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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Chaos On a Level Place - 02/17/2019

“He came down with them …” Came down from where? The last we heard, Jesus was fishing, probably chuckling to himself at watching his new friends try to pull in enormous catches of fish without sinking their boats.

It’s kind of a strange start to our story, but it does force us to consider more intentionally how Jesus is setting the scene and how that effects the way we read the rest of this story.

So in answer to the question this reading sets up from the get-go, we find that Jesus had just been up on a mountain. He had gone up there to pray and spent the night there, presumably alone. Then he called his disciples and chose twelve of them. He said they were not only disciples, but also apostles. They would help Jesus preach and teach and heal.

“Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (Luke 6:14-16)

So in addition to our gospel story today being about the day Jesus breathed the blessings and the woes of the Beatitudes into life … it is also about the foundational teaching Jesus lays out after naming these future leaders of the Jesus Way.

And when you think about it in that way, the way Jesus sets the scene reveals quite a lot, doesn’t it?

“He came down with them and stood on a level place,” we read first. They may be chosen as leaders, these twelve, but like Jesus, they are not going to do this ministry thing as unrelatable elites. They are going to meet people where they are, they are going to be on a level plain with them … they are no different than anyone else … saint and sinner, Jesus would have said if he were Lutheran. And they come with stories and experiences of the Kingdom of God to share, they come with new perspectives and insights on the Holy Scriptures and how they connect to life. They come to heal and care and help.

There are also a lot of people in this scene. It’s not only Jesus and his disciples. They are in the midst of a “great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.” These people are from all over the place. Tyre and Sidon were far north of this level plain. Within this crowd pressing in on Jesus from all sides would be Jews and gentiles, people in all different style of clothing, people speaking different languages. There would be foreign smells in the air. The people would be in various states of anxiety over the disease or situation or person or demon that enslaved them.

It would be chaotic and unorganized, full of emotion, rich and diverse, strange and overstimulating, probably wondrous and frightening all at the same time.

I think I have experienced something like this before … something I believe may have been similar to the intensity of what the disciples were feeling that day, a time when I felt called by my Jesus-following identity to go to a level place where the people were – people who, many of them, desperately needed to feel like they were seen and loved and named Children of God just like me and you and everyone else.

When I was in Chicago for seminary, I had the opportunity … twice … to march in the Pride Parade. Now in Chicago, as you can imagine, this parade is huge. That year, attendance was estimated at 850,000 people. It is one of the most chaotic, extra-ordinary events I have experienced. And here’s what’s really interesting about the Chicago Pride Parade: In recent years, it is led by clergy. Hundreds of people in clerical collars lead that parade. What an experience.

And lining both sides of the street are people in all manners of clothing styles, people of many languages, people from many religious and non-religious backgrounds and from places all over the globe. They shout and sing and dance and laugh. And they often reach out to those in parade.

The first time I marched, I tried to stay with my group, but I was drawn to the sides, where all those people were, where I got to shake hands and look people in the eye and smile and share some the Good News of the Kingdom of God. “God’s peace is with you.” “God loves you.” “Jesus died for you.” “God doesn’t make junk,” as my Grandmother used to say. “Yes, I’ll will pray for you, will you pray for me too.” “Yes, I see you and I see God in your eyes.”

And the responses. People beamed from ear-to-ear. Some cried and shook as they hugged me. A few even confessed to me or told me they were not worthy of God’s love. “Neither am I,” I said. Some tried to keep me from moving away from them in the current of the parade. Too many thanked me and said they had never had anyone tell them they were God’s beloved. Never. Some shared that they felt hurt and rejected by the church and seeing all those clergy was some of the healing balm they needed.

It was crazy and unpredictable and a tiny drop of love in the buckets of these people and yet it mattered. I could feel that in my bones. That was where I was supposed to be. And as ministry often goes, I came in my ministry to them and they in turn ministered to me.

