February 13, 2022

Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from Sunday, February 13, 2022

Message from February 13, 6th Sunday after Epiphany

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today’s gospel reading reminds me of the phrase “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I have often heard this phrase applied to good preaching, and the words we are about to hear from Jesus certainly qualify. But I was surprised to learn that this phrase was first used to describe not preaching, but newspapers.

In the early 1900’s, Chicago humorist Finley Peter Dunne wrote, “The newspaper does everything for us. It runs the police force and the banks, commands the militia, controls the legislature, baptizes the young, marries the foolish, comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable, buries the dead, and roasts them afterward.” [1]

Mr. Dunne was lampooning the power of the news media to shape events by the way those events get reported. Even in the early twentieth century, someone who worked for a newspaper could make fun of the way newspapers influenced the news.

After all, newspapers are supposed to keep opinions about how things should be on the editorial page, and report objective facts in the rest of the paper. Newspapers are supposed to just bring you the news.

And that is what Jesus was doing as the people gathered around to listen to him teach. He presented the objective facts about the Kingdom of God. But those facts, like a good newspaper, can have the effect of comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable.

Here’s some background: In the verses just before today’s passage, Jesus has been up on a mountain praying all night. When the sun comes up, he calls together twelve of his followers and makes them apostles – or sent ones (Luke 6:12-13). Then he comes down to a level place and starts to teach. He hasn’t even had breakfast yet, and people are gathering from all over the place to come hear him.

They are coming from as far away as Jerusalem in the south, and Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterranean coast – several days’ worth of walking has brought Jews and Gentiles alike to listen to Jesus teach.

He started up on the mountain in prayer, gathered his friends on the way down the mountainside, and engages in his mission at the bottom of the hill. Henri Nouwen suggests, “We tend to do things the other way around. If we have a problem or a task, we try to go it alone and solve it ourselves. If that fails, we might call on a few friends. And when all else fails, we put our hands together and pray.” [3] But Jesus starts in prayer, gathers his friends, and then gets to work. And that work includes more than just talk.

Luke writes, “All in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” (6:19) Jesus doesn’t try to get away from the crowd by getting into a boat this time. Jesus is right in the middle of the crowd, sending out healing power to everyone within reach. And Jesus doesn’t seem to care who is Jewish and who is not. He heals all of them while standing on level ground.

So here is Jesus, standing on level ground revealing the glory of the Lord to us in our broken, leveled world. Here is Jesus, offering to make our rough places plain, just as he stood on that Galilean level place sending healing into the crowds around him, describing the blessings and the woes that will inevitably come as the kingdom of God is made real.

At first, it sounds like Jesus has things backward – but by now we should probably recognize the theme of reversal that started back in chapter one. We might think riches, food, and prestige should be good for us, but Jesus says these things are the source of woe – and when these same things are scarce, we are blessed. It just seems to go against everything we believe.

But let’s look deeper at these blessings and woes. What do all the blessings have in common? They all share the kind of poverty that depends completely on God. What do all the Woes have in common? Seeking our own satisfaction.

We are blessed when we are God-centered, regardless of our earthly circumstances, and we find woe whenever we are self-centered.

When Jesus blesses the poor and hungry, the sorrowful and the ridiculed, he isn’t saying that we should all aspire to poverty, hunger, sorrow, or being verbally abused. He is saying that God is present with us, even when the world has abandoned us; that God loves us, even when everyone else hates us. We find blessing in seeking God, being hungry for God, and loving the people God loves.

When Jesus announces woe to those who are rich, who eat well, and enjoy fame and admiration from people, he isn’t saying that wealth, good food, and popularity are bad things. He is saying that when we are focused on satisfying our own appetites, we have turned our attention away from God, and our self-centeredness will be our spiritual doom.

When we seek God, we feel the pain and sorrow God feels for people who are hurting. We stand up to injustice. We affirm that every human being is worthy of love in God’s sight. When we are hungry for God, we want the things God wants. God wants every person on earth to know him and love him.

Jesus isn’t commanding you to work at becoming poor so you can receive blessing. Jesus is stating how things are and how things will be in the Kingdom of God. The things we value in this world have no value in God’s economy. In God’s economy, the only thing that has value is grace. God’s economy levels the playing field for everyone and quite often, that is not comfortable for us.

Today we are like the disciples and people on the side of the mountain. We seek God’s blessing for our lives. We want to live grace filled lives. May God’s grace empower you for ministry. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.