February 13, 2022

Luke 6:17-26

“Loving Who Jesus Loves”

“Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of [other people too].” That’s the way that today’s Gospel text begins. Jesus came down to be WITH the people – with his followers and with everyone who wished to gather around.

The Bible includes plenty of stories of Jesus and others going up hills or mountains. They go up there to think, or to pray, or to draw close to God. And often God speaks to them and encourages them in special ways during those mountain-top experiences.

But in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus comes down. Perhaps it’s not unlike how God came down to be with us in human form in Jesus himself. And then Jesus did not keep his ministry up in the mountains or reserve it for holy places like temples or synagogues. Jesus came down with his disciples to be with them and with all the people of the community.

The first thing he did on that level place was that he healed all of them. “They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured,” the passage tells us.

And then he began to preach. Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

It was wonderful news for the poor and struggling people of Jesus’ community. They had come to Jesus, seeking healing and help for their troubles, and he had given it to them. And as he begins to speak about it, he confirms that God is giving a special blessing to those who are struggling most. God is promising that better times are ahead for those who are suffering now.

But then Jesus adds a little more: “But 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.”

We have come to expect blessings from God, but here Jesus is preaching about the opposite – woes or curses on those who are rich, full, and laughing.

Now, I am fairly sure that the crowds listening to Jesus on that day were pretty full of poor folk who would have heard his message as good news. I don’t know whether there were any middle or upper-class people there to hear Jesus’ warning to them, but I know that a lot of rich people have read his sermon in the 2000 years since he first preached it.

And when we do read it, we often pause to consider which message is for us. Is Jesus’ blessing for us too, in as much as we are struggling – with loneliness, or grief, or a hunger for hope and fulfillment in our lives?

Or is it the warning message that we should heed most carefully? Are the woes that Jesus announces a call to us to recognize the danger that our super-abundance of possessions and resources promotes greed and fools us into thinking that we have everything we need without God or neighbours or community?

I think there are definitely times when each half of Jesus’ message is meant for us. When we are struggling, there is the assurance of God’s love and blessing in our lives. And when we mistake privilege for blessing, relying on the stuff we own to make us happy, or hoarding what we have for our own enjoyment, Jesus warns us that we are getting it wrong and the things we treasure will one day disappear.

But on that day, when Jesus came down to a level place to heal and help and teach the people, there were two different groups of people present. And I don’t mean poor people and rich people. I mean disciples and crowd members.

The crowd members had come to see what was happening. They’d heard about Jesus’ wisdom and power, and they came to receive healing for their diseases and perhaps a little help with their daily lives. The text says that “all in the crowd were trying to touch [Jesus], for power came out from him and healed all of them.”

But after spending some time healing and helping, Jesus looks up at his disciples and begins to preach. He pauses the outdoor medical clinic briefly in order to teach his followers about what he has been doing.

It reminds me of teaching methods that begin with learning by doing – whether it’s first aid, or fixing cars, or fishing, or knitting, or carpentry. You learn by engaging in the activity, watching the teacher, and trying out the actions yourself. But at various times, the teacher stops to talk about the why, about the theory, about the details that help you to understand what you are doing more deeply, and to do it more skillfully.

And Jesus teaches his followers that God has a special love and concern for those who are poor, hungry, sad, or excluded. Jesus’ mission in the world is to embody that love of God, and to express it in actions of welcoming, healing, and helping towards all who are in need.

And for those who are choosing to follow the way of Jesus – like the fishermen who just left their nets to join in Jesus’ ministry of catching people – he is teaching them that his way is the way of love and particular concern for the poor. If they want to follow him, and if we want to follow him, then we are called to embrace that same priority.

We are called to love the people that Jesus loves. We are called to embody God’s blessing for the poor in the ways we heal, help, and share our resources each and every day.

I already gave one example in the children’s message today about how members of First Church have been working with other churches to provide a Saturday Bag Lunch program for people in Regina who are hungry on the weekends. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m thinking of the gifts we give to various mission organizations in our city and around the world. I’m thinking of refugee sponsorship and emergency relief and individuals giving towards vaccines for people in countries that don’t have as much access as we do.

I’m thinking of others who are volunteering in community organizations and advocating for changes in social services to assist people in more ongoing ways. And I’m thinking of people diligently working through the ups and downs of this pandemic as front-line workers, health care providers, community leaders, and caring neighbours towards those who have struggled the most.

Although earlier generations and people in other parts of the world have endured some very difficult times of war, famine, disease, and poverty, the Covid-19 Pandemic is probably the worst thing that has happened at least in my lifetime in this part of the world. And as we all see on the news, and perhaps witness when we walk or drive past the protesters on Albert Street, many of our neighbours have become so frustrated and fed-up with the pandemic that they’ve taken to the streets to demand an end to it all.

Unfortunately, the protests have gotten quickly out of control – turning into an occupation of downtown Ottawa and a hardship for others whose livelihoods depend on the borders between Canada and the U.S. being open for travel. Besides the harassment and intimidation of other citizens by many in the so-called “Freedom Convoy” the protests have been co-opted by extremists promoting hatred, racism, and threats against our democratically-elected government leaders.

I don’t know if there’s any way to convince people who have become swept up in this movement that most of them are not the poor, the hungry, or the oppressed. Indeed, the fact that they could take time off to drive trucks and RVs across the country and then spend weeks parking and partying illegally in the streets of Ottawa demonstrates that they have a pretty high level of freedom and privilege in this country.

But rather than get caught up in the divisiveness and the rising frustration and anger on both sides, I think what Jesus calls us to do in times like these is to love the people that Jesus loves. To reach out to and help those who are most vulnerable – those who are isolated, harassed, or struggling from the impacts of both the pandemic and the protests.

I have a lot of family and friends in Ottawa, and I’ve heard the frustration and the anger at what has happened and the seeming inability of both police and politicians to bring it to a conclusion. Yesterday, I heard about a peaceful counter-protest with signs and chants and people walking through the streets calling for an end to the occupation.

But I also heard about an online group that has formed in Ottawa called the “Centretown Helpers,” with people dedicated to helping residents in Centretown with whatever they need during the ongoing protests.

They’re thinking of seniors, people with disabilities, and others with young children. They’re thinking of members of the LGBTQI Community and People of Colour, and others who risk harassment and violence when they go out on the streets in their own neighbourhoods. The group is working together to do things like bring groceries, offering rides, and walk people safely where they need to go.

Disciples of Jesus, our Lord proclaimed and enacted God’s blessing and special concern for the poor, the hungry, the oppressed and struggling ones. And Jesus taught his disciples to share his concern and embody his blessing for the most vulnerable in our communities. May such wisdom and goodness guide our thoughts, actions, and commitments today also. And may God’s love sustain and encourage us in these days.