So, I got separated from my group pretty quickly and every once in a while I’d try to catch up with them, but then I’d get drawn to the sides again. For four miles I did this. It was exhausting and energizing all at the same time. I felt vulnerable, like I was giving my physical body over for this; and yet I felt so protected by something much bigger even, than this crazy parade experience. It was one of the most incredible, loving, Spirit-filled, intense experiences I’ve ever had.

The second year, as the parade was starting, I looked at my friends and said, “See you at the end.”

I think that’s maybe like the intensity the disciples must have felt here.

Intense as it already was though, Jesus wasn’t done setting the tone for his disciples.

In the midst of this great crowd and all this chaos, all the intense ministry going on here, Jesus “looked up at his disciples and …

… and before we get to those familiar blessings and woes, can we just pause here and try to visualize this?

Here we have all this going on – and in the midst of it all – all the people and noise, all the healings and demons being cast off – Jesus looks up at this disciples, quite calmly and presumably without missing a beat, and begins to teach them too.

This must have astounded the disciples, who like any of us, would have circled Jesus protectively and anxiously – all the emergency alert systems in our bodies activated. Crowds can be scary.

And I think this is an important part of that tone Jesus is setting for those newly commissioned “apostles” and all disciples who consider this story.

We go to God’s people where they are. We remain relatable and treat everyone as our equals. And we trust that even in the chaos of that ministry, God goes ahead of us, is there with us and is working through us.

As so in that Spirit, Jesus calmly and authoritatively lifts up this first teaching to those wide-eyed leaders of his Way and all the disciples following too – including you –

… We are here to tell the story of the Kingdom of God in which those who are poor and hungry are favored and satisfied first.

… We are here to accompany those who mourn until they find peace

… We are here to hold out hands and seek God in the eyes of those who hear words of hate and feel excluded.

… We are here to encourage those who are reviled because they dare obey Jesus’ command to love God above all other stuff, to love all neighbors without exception.

This is what is meant by blessing here. It is God’s blessing, especially poured out for the lowly, to be satisfied, unburdened and at peace and all of this is by the Grace of God.

And there’s more. Jesus’ disciples are to take another foundational message into this ministry … the “woes.”

We should understand these as warnings, not condemnations. Jesus is not vilifying the state of being rich or well fed. He himself depended on wealthy benefactors in his ministry and was criticized by his enemies for filling his belly with food and wine, and often in the company of the wrong people.

The warning for rich people, like many of us by global stands, is that we are called to remember that all we have is from God and if we have received in abundance, we are called to help those who have not. As long as any of God’s creation suffers, we all suffer.

This warning also includes reminders of life’s experiences that put us all on a level plain, whether we want to be there or not …

… those who are full, you will again feel hunger.

… you who laugh, your heart will eventually be broken.

… you who get puffed up on human accolades, fame and notoriety – that’s all temporary. So have a little empathy and don’t let the stuff you have been given become your God, lest you risk getting in between God and God’s favored.

The “woes” are a call to repent, to change our behavior, to handle God’s abundance in ways God imagines, not in the ways the world tends to normalize and even expect.

And so I’d like to close with a prayer for all of us as we ourselves move back and forth in these blessings and woes in our lives.

Let us pray,

God, your love and care for this world comes to life magnificently in Jesus, especially for the least and most rejected among us. Thank you for all you give us – food, shelter, safety, friends to lift and console us. For any of us who suffer poverty of any kind, satisfy and fill, shine the light of love and dignity on those places. For all among us who grieve and seek your peace, we pray you continue to pour your healing balm on their wounds. For all who feel battered by words of hate or ridiculed for walking the Way of Jesus, let them feel that their burden is lifted and they may go forth confident in your guidance and protection. And for those of us with much, strengthen us to be your servants and guard us from becoming slaves to our stuff and our egos. We hope in these things and repent in these things, sometimes all at once, as we come now, called by Jesus to the level plain of our communion table, with one another, unified in Jesus.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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