Sermon on the Beatitudes according to Luke.
I want to talk to you this morning about Jesus. – Which probably doesn’t sound like such a radical idea, or even that surprising. It’s seems likely that you would have anticipated that when you came here this morning you would hear something about Jesus.
There’s a basic assumption I think that when people come to church and gather in prayer and sing together, that we all have some kind of personal and corporate relationship with the Son of God, that we have professed a faith, that we have committed our lives to his teaching, that we seek to understand him and his word in our lives. I think we all have that assumption, at least that’s my assumption. – That some way or another we all share in a common desire to be a faithful disciple, which means a student of Jesus Christ and to follow him and his word.
So today I want to ask you a fundamental question, What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in 2019 in America, in your town, at your age, at this time in history, what does it mean? Has being a disciple of Jesus Christ always meant the same thing or does it mean something different based on our culture, based on our generation?
It’s a question we may have been asked at the time of our confirmation, and may be never asked again. – And really it’s a question we should be wrestling over daily, seasonally, even hourly, because if we lose sight of that question, we aren’t asking the right question. It’s the first, essential question we need to ask ourselves if we really are serious about our faith. And if you think you know the answer before deeply exploring scriptures and engaging with others who are asking the same the same questions, then you are assuming to much.
What does it mean in this postmodern context to follow Jesus Christ. Postmodern, what does that mean? The first thing we have to accept and acknowledge is that we are living a culture that has moved from modernity to postmodernity. – We have been in this new era for about 20 years now. These shifts in culture happen about every 500 years when the church changes and tosses everything out and starts over. The first shift occurred between 30-70 AD, the second one occurred around 590AD with the end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages, the third one occurred in 1054 known as The Great Schism, the next one occurred around 1517 known as the Great Reformation and the Beginning of Modern Period and now 500 years later in 2000 plus we are in what has been called the postmodern period. Here is a snap shot of what that means. This is a time when we embrace multiple world views, (consider the internet), when we realize the universe is more complex than we realized, that your culture and experience frames how you see the world and that people are far more open to spirituality than those in the modern era. While the world may be fully functioning in the postmodern era, with these concepts in play in our work lives, our home lives, our leisure, everything, the church is still living in the modern era. – And friends, they aren’t coming back around the block to pick us up.
So, I ask again, what does it mean in this postmodern context to follow Jesus Christ? The answer requires reading the Bible, and really seeing and hearing what Jesus had to say, not what we hoped he said, or what we wanted him to say, but what he really said, like today when he came to level places so that people from all over could come to him and touch him and be healed and near him and then he looked at his disciples and said:
2 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice 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. 24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25“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. 26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
You will see a pattern here in his preaching in which he makes parallel comments between blessings and woes. This was a common preaching technique in antiquity – this back and forth way of speaking. Jesus goes back and forth between blessings and woes. Blessing, the Greek word meaning happy and woe, meaning pity. So Happy are those who are hungry and pity those are rich…. Wait, what? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? How can we turn this around so we aren’t uncomfortable? How can we rework this so we aren’t challenged? How can we give an alternative meaning so that we don’t have to believe that he said it… What does he mean? – How can hungry people be happy, and why would pity those who are wealthy?
Remember the parable about the farmer who was so wealthy that he planned to tear down all his barns and build new ones so he had enough room to store all his grain. He measured his wealth in possessions, but Jesus’ commentary on his life was that he was “not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21). So blessed are those, happy are those who are hungry for God, hungry for spiritual growth, hungry to be closer to God and pity, woe those who are rich in stuff, but don’t have anything deeper more meaning in their lives then stuff, and stuff is great, but it’s just stuff.
But saying blessed is the poor and woe to the rich and believing that in this culture of wealth and materialism is so contrasting to everything out there that says you will be happy when you drive a certain car, or live in a certain house, acquire more and more. I wonder, are we willing to give up this belief system and follow Jesus, or do we sort of hope we can worship both God and money and get away with it? Can we sort of cheat the system and hope Jesus won’t mind? I don’t think that’s how it works.
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? It means living in direct contrast to the world around us. If we are all in on this desire to follow him, we need some support. We need each other. We need to know there are other people with the same desire. We need to be held accountable. We need others to help keep us honest. When we center our lives in Jesus Christ, when Jesus becomes the one who organizes our lives, then there is no way we can stay the same.
Robin Meyers describes the risk of discipleship in his book, Saving Jesus from the Church. He writes,
Jesus’ invitation was not to believe, but to follow. Since it was once dangerous to be a follower of The Way, the church can rightly assume that it will never be on the right track again until the risks associated with being a follower of Jesus outnumber the comforts of being a fan of Christ. Until we experience Jesus as a radically disturbing presence, instead of a cosmic comforter, we will not experience him as true disciples. The first question any churchgoing should be asked and expected is: What are you willing to give up to follow Jesus?
I want to talk to you this morning about Jesus. I want to tell you that I do not have all of the answers or even some answers, in fact, I have more questions than answers. I only have a desire, a desire to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and like Thomas Merton I have to believe that the desire to be a disciple pleases him, that desire to know him, that desire to be more about what he taught then what the world taught, has to speak for something.
In this time of history where being a disciple of Jesus Christ seems harder to define and definitely cheaper to obtain, I pray that as a community of disciples we can all come together with that shared desire and that we never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if we do this we will be lead on the right road, though we may know nothing about it. Therefore will let us trust him always, though we may sometimes seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. Let us will fear not for he is ever with us, and he will never leave us to face our perils alone.”
I want to talk to you this morning about Jesus. ~Amen.