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Sermons > First Sunday of Pre-Lent

24 Jan 2016

“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.”  (Jeremiah 17:7)

In the name …

I’ve been out blessing homes which means I’ve also been out at restaurants for more lunches than usual.  The other day I was sitting at the counter reading my paper and a very pleasant guy came over and asked me if I wanted to play Bible trivia.  His question was how many fish the disciples pulled out of the lake when the resurrected Jesus told them to cast their net over the side of the boat.  I had no idea.  But I then got to stump him when I asked who was the straightest man in the Bible?  Joseph - because Pharaoh made him a ruler.  That was the end of the game; guy walked away.  But that’s trivia and jokes. What does strike me as important are biblical inconsistencies and what’s behind them.  These differences point out to me that the Bible is the living, breathing, changing Word of God, and we can already see this happening when the Gospels tell us different stories about the same event.  The power of Jesus’ word and presence affected people in different ways.  I see this as a sign that in the Gospels we are hearing how different people reacted differently to what they saw and heard.  The experience of Jesus was complex and overpowering, and it wasn’t meant to be summed-up in one statement of fact.  And if it happened then, it can still happen today.  What I hear may not be what you hear – and that’s the way it should be because the Bible is God trying to speak with us. 

We encounter one of these biblical inconsistencies in today’s Gospel reading.  I’m hoping we’ve all heard of the Sermon on the Mount.  Even if we’re not too sure about what it is, I hope the name sounds familiar.  The Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew’s Gospel, but today we instead hear Luke’s Sermon on the Plain.  Now this difference of location could be part of a Bible trivia quiz, but the place of Jesus’ speech is only the beginning of their differences.  The more familiar Sermon on the Mount has the well-known phrase:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  Luke treats Jesus’ phrase as more earthly and immediate.  His Jesus says simply:  “Blessed are you who are poor.”  Not poor in spirit as in humble, but simply poor as the opposite of rich.  The Sermon on the Mount shares the memorable teaching:  “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  Luke’s Jesus places emphasis upon the more urgent need of those who don’t know where their next meal is coming from and his Jesus states:  “Blessed are you who are now hungry.”  Not hungry for righteousness, but hungry for something to eat.  Matthew’s concern is the spiritual; Luke’s the practical.  But they’re both Jesus’ words.

Matthew’s more famous Sermon on the Mount gives us the Beatitudes, the series of eight blessings.  Luke, on the other hand, gives us four blessings, which are then followed by four woes, or condemnations.  For Luke, whose concentration is on the everyday application of the faith, there are obvious signs that a person is either following or ignoring the example of Christ.  This is why he sets-up stark contrasts so that “blessed are the poor” is matched by “woe to you who are rich.”  “Blessed are the hungry” becomes linked with woe to you who have full stomachs.  Luke’s Jesus doesn’t hold off judgment until some time after death.  The judgment takes place here and now and we can see it for ourselves in how people choose to live.  Christians have to act like Christians.  We may favour and emphasize Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, which is told on the heights as it deals with the things of heaven.  But Luke’s Sermon on the Plain is brought down to earth where Jesus teaches us about what is expected of us here and now.  This message is less quoted than Matthew’s, but it cannot be pushed aside and forgotten.  There is no separation between the spiritual and the moral, between church and charity.

Both the Sermons on the Mount and on the Plain carry the weight of being the words of Jesus.  Both ideas of being blessed in our spiritual and our daily lives are at the heart of following Jesus.  Neither one is more important than the other.  Christianity is about reverence for the spiritual and also about how much we do for each other.  This why the church has asked us to read together with today’s Gospel the beautiful poetry of the prophet Jeremiah.  His image of the tree planted beside the waters is inspired.  It’s the idea that even when things are bad, if we trust in God, we can always find a way.  We don’t have to fight these battles against a mean and uncaring world all by ourselves.  Our faith in God keeps us stronger and that’s why we need to be here.  I especially like Jeremiah’s words:  “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.”  The prophet emphasizes how personal faith should be.  It’s like Matthew and Luke both being touched in different ways by Jesus’ words.  It has to be personal. 

And it is that same idea of a personal connection but now with others that causes the church to ask for your help with charities such as the Souper Bowl of Caring.  The poverty rate in Franklin County is 9%.  That doesn’t sound too bad until we do the math and realize that this means that among our neighbours there are 65 hundred people who are challenged every day by hunger, and that of this number well over 2,000 are children and around 500 are senior citizens.  We may think that charities like the Souper Bowl of Caring are nice but are not really religious, but Luke tells us something completely different this morning.  In the eyes of Jesus spiritual righteousness and charities like the Souper Bowl of Caring are inseparable.  Let us be like those trees nourished here by God’s waters so that our souls stay vibrant in an often hard world so that our charity may help to create a better world.  For this we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (+)

Fr. Randolph Calvo


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