Posted by: smstrouse | February 17, 2019

A Bad News / Good News Sermon

ok9Defense lawyer says to her client: “I have good news and bad news.”
Client says: ”What’s the bad news?”
The lawyer says, “Your blood matches the DNA found at the murder scene.”
“Oh, no!” cries the client. “What’s the good news?”
“Well,” the lawyer says, “Your cholesterol is way down.”

Teenager says to his father: I have a good news and bad news.
Father:  Give me the good news first.
Teenager: The airbags work really well in your new Mercedes.

Husband: “I have good news and bad news”
Wife: “Tell me the bad news first.”
Husband: “The washing machine broke.”
Wife: “Oh, no. What’s the good news?”
Husband: “The dogs are clean.”

Who doesn’t love a good news/bad news joke? I know that neither of the writers of the books of Jeremiah and Luke intended to make a joke. But I couldn’t help seeing the good news/bad news theme in both passages today.

Jeremiah 17: 5-10 (see below)
The good news is first: blessed are you who trust in God, you’ll be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. You won’t fear when heat comes. You won’t be anxious in times of drought. The bad news is: woe to you who trust in mere mortals whose hearts turn away from God. You’ll be like a shrub in the desert. You’ll live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.Michelangelo,_profeti,_Jeremiah_02

That’s definitely not funny. Nor was it meant to be. It’s not for nothing that a long lamentation or complaint or list of woes is called a jeremiad. The prophet Jeremiah preached to the Hebrew people during a time of great national crisis. The Babylonians were on the move and coming their way. As we know now, they would conquer Judah and take their best and brightest into exile. Jeremiah is often (rightly) seen as a prophet of doom and gloom. But as we can see by the good news part of his prophecy, there are blessings to be had even among the woes.  

Then There’s Jesus (Luke 6: 17-26)
First the good news:”Blessed are you who are poor, you who are hungry now, you who weep now. Blessed are you when you are hated, excluded, and reviled. You will be rewarded.”

Then the bad: “Woe to you who are full now; you’ll go hungry. Woe to you laughing now; you’ll be in mourning. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you; you’ll be known as a false prophet.”

Our epiphany revelation about Jesus this week should be that following him has consequences. There’s an edge in this part of the teaching that maybe we’re not used to hearing.  We like to focus on the good news, the comforting news.

This Is Not Matthew’s Beatitudes!
The good news part of Jesus’s sermon should remind us of another version of the same sermon. In Matthew’s gospel, we find another list of blessings, often called the Beatitudes (from the Latin ’beatitudo,’ meaning “blessedness”). But you might also recognize some differences. Matthew’s version has Jesus preaching on a mountain (Sermon on the Mount). Luke’s version, often called the Sermon on the Plain, says “he stood with them on a level place.”

UnknownThen there are fewer blessings in Luke (four, compared to Matthew’s nine). There’s nothing about the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, or the peacemakers. And two of the ones that remain have some major differences: Luke’s ‘poor’ become Matthew’s ‘poor in spirit’ and to Luke’s ‘blessed are you who hunger, Matthew adds ‘for righteousness.’ We’ve moved from a spiritualized ethic in Matthew to a more practical one in Luke. Luke’s version also moves from speaking about ‘them’ to addressing ‘you’ (us). We’ve moved from abstract ideas to concrete practice, from theory to real life.

And, perhaps most notably, there’s the addition in Luke of four woes to those who refuse to hear and embrace these teachings – very reminiscent of the warnings we heard from Jeremiah. It’s also reminiscent of what we heard not all that long ago, back in Advent, when Mary sang the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”: The mighty, who may be winning now, will be brought low. The oppressed will be lifted up; the empty will be filled. Those who are full will taste what it feels like to be empty. In other words, there are ‘woes,’ there are consequences to living in opposition to God’s intentions.

We don’t get to read this version that often in church. We read Matthew’s Beatitudes every year on All Saints Sunday. But Luke’s sermon comes around in the lectionary just once every three years on the Sixth Sunday of Epiphany. Depending when Easter is, which determines when Lent begins, and therefore Epiphany ends, Epiphany 6 doesn’t come around that often. Easter is late this year, so Epiphany lasts seven whole Sundays, as opposed to just four Sundays three years ago. So I would venture a guess that most people not only are more familiar with the Beatitudes, but prefer that version of Jesus’ sermon to Luke’s.

Jesus on the Level
My first recollection of the Beatitudes is that they were pasted into a back cover of a Bible under the heading “For Those in Need of Comfort.” 
But I’ve never seen a similar thing for Luke, under the heading “For Those in Need of Challenge.” But here we are on Epiphany 6 with Jesus speaking to the crowd on a level place. Might we also hear Jesus speaking to us – on the level?

We could see the blessings and woes as an either/or situation. Either you live right or you don’t. Either you’re blessed or you’re cursed. But the reality is not so cut and dried. I don’t consider myself to be rich, do you? Except we are rich, compared to most people in the world. I’m never hungry, not really. In fact, we’re so full so much of the time that many of us have health issues from our over-consumption.

