Saturday, November 02, 2013

Happiness and Lament in an Upside Down World

All Saints, 2013    Luke 6:20-31 20Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice 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.24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.25“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. 26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.
This passage from the gospel according to Luke may sound comforting.  For those of us who mourn today as we remember saints who have died, there may be a word of consolation when we hear, “blessed are you who weep, for you will laugh.” When a loved one dies, we need to hear this word- that the grief will lessen over time, that there will come a time when we will smile and laugh again.
Certainly when we are grieving, we need that comfort, we need that hope. But this passage also radically challenges a worldview that operates on merit- on how good or bad we are.
In his book Manna and Mercy, which I use with the faith formation classes, Pastor Dan Erlander explains it this way, “Since physical health was thought to be a sign of God’s blessing, sickness was assumed to be a punishment for sin.  Wealth was also thought to be a sign of God’s favor.  Therefore, poverty was considered a disgrace, a punishment from God. ”
Today’s gospel is often called the Beatitudes, from the Latin word “beatitudo”, meaning blessedness. The Greek word for that phrase “Blessed are you” is “makarioi este”, which means “happy are you”. This is an adjective, in a plural form, in the present tense.  It might be helpful to think of this phrase as if Luke were from the South- “y’all are happy now, y’all are fortunate now, y’all are blessed.” And when are these folks blessed or happy?  When they are poor, hungry, mourn, when they are hated, reviled, or excluded. And the flip side to this: Woe to y’all who are rich, woe y’all who are full, woe y’all who laugh, woe when people speak well of y’all.
We’ve probably heard these words so much that we’ve missed how radical they were when Jesus spoke them, how they turned the world on its head.  And because we don’t know how challenging they were, we also miss how they spoke a word of healing and hope to a people living in oppression and in profound disconnect from one another.
During the Roman occupation of Palestine at the time of Jesus, there were many who were hungry, poor, and mourning.  And at the time of the Early Christian Church, when this passage was written down by Luke, there were many early Christians who were being spoken badly of.  These people needed to hear that God blessed them, that there was reason to be happy- because most of the people they knew would have thought that their very situation was their fault, that there was something wrong with them.
At the same time, in Biblical economics, when someone is rich, it is because they have taken more than their fair share, and as a result, someone else is poor or hungry.  And how could one laugh if your community is suffering and dying?  The people who were laughing must have been oblivious to the plight of the people around them.  Those who had full bellies would not have known or perhaps didn’t think that the hungry were their responsibility.  They would have been disconnected from their community.
And so Jesus says, “Woe to you.” This “woe”, as one of my seminary professors, Robert Smith, taught, is like a word you would speak at your sister’s funeral- it’s not an accusation but a word of communal lament, a groan that everyone makes together.  It’s not clear in this passage if Jesus is crying out in pain for the disconnect of the society in which rich people feast and the poor are hungry or if Jesus is saying that the rich will cry out when they realize the effect of their actions.
Either way, these words from Jesus call for a different kind of community, one in which the lowly are lifted up  and the rich are humbled, and the rifts between the two are healed. This is a world in which everything is turned upside down but turns out right side up.
Over the generations, the kinds of people who continue to share that word of hope to those who are suffering and that word of challenge to those who are too comfortable- those people have been called saints. Sometimes, saints are people who live that upside down way of life- they point us toward Christ, shining a light when everything else seems dark.
After we sing the hymn of the day, we will light candles for the saints who have died, beginning with those who have died this year and were connected to this congregation. You are invited to light candles in thanksgiving for the saints who have died, and to name them aloud or to simply light a candle.  You may also light a candle at the time of communion.

Let us give thanks and praise God for the gift of the saints in our lives and for the saints who have walked into the dark places of the world to shine a light of hope and love. 

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