February 17, 2019

6 Epiphany

Jeremiah 17: 5-10; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15: 12-20; Luke 6: 17-26

The Rev. James M.L. Grace


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

            It doesn’t happen always, but sometimes the scripture read on Sunday morning follows an obvious theme.  Today is one of those Sundays, where the three out of four lessons today (more specifically the reading from Jeremiah, the Psalm, and the Gospel from Luke) all have something in common.

            They all offer wisdom on how best to live life. 

            In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says to a crowd gathered around him a series of statements like “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”  We call these the beatitudes. When Jesus gives the beatitudes, he is not creating something new.  He’s likely borrowing from an earlier Jewish tradition, which we see in today’s readings from Jeremiah and from the Psalm.

            Let’s consider Jeremiah, for a minute. Notice how the reading from Jeremiah begins: “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord.”  A few verses later we hear “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.”  A similar pattern also occurs in Psalm 1, which begins with the verse “Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither.”

            Jesus knew the scriptures well, and so I think it is likely that readings we hear in Jeremiah and today’s psalm likely influenced what we hear him say in Luke’s Gospel today. 

            Now I want to talk about something completely different.  I want to talk about advertising, but I promise to get us back to the beatitudes.  Advertising is a multi-billion-dollar industry.  We all know companies spend millions of dollars to air 30 second commercials during the Super Bowl.  Why do they do it?  To get you to buy their product, of course.  All advertising exists for that one purpose: to convince you to buy what they’re selling.

            Much of modern advertising preys upon our fear of missing out or “FOMO” and our feelings of inadequacy.  Isn’t it interesting that an advertisement has the potential to touch us more intimately and deeply than even those we love most?  That’s not accidental.  Fear and guilt are the primary and powerful emotions advertisers use to get us to buy their brand of shaving cream or paper towels.  When successful, advertising instills in us a feeling that we will not be complete, we will not be whole, unless we buy into the message. 

            And all of us do.  We do it often without really thinking about it – that’s how powerful advertising is – we are motivated by it without even knowing it.  Theologian C.S. Lewis once said that the greatest thing the devil ever did was to convince the world he didn’t exist.  We could say the same about advertising.

            In contrast to these messages of consumption we are bombarded with daily, Jesus comes to us this morning with a radically alternative message that too often is domesticated by the church.  Jesus says: “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.  Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.” 

            In contrast to the advertiser’s message, Jesus says you are complete, that you are in fact blessed, because you are lacking things.  What a message.  Who among us feels blessed when our lives aren’t turning out as expected?  Who among us feels blessed during tragedy?  I don’t, at first – until I read the beatitudes, and I am reminded of Jesus’ true message found there.

            Against the advertiser’s messages with billions of dollars behind it, Jesus says clearly today: woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are full now, woe to you who are laughing now, woe to you when all speak well of you.  What is Jesus saying?  I know some rich, happy, full people and they don’t seem cursed at all.   Perhaps what Jesus is saying is that those who have everything they need– if you are wealthy and full have a full stomach, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you blessed.  You could be cursed, if your affluence fosters self-satisfaction and complacency.

            There are no easy answers to Jesus’ message today, so I will not try to provide one.  In closing, I would invite you to consider in your life – which of your blessings are more like a curse, and which of the things in your life you consider a curse, may in fact be, a blessing. AMEN.