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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Blessings and Woes, Saints and Sinners - 11/03/2019

This is the first text I ever preached on … way back in 2010 when I had decided to go to seminary and my pastor said, “Well, you’re going to be preaching eventually and your first time has to be sometime. How about now?”

I remember how scared I was. I had spoken in front of people before, but this was different. This was talking about God’s holy word and a whole bunch of people hopin to somehow understand God a little more through what I had to say.

In the end, it was an okay sermon. It wasn’t my worst. That was yet to come … or maybe is still yet to come.

One thing I remember very clearly about preaching on this text that day is the person who came up to me afterward and said something like “You didn’t say anything about the woes.”

His comment hurt me a little. I mean it was my first sermon. I didn’t sleep well for weeks before worrying about it. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. At the time, I kind of wished he hadn’t said anything at all. But the thing is he was right, I hadn’t said anything about the woes. I didn’t really understand how to treat them because the way I had grown to understand the blessings and the woes, at least subconsciously, was as two distinct and opposite things.

You have blessings and the woes, which lead directly to the blessed and the cursed and then the people who are redeemed and the people who are dammed. And none of that seems like it is in sync with Jesus’ teachings. I didn’t know what to do with that, so I didn’t do anything with it.

In my defense, I think that’s a healthy approach to commenting on the Word – and maybe other things too … to hold back when you don’t feel like you have a solid grasp and keep studying and discerning. In my critic’s defense, he planted an important seed – I knew eventually I’d have to address these woes.

I’d like to take a swing at it this time around and I’m praying this won’t become my new worst sermon ever.

So let’s start with these “blessings” and “woes” … in Greek they are the μακάριοι (makarioi) and οὐαὶ (ouai), … I think they are the key … they are what so quickly lead us to this idea of two distinct and opposite things, two groups of people … those Jesus has come to redeem and those he as not. And that doesn’t make sense. We heard just last week how Jesus said he had come not for the righteous, but for the sinners … the folks who could so easily occupy all the “woe” categories.

So I think the blessings and woes are the place to start. As I’ve mentioned before … sorry for the repetition, but it’s important … often what we read or hear in our English translation of the bible isn’t nuanced in the same way as the Greek. So in this case, I’d like to try hearing this teaching using words that perhaps get a little closer to what the Greek word was trying to communicate.

Then (Jesus) looked up at his disciples and said:

Satisfied are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 

Satisfied are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

Unburdened are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 

Unburdened 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 Yikes! to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 

Yikes! to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

Look out! you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 

Look out! when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-26)

I think one of the benefits of hearing it like this is that it takes this new world Jesus is trying to show us out of some future we really cannot see and places it solidly in the now.

This isn’t some strategic plan Jesus has for the cosmos that he is trying get us to buy into. This is the new reality he has brought already and going forward forever. The Beatitudes describe what is right now and forever more.

This is a reality in which God clearly favors those of us who are poor or hungry or grieving or shunned.

This is also a reality in which those of us who have all we need, who laugh, who are well-thought of in our communities are warned to remember these things can be fleeting and fickle. Despite riches and full pantries, we can still feel quite hungry … Look out for that one! Despite how happy and perfect our lives may appear on Snapchat and Instagram, offline we still weep and are laid low by grief. Yikes! Watch out for that trap!

To come away from this teaching with the idea that Jesus is identifying two distinct groups here – those who God loves and those who God punishes … is not accurate, turns out. I don’t think this is about two groups at all, but one group – us – one body of people who God promises to be with and care for in the depths of poverty and grief and loneliness. It is the very same body of people God promises also to warn and run after when we get too wrapped up, distracted and enslaved by our heights of wealth and comfort, our enjoyment and status.

Jesus doesn’t segregate us here. He puts us all on a level playing field. This is reinforced by the setting this teaching takes place in. Remember that in Luke we call this the Sermon on the Plain. Just before this teaching, Jesus had been praying in the mountains and naming his disciples. “He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people …” (Luke 6:17a)

Jesus brought all of them to a level place to teach them the Beatitudes. Jesus is still doing this work today. It happens every time we come in from our various high places and low, and gather in a level place for the feast at the center of the new world Jesus has already brought to us.

This great and divine leveling is also an appropriate contemplation on this day when we remember the saints. It makes me want to rename this Feast Day in the church year “All Sinners and Saints Day” because they too walked in the level place Jesus offers to us in these “Blessings and Woes.”

The witness and memories we carry with us of these people we name today … out loud and quietly in our hearts … are full of this great leveling too. We are inspired and comforted by stories of how God’s abundance and providence went with them in the face of hardship, poverty or loneliness. We are formed and emboldened by their faithfulness and the ways Jesus’ command to “love neighbor” took shape in their lives.

And we are also cautioned by their witnesses. It is as if they also say to us “Here are the things to look out for! … trappings of wealth and status, the temptation to worship and over-prioritize things that in the end don’t mean anything at all.”

And so, it is from this great and divine leveling we then hear the central point of Jesus’ teaching for us today. It is our call as his followers. It is our reality whether we come to this level place from a mountaintop experience or a deep dark valley. It is what we have learned in ways predictable and not … from the Sinner/Saints who have gone before us.

“But I say to you that listen,” Jesus continues. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31)


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 ~

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