One of the roles of the Church is to ask the world a question. This question is, ‘How do you want to live?’ The readings this morning outline two possibilities: living in accordance with God’s will, or living by our own. It is clear which is preferable, and which way leads to human flourishing. So we have the challenge set before us of living this way as children of God. As we begin the countdown to Lent over the next few weeks, it is good to ponder such questions, and explore how we can support each other in living our faith in our lives.

The prophet Jeremiah offers us two different pictures. The first is of life without God, while the second is of life with God. Jeremiah’s imagery is stark and uncompromising:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.” (Jer 17:5-6)

If we trust in ourselves, and our own strength, then things will not go well. Life without God looks hard and difficult. But another way is possible:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jer 17:7-8)

Clearly, the latter way of life is preferable to the former. Trusting God is better than trusting humanity. Putting our trust in God, allowing Him to be in charge is not an admission of failure, but rather an acknowledgement of how things are supposed to be. It is a vision of how we can flourish as human beings and continue to thrive, even in difficult times.

In Luke’s Gospel we see the continuation of Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing. People come to Jesus because they want to know God, and they long for healing. They have come from a wide area, and are a diverse group of people, united by a common desire, to be closer to God. Unlike Matthew’s account, here Jesus does not go up a mountain to teach, but comes down to where people are. Before He teaches, Jesus heals the sick. This is important, because it reminds us that God comes among us to heal our wounds, and restore us. People want to touch Jesus, because they long for God’s healing love to transform them. Then Jesus proclaims the values of the Kingdom:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Lk 6:20)

To be poor in the world’s eyes is to lack money, possessions, power, and influence. All these worldly things do not matter. In the Kingdom of God, those who are poor, who recognise their complete dependance upon God, are truly rich. Because they have the humility to let God be at work in them, and rely upon God, rather than their own strength, they are able to be transformed. 

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.” (Lk 6:21)

Hunger here is both literal and metaphorical. Through a common life, and by practising radical generosity, Christians can deal with both. We long to see the world transformed, and Jesus points to a future when it will be. 

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Lk 6:21)

Jesus is announcing a Kingdom characterised by joy. The reality of the Kingdom has been demonstrated by the healings which precede the Sermon. We know from Nehemiah that ‘the joy of the Lord is [our] strength’ (Neh 8:10). Jesus is proclaiming a restored relationship with God so that humanity may enjoy life in all its fullness. 

Jesus recognises that His radical vision will meet with opposition:

Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Lk 6:22-23)

The reaction towards persecution is to be joy, which seems a little strange. Israel tends to reject prophets. Calling people to repentance and to change their lives is not easy. The point is that it is what God calls us to do, so we do it. 

There follows a series of four statements beginning with ‘Woe to you’. These parallel the earlier positive statements about the Kingdom. They turn human values upside down, and say to those who trust in themselves, their riches and abilities, that all will not go well for them in the future. Those who will not listen to Jesus because they think they do not need to will soon find out that they were wrong. 

At its heart, Christianity looks dangerous and suspect to the world around us, and so it should. As Christians, we are not conformed to the ways of the world, but rather to the will of God. We don’t just go along with things, because that is what everyone does, instead we follow a higher authority. We cannot be bought off with baubles and trinkets, with wealth or power, things of this world. This is because we acknowledge someone greater, namely God. We try to live as God wants us to live, acknowledging Him before all things. There should be something strange and different about us, something that others can see, something that reflects Christ.

Jesus died to reconcile us to God and each other, and was raised from the dead to give humanity hope in the God who loves us. This hope inspired St Paul to preach the Good News, and it should inspire us as well. We need to live out our faith in our lives. Our beliefs need to make a difference to who and what we are, so that others might see the truth of the Gospel. What we do here in church helps us to love our neighbour. We hear God’s word, and are nourished by it. We pray together for the Church and the World, and those in need. In the Eucharist, Christ fill us with His grace to strengthen and transform us.

So let us prepare to rely upon God, be filled with His Joy and Love, and share it with others so that they may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

James Tissot The Sermon of the Beatitudes (Brooklyn Museum)

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