17[Jesus] came down with [the twelve] 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.18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“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.”
The other day my five year old daughter asked me what homeless means, or more importantly how do people become homeless. I had read her the sign that the man was holding at the intersection, and she had a lot of questions. I thought back to my internship in northern Virginia just outside the DC beltway. We hosted a hypothermia shelter two weeks each winter. It rotated each week, to different churches around the area. Folks could get bussed from community centers to a church fellowship hall each night, to avoid the freezing temperatures.
We had a simple supper from the church kitchen, some snacks – and a room full of cots for men, and a separate room for women. I was 23. I volunteered to stay over one night, just to help the staff clean up etc. A beautiful woman in her 30’s approached me as I was wiping down tables and asked me if she could ask a personal question. Sure – I’m an open book. She looked at me mortified, and asked if I had any feminine hygiene supplies. Absolutely I said, “come with me to my office and here ya go.” She burst into tears.
When she stopped, she shared with me how it felt to not be able to afford to purchase things like that for yourself – the basic things you now had to rely on someone else for. I gave her the whole box, and asked her more about her story.
She was a nurse. Her husband worked in construction. They had an apartment. Her husband got laid off, things were tight but it’s happened before. Then her father got sick, and went into the hospital. They moved into his apartment to care for his pets, while he was in a rehab facility, and then sadly her father died. They spent savings on the funeral, and then she lost her job. Her husband had gotten another job at a construction site, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with rent. Within 4 weeks, they were living in their car.
Just like that. I looked at her. I looked at myself. I had a nice apartment. My husband had a decent job. I had an internship. They lost all that within a matter of months. Went from doing ok to living in their car in a matter of weeks. Went from living in their car to nearly freezing to death and having to sleep in a church hall and ask strangers for tampons. She wasn’t even allowed to sleep with her husband as the shelter’s policy separated sleeping rooms by gender.
All of the things we rely on for comfort, sustenance, relief and survival. What if they were gone? What would I do? Where would I go?
Like a tree, with deep roots to its water source, the source of my deepest sustenance and comfort cannot be within my own strength or power, but remains with the Lord, the source of Living Water. But those of us who remain comfortable, often have trouble picturing what that means to not rely on oneself and everything we have built up for ourselves. The Gospel means good news. And its good news we are called to share, that relying on God’s promises is always more secure than believing you have to manage everything yourself. But very few of us get to the heart of that, until we are completely without resources and have nothing left to manage.
Luke’s beatitudes are a very different sort of blessing than Matthews. Both Gospels record Jesus pronouncing blessings on those who others might not see as blessed, but for Luke, its economical and physical poverty and hunger – not spiritual, not emotional. God’s good news to the poor is also tough news for those who are not poor. “ Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, but blessed are those who trust in the Lord,” Jeremiah cautions us.
Luke also cautions us, as Jesus cautions the crowds that swarm around him. “The material “blessings” they cherish most, the very possessions and attributes they consider signs of God’s favor, are in fact liabilities that might do them spiritual harm.” ( Debie Thomas ) We can mishear these scriptures in a number of ways. It is not better to be poor and hated. God does not want us to be hungry. God doesn’t hate rich people – and love only those who are miserable. But God’s attention and desire is that there’s not this widening gap between people. The “wealth gap,” “food deserts,” the “education gap,” the “health gap,” and myriad other gaps and failures around the globe mark the two sides of the blessings and woes. It’s the gap we are called to address by this passage for God’s sake and our own. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/sixth-sunday-after-epiphany-3/commentary-on-luke-617-26-2
We have an opportunity to provide sustenance and relief to our neighbors, working to bridge this gap, by God’s grace. Dorie and Fran Budzick are stepping down from coordinating the food pantry program we have built up here. They are to be commended for their dedication and devotion to the community. We don’t just feed people. We care for people – and it’s not just us. Those in Millville who work hard for this neighborhood – I have seen the ways you support each other.
I also know that this congregation is no stranger to blessings and woes. You know what good times feel like, and you know hard times and you know how quickly things can go wrong.
7Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
8They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.
You have not ceased bearing fruit. The fruit is not attendance. The fruit is not dollars. The Fruit is not programs. The fruit is in that gap. The gap between the poor and helping them see that they belong to the kingdom of God. The gap between the hungry and full bellies. The gap between the weeping and the promise of brighter days. The gap between being hated and hearing the word of God telling you that you are beloved. The church is called to stand in that gap. The church must stand in that gap. Rooted in God’s word, however shaky and thin our faith may be – that is the source of what we do and why. Not out of our strength or might. Not our own attendance or dollars. To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. To offer a cup of water to the least of these. To clothe the naked and feed the hungry. This is why we do what we do, and here is where we are called to stand. Amen.