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Sermon for February 13, 2022 — 6th Sunday after the Epiphany

Speaking Of Life 4012 | If No Resurrection…

From changing water into wine to raising Lazarus from the dead, these events from the Bible might sound impossible to believe. But are we forgetting that we have a God who is beyond logic and understanding? Paul reminds us that we cannot place our great God inside a small box. He is beyond that! Even when we can’t comprehend the greatness of our God, he continues to pursue us with no bounds.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 4012 | If No Resurrection…
Cara Garrity

Have you ever had a hard time believing something the Bible says about Jesus Christ? The virgin birth. Healing the blind. Walking on water. Raising the dead. There are many things about Jesus’ story that challenge our reason. As a result, sometimes we try to force-fit our big God into a box of our own understanding or suspend our logic and reason to be a Christian?

The apostle Paul had to address the resurrection of Jesus. A good number of the members of the Corinthian church did not believe in the possibility of the dead coming back to life. Ironically, Paul used the style of writing popular with philosophers to make a logical argument proving the reality of the resurrection. He began by quoting evidence—including eyewitness testimony—of Christ being seen after his death. In his conclusion, Paul stated:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that 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, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. … But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 15:12-14

Paul saw the resurrection as foundational to our faith and a reason for our hope. Yet, he also understood it was a hard thing to believe. This was why he was so meticulous in putting together a logical argument for the more skeptical Christians in Corinth. Apart from God, resurrection is illogical. But with God, it is possible, because God can do all things. Resurrection still stretches the imagination, however, we serve a supernatural God who is powerful beyond description.

Paul did not want his audience to disregard their logical minds or try to fit God into their pre-conceived notions of logic, rather he wanted them to use their minds to explore a greater reality. In this season of Epiphany, we are challenged to see and encounter the God revealed in Jesus Christ. The truth is Jesus disrupts our belief because he is greater than we can possibly imagine. We cannot wrap our minds around his love, his power, and the lengths he is willing to go in order to redeem humanity.

I pray that you would allow God to renew your mind and awaken you to the ways of his reality. I am Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

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

In this sixth week after Epiphany, our theme is God’s disruptive ways — how God will challenge how we think about things. The call to worship Psalm advises us to avoid following in the seemingly natural path of the wicked. Jeremiah warns his reader not to trust in the strength of other people. Rather, we should trust in the Lord. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is challenging the conventional wisdom of the ruling class who do not believe in the resurrection. In Luke, we read an account of Jesus sketching the outlines of his upside-down kingdom.

The Blessed Poor

Luke 6:17-26

When you think of the poor, who comes to mind? Perhaps you think of someone who is homeless. Or, maybe someone on a street corner asking for change? Maybe you thought of one of those commercials featuring starving children in some distant land? Does anyone you know come to mind? Is poverty something you have encountered? In America, most people do not see themselves as living in poverty. Oftentimes, people live their entire lives without having a relationship with a person they consider poor. Is this a good thing? Do we lose something for not being in close proximity to the poor?

Mother Teresa knew at an early age that she wanted to commit her life to religious service. At 18, she left home to be equipped to be a missionary, and she never turned back. She became a nun and soon after began to minister to the people of Calcutta, India. In 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the poor. Given her decades of work with the poorest of humans, Mother Teresa had uncommon insight into poverty and our spiritual needs. She said:

The greatest disease in the West today is not [tuberculosis] or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.

Mother Teresa saw poverty as a universal problem. To her, we are all poor in one way or another. This does not mean that we turn our back on the economically disadvantaged to attend to our own poverty. Rather, we should identify with the poor and act accordingly.

Jesus taught about poverty in his “Sermon on the Plateau” in Luke 6:

He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:17-26)

In order to appreciate the depth of Jesus’ message, we have to put ourselves in the place of the disciples. Imagine what it was like. You are standing there with Jesus and many other disciples when an even larger crowd comes to hear Jesus. You feel excited at first that people from far and wide were coming to hear your teacher. Then as the people get closer you see that they are the outcasts of society: the sick, the demon-possessed, the infirmed. You were taught that people in those conditions were sinners — people to be avoided. Some of them are carrying diseases that made them ritually unclean and they are drawing nearer. Your excitement turns to trepidation because this is not the audience you wanted for Jesus. These are not the people around whom you feel comfortable.

You watch as Jesus tries to touch each person in an orderly way, but the crowd keeps growing. They are now pressing all around you as they try to touch Jesus. If you were in this situation, what would be your attitude towards the crowd? Many of us would negatively judge the people. We may be tempted to make generalizations and judgments about the less fortunate. We may be tempted to see ourselves as better in some ways compared to the pitiful crowd.

It is at this moment that Jesus turned to his disciples, not the crowd, and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” What an astonishing teaching! Not only was Christ’s message at odds with conventional wisdom, but it also may have been an admonishment to his disciples. It is likely that after being pushed and shoved by people who were to be avoided in their culture, some of the disciples may have grown tired of the pleading and the tears. In the same moment, Jesus brought comfort to the crowd and conviction to his disciples.

