Life, Faith and Urban Farming

The life and happenings of an unconventional pastor and urban farmer living in the city with a family of five.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Blessed are the Poor (sermon from October 2016)


Luke 6:20-31New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Blessings and Woes

20 Then 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.
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.
Love for Enemies
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.
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.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice 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,

26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

So, I’ve started, kind of a rough draft of a book and this book starts with a ten year old version of me setting out to save a small forest and in particular one large oak tree at the center of that forest. That said, trees have always held a mysterious grip on my imagination.

Last week as I read todays lectionary scripture passage I also began reading a book called The Hidden Life of Trees. Recent science is blowing to pieces almost everything we thought we knew about trees and forests and it’s led me to consider what the life of trees can teach us about our relationships and communities.

In the book Peter Wohlleben describes his work as a forester in Germany. He began his work as a fairly conventional forester, planting trees on 15 or 20 foot centers so they would grow tall and fast and harvesting them at the youngest age possible. He managed a monoculture forest. But, as Wohlleben continued to spend free time in natural forests as well, he also continued learning how forests seems to thrive on diversity.

One day in a deep dark German forest Wohlleben stumbled upon a strange sight. He found an organization of round stones that he thought must have been placed in a large circle. Who put them there? When? Why? Each stone was covered with thick green moss, upon removing a section of the moss Peter found that they weren't stones at all, they were living wood. Peter goes on to surmise that this circular pattern of living wood was an ancient stump, still alive. It must have been that the surrounding forest was in fact feeding life giving nutrients into this great-grandfather of a tree. What Wohlleben then goes on to describe is the new science developing around how trees care for the young, sick and elderly of the forest. Trees actually communicate in complex ways that science is yet to completely understand. Healthy trees, reaching tall into the atmosphere, absorbing sunlight day in and day out, were also feeding the remnants of this giant and ancient stump.

It seems God created ecosystems, solar systems, family systems, human communities to be in a balanced right relationship where all are supported and cared for, where those with extra recourses share them.

Human beings aren’t always good at living into the purposes God has created for us. Instead, since the beginning, we have been tempted to look out for our own selfish gain and not for the betterment of the people around us. Sin is the chaotic imbalance of justice. Sin is what happens when human beings do not lift one another up and hold each other as precious image bearers of God, but instead as competitors. Sin is the oppression of some people for the gain of others. And this is the story of humanity. This is the story Jesus is telling. A story of competition, oppression and separation. Our passage is about the poor, sick, meek, oppressed people of the world finding justice through the kingdom of God. Likewise Jesus says that the selfish, powerful, and those in control in our world will lose what they now abuse.

It seems trees and forests may do a better job of caring for those in need than human beings often do. Today's scripture is Jesus’ most straight forward teaching on the place of the oppressed in the Kingdom of God and what our response should be in the here and now. This scripture can be broken down into three sections. 1. Jesus describing who will be blessed in the kingdom of God 2. Jesus describing who has already received their blessing 3. Jesus describing how we are to live our lives as a foreshadowing of God’s Kingdom.

If we read just prior to this week’s passage we’d see that Jesus is preaching to a very large crowd. In Luke’s gospel Jesus is standing on a large plain, a flat area where many could gather and hear him. In Matthew’s gospel where Jesus says nearly the same words, Jesus was said to be preaching on a mountain or hillside. In both stories Jesus lifts up these words to a huge crowd. In Luke’s version, prior to this teaching, the disciples are joined by many people who are sick and in need of healing.

We’ve already talked a lot over the past few weeks about how Jesus lifts up the poor and honors those who have received dishonor from society. We’ve seen Jesus demonstrate that all people have inherent value, even repentant tax collectors. We’ve talked about the proud Pharisee, those in the world who have reason to think much of themselves, and how in God’s economy those who think themselves better than others will be brought low. Today what I’m really interested in thinking about is the third stanza of this passage. In this third section Jesus shares some radical ideas of what it looks like to live into the Kingdom of God’s economy in the here and now.

I think this is one of those passages that, when we don’t just skim over it, when we take it seriously, we realize it is a hard passage. After we have come to grips with just how difficult this passage is, we can move forward in applying it to the here and now of our lives, our church and our culture.

