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Love In Action: Reveal!

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Listen! Here’s the scene: We are in the midst of a continuation of a Jesus sermon. The Beatitudes. The sermon… not on the mount… but on the plain. A level place. These are Jesus words. You might remember that several week’s ago I mentioned that as we begin 2019 the liturgical season of Epiphany, this ordinary time into which God’s presence is revealed for us between the arrival of the magi back in January and Jesus going back up to a high place next week, is loooong this year. This year we have had seven week’s packed with small epiphanies—those holy moments of “ah-ha”—swirling with the revelation of God with us, in the ordinariness of our day-to-day lives.

Listen! Jesus’ sermon, (the sermon not on the mount, but on the plain), is what the author of Luke shares with us today. In another place, the writer of Matthew tells us that this sermon happened up on a high place, and for some of us in church the phrase “Sermon on the Mount” is familiar. However, in Luke, we are not UP, but down. This is not a mountain top experience, but it is a down, in the mess of the world, revelation.

Last week we read that Jesus “came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd… (and that) they had come to hear (Jesus)” (Luke 6:17-18). I can image this throng of people listening to the litany of Jesus’ words of blessings and woes. This is who the Bible tells us was there:

  • People who were sick
  • Broken
  • Searching
  • Desperate for healing
  • People working jobs that didn’t pay a living wage… like the fishermen
    • Public theologian Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite always encourages us to “read the Bible from below,”[1] or as Rev. Jim Wallis points out “that the struggle for the Bible on issues of wealth and poverty is all-important… social justice is a faith-based commitment to serve the poor and to change the conditions that lead to so much poverty…”[2]

The people gathered with Jesus were desperate for any sort of hope.

Listen! Hear the beginning of Jesus’ sermon, again from Luke 6, 20-22 (The Message).

Pay attention to what grabs your attention:

Jesus says… “You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding. You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry. Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal.”

You are blessed when…

Do Jesus’ words make us comfortable? Or do they disturb us? Does Jesus’ sermon resonate with us on a personal level? Or not? Was there something in Jesus’ words that are meant to jolt us to attention? Are these words you, I, we, need to hear? Can we hear?

Listen! For beyond the blessings and the woes of last week, Jesus continues on, saying these words today (again from The Message, chapter 6, verse 27):

“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.” 

Not the worst.

And again, Jesus says the message like this:

“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!” (verse 31)

And again, like this:

“I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it.” (verse 35)

Revelation in repetition. The over and over of our lives. Of creation. Of God. Today we hear (or do we hear…?) Love in Action. Or what we sometimes call the Golden Rule. This way through which the in-breaking of God here… God now… happens.

Listen! God is Speaking. Words of creative transformation.

This is always one of my favorite parts of the gospels – the revelation of God’s mystery. The “secret decoder ring.” Arising first in Mark, this underlying code – the secret in plain sight – weaves into Matthew and Luke as well.

Do you remember secret decoder rings? Have any of you ever had one? I remember decoding secret messages as a child—and loved the sense mystery that hovered around me as hidden words, hidden messages, emerged. Right. In. Front. Of. Me.

The professor that I had for New Testament studies, Dr. Ted Jennings, pointed to the book of Mark, which we now believe was in part the source material for the books of Luke and Matthew, as the source for the “secret decoder ring” of God’s Good News.

In Mark, Jesus begins the parable of the mustard seed with “Listen!” and ends with “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Mark 4:1-9, NRSV).

“May those who have ears hear…”

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, NRSV).

God speaks. Creation bursts forth. May those who have ears hear.

And once again today, Jesus declares, “I say to you that listen…”

This is the secret decoder ring: The need for us to listen, to hear. To process, the revelation, of God With Us. Love in Action. And the transformation that can… will… occur.

Listen! “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…give to everyone who begs from you… Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

I will admit, hearing these words…listening to these words… is not easy. The “do to others” part can, on the surface, seem like an easy task. Of course, that is what I have been taught to do my whole life. It is engrained. This is what we do, right? But Jesus goes on to say to us today, again from The Message:

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity” (Luke 6:27-38).

Listen! We are in the midst of a continuation of reflecting on “who we are” at Memorial UCC. Over the past 5 Sundays we have been rediscovering, remembering, renewing, and rejoicing in who we say we are as we Be the Church, listening once again to the proclamation we have posted on our website, one paragraph at a time. I invite you to hear these words from Memorial’s “who we are” page, on this, our final week of this sermon series:

“Justice and peace – We are a community that is deeply engaged with the wider community. Our congregation has a long history of being involved with programs in Madison and around the world that work to foster justice and peace. You can read more about those under the tab marked “Serve,” where you can find links to some of our outreach efforts.  We also are a community where people do a great job of looking out for each other in the midst of life’s struggles.”

In our listening, have you seen, experienced, this idea of responding to… acting on… issues of justice and peace, in our faith community?

{members and friends of the church took time to share stories of the multiple care team, service, and advocacy ministries in which those at Memorial UCC participate}

Listen! Here’s the scene: Today crowds still gather. In our community. Reading the Bible from below means that I need to, we need to, listen to—and show up for—

  • People who are sick
  • Broken
  • Searching
  • Desperate for healing
  • People working jobs that don’t pay a living wage
  • People desperate for any sort of hope

Just yesterday, I was at the Boys and Girls Club in Fitchburg. I attended the meeting of community leaders and parents who sought space to share their own stories following an incident at Whitehorse Middle School that made local headlines. Michael Johnson, the president of the Boys and Girl Club, noted that all too often these cases “hit the news and then go away,” and nothing changes. The people gathered on Saturday were determined to identify steps the community can take now, and to address the multi-layered, complex systemic issues in the school district (and beyond). The question that I heard over and was, “What can we do right now?”

What can we do right now?

What can we do right not?

“May those who have ears hear…”

For, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, NRSV).

God speaks, and all Holy Breaks Forth. Once again in our midst, Jesus declares, “I say to you that listen…”

To you that listen.

May we hear.

May we listen.

And may we respond. May we be a part of the Holy Transformation—revealing God’s justice and peace in our community… and beyond.


~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Luke 6:27-38 offered February 24, 2019

[1] Thistlethwaite, Susan Brooks. #OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) about Money and Power. New York: Astor Blue, 2013. 7.

[2] Thistlethwaite, Susan Brooks. #OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) about Money and Power. New York: Astor Blue, 2013. 6.