Blessed are the Powerless
Text: Luke 6:17-26
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christianity’s position of power is falling. It’s a cold, hard truth we have to face at this particular point in history. Christianity does not have the cultural weight it once did. It does not walk confidently through the halls of power in capitals. It does not have the vast influence over minds and behaviors that it had in the past. And this fact has led to much distress among the faithful. There’s lament that things aren’t the way they used to be. People worry about the future. Hands are wrung as we wonder how it can be turned around, how the church can be glorious and powerful as it once was; as if we only need to find that magic formula to fix it and get it all back. People are fearful as we face the fiery trial that’s here to test us, as if something strange were happening to us.
We act as if this were something strange because we forget what our Lord has told us about His Church in the world. We forget how God’s people have always been regarded by the world—as those who don’t belong to it, who refuse to worship at its hollow temples, as those who are different from the way the world speaks and acts and thinks. Ancient Israel forget how they were different from the unbelieving nations that surrounded them, so out of fear of becoming weak they made alliances with those nations that had nothing but contempt for the God of Israel. They even tried to ally themselves with Egypt, their former enslavers. The Church throughout history, at every turn, has found it all too easy to get too comfortable in the palaces of governors, kings, and emperors, finding its worth in cultural dominance, rather than holding to what faith says is true in spite of what our eyes and the numbers might say.
It’s a natural temptation for us. Our corrupted flesh will always seek the most comfortable path of least resistance. But that’s not how our Lord describes the faith. Faith—believing in spite of what we see and experience, believing our Lord’s words over the world—is difficult. It runs opposite to how we’re hardwired. So Jesus comes to us to gently remind us how things in His kingdom are upside down from the world, the way that He rules over His people is the opposite of how the world operates. Jesus recalibrates our eyes, our ears, and our hearts, so that we would know the truth and be set free from the expectations of the world and our fallen natures. So He speaks, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”
Jesus tells us to rejoice in hardship: suffering, ridicule, being rejected by the world, being hungry, poor, powerless. He tells us to rejoice in those things because it’s proof that we don’t belong to the world. The world will give out its treasures, and it will skip over those who are lifting up their eyes to see a greater God. So Jesus warns those who find their joy in the treasures of this world: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. The world has already given you what you deem to be the greatest good. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry when the world has moved on past you to its new up and coming bright shiny worshipers. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep when your god, the world, can’t save you. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” Hard words of warning, words that we don’t like to hear, but it does us good to be reminded that the things and events of this world, the acclaim and praise of the world, the trinkets of the world that can’t go with us past the grave, are short-lived and passing away. Our hearts need that resetting, even if our ears don’t like to hear it.
Now this all sounds like bad news to us so far. After all, who of us wants to be miserable and broke, hungry, sick and downtrodden? And it’s not to say that everything about our lives in this world will be horrible when we put our faith in Jesus above all things. Jesus will give us blessings in this life. He teaches us to pray for daily bread, those things that we need for our physical lives: food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, and the like. When we pray for daily bread, we ask for all those things. But He doesn’t want us to mistake the things in this fallen world as the ultimate good. He wants us always to remember that there are more important things: forgiveness of sins, from which every good gift flows, body or soul; peace with God; faith; eternal life. And so Jesus goes about healing the sick and spiritually oppressed in our Gospel reading today—giving them healing for this worldly life—and then He goes on to tell them about the greater things still coming: “…you will be satisfied; you will laugh; your reward is great in heaven.” We too receive all these good things in this life, and we’re taught to pray for them for ourselves and others; but by no means are we to think that those are the best things that our Lord offers. He offers us Himself after all—His body and blood, His grace, His love, His very life—and that is what He says is the better part, the part we are to treasure above all else.
We’ll still be tempted to think that if we just do this or that, or if we just manage to change one or two things, that then we’ll be perfectly happy, healthy, wealthy, stand at the top of society, be on the right side of history, or eliminate all the troubles of the world. We’ll be tempted to think that we can serve two masters, that we can give our whole hearts to two different paths, chase down two different ultimate goods—Jesus and the world’s stuff. We’ll still want this world’s power and all that comes with it. But that’s just our world-focused flesh talking. That’s just us trusting in man, whether it’s politicians or pundits or even ourselves. That’s just us seeking out that alliance that Israel sought, putting our trust in anything but God to get us out of trouble. So God warns us, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come.” Our Lord reminds us of the irony: when we chase after the things of the flesh, they evaporate as soon as we catch them.
Jesus sets us right again. He lifts up our eyes to see further than just the moment, further than this little stretch of history, further than what’s right before us, even if it’s a trial. That’s not to say that we ignore these things. Jesus doesn’t ignore them. He still heals and comforts and gives us daily bread here and now. He still protects us in this world. But He reminds us that the greatest fulfillment, when we really will be made completely whole, is still coming. We can face hardships and challenges when we trust in the Lord. He lasts forever, so we, who share in His life, will also last forever. As Jeremiah said, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Jesus has seen to that. He’s taken care of us for now and for eternity. He took our brokenness, our lack, our mistakes, our sin, diseases, hunger, and death, all the things we suffer in our trials, and He took care of them at the cross. He experienced it all for us, in our place. He dealt with them and removed them from us forever. Then, as a token of what our lives will look like in Him, He rose from that lack, that death. That’s why St. Paul tells us this morning in 1 Corinthians that Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. He has risen from the dead first, in order to show us what our eternal life will look like in Him.
It’s in resurrection that we’re restored. That’s the life of the world to come that we talk about in the Creed. In Jesus we’re given healing and life. We’re welcomed to the marriage feast of the Lamb, where we’re satisfied and filled. We’re given a foretaste of that feast here in His Supper. We enjoy the first glimpses of resurrection now in Baptism. Knowing that all this is coming, we have peace that passes all understanding. We have hope and faith that can weather whatever the world and its short future can throw at us. We have a deeper realization that all the best things that are still to come, that we’ll see it when our Lord returns. In the name of Jesus, who blesses us in this life and the next. Amen.