Context – Lets imagine ourselves with Jesus, preaching on a big pasture or meadow near the Sea of Galilee. The people gathering are not those in power, it’s not the religious leaders who are coming to learn from Jesus, it’s the outcast from society. And they keep on coming, single women with children, the sick who have no one to care for them, the poor who have lost their jobs or had more than their share of Caesar’s taxes stolen from them. I believe Jesus is gathering these people and he’s angry, he sees that the Jewish culture is oppressive and those who are most vulnerable are not being cared for.

Jesus then says: Blessed are you who are poor, But woe to you who are rich,

Today the state of our world, of our country's politics, and even our country’s religion, makes us all angry. But anger and frustration, two things that I believe Jesus felt, are not where we end. Jesus pushes us toward action. Jesus calls his church toward a radical countercultural way of living that effects all of life.

Love for Enemies

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

What I believe this third stanza is about is giving up what we can rightfully claim as ours for the sake of others. This is what happens when we truly open up our communities to the other, to those in need, and to those who suffer. When you welcome in a stranger and find that that person is in need, you are willing to give the coat on your back and even your shirt to keep them warm. When we as a church truly welcome in the stranger and find that there is need, we have no option but to respond. When one of us suffers we know that the community will lift us up in prayer, with meals, and with whatever support is needed. That’s what we do. We give of ourselves and the things that we have a right to for the sake of others.

We also give of ourselves outside of this community. We live into this poetic and radical way of life that Jesus calls us toward we will live into a life with open hands willing to humbly give of that which we have earned and that which this world says is ours by right. As a community we will learn to discern ways to communally give up what we have for the sake of others around the world and right here in our neighborhoods.

There are serious and overwhelming issues in our world today that Christians must respond to. Following in the way of Jesus involves collective action for the sake of those suffering in our world.

Issues of Oppression and injustice

1. One issue of injustice and racism that currently weighs very heavy on me are the issues of indigenous peoples in our country and the rights they have to protect their land, water and ancestral sacred sites. The Dakota Access Pipeline is an ongoing injustice against those who have suffered from the original sin of genocide in the United States of American. We must respond with restorative justice.

2. Clean Water – nearly a billion people in our world live without access to clean water. Now, what does that mean? I’m not talking about villages, such as El Huizechal Mexico where one well exists for hundreds of people. That is clean water and people only have to walk a half mile or so every day with that water. While that is extrememly difficult work, I’m talking about nearly a billion people who get their water from ponds, puddles and poluted streams. I’m talking about people who walk miles every day with dirty water. I’m talking about people who are exposed to hundreds of parasite, bacterial and viral diseases because all they have to drink is stagnant water, often infected by human and life stock waste. While the United states spends billions of dollars on military expenditures and on sending people into outerspace, we have neglected the most basic needs of a billion people. The church has the money to solve the problem of clean water in this world.

3. Refugees seeking asylum is another example where the policies of the majority are failing and where followers of Jesus must stand up with solutions. While our national politics may continue to close it's doors on those in need, the church can act locally and become a voice for compassionate care for refugees.

Jesus’ words need to lead us toward a way of life that puts justice, compassion and support of those who are struggling in this world and in our community as primary concerns. I began this sermon thinking about the forest. Scientists once thought the forest was just a mix of trees competing with one another for sunlight and soil nutrients. The reality is that the forest would fail, it would die, if that were the case. Today we’re learning that God’s design for the forest is a design of mutual support. Healthy trees quite literally give of themselves to heal the sick and to support weak. Healthy trees give of themselves to support the young and the next generation, feeding them for decades while they live in shade of the canopy. What I’ve learned about God’s design in nature is that it reflects God’s design for humanity. Just like the forest, we will self destruct if we live our lives focused on economic gains for the wealthy, economics that further oppress the poor of the world and further destroy the environment. We are called out people and we must live against the American culture of greed, putting money and economic growth above the needs of the poor, suffering and oppressed of our world.

Here is the good news, Jesus hasn’t left us alone with only his 2000 year old words to guide us, to scold us or even to haunt us because we know we will fail. That is the truth, we will fail. The good news is that Jesus is alive and active in the world today through those of us willing to take this extrodinary, risky, and nonsensical leap and follow him. Jesus is the actor, the leader, the one who we follow. Jesus is not calling us to go out alone and try to save the world against impossible odds. Jesus is calling us to proclaim the good news that there is love in the universe, that love is holding together this universe, unquenchable love, and we are called to live by that love. Nothing else matters. In this world of suffering, oppression, injustice, rich and poor, Jesus calls us to an unwaivering way of love. And in return we are given full inclusion into God’s communal love.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

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