“And raising His eyes toward His disciples, [Jesus] said …”(Luke 6:20)In the name …
Did you hear about the sign outside of a Ford dealership.It read:“Toyota Drivers.Great deals inside.Stop by … If you can!”Toyota has become the world’s most successful car manufacturer, and it is has done so based on the reputation of the quality of its workmanship.That’s why it’s been so surprising to hear about the two huge recalls that Toyota has had to make in the past couple of weeks, one because of faulty brakes and the other because of faulty accelerators, and thus the “stop by if you can” sign.And Toyota seemed to make a bad situation worse for itself when at first the company denied any responsibility for these problems.And second, through all of this, for the longest time, the head of the company, the grandson of its founder, was nowhere to be seen.When reporters finally caught up with him at an economics conference in Switzerland, he was dismissive of the whole issue.Then to make matters worse he quickly drove away from the reporters rather than answer their questions, and he drove away in an Audi!
Now the company is working overtime to try and correct these mistakes, but they are going to have to work all that much harder because of their initial blunders.Once they got caught with evidence of a real problem, whatever they said after the fact was going to be held suspect.In other words, it’s not so much about what we say, as it is about what we do and why we do it.It’s all about the difference between show and substance.
Today is Valentine’s Day.It’s a day for romance in the middle of one of the dreariest months of the year.It’s about flowers and cards and candy and dinners.That’s all fine and good.[Frontier basketball and hot dog]By definition, it’s eating out.We’re having food outside of the house.That’s romantic.But again, it’s the substance that matters.All the romance is fine, but there has to be something more than chocolates and roses for love to be real.I’ve learned over the years that some of the best talkers are also some of the ones you can count on the least when push comes to shove.Again, it’s not about the show.It’s about the substance.
And with this in mind, I point us back to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Plain.I’ll bet we’ve all heard about Jesus’ SermonontheMount, but maybe not on the Plain.The Sermon on theMount begins with the Beatitudes:“‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted.Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the land.Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied.Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.Blessed are the pure of heart for they will see God.And blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.’” (Matt. 5:3-9)These are some of the most beautiful and memorable words of the entire New Testament.They’re so famous that Luke’s version of the story almost gets lost in the telling.The Sermon on the Mount is so familiar that we may never even have heard of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. But Luke is a necessary complement to Matthew.It emphasizes that words alone are not enough for faith.Words may inspire, but they turn meaningless if we don’t act on them.
Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Plain are much more practical-orientated than those of the Sermon on the Mount.In the more famous version, it’s the “poor in spirit,” for example, but in the less recognized version we read today it’s simply “the poor,” that means the ones who have nothing to live on.In the celebrity version it’s about those who hunger for righteousness, while today it’s only those “who are now hungry,” the ones who, in other words, don’t know where their next meal is coming from.And then rather than listing only the blessings, the Sermon on the Plain goes on to list the “woes,” the consequences for not following word with action.Woe to those who are rich and who don’t care about the poor, and woe to those who are satiated while their neighbours starve.The Sermon on the Mount is about spiritual goals and truths.The Sermon on the Plain is where the rubber of this faith hits the pavement of our daily lives.It’s practical.It’s about substance not show.Do you care about the poor, says the Gospel to each of us today, that’s wonderful, but then it goes on to ask, what did you personally do about it?Does it bother you that out of the 91,000 people who receive food assistance in western Massachusetts that 32,000 of them are children?If it does, says the Sermon on the Plain, then how did we help?It’s not just about feelings.It’s about what did we do.
And did we notice that before Jesus spoke these words of a practical faith, of a faith with substance not just show, that Luke gives us the introduction that Jesus raised His eyes toward His followers.When they were lowered in the moments just prior to this, when Jesus was composing Himself to address these emotional realities, before He raised His eyes to look at His followers, He’s in communion with God.He’s at prayer with His head bowed and His eyes averted.It’s from the spiritual that comes the practical.The two aren’t opposed or different.The two are really one.The practical is inspired by the spiritual.Or as Jeremiah says to us:“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.”(17:7)There is too much to do in the world for us to try and do it alone.We have to trust and hope in God, and from here we can work for change.We have to lower our eyes in prayer and find the strength of our inner-faith if we’re going make a difference outside of this building.It’s all about substance, not show, not words alone, and that substance begins with the faith we find here, and it gives evidence in the way we choose to lead our lives beyond here.It’s not what we say we’re going to do that matters, but what we actually do for others and in the name of our God.For this faith of substance, may we pray in Jesus’ name.Amen. (+)