Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C, Feb 11, 2007

Many of you may have heard the State of the Union address a few weeks ago. I confess to having missed it, but I was able to hear plenty of clips in the news in the days that followed. The President talked about issues like making health care available for more Americans. The Congress is trying to raise the minimum wage. But imagine what the response would have been had the President just got up and said “the poor are blessed and so are the hungry” and left it at that. There would have been outrage. And yet, that is the message in the Gospel today. It seems rather bleak and hopeless to me and in fact doesn’t offer much tangible hope to those around us in need. Why do we help sponsor a food bank if this is true?

Now you might be saying to yourself, “hey, the words today from the Gospel just do not seem quite right” this morning. Most of us are more used to hearing the words known as “The Beatitudes” from the Gospel of Matthew. There is a significant and important difference between Matthew and Luke in reporting this sermon of Jesus. In Luke we hear “blessed are you who are poor” while Matthew records “blessed are the poor in spirit”. Luke says “blessed are you how are hungry now” and Matthew says “blessed are you who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Quite a difference!

Because Matthew spiritualizes the text, it is easier to accept. If we are talking about spiritual hunger then that is not quite so hard a concept to swallow. However, Luke’s stark message forces us to confront ourselves and our ideas. It is one thing to say the poor in spirit are blessed, we can all live with that. But to say that the poor are blessed is tough to accept or believe.

Somehow I have to find truth in it because God said it. The first truth I see in this is the realization that God values things I might not value. Or certainly God looks at things much differently than I do. That serves as a warning and challenge to my own, often cherished, views. I need to be willing to look critically at my thoughts and believes and realize that I just might not be looking at something the way God would look at it. This is a lesson the apostles seemed to have to learn over and over again, and so in that I take some comfort, God will be patient with me on this path.

And yet at the same time, the poor being blessed is not all God said. I am mindful that in the Book of James we are warned that our faith is dead if the hungry come to us and we just pat them on the head and send them on their way without feeding them. God challenges us to do something specific about those in need around us. To fail to do so is to fail the test of loving our neighbor as ourselves.

The poor are blessed because God has always expressed a “preferential option” for watching over, protecting, caring and calling others to care for those who most need it. This includes the poor and the often used phrase of “widows and orphans”.

I think another reason the poor are blessed and promised the kingdom of God is that they are less likely to fall into the idolatry that so easily entices us who are wealthy. As the Scriptures warn us else where it is easy to let the concerns of wealth distract us from God. But to me this seems like little consolation if your family is going to bed hungry. So in the end I’m left to puzzle over this. The poor are blessed by God in ways that I and perhaps they cannot understand.

We are also faced once again with the question of the Kingdom of God and that pesky Greek word basolia which can contain so many meanings. While generally translated kingdom or realm some scholars have suggested that a better translation might well be purpose as I have shared with you before. Looking at this particular part of the passage in this light we get a significantly different meaning. Blessed are the poor because theirs is the purpose of God. This reminds me of the story of the man born blind from birth. When everyone was assuming that he was blind because of his or his parents sins Jesus made quite clear that he was blind to serve the purpose of God. If the poor are indeed part of the purpose of God, what is the reasoning?

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