Saturday, February 16, 2019

Grace for All, Privilege for None, Year C, Epiphany 6, Luke 6.17-26

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
The Good News for all in this text is bad news for some.
Grace is like that.
But first a story.
Elaine was a dear, but cantankerous old saint.  And she wasn’t hesitant at all to speak her mind.
She introduced herself to me as the pillar of the congregation.  Not only that, but she said things like “Did you know Sandpoint has a snob hill?  We live on it.”  Elaine had money and she wasn’t hesitant to let you know it.
One day the subject of John 14, verse 2 came up.
In the Revised Standard Version that verse reads:
“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
“When did heaven get downgraded, Pastor?”
“What do you mean?” I responded.
"These new translations. " In my Father’s house are many rooms 
Room?? Who said anything about a room! King James Version said " In my Father's house are many mansions:" When I get to heaven I'm not settling for a room! I want a mansion."
The Greek word is μονή, (monay) which means:  lodging, dwelling-place, room, abode, or mansion.
So it’s not a matter of one translation being right and the other wrong.
Unless of course you’re Elaine.
She definitely wanted a mansion.
Today’s Gospel lesson is a tough one in many ways.
It’s Jesus’ teaching in the “Sermon on the Plain”. 
Similar to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew's Gospel, the Sermon on the Plain represents some of Jesus’ core preaching.
In this Sermon Jesus’ says things like:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
And "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
But first these words of contrast from today’s lesson.
They are the epitome of Good News/Bad News.
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
"Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
"Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
"Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
"Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 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.
"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
Some have called this the “great reversal”.
The status quo is changing.
It’s great news for those who struggle now.
Not so hot for those who live on “snob hill” looking down on the rest.
Jesus is a revolutionary. 
What do we make of Jesus’ words here?
If we take Jesus at face value here, actually listening to what he says, and not changing his words to suit our own desire, it doesn’t bode well for us who live in one of the richest and most prosperous nations of all time.
On the other hand if you are a Christian living in impoverished places like some parts of Africa or South America, for example, these words of Jesus might speak of hope and be filled with grace.
The bottom line is Jesus’ message is one of good news to the poor, the forgotten, the outcast, and those struggling in this life.
But he is equally at odds with the rich, the elite, the religious leaders, and powerful of his day.
So what do we make of this?
Let’s start with grace.
That’s been our theme for the last few weeks.
God’s unmerited favor offered freely to all.
And it’s a great leveler.  We all stand on equal footing under the grace of God.
To put it differently, there are no “snob hills” in the Kingdom of God.  There will not be mansions for some and shanties for the rest.
One of my favorite passages about the Kingdom of God comes from Isaiah 11:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
What Isaiah envisions is an end to the predator and prey world we live in where some prosper at the expense of others. 
There will be no rich and poor.
There will not be some who hunger while others are satisfied.
There will not be some consumed with sorrow, while others revel in delight.
There will not be some who enjoy great power and prestige while others are ridiculed and reviled.
It’s probably symbolic that Jesus’ offers this teaching on a “level place” because what he speaks of is a level playing field for all.
Grace is that way.
We stand equally blessed by the grace of God, and its impossible under God’s grace for some to rise to the top of the pecking order while others sink to the bottom.
This is actually Good News for all, because God grace is offered freely to all.
Yet if you are accustomed to great privilege, to being on top of the world looking down on the rest of creation, it will be a rude awakening.
Imagine, for example, if the United States was no longer a “super power” and was simply equal to all other nations.
Or imagine if all possessed equal power.
Or imagine if there were no poor, but also no rich in the land.  Everyone was simply middle class.
There would be rejoicing on the part of those who were lifted up, but dismay on the part of those who were brought down to a level place.
One example from our Church:
When the ELCA was formed back in 1988 we recognized that throughout the history of the church as a whole, and our own history in particular, the predominant leadership, power, and privilege was vested in white, male, clergy.
The ELCA sought to correct that and mandated quotas.
Lay people were to be represented in more significant numbers.  Here it should be noted that in most of our gatherings clergy, who are a very small percentage of the church, still compromise a significant proportion of the assemblies, just not quite as high a percentage as before.
Men and women were to be represented in equal numbers.
And we intentionally sought out minorities and people whose first language was other than English to be part of the leadership, and future of the Church.
This action opened up many opportunities for people who had not had them before.
If you were a black, woman, lay person the doors opened up for you.
But the white, male, clergy screamed bloody murder.
We had been accustomed to being on top, and now that we stood as equals to our lay, and women, and minority brothers and sisters we felt like we’d been demoted. 
And yet, even so, we white male clergy still possess a disproportionate amount of power in the Church, just not quite as much as before.
Back to God’s grace.
God’s grace showers us all with abundant blessings.
All of us.
There’s only one Lord and Father of us all, the rest of us are children, equally loved, equally forgiven, and equally redeemed, not because we deserve it more than others, but simply because of the grace offered freely to us.
There are not those who are righteous on their own accord, and others that are accursed.
This should be good news for all. 
But in our sinfulness we tend to believe that some of us deserve a bit more of God’s favor, afterall, haven’t we been the ones who have striven the hardest.
Not so with God’s grace.
As Paul says in Romans 3:
For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
The Bottom line?  In the Kingdom of God there are not the privileged few, and the underprivileged masses. 
God loves us all as his children.  None of us are any better than the rest, for grace renders us all precious in the eyes of God.

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