In verses 24-26, Jesus delivered warnings to the comfortable. Jesus was not saying there is something inherently evil about being wealthy, happy, or having a good reputation. However, it is a problem if we see ourselves as wealthy, happy, or having a good reputation by our own strength. We are in trouble if we allow our comfort to make us think we are better than those we perceive as struggling. If we see ourselves as healthy and whole apart from God, there is no room for God to address our spiritual needs. Our physical wealth can mask our spiritual poverty. Mother Teresa is also quoted as saying, “One day there springs up the desire for money and for all that money can provide — the superfluous, luxury in eating, luxury in dressing, trifles. Needs increase because one thing calls for another. The result is uncontrollable dissatisfaction. Let us remain as empty as possible so that God can fill us up.”

In America, most people aspire to wealth, not poverty. We have something called “The American Dream” — the idea that if a person works hard, they can achieve status and wealth. We strive for the house with the bigger garage and pretty fence. We love “rags to riches” stories and view “riches to rags” stories as tragic. We have been socialized to see poverty as shameful and to be avoided. As a result, Christ’s upside-down teaching in Luke 6 can strike us as radical.

Jesus often has to disrupt our flawed thinking in order to better reflect his image. The Lord exhorts us to reconsider our attitude towards poverty and the poor. In contrast to our natural inclination, there is some kind of blessedness to poverty.

As believers, we should follow our Lord’s example and be concerned about the economically disadvantaged. We should be appalled at the deplorable conditions in which some people live simply because human beings are not very good at sharing. In God’s economy, “those who have” are to give, so “those who do not have” can have. That way, everybody has what they need (Acts 4:32-35). Because of God’s lavish love, there is a blessing in both the giving and receiving (Acts 20:35). Yet, the norm in our society is for people to be concerned about themselves and what they can accumulate to fulfill their own desires. Our perceived individualism causes us to lose sight of humanity’s interconnectedness.

To Jesus, the poor are blessed because the kingdom of God belongs to them. The hungry are blessed because they will be fed. The mourners are blessed because they will be made to laugh. The marginalized are blessed because they will receive rewards in heaven. These people are blessed not because of the lowly state in which they find themselves. They are blessed not because they are learning humility, although learning humility is a good thing. Jesus says they are blessed because of the response of their loving God. In his compassion, mercy, justice, and love, God responds to our suffering with restoration and renewal.

This is the mystery that the poor Christian has an easier time understanding: the greater our poverty, the greater access to God’s power we have when we humbly seek our Father. It is true that poverty can bring humility and less distractions, both of which are blessings. However, the greater blessing is the emptiness that Mother Teresa spoke about — the room in our lives and in our hearts that God can fill.

Whatever our state, we should embrace our own spiritual poverty. We are all in desperate need of God every moment of every day. Jesus is life itself and there is no existence apart from him. We are blessed if every day we thank God for our lives and seek him to supply our needs. We are blessed if we realize we have no strength in ourselves and wait on the Lord to order our steps. This means that sacred practices like prayer, study, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines that cultivate a dependence on God are profitable ways to spend our time.

At the same time, Luke’s Gospel speaks about poverty in a literal sense. The author has both spiritual and economic poverty in mind. Finances are an uncomfortable topic for many; however, the Bible has a lot to say on the issue. In this passage, Jesus is warning those who accumulate earthly riches to not see their value in their possessions. Rather, they should submit all that they have to God and see their wealth as a tool to be used by the Lord. The prayer of the wealthy should be, “Thank you Lord for the gifts you have given and please show me how to use them for your glory.” In that way, the wealthy do not see themselves as such. Rather, God is wealthy and in his grace he has chosen to share his riches. Those who are wealthy are stewards of God’s wealth; they should seek opportunities to build authentic relationships with the poor. Not only will proximity to the poor create openings to be a blessing to those in need, but it will allow the financially secure to learn emptiness from poor people.

Jesus tells us that those who struggle with economic insecurity should see the blessings we have in Christ. We are defined by God’s love for us, not by how much is in our bank account. Jesus represents the end of poverty, and our financial insecurity is temporary. Even if we do not have a lot of cash, we should follow Jesus’ example and seek to bless others with our time and talent. Those who are poor have much to teach the wealthy, so the economically insecure should seek authentic relationships with those who have riches. If God moves upon the heart of the wealthy to give to those who are poor, those gifts should be received as a blessing from the Lord.

In this Epiphany season, it is important that we remember who Jesus revealed himself to be. When it comes to poverty, the good news is that we have all been made rich in Christ. Because of Jesus, every spiritual blessing is available to us in this life and the life to come. In Jesus we have love, joy, peace and every other good thing. In Jesus, we can be generous in giving. In Jesus, we can be gracious in receiving. In Jesus, the rich can be humbled and the poor can be filled. In Jesus, we can hope for the day when no one will ever hunger or thirst again. Jesus is the end of poverty because there is only abundance in him.

Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner W2

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Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner
February 13 – 6th Sunday after the Epiphany
Luke 6:17-26 “Blessed Are You”

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Program Transcript

Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner

Anthony: Kenneth, our next passage is Luke 6:17 – 26. It’s the Revised Common Lectionary passage for February the 13th.

Would you read it for us please?

Kenneth: Yes.

He came down with them 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. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“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.  Rejoice 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. 

“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.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Anthony: Kenneth, if you were preaching this text, what would be your focus?

Kenneth: I probably would contrast – blessing and woes are very common in the scriptures. And there are precedents for announcing these blessings and these woes in other parts of the Old Testament. And I would go through some of those and talk about how they similarly tend to pronounce an announced blessing on those who have not and woes on those who have, and how the foundation of those two things, the blessings on the have-nots come from their condition of dependence on God.

The poor are dependent on God. And the rich can be – don’t necessarily have to be (it’s the same with the poor, but most often the poor are dependent and recognize their dependence on God) too often, the rich assume and presume that they’re independent from God. And this is the foundation of the state these folks find themselves in and what God’s announcing to them in this moment.

Anthony: Let’s keep scratching that itch. What do you make of those who are blessed? You’ve touched on it, but the poor? In some paradigms, that’s not God’s blessing. The hungry? Those who weep? Those who have been rejected? What do we take away from this?

Kenneth: Yeah, for those who may have been raised even in Christian circles with a teaching that people who are favored, wealthy, secure, and so forth, have found favor, are that way because they have done things or because God is pleased with them. And encountering people who are unwell or under-resourced or who are destitute, that they somehow have angered God or have not done the things they were supposed to do, and this is a punishment for what they have done, or their ancestors have done and so forth and so on. And I don’t think that’s either the wisdom of the scriptures or of the gospel or of the Apostolic teaching.

There are people who are desperately poor who are in deep covenantal relationship and connection with God. And there are people who are quite resourced and wealthy, who also enjoy that same connection with God. And there are folks who are struggling who – there’s this kind of Mesopotamian, ancient understanding of the gods where you better behave in this way or you better sacrifice in this way and so forth. Or you’re in trouble or going to be in trouble or the reason you’re in trouble is, you haven’t.

But if you do all the right things and you make all the right sacrifices and so forth, God will be pleased with you, and then you’ll have everything you need. That is not the gospel. That is not the character of the God that we worship. And so, we have to identify that sort of striving and that sort of attitude and disposition where we’re jockeying for position and favor with God as a false understanding of the relationship between God and human beings.

And we have to do that all the time. We have to do it in the church first because it’s amazing how many people go to church and have a Mesopotamian view of God, rather than the view of God that comes from the revelation of the prophets, and the stories of the patriarchs, and the Psalms of David, and the apostolic witness.

Anthony: And all you have to do is look at the life of the apostles. By any measure, that doesn’t look like human flourishing, even though it is. It absolutely is. As I was looking back over these woes, as you’re reading them, the rich, those who are full now, those who are laughing now, I couldn’t help but think of America.

Are we in trouble? What do we take away from these woes?

Kenneth: Yeah, I think that’s how they are precisely intended to be read and understood, as a warning from love to the object of love. It is love telling us, “I love you. Be careful.” Because this is addressed to us, the woes.

We should see the words addressed to us and addressed because God wants us to thrive and be alive and to be well. And recognizing our dependence upon God in humility is so vital to thriving. And it is the nature of the world, the fallen world, to make us dichotomize poor and rich in the way I was talking about earlier. And to lean on all of these things instead of the wisdom of God and the abundance of God. We can be deceived that everything is well with us because we’re using these things as measures of how we’re doing or how we’re doing with God.

And it’s not just Christians that do this, of course. Everyone, every human has this tendency. And I think this is, “Wake up. Watch yourself because I love you.” It’s like a child approaching a hot stove or getting too close to the street.  It’s that voice that says, “Yes, come back to me. Stop moving in that direction.”

Anthony: That’s such an important thing you’ve said because there are several warning passages in the New Testament, but God can only speak and act out of who he is.  And he is love; that’s all he can do. Go ahead.

Kenneth: This is the same one who is going to go on to say, “Love your enemies.” And this is the same one who says, “Don’t judge.” This is the one who says, “Forgive.” This is the one who is described as mercy and forgiveness, and so he can only be announcing these woes from that position, his core disposition, which is to save.

Anthony: Amen.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • What are some examples of God disrupting ways in which we think?
  • How do you think Christians should balance reason and faith?
  • If you were with Jesus (Luke 6:17-26), how would you be feeling about the crowd?
  • Is it hard to think of yourself as being in spiritual poverty? Why or why not?
  • What is something you can do to cultivate emptiness, a feeling of dependence on God?

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