We do weep, some of us more often than others. And we take that seriously. But we also love to be entertained, to distract us from the overwhelming tragedies of the world. Yemen, Syria, and Somalia are far-away places; let’s change the channel and watch “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

We rarely have people saying seriously bad stuff about us, especially on account of Jesus. We’re respectable, comfortable, nice people. Except when we do speak out in a prophetic way, letting loose a jeremiad against those who exploit the poor, the hungry, the oppressed – when our desire to make a stand for justice outweighs our need to be liked.

We’re All in This Together
logoThe reality is that we are complicated creatures. Martin Luther said it best when he described us as simultaneously both saint and sinner. In thinking about that paradox, I was
reminded of the challenge we have these days with privilege: white privilege, male privilege, middle class privilege, straight privilege, able-bodied privilege. It has become commonplace to get into all kinds of tussles about who’s using their privilege and when.

But here’s the thing. I know that I enjoy certain kinds of privilege – as a white, middle-class, able-bodied person. I also know that I’ve experienced the other side of the coin as a woman; I obviously don’t enjoy male privilege. We could each name where we have privilege and where we don’t. That’s why many are calling for intersectionality, which says that all oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and can’t be dealt with separately from one another.

In other words, we’re all in this together – in both the blessings and the woes of life. We all have some form of brokenness in our lives. Sometimes that brokenness is visible, oftentimes it’s invisible, but it’s there nonetheless. Yet even in the midst of our brokenness, God calls us into a way of transformation – both for ourselves and for our communities and our world. It’s called resurrection life.

I Corinthians 15: 12-20
Paul, in his plea to the Corinthians to remember the resurrection, reminds us where we need to put our trust as well. Living as we do in the paradoxical way of being both saint and sinner, we have to rely on the life-giving power that’s beyond our own efforts and will power. Resurrection isn’t just about eternal life when we die; it’s also about the promise of new life, new possibilities in the midst of seemingly impossible problems. As we confront our own brokenness, sinfulness, the ways we’re caught in systems from which we cannot break free (our woes) – we also open ourselves up to the blessings.

In this very challenging manifestation of the person and work of Jesus in the world, we are called to follow in the way of resurrection and blessing. The call to discipleship demands a response. Depending on how you look at it, the way of Jesus can be a good news/bad news story: the good news is that God loves you. The bad news is now you have to do something about it for the sake of the world.

Hmm, that doesn’t sound right. Let’s turn it around. Jesus has bad news and good news: the bad news is that you’re a sinner and you can’t free yourself and you live in a world of woes. The good news is that you are beloved and perfectly OK because God has made it so. Now go, and do something for the sake of the world.

Jesus has come to us “on the level” to tell us that the good news wins. Resurrection wins. Love wins – for our sake and for our prophetic work and witness in the world.




Jeremiah 17:5-10
YHWH says: 
   Cursed are those who trust in human ways 
      who rely on things of the flesh, 
      whose hearts turn away from YHWH.
   They are like stunted vegetation in the desert, 
      with no hope in the future. 
   It stands in stony wastes in the desert,      
       an uninhabited land of salt.

   Blessed are those who put their trust in God, 
      with God for their hope.
   They are like a tree planted by the river, 
      that thrusts its roots toward the stream. 
  When the heat comes it feels no heat; 
       its leaves stay green.
   It is untroubled in a year of drought, 
      and never ceases to bear fruit.

   The human heart is more deceitful 
      than anything else,
      and desperately sick – who can understand it?
   I , YHWH, search into the heart, I probe the mind, 
       to give to each person
       what their actions and conduct deserve.

1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Tell me, if we proclaim that Christ was raised from the dead, how is it that some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then all of our preaching has been meaningless – and everything you’ve believed has been just as meaningless. Indeed, we are shown to be false witnesses of God, for we solemnly swore that God raised Christ from the dead – which did not happen if in fact the dead are not raised. Because if the dead are not raised, then Christ is not raised, and if Christ is not raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins, and those who have fallen asleep in are the deadest of the dead. If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitiful of the human race. But as it is, Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Luke 6:17-26
Coming down the mountain with them, Jesus stopped in a level area where there were a great number of disciples. A large crowd of people was with them from Jerusalem and all over Judea, to as far north as the coast of Tyre and Sidon – people who had come to hear Jesus and be healed of their diseases, and even freed from unclean spirits. Indeed, the whole crowd was trying to touch Jesus, because power was coming out of him and healing them all.

Looking at the disciples, Jesus said: 
“You who are poor are blessed, for the reign of God is yours. 
You who hunger now are blessed, for you’ll be filled. 
You who weep now are blessed, for you’ll laugh.
You are blessed when people hate you, when they scorn and insult you and spurn your name as evil because of the Chosen One. On the day they do so, rejoice and be glad: your reward will be great in heaven; for their ancestors treated the prophets the same way

But woe to you rich, for you are now receiving your comfort in full.
Woe to you who are full, for you’ll go hungry. 
Woe to you who laugh now, for you’ll weep in your grief.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in the same way.”


Texts are from The Inclusive Bible

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