Sermons 2003-2004

Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All
Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church
Epiphany 6C 2004 Ps 1; Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 6:17-26

(NOTE: The web program does not support many punctuation marks and they have been removed.)

Our psalm, Old Testament Lesson, and Gospel for today present us with an interesting enigma. Now that we have read through them all and are familiar with them and have them in hand as well, the parallels between the psalmist, the passage from the prophet Jeremiah, and the reading from the Gospel according to Saint Luke seem striking.

Note that the pattern is basically one of blessings and of woes. We cannot be really certain, because the date and authorship of Psalm 1 are uncertain, but it probably was used as part of the First Temple worship as early as the time of King Solomon. Solomon was King of Israel beginning about 970 BC and reigned until his death around 930BC. It was Solomon who built the First Temple in Jerusalem on Mount Zion.

Note that the New Revised Standard Version text before you uses the term happy instead of blessed. Blessed and a blessing is a beatitude -- in terms of scripture, to be blessed is a call to happiness, and invitation with a promise. And as we look at the texts for today try substituting happy for blessed where it occurs to give another layer of meaning to the word.

The prophet Jeremiah was certainly familiar with the psalms. Jeremiah was a prophet of Judah. Jeremiah prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. He also urged submission to the invading Babylonians and suffered for it during the siege of Jerusalem. After the destruction of the city in 586 BC he was left free by the Babylonian governor to live free in Judah but he was forced by those Israelites who were not exiled to Babylon to go with them to Egypt. The tradition has it that he was stoned to death there perhaps because of his support of those who wished to submit to the Babylonians. The Church has interpreted his sufferings as prefiguring the life and death of our Lord and his writings are used as the church year approaches Lent.

I think it is clear that Jeremiah is modeling his passage today on Psalm 1. It is a mirror image, even upside down mirror image if you will, more like the image that a camera lens projects onto the film. Psalm 1 begins with a blessing and ends with a woe; Jeremiah is just the opposite, beginning with a woe a very strong woe, much stronger than that in the psalm:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the LORD.
They shall be like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see when relief comes.
They shall live in the parched places of the
wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.

Tough stuff. Not much of a blessedness beatitude in that. No wonder we call a dire prediction of doom and gloom a jeremiad.

But like the psalmist, Jeremiah is also a prophet of hope. He steals images from psalm 1 for his beatitude:
Blessed are those who trust in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.

Thats more like it for our ears. More of the flavor of that lovely poem by Joyce Kilmer that many of us had to memorize in grammar school:
I think that I shall never see
a poem lovely as a tree
A tree that may in summer bear
A wreath of flowers in its hair.
Or something like that.

One commentator observed that Jeremiah is probably trying to answer the question of why do human beings behave the way they do, both when they are being bad and pursuing absurd illusions and when they are not. Thats sort of the eternal question, isnt it? And Im not at all optimistic that weve even come close to answering it satisfactorily over the centuries. Sometimes it seems as thought the more we know the less we learn. Just look at the prison populations in the Commonwealth of Virginia alone.
And so we come to the gospel: the Beatitudes. There are some particular problems with the Beatitudes that make Jeremiahs interpretive use of Psalm 1 seem elementary and simple in comparison.

In the first place there are the disparities in the two biblical records we have of the Beatitudes of Jesus. Most of us are probably more comfortable with the Beatitudes from the great Sermon on the Mount found in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. (Mt 5:3-11)

In Mathew the beatitudes are all beatitudinous, all full of blessedness, all calls to happiness at least at first glance. As an aside, I have always found it true that the more deeply one engages the scripture, the more one perseveres in probing ever more deeply into its layers of meaning, the less it seems the first reading, the first glance, hardly touches the messages and meanings that lie below that surface.

But the Beatitudes found in the Sermon on the Plain in the gospel according to Saint Luke are more like our passage from Jeremiah and Psalm 1, arent they?

Why are they so different, I wonder? It may be that Matthew records what was said to the Twelve of whom he was one and it was collected with other saying of Jesus, many from Mark and from the source known as Q for Quelle, German for spring or source, the two main strains of sayings that came into the gospels according to Matthew and Luke. And it could be that Luke is recording the sayings of Jesus remembered by those who were witness to our Lords preaching when he cane down from the mountain with his disciples and stood on that level place.

But we are ever so much more comfortable with Matthew than with Luke in this instance. We here in this lovely little parish church, with its rich hangings and beautiful colonial silver and our new copper roof -- the woes that Jesus dishes out in Lukes version sort of hit us hard, dont they?

Woe to you who are rich for you have received your consolation. Thats cause for a little squirming in our seats. We may not be as rich individually and corporately as some parishes and people, but in comparison to most of the world indeed most of Northumberland County, we are wealthy beyond comparison.

Its interesting to read through homiletical material and commentaries to see how the writers reassure us that Jesus didnt really mean to curse rich people. That he really liked them. And theres some truth in that after all, Jesus over the centuries has depended on the comfortable and wealthy to take care of the poor.

Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Thats even tougher theres a real threat that seems to be there. I dont think many of us here miss any meals except when we choose to for one reason or another such as dieting to lose weight.

Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Even tougher.

So what do we make of it all. I think the best analogy of the two sets of beatitudes and of the blessings and woes in the psalm and in Jeremiah is that it is like a large globe of the world. There is no way any one person can see the whole thing. No matter where you stand, half of the globe will always be on the other side away from your vision. But the two make up a whole, seen and unseen.

And so it is in engaging Scriptures such as these. They make up a whole. And at a very deep level their message is this:

Gods love and grace is for all Creation and for all of his creatures. But when it comes to the perversities of humankind, there is this: the poor know that they are needy. The harsh stark realities of their lives remind them relentlessly of that every day. And the devout among them know that they are especially in need of Gods love, grace, mercy and help. I have always been struck by the generosity of the poor. And how blessed they feel for any act of kindness and generosity.

For those of us who are comfortable or even wealthy, our temptation is to think that we are not so needy. That we are comfortable because of our actions alone. Even perhaps that we have no need of God.

But what the psalmist is telling us, what Jeremiah is telling us, and what the Gospel is telling us is this: we are all in need of Gods love and grace. We all need to live our lives so that everything we accomplish is to the glory of God. The comfortable probably need Gods grace and mercy and love more than most. And that is what the woes tell us as well as the blessings. That is how we turn the woes into blessings, sorrow into joy