First Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-10 5Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. 6They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. 7Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. 9The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it? 10I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.
Gospel: Luke 6:17-26 17[Jesus] came down with [the twelve] 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.18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20Then he looked up at his disciples and said: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice 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. 24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25“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. 26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
One of my colleagues is serving right now in Costa Rico, but she grew up in Illinois. On Friday, she responded to the tragedy in Aurora, in the outskirts of Chicago. This is what she wrote:
Dear Illinois, my home state, specifically Aurora, the employees and their families and friends, of the Henry Pratt company, the inhabitants of this city who have tasted the bitterness of fear, of anguish, of doubt, of senseless violence. I don't know the details. All I know is that someone was so angry he took a weapon and fired recklessly into a crowd of people. Could this have been avoided? We will never know. All I can think of is how angry this person was. Perhaps he felt exploited, cheated, mis-or simply not understood, excluded, not valued or appreciated. I have no idea, but I don't think people snap like that without a stimulus. Let's get off our cell phones and speak to one another. Not just empty greetings, but on a lunch or coffee break, speak with someone you don't know, someone who is different than you, and show an interest in that person's life. Be a careful listener instead of a constant talker (this is my problem). Maybe we can defuse some of this anger before it takes violent proportions. Maybe we can't. All I know is that often after an event like this, stories come out describing the person as a loner. Someone who displayed angry outbursts. Someone who made threats on the internet that were never reported to someone who could have helped. Someone who was taunted for being different. And sometimes that person cracks. I pray for the families of lost loved ones, of people marred for life as their lives were endangered and altered by a gun in the hands of a person who did not see another way out. I pray for the next shooter, who feels no way out other than to leave violently, taking others along. God created us to be people of relations, as we are in relation with God. We should not have to process problems alone. Please, be the light in someone's life! (Rosemarie Doucette)
When I began working on today’s message, I will admit I was angry and disappointed—certainly not to the extent of the anger and disappointment likely behind the massacre in Illinois on Friday!
I’d been reading statistics and trends in the churches, how worship participation is going down, and expenses are rising, and on top of all that, a recent failure of hospitality sparked a fuse in this naturally explosive German! (Which is not to say that all Germans are explosive!)
Then I read the Gospel story for today, and Jesus follows all the blessings for the downtrodden with woes for the satisfied. I will say that it was tempting to feed on my anger and my disappointment. I wanted to rant and rail on all the things we need to do better as Christians in this society. I wanted to shout out how fitting it would be to do as Jesus did, declaring woe to the rich, and the sated, the joyous, and the respected.
Where, though, would that get us? When we focus on the woes, we are almost always pointing at someone else, blaming someone else, saying, “It’s not me, it can’t be me!”
None of us wants to admit anything on the problem side of things, and I’m not suggesting that we need to do so.
But there is something that we ought to do, even if we never identify as part of the cause of any problems. What we should do, and what each and every one of us can do, is to identify as part of the solution.
In the gospel story, Jesus did not detail how the blessings would arrive to those to whom they’d been promised. He didn’t detail the woes either. He merely spoke blessings where people expected none, and curses where they expected only blessings.
If we are living in a time of suffering now, if what we see are woes scattered around us, beginning to amass with threats of unwelcome change and fear, what are we to do?
We are advised to trust. The whole first reading was centered around trust in our living God, trust described as a tree planted near the water, so its roots can gather nourishment even when the rains refuse to fall.
How, though, does one trust?
When someone brings a gun into a factory, or a school, or a private home, and starts shooting people—when people are dying, how do we trust? When a priest abuses people in his care, or a pastor steals and vandalizes, how do we trust? When food that nourishes 98% of the population becomes deadly to two (percent), how do we trust?
We trust God because we learn that God loves us even when we suffer. Even in the midst of suffering, we realize that we can be part of the solution, that we can be (or at least reflect) light for those who live in murky blindness. We can share the nourishment we receive from God with those as yet unaware, so that all can learn the blessings God’s love brings.
So, even though we may be among the satisfied, the rich, and the well-respected, we need not despair. Instead, we may share God’s light, and live in God’s hope for a tomorrow when all will know what it is to be like the tree planted by water, even in a desert land.
The question becomes, how do we best share that? How do we best love our neighbors, particularly those we don’t automatically define as neighbors? How do we best love an angry employee? How do we trust, when we see or experience suffering?
Answers vary, but God walks with us through it all. When all that we can see is suffering, God brings hope. When all that we can see is woe, God brings hope. When all that we can see is a murkiness that blinds us, God brings hope, and a sight that transcends vision.
There is hope amid the woes. There are blessings amid the curses. We live within God’ promise. In Jesus’ name. Amen