"PLAIN TALK"

LUKE 6:17-26

18 Aug 2013

 

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            Let's begin with a show of hands.  How many of you prefer Star Wars over Star Trek.  How many of you prefer Star Trek over Star Wars?  How many of you don't see that much of a difference between the two?  How many of you don't care for either?

            Star Wars and Star Trek have many things in common.  They both happen in the distant future.  Both involve space travel.  Both have recurring characters.  Both also have strange looking characters.  Both have devoted fans.  But there are some differences.   For example, Richard Ho, writing for The Harvard Crimson, states that the heroes of Star Wars such as Han Solo and Luke Skywalker have a swashbuckling style while the heroes of Star Trek, particularly Captain Picard and Mr. Spock, resolve their challenges with science and intellect.  The Denver Post highlights differences in approach, noting Star Wars' "swashbuckling" and "gunslinger" style compared with Star Trek's "broader themes of utopian living, justice and identity".  Finally, Wikipedia, says a key difference between the franchises may be that Star Trek is more a space opera while Star Wars is more a space western.

            I mention all this because we come to something similar and yet different this morning.  I'm speaking of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.  Luke's version is similar, yet different from Matthew's version of the sermon.  Let's turn to those similarities and differences now.  After choosing The Twelve, which we looked at last week, let's read what comes next.  Verse 17.

 

            He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.

 

            Note a couple of things.  First, note the setting.  He stood on a level place.  He's not on a mountain, he's in the valley on a plain.  For Luke, it's not going to be "The Sermon on the Mount."  It's going to be "The Sermon the Plain."  Same sermon, different locales.  Second, note the composition of the crowd.  Luke mentions the crowd being from Judea, Jerusalem and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.  The mention of Tyre and Sidon implies that there were also Gentiles in the crowd, not just Jews.  Let's continue reading.  Verse 18. 

 

            They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.  And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

            Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

 

            Reading that last line it seems as if the Sermon on the Plain is directed primarily to the disciples, and that would be correct, however, look with me at the closing line of the sermon to 7:1 ... After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people he entered Capernaum.

            In other words, this is not "insider information" being communicated here to the disciples.  There is nothing secretive or exclusive here.  If the larger crowd wants to listen in to what Jesus is teaching the disciples, all the better.  And they did.

            OK, let's begin reading the beginning of The Sermon on the Plain, and as we do let me point out another difference between the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain.  Luke's version of the sermon is much shorter.  Matthew's version spans three chapters, Luke's version only one.  Not only that, Matthew's version begins with nine blessings.  We know them as "The Beatitudes."  Not Luke.  He has only four blessings, four beatitudes, and then, for balance, he adds four woes.  Let's read. 

 

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

            Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled."

            Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh."

            "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice 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."

            "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation."

            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."

            "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."

 

             After reading Luke's beginning of the sermon, let me point out one last difference:  Luke's version is tougher than Matthew's version.  Matthew has Jesus saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."  Luke doesn't.  He says, "Blessed are the poor," period.  He doesn't spiritualize it.  Matthew says, "Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness."  Luke doesn't.  He says, "Blessed are the hungry," those who go to bed with their stomach growling.  No spiritualizing the sermon for Luke.  Matthew's version is quite lovely, quite poetic, not Luke's.  Luke's version of the message is stark, hard, shocking. 

            Remember where we are.  In this sixth chapter Jesus finally begins to teach.  He outlines what it means to be a Christian, what it means to live as a Christian in the world.  Up to this point, through the first five chapters, he really hasn't taught anything.  In fact, up to now, he has hardly said anything.  It has all been action, very little dialogue.  He has healed the sick and he has sparred verbally with the Pharisees.  He has called the disciples, and he has attracted crowds that are getting larger every time he performs a miracle.

            Now we are at the sixth chapter.  Jesus comes down from the mountain with the twelve, and after healing a number of folk, he begins to teach.  We might expect an introductory lecture, Christianity 101, but no, he begins with a post-graduate course on being a Christian.

            As we reflect on the beginning of the Sermon on the Plain, I think of the man who walked into a bookstore to return a purchase.  "It's a Bible," he said to the clerk at the cash register.

            "Was it a gift?" asked the clerk.

            "No, I bought it for myself," he said, "and I made a mistake."

            "Didn't you like the translation?"

            "Oh no," the man said, "the translation was fine.  I made a mistake."

