3rd week after Epiphany
Sunday, January 22, 2017
St. Lydia’s Dinner Church / Brooklyn, NY
“Jesus 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 on 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.”
Luke 6:17-26, NRSV
The beatitudes (fancy word for “blessing”) are a really familiar part of the bible, we can all imagine Jesus preaching a sermon to his disciples and saying these familiar lines.
For me, the most immediate connotation is from Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” — Jesus is up on a hill preaching this sermon and the people can’t hear him. “Did he say blessed are the cheesemakers?” is what they hear instead of “peacemakers.”
For those of us who were at a women’s march yesterday, this might be familiar. How many people could hear everything that was happening very well?
It is a funny thing about what happens when so many people come together –- I actually have a greater sense of what I was a part of now, today, from the aerial photos and the Vox articles compiling all of the speeches, and the Facebook posts, and the think pieces, than I did yesterday when I was a part of it.
There was no cell service where I was standing in D.C., it was very hard to find people, and we were squeezed between signs that were so close, you couldn’t read them. “I can’t wait to get home and google how many people are here,” was a popular refrain.
And yet I did trust that I was part of something much bigger than my own on-the-ground experience of what I could see or hear.
I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a Christian at this time, to be part of something bigger than the oval tables we sit around at St. Lydia’s. And by “this time” I mean: a time when the country that we have been taught our whole lives is a country of freedom, justice, and liberty for all, now has in its highest office a man who is fully unqualified for the job,
who has no respect for truth or honesty,
and who has no respect for women, for immigrants, for trans or genderqueer people, for anyone who isn’t white. And even a lot of people who are white, too. That is so many people that our president — not president elect but PRESIDENT — so many people that the president hates.
I am trying not to mince words, not to present alternative facts. This is true. This is what I see.
What is a Christian person to do, at a time when the word Christian is fraught and tied up in this mess of power and privilege? Remember, Donald Trump has said again and again that he is a Christian. I look at Donald Trump and I wonder: Are we the same thing?
I think it can be easy in Brooklyn to feel very countercultural by being a Christian, and to feel that there is some power in the derision we face from some of our peers for going to church.
Each of you is here tonight instead of watching the AFC championship, for example. (That’s football.) So that can feel a little bit like patting oneself on the back, right? I certainly gave myself a huge pat on the back this morning when I dragged myself out of bed to go to church service #1 (yes, this is #2!!) while my girlfriend kept deservedly snoozing post-Women’s March.
But I want to challenge each of us here tonight to understand that actually there is a danger in “resting in our piety” when it is so closely, even dangerously, aligned with what is in power, and what we know to be corrupt.
Of course, I’m not just talking about Donald Trump, the individual man, but I’m talking about the people who surround him who seem to be obsessed with
restricting access to abortion,
with ending American’s access to healthcare, and
with rolling back efforts against climate change and
rolling back rights for LGTBQ people,
not to mention immigrant rights and
the entrenched, frightening racism that is in the very fabric of our country.
So many of those people, too, are Christian.
Of course, a huge number of us showed up in so many different places across the world to say NO to this loudly yesterday. But there is something that sits a little funny with me –
I’m seeing a lot of people feeling very “proud” of the fact that no arrests were made. That it was a peaceful protest.
Please understand, I do not advocate needless violence, but I wonder if the 3 million plus of us on the streets really were loud enough, really were engaged enough, if the people in power seemed to have no problem with it.
And I’m thinking about the people I know who have been arrested for protest, and why no matter what I do, no one seems very interested in arresting me.
A friend of a friend (Desmera Gatewood) on Facebook said:
“Sisterhood is great.
But to my white women,
make sure you take to the streets when a black woman loses her life, the same way you did when a white woman lost an election.”
So, what to do?
A major part of being a Christian that I think, strangely, gets easily lost in the minds of so many, is that we are a faith who tells our main story four different ways, from four different perspectives, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And the beatitudes we read tonight are actually not from the “sermon on the mount,” with Jesus up on a hill like in Monty Python, but rather “the sermon on the plain.”
Jesus comes down into the people and actually looks up at them.
Jesus gives 4 beatitudes, but in this account, he also gives 4, let’s call them, “woe-titudes.”
“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.”
It is really clear to me that Jesus does not mean that we humans can never laugh, that we can never eat, that we can never enjoy compliments —
But rather Jesus is telling us to look around, look up, and notice what is going on in our midst.
Because if we are only reveling in our own joy, if we are only patting ourselves on the back, then we are not awake to how we can help, to what we can do, to the ways in which we may be blind to our intricate connections to power and privilege.
The message of the beatitudes was radically surprising to the disparate crowd that came to hear Jesus’s sermon. They came from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon, because they were in torment, they were filled with unclean spirits and diseases and feared death. The notion that God’s power works in people at the margins, in people who are afraid, in people who risk a lot to come together, was completely radical to those who heard it.
And God came into the people and looked up at them. And God told them to look around, because it is in stepping out of ourselves and seeing the other that we find our power.
At St. Lydia’s, there is a practice called What Did You Notice? We do it every week at staff meeting so that we can share what happened without imposing our opinions over them, and so that we can learn from our shared experiences. And so tonight, since we share the sermon at St. Lydia’s, and since it has been an historic weekend for our country, I would like us to share our noticings. What is one thing you noticed if you were at a march, that perhaps no one else saw? What is one thing that you have noticed on Facebook or in your daily life since Friday?
What did you notice?