healing and transforming power. It is to lack the ability to be made whole.
Lastly,” Jesus says, “it will be very hard for you when people talk well of you, and praise your teaching and lifestyle because it will lull you into a false sense of security. These shallow words of admiration are the words reserved for false teachers and people who only have a message of happiness and prosperity to share, who don’t really take my instructions seriously in their lives.”
And as he finishes his teaching, we recognize that this day has been, not about us getting our needs met, being filled and healed, but about being trained to follow in Jesus’ example. Made whole in his power, we are ready to follow Jesus into the lives of the broken and become a blessing of hope and wholeness.
Jesus shows us with his actions and his words, that his power brings healing to the broken places in our lives. It is not a guarantee that we will not have times of brokenness or suffering. It is, however, an invitation to accept God’s grace that will allow us to be transformed into people who weep over injustice, who long for more of Jesus and less of the world, and who would be content with nothing, because in God we have everything.
Filled with Christ’s power, we accept the invitation to bring wholeness to the world around us, one act of service at a time, as our lives are transformed to be more like him.
Let’s allow these words of Christ shape us into messengers of wholeness. And when we forget the source of our strength, we will find the healing power of Christ again and again, as we kneel in the dust of the plain, to serve others in love.