            The clerk said, "Well, I need to write down a reason for the return."

            "In that case," said the man, "write down that there is a lot in that book which is tough to swallow."

            There are a number passages in the Bible that are tough to swallow, hard to comprehend.  This is one of them.  "Blessed are the poor, woe to the rich.  Blessed are the hungry, woe to those who stuff their stomachs.  Blessed are those who weep, woe to those who laugh.  Blessed are those who are hated, woe to those with a good reputation."

            What a strange way to look at life!  The ones whom the world ignores are the ones who receive God's blessing.  The ones whom the world honors are the ones who are cursed.  It is a complete reversal of the way we usually see things.

            And don't think for a moment that I have the key to unlock what Jesus is saying here.  I've studied the words of Jesus for forty-plus years now, taken graduate courses on making sense of Jesus' teachings, and I can't give you the key to Jesus' words today.  I only know what I consider to be what the most significant part of this text.  For me the most significant part of our text for this morning is that Jesus came down from the mountain to be with the people, and he brought his disciples with him.  The coming down from the mountain is the beginning of the disciple's instruction.  By coming down from the mountain Jesus is saying, "This is where Christianity is to work.  This is where you are supposed to be, where people are, not on a mountain top."

            And when he came down from that mountain top, Jesus said, "Blessed are you who are poor, and who are hungry, and whose lives are filled with pain and with sorrow."  He is promising that someday those things are going to change.  Someday the tables will be turned.  Someday the world is going to be the way it is supposed to be. Someday. Someday, just not today.

            In the meantime, his followers are to identify with the poor.  We can't be a follower of Jesus, at least a serious follower of Jesus, and store up wealth for the future, and ignore those people who have nothing in the present.  We can't dine sumptuously everyday, and not be concerned about those who are hungry.  We can't laugh and have a good time, and not care about people who have very little to smile about.  Someday that is going to be different.  Someday the world will operate as God intended, but until that day we are to care about the poor, the hungry, and for those who weep.

            I love the story of Marion Preminger.  She was born in a castle in Hungary in 1913.  The castle had eighteen bedrooms.  It had a dining hall with a table that could seat 84 people.  It made Downtown Abbey look like a summer cottage.

            Her grandmother, who lived with the family, insisted that whenever they traveled on the train, or stayed in a hotel, that they take their own linen, because, she said, it was beneath the dignity of her family ever to sleep on linens that had been slept on by somebody else.

            At eighteen she went to school in Vienna.  She met a young, wealthy man, and married him.  They divorced within a year.  She stayed on in Vienna and became an actress.  There she met a young German director named Otto Preminger.  They fell in love, and were married.  He was invited to come to America and make movies in Hollywood.  While living there Marion and Otto began to live the rather sordid life that was typical of Hollywood, especially in those days.  They eventually divorced.

            She went back to Europe, to live in Paris as a wealthy socialite.  One day she picked up the newspaper and saw that Albert Schweitzer, the medical missionary, was visiting Europe.  He was on leave from his hospital in Africa, in Europe to play concerts, to raise money for his hospital.  He was staying at a village called Gunsbach.  She phoned and asked if she could see him.  They said to come, that she could see him the next day.

            She found him playing the organ in a little church.  She sat down and listened to him play.  He noticed her presence.  She introduced herself.  He asked, "Can you read music?"  She said, "Yes."  He said, "Will you turn the pages for me?"

            He invited her to dinner that evening.  She participated in one of those famous Schweitzer meals.  The old man at the head of the table, surrounded by admirers.  He would end the meal with a scripture reading and the Lord's Prayer.  Marian knew by the end of the meal that she had found what she had always been looking for.

            Schweitzer invited her to come back to Africa to work in the hospital in French Equatorial Africa.  She accepted.  She began to work among the poor.  This woman, who was raised in a castle, to be served by a host of maids and butlers, now became a servant.  She changed bandages, she washed bodies, she fed lepers who had no hands left with which to feed themselves.  And she felt blessed.

            When she died, the obituary in the New York Times quoted her.  She said, "Albert Schweitzer used to say that there were two kinds of people in this world.  There are the helpers and there are the non-helpers. I  am a helper."

            Let me summarize what I believe Jesus is saying here.  Let me offer a summary beatitude.

            "Blessed are those who care about the down and out, for theirs is the Kingdom of God."