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A Level Playing Field

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Psalm 1

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Luke 6:17-26

Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany

February 13, 2022

 A Level Playing Field

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Last month at confirmation, we talked about the 10 commandments. This was also at the same time that we shut down and moved our ministry virtually so we held confirmation via Zoom. I love teaching confirmation. I am a catechist—teaching the basics of our faith to all ages. We finally reached the point in our confirmation curriculum where we are opening up the catechism and of course, it had to be on zoom. Normally, I would teach the 10 commandments one hour a week. They take about 12 weeks to get through all and cover them. However, since I began my ministry 10 years ago, confirmation has changed and I moved to teaching 5 commandments over the course of two 4 hour sessions. Last month, taking pity on the confirmands, we only did an hour session on the 10 commandments. Something that we to take me 3 months, I did in an hour. I feel guilty that I skipped over so much of the commandments, so obviously, as on as I read this this text, my mind started to drift back to our Lutheran understanding of the 10 commandments and I began to wonder how something like the 10 commandments might fit into something like the beatitudes.

There are A lot of people who have have very strong feelings about the 10 commandments. Some think they are so important that they should be displayed in government places. Growing up, I remember a copy of the 10 commandments hung on the wall of our house. They were a wedding gift my parents received and it apparently was popular in the 80’s because I have seen them in many homes over the years. Some of us had to memorize them in confirmation and some had to repeat them in front of the congregation. Thankfully, I did not or I might not be standing in this pulpit today. I have heard many terrifying stories from former church goers of having to stand up in front of the congregation and recite them on their confirmation day.

To me, this is a bit odd especially in light of the reality that we are the people who coined the theological concept of justification by grace and how it is not our own works that save us but Christ who saves. Why do we place so much weight on memorizing 10 laws and no weight on memorizing anything from the Book of Concord? Nobody ever talks about memorizing the different articles of the Augsburg Confession, something that I think is way more important to know than memorizing the 10 commandments. I often wonder if we have moved to far away from Luther when it comes to the 10 commandments. We know that Luther “insisted that Moses’ rendition of the Ten Commandments was simply his meditation on the natural law of God written on all human hearts.” And that is not to say that Luther thought the 10 commandments should be ignored. Quite the contrary. Luther is way to much of a traditionalist to just throw out a piece of scripture. Instead, Luther’s inclusion of the 10 commandments in the small catechism was more of a way to drive the reader to the gospel (which could be found in the third article of the Creed—I believe that I cannot believe.

Yet, I am keenly aware that Lutherans, and most Christians for that matter today, really do love the law because it the law’s simplicity. I hear so often, “Pastor, just tell it to me straight; black and white.” And the law does that, right? You know where you stand with the law. I mean, even though the law might have you curled up in the corner in fear and agony, at least you know where you stand.

You know when you kill someone, you broke the 5th commandment. You know when you steal that you broke the 7th commandment. You know when you don’t put God first, you break the first commandment. And not only that, not only forbids but directs us. As Luther writes in his explanation to the 7th commandment: We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs. It is that “instead” part of the explanation that always get us. I might not have never stabbed another man, but I don’t always look out for the good of my fellow neighbor. Most of the time, I place Matt Day’s needs before my neighbors needs.

I think as Christians, we should be careful how we hold up the 10 commandments. Our Lutheran understanding of law is that the law serves as the thing that condemns us as worthless, sinners, undeserving of God’s love or mercy that drive us to the gospel. When we cry for justice, in this example, justice is that we as the breakers of law should suffer for our transgressions. You know, nobody ever argues to have the beatitudes hung in public places—just the law. What does that say about us?

We much rather have a something that condemns us rather than a document that speaks of blessings. Perhaps that is because the beatitudes really mess it all up, right? It is no longer simple, black and white. Our Lord calls the poor blessed, yet how do treat them? Many of us know that Matthew records a very similar sermon of Blessings in Matthew chapter 5: 1-12. However, “there are significant differences between the two Gospels’ famous sermons. Perhaps the most significant difference is apparent in Luke 6:20, where Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” while Matthew 5:3 has him saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” In Luke, Jesus speaks about real economic and social poverty, pronouncing God’s blessing upon those who suffer such hardship.”

Justo Gonzalez, a Cuban-American historical theologian and Methodist elder, “calls this a “hard-hitting gospel” in that God’s good news to the poor is also tough news for those who are not poor. For God’s reign to be good news for the well-fed, rich, laughing, and admired, they will have to wake up and change their ways.

I think we often try to overlook or spiritualize this aspect of Luke’s gospel, but I just don’t think that we can especially when you consider the whole narrative like the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:14-31 or the man who would build two barns in Luke 12:16-21. In both those parables, the riches distract from heeding the ways of God and lead these men away from life with God now and in the hereafter.” There is no denying the truth about Luke’s gospel—Luke shows no mercy toward those who are greedy and rich. And that is a challenge for us to all to hear. It is especially a challenge for a preacher like me—a preacher in Middletown, MD where homes are costing over a half a million dollars and median income is on of the highest in the state. This gospel cuts me just as deep as it cuts you. One of the dangers here is that we allow these words to imply that it is better to be poor, hungry, and the like than to be rich, well-fed, and the like. Does God only love us when we are miserable?” Instead, as one commentator said, “[These blessings] are promises to those who are suffering in this world that God still sees them, loves them, and is intent on their thriving.” And at the same time, “Jesus’ words are also warning calls to his hearers that they are called to live with attention and generosity toward their neighbors...” See, that is the problem with the beatitudes, these blessings and woes, because they put us in this weird gray zone. Where the law tells you exactly where you stand, the blessings from Jesus both comfort and conflict us.

2000 years ago, I am pretty confident in that the hearers would not have been wealthy or elite. The people coming out to Jesus were there because they had nowhere else to turn and our Lord’s blessings and woes would have been heard very differently. Nonetheless, these blessings and woes remind us that God is creating a realm where…no one is hungry or mourning or poor or disregarded and this new realm with push away the old realm where only some are abundantly well-fed, rich, laughing, and respected. God promises to remedy this and we are called to address in our own lives.

The beatitudes both pronounce blessing and serve as a reminder to where our mission lies. It lies with the people who God deems and names as blessed. And woe to any of us, woe to any congregation in Christ’ church who thinks or acts to the contrary. This message of blessing and woes, the gospel, should make us all feel uneasy because Jesus’ words are suppose to challenge us to think differently. You can’t keep calling yourself a Christian and act contrary to the words of Jesus. Showing up to church once a week doesn’t cut it either if you are not going to try to live any differently. God did something completely different by sending us his son to be born and live among us. He didn’t come to afflict the uncomfortable and bring comfort to the comfortable. He came to give rest to those who have no rest, to give comfort to those who know no comfort, and to afflict to those who act to the contrary to God’s Word. People of God, our Lord has given us the opportunity to be a blessing to others, to declare as well as be a blessing those who know no blessing. All this talk about something to unite around here at Zion…I don’t what that something is yet, I hope that whatever we can unite around, I hope it rooted in our mission to declare blessings to those who Christ calls bless and simultaneously allows us to fulfill our mission and bring God’s blessing to them as well.

In thee name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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