preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 17
February 2019 by the Rev. Ewing W. [Bud] Carroll, Jr. The scripture readings that day were Jeremiah 17:5–10, 1 Corinthians 15:12–20, Luke 6:17-26
Long before we had so-called smart phones, AT&T, [Atlanta Telephone
& Telegraph] the earliest of American telephone companies, advertised “Reach out and touch someone”. It was their way to encourage customers to
make more expensive long distance telephone calls. Today’s Gospel Lesson also speaks about reaching out. We just heard, Jesus had gathered with a
large group of followers. There were
also lots of other people who had come to be healed. Luke writes, “All in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him
and healed all of them.”
And then a sudden switch: Luke
records some of Jesus’ most
misunderstood and most revolutionary
teachings in the entire New Testament.
Matthew calls them the Beatitudes. Luke calls them the Blesseds and Woes. ‘Blessed are you who are poor; hungry;
weeping; hated; excluded and despised because of me.” Nothing about “Gee, I’m sorry.” Rather Jesus seems to be saying “Congratulations! ‘Welcome to the club”.
When asked about the Beatitudes, E. Stanley Jones, a famous Methodist
missionary to India, once noted, “On
first reading, the Beatitudes are impossible.
On second reading, they’re the only things possible.” So what in the
world do these Beatitudes or ‘Blesseds
and Woes’ have to do with us today?
How might they help us to better reach out and touch others? Let me suggest two words to help us reply: vision and value.
First, a word about vision. Jesus’ “Blesseds” are a kind of
vision. They describe what life in God’s
Kingdom could look like. Did you ever play the game 20 Questions? The only clue given was if something were
animal, vegetable or mineral. Then you
had a limit of 20 questions in which to find the correct answer.
A king once visited a science classroom.
Holding up a small stone, he asked the students, ”What kingdom does this stone belong to?” The students quickly replied, ‘mineral.’ Then he pointed to a flower and asked the
same question. The children answered,
’plant.’ Then he pointed to a bird flying by outside the window and asked, “To what Kingdom does that bird belong?”
They replied, ‘animal.’ Finally the king asked, ”Now, to what kingdom do I belong?
To what kingdom do you and I belong?
Scientifically we belong to part of the animal kingdom known as homo sapiens. [You Latin scholars know that means ‘wise
man’] But as followers of Christ, we
belong to a much greater Kingdom – the Kingdom Of God [or the Reign of God];
both present and yet to come. Most
animals live to take care of themselves and protect their offspring. They can see, feel and taste, but they lack
You and I may have greater understanding and vision of life’s meaning;
but we need to constantly ask ourselves
“Will I be an animal and just take
care of myself and my family” Or ‘Will
I be a human and reach out to others?”
Charles Tindley had the vision to write, “When the storms of life are raging, stand by me.” In the midst of tribulation; in the midst of
persecution; in the midst of faults and failures; when I’ve done the best I
can, and my friends misunderstand…stand by me.” Through all this, God is present. That’s the vision Christ gives us. That’s the way we are also able to reach out
and touch someone else.
Someone has written, “Jesus offers us three things: to
live without fear; to be happy;
and to know we’ll constantly face some
kind of trouble .An old Afro-American spiritual says it well: “Nobody
knows the trouble I seen, nobody knows but Jesus… Sometimes I’m up, sometimes,
I’m down, Sometimes I’m almost to the ground…oh yes, Lord! Nobody knows the trouble I seen…”
I think Jesus congratulated the poor, hungry, weeping and hated, because
they realized when all earthly security is absent – or taken away – it’s much
easier to feel – and accept God’s loving presence. That’s
nearly perfect 20/20 vision.
Secondly, the word value. Years ago a group of us were visiting the
Jade Buddha Pagoda in Shanghai. As we
admired the incredibly beautiful jade stone image of Buddha someone asked the
Abbot “How much is that worth?” The Abbot paused and kindly asked, “How much
is your Jesus worth?”
I don't’ believe Jesus is necessarily blessing financial poverty or criticizing
financial wealth. Rather, he’s inviting
and challenging us to place a value on human life. Not price tags – but meaning.
I believe Jesus is also saying, poverty is not limited to life in a
tin-roof shack or a nipa hut. There are
many financially poor people who are incredibly wealthy in spirit and
generosity. On the other hand, there are
many people with three-car garages; summer and winter homes; people who occupy
political, economic and religious seats of great power. But these are among the poorest of the
poor. Surrounded by ‘things’ but lacking
meaning for life. People unable – or unwilling to reach out and touch someone else.
Why would Jesus ‘pity’ such people?
Why would he pity the kind of people many of us wish to become? I believe Jesus is trying to teach us
something about the value of human life:
That our possessions – or lack of, should never keep us from reaching
out to touch someone else. Martin Luther
put it well: “A Christian is the most free of all people, subject to no other
person. But a Christian is also the most
dutiful servant, subject to everyone.”
A S.S. teacher asked her class, ”If
I sold my house and car; and had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the
church, would I get into heaven?” “No,” the children answered. “If I
cleaned my church building every day and kept everything neat and tidy, would I
get into heaven?” Again the answer,
“Well,” the teacher continued,
“Then how can I get into heaven?” A little five-year old girl shouted out, “You gotta die first.”
I believe Jesus is encouraging us to die. Not a physical death; rather, to rid
ourselves of ‘The Old Me’; to rid ourselves of self-importance; and to spend
more time, energy, money and prayer on reaching out to others, both near and
far. And so we pray: “Come, Lord Jesus! In both our poverty and
wealth, touch us so that we too might reach out and touch others with the
fruits of your love.” Amen.