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Jeremiah 17:5-10;Psalm 1;1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
February 17, 2019 –Sixth Sunday After Epiphany
I confess to you that I love old movies, especially foreign movies that never played at the Roxie Theater in Shelby, Montana. The post-World War II films from Japan and Germany have a special attraction for me.
Last week I watched one that illustrated our gospel lesson as well as it could have been done. A 1960 movie by Keisuke Kinoshita…the Frank Capra of his day and place, Spring Dreams, portrays the need for the rich to be humble and the poor to be hopeful…even grateful.
We are going to be spending a lot of time this year reading from the Gospel of Luke, the Greek physician who traveled with Paul and is also believed to be the author of The Acts of the Apostles.
Luke is also known as the Gospel that is based in Liberation Theology …championing the poor and challenging the rich. We read Luke’s version of the Beatitudes today and we get a perfect example of language that illustrates that point.
We find the most quoted version of the Beatitudes in Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew. The first verse of that version reads, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
That Gospel talks about “the poor in spirit.” Not so with Luke. He is blunt about it: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
The poor will be welcomed into Paradise, while the rich…well, let’s look at what Luke says about them: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
Luke also shares the parable of The Rich man and Lazarus where Lazarus is a poor man who sits by the city gates begging while an unnamed rich man walks by him every time without even noticing him.
Lazarus dies and goes to his reward in heaven where he sits next to Father Abraham. The rich man dies and goes to the other place. He pleads for mercy and gets none.
Abraham tells him, “between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”
Luke is on the side of the poor. We might look down upon them, but Luke looks with a skeptical eye to those who think good things happen to good people and if bad things are happening to you, you must have done something wrong.
This is the same mistake that Job’s friends made when they came to sit with him. At the outset, we are told that he is a blameless and upright man. Bad things happen to him.
His friends come to sit with him and that is good, but then they begin to ask him to confess. “Bad things do not happen to good people, Job,” they say. “So tell us what it is that you have done.”
We should not be smug in our success, Luke tells us today, and we should not give up hope if challenges befall us day after day… not even if we get run over by a pickup and then get hit by a car.
So back to Spring Dreams: There is a very wealthy family in the city living at the top of a hill. A young man who works in the fish market is courting one of their maids.
Our hero is an old man who pulls a handcart around town to sell his sweet potatoes. They are a very good quality. The fish salesman tells him that the rich family wants some of his potatoes up at the top of the hill.
He comes to them and then he has to go around through the garden because people as poor as he is are not to knock on their front door.
He comes into the living room to deliver the potatoes and the other maid asks him to help her move the couch. He has a stroke and cannot be moved, so he spends basically the rest of the movie on the floor of their living room.
This is a great inconvenience to most of the family, but it is an act of compassion to a young daughter who wants to marry an artist while her family won’t hear of it because they are looking for someone who can run their pharmaceutical firm. This daughter is the only member of the family who honors the man as he lies in their home.
There are many subplots in the story, but the theme is horrible behavior by those who are well to do and decent behavior by those who have little or nothing.
That is Luke’s theme, too. “Blessed are you when you are hungry now, for you will be filled.” “Woe to you when you are full now, for you will be hungry.” The poor are well fed and the rich are hungry.
The bad news is that, by the world’s standard, we are all well to do. The good news is that we are all poor. We are mortal. No matter how much we have, there are those who have more…and one day all we have will be taken from us.
There is a way through this labyrinth, though. We can give thanks for all we have and be truly humble for our good fortune.
My father used to take my brother and me fishing in the Two Medicine country. He had enjoyed a privileged youth, working during the week, but then driving up to the mountains to fish and enjoy the great country he grew up in. He loved giving that to his boys.
As we got close to the mountains he would begin to name them for us. He had spent time in Europe and the Philippines during World War II and he told us that while he had seen much of the world, what we were looking at was as wonderful a place as he had seen anywhere.
This was a special place. Living here was just like being rich. Now that I have had the good fortune to spend my life here, I think he was right. We are rich in ways that no one can take away from us.
