Loving God, look with compassion on the anguish of the world, and by your power make whole all peoples and nations. Amen
About ten days I had to renew my Drivers’ License. The last time I went to ICBC for this event it meant a 30 minute wait. You took your ticket and sat down and waited and waited for your numbered ticket to come up on the screen. However, since March 2020 some things have improved our lives and this experience was one of them. Of course, I was required to book a time for the appointment and arrived within five minutes of the appointed time. At the reception desk, after checking in I was invited to sit. As I was trying to extract my old license from my wallet my number came up. Within two or three minutes and having paid my $75 I was invited to have my photo taken. Not my favourite part of this procedure. At least it said not to smile; that bit was easy. Once the photo was taken I was invited to view the new me, but of course, the photos are small and I was trying to keep my social distance. I remarked it was likely no worse than the one that sat on my license for the last five years.
Whereas Matthew has the ‘sermon on the mount’ which covers several chapters of his gospel account, the so-called ‘sermon on the plain’ in Luke is much shorter, but still represents one of the longest passages of teaching in Luke’s gospel.
We might want to think this is the Lukan version of the beatitudes that appears in Matthew; however, Luke’s approach is quite different with four beatitudes and four woes. Luke’s point (which is well made and consistent with our experience of life) is that we may be, and indeed are blessed, but that doesn’t mean life isn’t a series of struggles of one form or another. There are many occasions in our lives when we face significant challenges (health, stress, the state of the world, the pandemic, worries about our kids or our parents of both, the death of a loved one) and yet we also know that we have a great deal to be grateful for.
Luke wants us to know that the Church (for him) includes the poor, where the community shares all things in common and therefore God provides.
Luke is not saying that those who are rich, who eat, laugh and enjoy life will later be hungry, mourning and weeping. However Luke is calling people to repent, and yes he does, it seems, want to shock those with wealth into repentance and to the sharing of their financial and material resources.
We know that at the heart of stewardship is the plain fact that nothing we have is ours, but is given to us by God, for the well-being of our families, our Church and the wider community. What God gives us, isn’t for us to keep, or store up in barns, but to share for the common good. That is why we have an offering each week, that is why we make pledges to commit ourselves financially to support the work of God in this Church and beyond, we are constantly encouraged to be generous. And it is worth repeating that our congregation has been exceedingly generous, especially during the last two years. At the end of 2021, we were $8,000 over what we, as a congregation, had pledged to give. It is a wonderful and faithful response to God.
We understand, according to one commentator, (Schweitzer), that Luke’s account is closer to Jesus’ own words, more so than the Matthew version. It is a call to action which begins with a promise of salvation, addressed to the poor. It is crucial that those who have nothing to offer can hear the promise of the coming salvation. Also, the ethical instructions that follow the promise, very much refer to God’s mercy to the unworthy as well as to the worthy.
This passage (says Schweitzer) is a call to the life of discipleship seen through the total ministry of Jesus and found throughout the gospel of Luke.
Jesus’ promise of salvation to the poor is addressed to the disciples in the narrower sense, (those closest to him), meaning those who have given up everything and suffer persecution. The woes meanwhile (vv24-26) are addressed to outsiders, those whom Luke terms false teachers, whom he criticizes for their love of riches and pleasure.
The narrower group of disciples are called to give special witness to help those who are rich, to achieve freedom from possessions. It is also addressed to those who have no need for anything or anyone, not even God. They rely purely on themselves for everything. All of us who have possessions need to pay close attention to this. For when we feel we have no need of one another or even God, we have some serious sorting out to do in our lives.
The beatitudes meantime are addressed to the poor, the hungry and those who weep.
Jesus, speaking to the poor, rejected the idea that earthly suffering was to be ignored as if the believer was already in heaven. Jesus expected his promise to be fulfilled in the future, yet his word can only assist those who hear and receive his word.
He promises the economically poor that their fate will change in the kingdom. Jesus also assures them that within the Christian community, things will change too, provided those who hear the message are moved and thereby changed. So if we respond as God intends, we can give or receive (according to our means) because we are no longer content with how things are in the world.
This means that as givers, we are called to action to support the life of the church, to give of our time and skills, as well as our financial resources. When we see our contribution can make a difference, we can give of God’s generosity, by giving generously ourselves. We cannot support the whole world but what we do can and does make a profound difference.
I’m still waiting for my new driving license, for now, it is a piece of yellow paper screwed up in my wallet. Will it be worse or better than before: we shall see?
More seriously a photograph is just an image. Who we are, what we are, is determined both by our actions and also by our words. God calls us to be generous, to give of ourselves from all that God has given to us. The call is there, how we respond is entirely up to us.