6th Sunday After Epiphany

Let us pray.

Open the eyes of our heart, Lord,

That we might see your kingdom

On earth as it is in heaven.

Amen.

……………

“You Are Horrible People.”

Thus proclaims a headline from Macleans Friday morning,

After the horrifically callous reaction

That rocketed around Ontario

In response to a late-night Amber Alert.

There were indeed a shocking number of complaints –

Including to 911, which means legitimate emergencies were held up –

But while it’s tempting to mock Ontarians,

It behooves us to take a moment away from the speck in our neighbour’s eye

And focus on the log in our own.

I may have never used 911 as a complaint line,

But I have definitely been pretty peeved to receive a late night Amber or Silver Alert,

To have my sleep interrupted

For Somebody Else’s Problem.

It’s a sign of the times, perhaps.

Macleans certainly thinks so.

That this is yet more evidence

Of our increasing entitlement and isolation,

Our sense that we earned what we have

And this kind of thing is Somebody Else’s Problem

Because we have forgotten what we owe to each other.

But I’m not so sure it’s that new.

After all, the crowd Jesus is addressing is like that.

I love the way that Luke describes the wild diversity of this crowd

That has come all this way

To hear Jesus.

They have come

From all Judea,

Basically the whole of modern-day Israel

And some of Palestine.

From Jerusalem,

Way to the south of the Sea of Galilee.

From Tyre and Sidon,

In modern-day Lebanon.

This was quite a crowd

That Jesus has attracted!

But why have they come?

Luke tells us that too.

They came to hear him,

And to be healed of their diseases.

They came

Because they were hurting

And they needed help.

And Jesus helps them.

He cures their diseases.

But then he does more.

Because God always does more

Than we could ask or imagine

And sometimes more than we wish he would.

Then he says, 
“You are facing the wrong direction.

You are valuing the wrong things.”
Because in Jesus’s time,

It wasn’t exactly common to hear

“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.”

The poor weren’t blessed!

The poor were a sign of God’s disfavour.

The prevailing worldview at this time

Was that you earned whatever the universe was throwing at you,

Like The Secret,

That book from a couple decades ago?

Where you get back from the universe what you put into it.

So if something bad happens,

Well,

Maybe you should’ve been thinking more positively.

As you can see,

Our worldview hasn’t exactly changed much since that time.

Even Christians,

Who have these beatitudes

Who’ve heard Jesus’s words of blessing spoken over us

When we are at our poorest,

Our hungriest,

Our most tear-filled,

Have a tendency to make judgments based on outward appearances.

When good fortune or wealth comes to us,

We say that we are blessed,

Or “hashtag blessed”, as the kids say on Twitter.

There are Christian authors and pastors out there right now

Arguing that riches and fame

Promotions at work

The partner you want in life

All come to you as signs of God’s blessing and favour.

His approval on your life.

And folks who aren’t so fortunate?

Well, maybe they should buy a book about financial peace

Tighten their belts

Give up even more of life’s more frivolous pleasures.

That sounds like Somebody Else’s Problem.

These authors and pastors,

I am ashamed to say it,

Are liars.

Because Jesus doesn’t look upon those

Who are suffering

With judgment.

Jesus looks at those who are poor

Those who are hungry

Those who weep

Those who are persecuted

And hounded

And bullied for who they are and what they believe

And says that in His eyes

They are blessed.

And just in case we didn’t get the message,

He turns to those who have money,

Those who have good fortune,

Those whom the world would call blessed,

And he says that they have got it wrong too.

What counts as blessed is the exact opposite

Of that which we have deemed worthy.

The last shall be first

And the first shall be last.

And that can be hard listening

For those of us who might count as rich.

It’s a universal human tendency to start counting what’s rich

As exactly one tax bracket above your own,

But it’s safe to say that many of us in this room fit in that category,

At least, from a global perspective.

Lord knows there were many in the crowd

That fit that definition,

And I’ve always wondered what they felt

When they were hearing this.

I’ve always wondered if they translated his “Woe to you who are rich”

As “You Are Horrible People.”

I’ve always wondered

If any of them wandered away

If any of them wished there were a complaint department

For the kingdom of heaven,

“Um, excuse me, waiter?

I just ordered a healing,

I didn’t ask for the side order of a haranguing

About how rich and happy I am

While my neighbours suffer.”

But it’s important for us who fear

This loss of status

To remember

That to be last

Is not to be left out.

To be last

Is not to be denied.

To be last

When chosen voluntarily

Can be an extraordinary gift

That not only changes our perspective

But makes a whole new way of living possible.

There’s a folk tale

Found in many cultures.

In this folk tale,

We hear of a great banquet table set

With large dishes

Family style

In the centre of the table.

At each place are set

Comically large forks,

Far too unwieldy to be used

To feed yourself.

In hell, the story goes,

The diners are angry to discover the large forks,

And eventually starve

As they sit with their arms crossed

And scowls on their faces,

Ready to complain

That they have no way to partake

Of this sumptuous feast.

In heaven,

The same table is set.

The same comically large forks,

The same impossible task to feed yourself

But we find the diners happily feeding their neighbours across the table,

Because they have discovered that the table

Was set with the intention

That the diners would share.

The proper response to Jesus’s harsh words to the rich,

Isn’t to get defensive

About how we’re not really rich,

Or to feel guilty or ashamed of what we have received,

But to share it with our neighbours.

For then we will no longer be rich,

And the poor will no longer be poor.

The full ones will share their bread with the hungry,

So that no one will hunger and thirst in God’s kingdom.

The well off will cease their judgment

Of those who have less

Because they will recognize that in God’s eyes,

What we have,

What we have earned,

What we have accomplished,

Adds nothing

To the infinite love God already has for us.

Every week we pray

“Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done,

On earth

As it is in heaven.”

In that prayer,

We are asking God

To change our perspective

To match His own

That we might see God’s kingdom

Not far away,

Off in the clouds,

But right here,

Among us.

As Jesus often said,

“The kingdom of heaven

Has come near to you.”

This is what it entails.

This is what we are praying for.

That God would open our eyes

To change the way we look at the world

That we might see with His eyes,

And value what He values.

That we might witness a world

Designed for a community

That has a duty to care for our neighbours.

So that when we see a table set

With forks too long for us to use,

We might realize God’s holy invitation to share

So that everyone

May be blessed.

Amen.