And I can see how important it was for my father to give to his sons what was most precious to him. It was free, but we couldn’t find it anywhere else…and we already had it.
We sang “Give Thanks with a Humble Heart” this morning. That attitude of constant gratefulness is a blessing beyond any that we can give to our children, to our parents, and to the neighbors we meet each day.
It is something that we can take anywhere, give to others without having any less of it ourselves, and have more of it the more we give away.
What we have here is riches beyond measure and we can share it with anyone and everyone, making them richer as we make ourselves richer.
If we are truly lucky, then, we also hunger now…for the good life… and I am not talking about having stuff, but realizing that we can have more power, more joy, and more to live for by sharing our precious understanding of a more abundant life with all we meet.
The good life as I refer to it here, then, is like heaven come to earth. Luke is harsh, but life was harsh in his day and as a companion of Paul he would have been with those who were tacking into the wind between every port of call….and while they were there.
But everything that they gave away was a gift that came back to them. They were hungry, to be sure…but they were hungry to share the joy that they knew, like my father was, because it made what they had greater.
When I was at Huntley United Methodist Church, we got written up in the Billings Gazette one week. They were doing profiles of churches and we got to be one of them.
I am walking into the post office that Saturday morning to get my mail when my cell phone rings. The caller said, “You don’t know me. My name is Bill Rogers. I was so impressed by what I read about your church that I wanted to call you and ask you if there was anything you might be able to do with $5000.”
I shook my phone and asked him to repeat himself. He did and I got to know him. He had been a career Federal Employee and he had taken some of his savings when he retired and bought some sheep pens on the edge of town, 24th Street West.
It would become the busiest street in Montana soon. He built 8-plex apartments on them and it had gone so well that he bought some more and built some more, and by the time I met him he didn’t know why he had been so blessed with money…but he was having a great time giving it away.
Our furnace was failing and it was fall so we wrote about the need to replace it in our newsletter. That October is when I got the most amazing call I think I have ever gotten from anyone.
Bill Rogers called and said he had read the article and he was very sorry but he couldn’t send us any money. I assured him we were thankful for everything he had done for us and we understood.
He told me he did three ‘programs’ every year and he had already done his programs for that year. Again, I assured him that we understood.
“Would you mind terribly,” he asked, “if I waited until January to send you some money?” Again, I shook my phone, but it was only because my hand was shaking.
He had called to abjectly apologize for making us wait three months for another $5,000. I told him that would be just fine, and one the second business day in January we received Mr. Rogers’ check.
I can still see him and his son, in my mind’s eye, sitting in the car outside the bank on a frigid day in January, waiting for it to open, so they could get that check and send it to us.
He told me later, that he was old and he couldn’t do much, but he had money that he could give to people who could do a lot of good things, if only they had a little money, so he was working through them…and we were one of them.
He was a man who still hungered to make the world a better place, still hoped that he could be a part of it, and gave thanks every day for the amazing bounty that had come his way late in life.
Spring Dreams made that point, too. The matron of the house, it turned out…the one who insisted the sweet daughter marry someone more worthy than an outstanding artist…had been in love with the man with the sweet potato cart when they were young. Her parents had forbidden her to marry him because he could not run the pharmaceutical firm.
She had married out of duty the man her parents had told her to marry, and her daughter had married the proud, arrogant man who ran it now. When she realized who was lying in her living room, she saw the great mistake of her own life and she gave permission to her granddaughter to marry the artist.
She…even she…after so long a time…was still hungry for God’s own justice to appear on earth… and it was love that would open the world to God’s own ways…to the Kingdom come.
We are burdened with many things, but to the extent that we can give thanks for all the blessings and challenges that God has given us, the greater our blessings and the smaller our challenges.
We are all poor, to be sure, in the great scheme of things…but we are all rich, too. We are not called to share our poverty, but to share the riches we have received, not in spite of who we are, but because of who we are.
Blessed are we when we are hungry now…for righteousness…for a right relationship with our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sustainer.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us this day? Amen.