Friday, October 05, 2012

The Sermon on the Plain

Friday, October 5, 2012 -- Week of Proper 21, Year 2

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office

     (Book of Common Prayer, p. 985)
Psalm 102 (morning)     //     107:1-32(evening)
Hosea 10:1-15
Acts 21:37 - 22:16
Luke 6:12-26

The words that lead up to Jesus' "sermon on the plain" are like the working of a symphony rising to its thematic emphasis.  First, Jesus prays all night, and then he calls the Twelve.  They all come down to a level place where a multitude from many regions gather.  Jesus heals, and the people experience the power that is his from the Spirit.  Then Jesus begins to speak, "Blessed are you who are poor..."

I've always had my own personal difficulty with the message of this sermon, a central proclamation from Jesus.  I like the first few verses just fine.  Jesus blesses the poor, the hungry and those who weep.  Throughout the gospel, indeed throughout the Hebrew scriptures as well, we can see God's particular and special interest for the poor and troubled.  It is easy to imagine the Kingdom of God blessing with special care those who have not received their fair share in life.  By extension, it seems easy to me for us to embrace the values of the Kingdom as our work in Jesus name.   If we are to be Jesus' people, we can use our political, economic and religious energies to bless and heal those whom Jesus reached out to with such emphasis -- especially the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed.

I'm okay with the blessings on those who are punished "on account of the Son of Man."  I've seen the price good people have paid for standing up for things that are right but unpopular.

It's verse 24 where I start to squirm.  "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  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.  Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."

I'm rich.  I always have been.  I was born into unearned privilege.  Simply being born in this country was a rich advantage of immeasurable value.  I have received my consolation.  With that comes responsibility, I believe.  But it distresses me that I am the target of woe rather than blessing.  I don't quite know what to make of that, but it discomforts me.

In a way I can understand the woe directed at the "full."  Those who are full do not experience hunger.  I know how to read this verse spiritually.  There are times when I am full of things -- theology, religious knowledge, settled beliefs.  When I am like that, there is not much room for God to feed me.  So much of my growth has been from my growing hungry and dissatisfied, spiritually and theologically.  I see people who are so full of their certainties that their blindness is obvious to me.  How immature I must appear to others who are so much more spiritually mature than I am.  How foolish I must appear when I am so full of my certainties.  There is something wise about the state of perpetual hunger.  One is always hungering for God's presence and manifestation, right here, right now. 

"Woe to you who are laughing now."  There is so much to mourn and weep for.  I avert my eyes from so much suffering.  I distract myself with entertainments of many kinds.  The prophet William Stringfellow was particularly scathing toward those, like me, who love and follow sports.  He called it America's obscene idol, our holy cow, distracting us from the weightier demands of justice in our common life.

"Woe to you when all speak well of you," reminds me how timid I can be for the sake of not offending.  I like to be accepted.  I want my church to be rich and healthy.  So I often tiptoe around the prophetic message.  It was the false prophets who said the things people want to hear.

Over and over Jesus presents the values and choices of the Kingdom of God.  All too often they are not my values, for I am attached to my comforts and my privilege.  This is vanity. 


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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at

Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Lowell,

I am compelled to write. It is interesting how these same words are such a comfort to me. Of course we have such different lives. But when I am reading Christ's words, and something comes to me that hits home, I try to hear it truly as the voice of Christ, loving, gentle, not judging, but full of compassion. You can read the "Woe to those.." with the gentle compassion of Jesus, almost as if he is as full of compassion for those who are rich and are now full, especially if they do not realize the need all around them, as he is with those who suffer want.

I have to trust God to work through my circumstances. Poverty, little or no power, and sometimes I wonder about it because I feel like I have so much to give. I now have two jobs, little jobs, but I work with individuals with DD, some of the most vulnerable people I have ever encountered. We have to believe and trust that God is able to work through us in our individual circumstances.

Your honesty with your 'privilege' is paramount. We can trust God work through our circumstances of privilege - mine being that I have probably encountered more grace than most and that can easily lead to spiritual pride.

I know from personal experience that God does work through you. You are a fine example of a good priest, and many of us need to encounter that for various reasons.

The attachment is something we have to continually go to God with, don't we? That isn't as easy as it sounds.

Just remember the compassion of Jesus is in the harsh words also. At least I believe that to be so.


At 7:56 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the gracious words Janet. It is especially good to remember the tone of voice -- Jesus does speak with compassion when telling us of our foolishness.

His words and ministry were (and are) welcomed with enthusiasm by the poor. It is good for you to hear such comforting words. His words remain a challenge to those of us who are privileged. Maybe a gentle challenge, but a challenge.

I like to think of Joseph of Arimathea as one of those who was privileged but could hear Jesus and respond appropriately. He's a patron saint for the wealthy and powerful.



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