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     Sermons | Passionate worship

    This sermon was preached by Pastor Keith Cardwell at Swift Presbyterian Church.

    Feb. 17, 2019 | Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

    Blessed or Cursed?
    Luke 6:17–26  Jeremiah 17:5–10

     H OW MANY OF YOU ate breakfast this morning? How many will have lunch? Was your house warm or cool enough? Did you have a home to sleep in? You all are dressed pretty well — each a little different, but I think you had several options of clothes to wear this morning. I hope you feel strong, because Jesus has some hard things for us to hear and think about.

    He was talking to his disciples, people who had decided to follow him. His is talking to us also.

    Blessed are the poor … but woe to the rich.
    Blessed are the hungry … but woe to those who are full.
    Blessed are the weeping … but woe to those that are laughing.
    Blessed are the rejected … but woe to those who are accepted.

     † † † 

    THIS IS HARD TO HEAR. Jesus is not saying, at least in Luke, hurray for the poor in spirit. Or holy are those hungry for bread of life. He’s not saying blessed are those who weep in repentance. We can’t soften the blow by taking this as something other than literal.

    It’s as if he’s saying, “Let me give you a lay of the land. Look around. It looks like the rich, the well-fed, the happy, and the admired have it made. It looks like God’s blessings belong to them. Look around. It looks like the poor, the hungry, the sad, and the excluded are left out. It looks like God’s blessings do not belong to them.”

    Actually, the opposite is true: The kingdom of God belongs to the poor, the hungry, the sad, the excluded. When heaven comes to earth, as it has now begun to come, it is the least of these who will have the places of highest honor! And the others? Woe to you who are rich, well fed, happy, or admired — for the comforts you enjoy today will be, for you, as good as gets.

    Please, O Lord, don’t let this be as good as it gets.

     † † † 

    I HAVE TROUBLE hearing this and reading this and preaching on this today. Because between those two options I am not poor, hungry, sad or outcast. Woe is me. Jesus is crystal clear that riches and worldly prestige present major obstacles to participating in God’s coming kingdom.

    What obstacles? Luke, as a whole, suggests several:

    ■ distraction
    ■ arrogance
    ■ missed opportunities for generosity

    Does this mean there’s no hope for me, for you, for us, for the rich or admired, the full and happy? Is Jesus demanding we go, sell, and become poor, hungry, sad, and outcast in order to be blessed? I hope not. But these “woes” challenge us to examine our ways and to make sure whatever we have, whoever we are, we are part of the Jesus movement.

    After all, regardless of how camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle difficult it is for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom, Jesus later puts it this way:

    “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”

    In other words, while the “woes” are indeed tough and uncompromising, it’s never too late to get on board with Jesus!

     † † † 

    BECAUSE WE HAVE THESE THINGS that make our lives easier — money, food, laughter, admiration — we have responsibilities. We have to be careful to use them well to help others. I am telling you that is not easy! I work hard every day to do that — to live a more just and generous way of living.

    But this is not just about how we see ourselves, but how we see others. People we often write off are the very ones blessed by God. People we overlook are the blessed. Those who we misuse, abuse, discard, discount, call subhuman are the very people Jesus calls blessed. Woe to you and woe to me when we fail to see and live that.

     † † † 

    The book’s cover

    THE CHILDREN’S BOOK The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes is too long to read aloud today. It tells the story of the established girls at school, the been-together-since-kindergarten girls, teasing the new girl.

    The new girl who wears the same dress every day. The new girl who lives in the poor part of town. The new girl with a strange last name. The new girl. It’s a familiar story whether it’s girls at school, people in church, or friends on the job. It’s a familiar story of sides we take when we hear about events taking place that have gone viral. The established girls laugh at her, tease her, taunt her every day as she arrives at school because she only has one dress.

    She defends herself by claiming she has 100 dresses at home. Yet, she wears the same old dress every day.

     † † † 

    THE STORY IS TOLD from the perspective of Maddie. Maddie is part of the teasing group. She worries that one day the group might make fun of her. She is not the best dressed. She is not from a well-off family. She’s uncomfortable making fun of the new girl. She could speak up to her friends. She could tell them to leave the new girl alone. She could suggest they welcome the new girl into their clique. But she doesn’t.

    Maddie chooses to do nothing to stop the others and their humiliating laughs. In fact, she chooses to join in with the taunting.

    Finally the new girl leaves school. A letter from her father states they are moving to a place where she will not be teased so cruelly. The girl leaves behind 100 drawings of beautiful dresses, dresses just as she described to the taunting girls. And she leaves the most beautiful to the girls who taunted her.

     † † † 

    BLESSED AND WOEFUL. We often miss who is who.

    People in Jesus’ day often thought rich people were smart and good and poor people were dumb and bad — why else would they end up poor? That is often still the case today.

    Part of Jesus’ point in this text is that poor people (or poorly dressed people), hungry people, sad people, and outcast people are as much God’s children as are wealthier people with full bellies, happy smiles and lots of clout.

    Jesus says woe to you who believe appearance determines blessing.

    — Keith Cardwell   

    «These ‘woes’ challenge us to examine our ways
    and to make sure whatever we have, whoever we are,
    we are part of the Jesus movement.»

    SCRIPTURE FOR THE DAY

    Luke 6:17–26
    Holy Bible, New International Version


    Blessings and Woes
    17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

    20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

    “Blessed are you who are poor,
        for yours is the kingdom of God.

    21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
        for you will be satisfied.
    Blessed are you who weep now,
        for you will laugh.

    22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
        when they exclude you and insult you
        and reject your name as evil,
            because of the Son of Man.

    23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

    24 “But woe to you who are rich,
        for you have already received your comfort.

    25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
        for you will go hungry.
    Woe to you who laugh now,
        for you will mourn and weep.

    26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
        for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

    — The Word of God for the people of God.
    — Thanks be to God.



    Jeremiah 17:5–10
    Holy Bible, New International Version


    5 This is what the LORD says:

    “Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
        who draws strength from mere flesh
        and whose heart turns away from the L
    ORD.

    That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
        they will not see prosperity when it comes.
    They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
        in a salt land where no one lives.

    “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
        whose confidence is in him.

    They will be like a tree planted by the water
        that sends out its roots by the stream.
    It does not fear when heat comes;
        its leaves are always green.
    It has no worries in a year of drought
        and never fails to bear fruit.”

    The heart is deceitful above all things
        and beyond cure.
        Who can understand it?

    10 “I the LORD search the heart
        and examine the mind,
    to reward each person according to their conduct,
        according to what their deeds deserve.”

    — The Word of God for the people of God.
    — Thanks be to God.


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