Rev. Nick Reed
A Call To Action
Some of us might have heard of the famous sermon on the mount in Matthew’s gospel, well today’s text and next Sunday’s text are a part of a not as well known sermon. Today’s gospel reading tells us that Jesus stood on a level place with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from different regions who were seeking healing and to hear him preach, and he looks up and and sees this as a great opportunity to start preaching.
Because Jesus is preaching on level ground, scholars call it the sermon on the plain. Jesus’ sermon on the Plain is a continuation of the Good News of God’s divine plan of love to reverse the status quo of political, social, and economic injustices that are causing suffering and pain in the world.
Over the last few months in worship we have heard in the first few chapters of Luke of God’s divine plan through Christ to reverse the status quo of suffering in the world. Starting with Mary’s song of praise before Jesus birth, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” On Christmas Eve we gathered together and heard God’s divine plan of a love that reverses the status quo when the angels proclaimed good news of great joy that God’s people would find the Savior lying in a manger. A few weeks ago we read the story of Jesus telling his home town of God’s divine plan being fulfilled as he read from the prophet Isaiah, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus opens up his sermon with a proclamation that brings good news and comfort to the afflicted and challenges and afflicts the comfortable.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 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.”
I want to point out this important fact about Jesus’ sermon, all of Jesus’ blessings and all of his woes to this large crowd are in the second person plural, or as we like to say in the south, in the “y’all.”
“Blessed are you all who are poor, woe to you all who are rich”.
Jesus’ words were not being spoken to a specific person, but were being spoken to all his followers at once. Whether it was his own disciples or those seeking healing, Jesus was preaching to a crowd of people where some benefited from the status quo and some suffered from the status quo. By addressing his followers with a communal “yall” when talking about blessings and woes, he is reminding all of his followers that reversing the status quo is a communal commitment and a communal concern for everyone.
I will acknowledge to you that as a straight white male who happily drives my middle class mini van around town I hear this text and it causes me to pause. Maybe your place of privilege is showing as much as mine.
To be honest I want God’s blessings to surround me, but Jesus is saying the things I might consider blessings are the things that will bring me a “woe”. Woe to you who are rich, who are full, who are laughing.
Maybe I need to reconsider what the word blessing means. Like the blessings in the beatitudes, Jesus’ words of blessing are not about happiness or bliss, but about God’s presence in the midst of suffering. One is blessed because God is present with them in their suffering, one is blessed because God’s love will reverse the status quo that is causing them pain, one is blessed because God’s love will be with them always. The blessings of God are those things in the world that Mary sung about, and Jesus read about from Isaiah….God’s reign blesses the world in a way that lifts up the lowly, brings good news to the poor, and recovers sight to the blind.
If the blessings Jesus proclaiming are a reminder that God is present in the world’s suffering and mourning, then the woes he is proclaiming hold their own significance to Christ’s followers. Jesus words of woe add a prophetic layer to those in a place of privilege that we see all through out the Old Testament when prophets are holding God’s people accountable to faithful living. These prophetic words reorient people like me to use their place of privilege to reverse the status quo that is causing others pain and suffering.
Maybe as a congregation, that is mostly white and affluent, we can find a way to name why these words might make us uncomfortable, and reorient ourselves to what we should value and what we should reject as followers of Christ. These blessings and woes are acknowledging the truth that the status quo or systems and structures of this world are causing pain and suffering. To hear Jesus’ sermon we hear that we are to value and take care for the least of these, and reject a way of life that is preoccupied with superficial things and preoccupied with how we look in the eyes of others.
New Testament scholar Eduard Schweizer writes that Jesus’ “sermon on the plain is a call to action…a call to the life of discipleship.” The call to action Jesus is seeking from his followers is caring for the least of these, caring for those who are poor, hungry, and mourning. The life of discipleship he is seeking from his followers is one that seeks to reverse the status quo of injustice that is causing so much suffering in the world.
One specific example of suffering that Jesus lifts up in his sermon are those who are hungry.
Sadly the poor and hungry that were gathered around to hear Jesus sermon are still with us. In the year 2020 over 60 million people turned to food banks and community programs for helping putting food on the table. According to the USDA, more than 38 million people, including 12 million children, in the United States are food insecure. Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and rely on local food banks and other programs for support.
Hunger in African American, Latino, and Native American communities is higher because of systemic racial injustice. A reality that makes it clear to all of us that tending to the hungry is not just about putting food on tables but also addressing the root causes of hunger and structural and systemic inequalities.
Jesus is clear in his sermon on the plain that God will bless those who are hungry, and God will provide for all human needs. As we remember this good news, let us also remember that Jesus told all his followers that reversing the status quo of suffering is a communal concern. As a community of faith we all have been given by God gifts of time, talent, and treasure to reverse the status quo of injustices in this world. Jesus is telling us all we are being called to action.
Today is Souper Bowl of Caring Sunday, and is a day when we not only have a special offering collecting food and monetary gifts, we also remember our calling to serve and care for the least of these. As a church we are creating our action plan of 2022 to reorient ourselves to reversing the status quo that cause so much suffering, especially when it come to hunger.
Our youth will commit a Saturday every other month to serving at the East Alabama Food Bank. In the 7 counties the East Alabama Food Bank serves there are 57,220 people who are food insecure. Over a third of that number are people who live in our county. Last year the East Alabama food bank provided 4,509,260 meals to families and individuals. As we collect our Souper Bowl of caring offering today we celebrate the fact that the Food Bank is able to distribute 7 meals with every dollar donated.
One of the partners of the East Alabama Food bank is the Community Market. The Community Market offers client-choice food selection in a grocery store atmosphere and provides direct food relief to low-income residents of Lee County. Our church is committed to our call to action to help with food distribution on the second Saturday of the month.
We are also committing ourselves to a new way to use our time, talent, and treasure to reverse the status quo of food insecurity in our community. Beginning February 27th our church will have a garden plot at the community garden at Auburn University. Everything we plant and grow will be donated to the Community Market. Fresh produce received by clients of the Community Market is not counted in the pound limit of food received. So providing fresh produce is a vital contribution to nutritious food security.
These are just a few ways our church will be using our time, talent, and treasure in 2022 to reverse the status quo of suffering and injustice in our own community.
As we continue to respond to Christ’s calling to care for those who are suffering from the injustice of our world’s status quo, may we find hope that God’s divine plan to bless the world with love is present with us always. May we find comfort and courage knowing God’s spirit is guiding us to our communal calling to care for the least of these, lift up the lowly, and bind up the broken hearted. Alleluia Amen!