St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Amarillo, TX

"'Plain'-Speaking Jesus": Sermon for the Seventh Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

In Luke's Gospel, we hear the continuation today from Jesus' most famous sermon or lesson.

This is the most famous sermon Jesus ever gave. It's often called, "The Sermon on the Plain" or the "Sermon on the Level Land." Versions of this sermon, of course, are also known as "Sermon on the Mount."

What's so important about this sermon is that so many of Jesus' disciples remembered these teachings. They told others over and over. And now multiple versions are written down in multiple places.

This is important stuff, y'all.

Jesus wants our attention with this teaching!

So, Jesus is sitting there among his disciples--his students--and he is teaching them.

What he has to say is going to be transformative.

Imagine...We're standing there, listening to Jesus. We think we understand him...

We think we get it. 

We know he has done some wonderful things in the name of God.

We know he is powerful and great.

There's excitement in the air.

He is sitting there in front of us. He looks up carefully into our faces before he speaks.

What is it we want to hear from him?

What do we want him to tell us?

We've been waiting there in this large crowd for Jesus to come down from his prayers on that mountain.

We want him to tell us that the world will be okay.

We want him to tell us that our suffering is going to end.

We want him to tell us that God is going to make things right.

I'd like for us to imagine together for a few minutes what some of the conversations might have been like as we wait for Jesus to begin to speak.

What types of things are we overhearing in the crowd?

As the people around us just talk about circumstances and how they are dealing with the world as it presses in on them, what are they saying?

Let's listen in and hear:

Over to one side of the crowd, we hear two men having a heated discussion. They are fed up with a system where, every day they have to go into the city...to their work...and feel belittled by the ones in power.

Man #1: "I'm not showing anyone my respect until they earn my respect. Everybody starts at 'zero.' I don't treat anybody badly. But I also don't give you my respect automatically. You have to earn that."

Man #2: "I agree. Along those same lines... I'm not going to start anything with anyone. These people are bullies and cowards... I won't provoke them. But if they start anything with me, I'll finish it!"

Then, back behind us, we overhear another conversation between two women.

Woman #1: "I think it's really important in this day and age to be very choosy about how we share our hearts and our deepest concerns for others.... For example, I am very careful about who I allow to see my Instagram shares, my Twitter tweets, or my Facebook posts."

Woman #2: "I know what you mean. It's also why I'm very careful about who I share my precious time and my hard-earned money with. I know we're supposed to help the needy, but frankly, I am so busy. God gave us so many responsibilities. I only have time for people I know and trust. And I certainly don't have money to spend on people I don't know. Especially because you never know how they will use it...."

As these conversations are wrapping up, Jesus has taken his seat, and is looking into our faces.

He looks throughout the crowd, ready to proclaim a transformative message for us.  

So, does he sit there and say, "Your troubles are over! The empire is ended! With God on your side, nobody will mess you ever again!"????

No! He does not!

Instead, he addresses HOW we live in this world...this empire... and proclaims how to transform it into the Kingdom of God.

With great compassion, he looks in the direction of the two men who had been talking about earning respect. Then he addresses all of us with a list of behaviors that start with:

"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you."

There's no question that these instructions are counter-cultural.

It's also important to claim that Jesus is not saying to simply "lie down and take it."

These are public acts of boldness Jesus is describing here. These are acts borne out of love... not revenge... not hate.

So when Jesus says "if anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also," he is not a sanctioning domestic abuse. He is, however, calling Christians to respond to public provocation with bold, loving resistance... not revenge.

Jesus sums it up with what many call the "Golden Rule": "Do to others as you would have them do to you."

"Treat others the way you would like to be treated."

When you come into any situation, ask yourself, how would I like to be treated in this situation?

Then Jesus looks up again to continue his sermon. He scans the crowd, making eye contact with each of us.

He looks in the direction of the two women who had been talking about who they care about and who they trust.

Jesus then lovingly tells us all:  "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again."

Again, Jesus is hitting at the heart of a counter-cultural message here. We necessarily have to put up boundaries in our society and into our personal lives. We need to be vigilant about who we trust and who we "let in" to some of the more intimate details of our lives. And, as the first woman in the conversation mentioned, having boundaries on her social media accounts and in areas of her life are appropriate. Having good boundaries in that way keeps us grounded to do God's work.

But Jesus challenges us not to close in our ranks. It's easy to just love those who are "like us." It's comfortable to stay only within the confines of our own closely drawn lines.  

Jesus tells us to go farther. To build the Kingdom, we have to "love our enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return."

That's it. That's the countercultural sermon from Jesus. He wants us to know: We receive all we have because we are wonderfully made Children of God.

And... God is merciful.

Jesus tells us we, too, should be merciful, just as God is merciful.

So that's the summary. That's the thesis of this most important sermon Jesus ever gave.

It's quite simple... And it's quite hard.

Every day... we work hard to show everyone we meet the same love... the same compassion... the same mercy that God has shown us... That will change the world.


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