Today I want to talk with you about recognizing God’s blessings and opportunities in your life. God has countless blessings and opportunities for each of us and it includes blessing others and sharing God’s unconditional love – as we heard from our Gospel Lesson today, which is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes.
Yet, there are some striking differences between our Gospel lesson from Luke, and its counterpart – in Matthew’s Gospel.
So, in a brief comparison of these two accounts, I hope you will grasp the significance of our lesson this morning from Luke’s Gospel.
In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus saw the crowds, we are told that he went up a mountain, where he was alone with his disciples, to teach them. The implication is that Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount,” as it is affectionately known, had a limited audience, intended for closest disciples of Jesus.
But according to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus went up the mountain where he spent the night in prayer, and when he had finished, he called those who had been following him together, and chose twelve of them to become his disciples, “whom he also called apostles.”
The implication in Luke, is that Jesus spent this time on the mountain in private meditation and prayer, in order to be led by God’s Spirit to choose those who would become his closest disciples.
Then, following his selection of “the twelve,” He came down from the mountain, to the plain, or level place, where He was surrounded by a huge multitude of people from all over the region. These were people who had come to hear him preach, and to be healed of various diseases.
Luke tells us that a large number of people wanted to be near Jesus and some wanted to touch or be touched by the hand Jesus, the Christ. Their faith in Christ was evident… and they were not ashamed to say: I need Jesus in my life! And what about you? What do you say? (PAUSE)
You see, the difference between Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount,” and Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain,” is strikingly different. One is spiritual in nature, asking us to explore our relationship with God, while the other challenges us to honestly look at our relationship and values that we place on living in relationship with one another, here on earth.
So do we consider ourselves blessed because we are “full of ourselves,” satisfied with “things,” and live only for ourselves?
You see, Jesus uses the term “Woe to you” to get our attention so we can focus on more important values and practices. Jesus says: Blessed are you when matters of faith and values and principles and practice – guide you in daily living.
I’m sure most of us have heard the adage, “You are so heavenly minded, that you are of no earthly good.” It is a description of a person who dedicates his or her life to pursuing spirituality in concern for their own well-being, while ignoring the needs of those who live around them.
You see, Jesus wants us to know and realize that in God’s kingdom, the things that we value on earth… may not be the values that govern God’s kingdom.
In fact, Jesus indicates in this sermon on the plain, that in God’s kingdom, the things that we value on earth – may be the opposite of what God would have us aspire to.
Jesus is saying, God cares for the poor, for the hungry, for those who are sad and mourning, for all those persons whom society, especially a capitalistic society, tends to neglect and forget, in pursuit of success.
Jesus seems to be saying that in God’s kingdom, what we value in society will be turned upside down. For God has concern for each and every one whom he has created. So for those who truly believe, what does God want for… and from us? (PAUSE)
So imagine thinking that you are “too good” or “not good enough” for our loving and forgiving God! This is what the evil wants for and from us – because he wants to deceive us with falsehoods!
Everyone is welcome and everyone in the kingdom needs to help each other. The rich can give to the poor, the well feed can give food to the hungry, the healthy can help the sick, the abled bodied can assist the disabled, the joyful can ease the burden of those who mourn, and on and on – we can go.
So the Sermon on the Plain is not about pitting one group against another, but is more about how to live, what kind of lifestyle one needs to live in the Kingdom of God – here on earth (as we pray).
George Bernard Shaw said “Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” (PAUSE)
As we are in the season of Epiphany, the season of light, that quote speaks volumes to us as we talk about the lifestyle of those who are in the Kingdom of God.
How is your candle burning? Do you reach out to those who need a hand? One of my favorite singers is Neil Diamond and he sings a song called: Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show and one of the verses says this: “Brother, now you got yourself two good hands; now when your brother is in trouble – you’ve got to reach-out your one hand to him – cause that’s what it’s there for… and when your heart is troubled, you can reach-out your other hand, reach it out to the man up there – cause that what he’s there for.” (END OF QUOTE)
And this is exactly what Jesus is talking about in this Sermon on the Plain. As members of the kingdom of God, we need to reach out our hand to our neighbor and reach out our hand to God. As kingdom people, we are grounded by those two hands, one hand out to God, one hand out to our neighbor.
This is the lifestyle which Jesus is telling us to live as kingdom people. You see, with an extended hand-up to God – for our moral and spiritual grounding, and a hand-out to our to those who are poor, to those who are hungry, to those who weep, and even to those who hate us – we give evidence of the love of Christ that is in us. So let it be. Amen!