1 Corinthians 15.12-20
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
By Joe P
May I speak in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit – Amen. Please be seated.
This morning’s reading from Luke is part of what is called ‘The Sermon on the Plain’, and describes the experiences of Jesus and his ‘newly minted’ Apostles after He has chosen them. They’ve spent time on a mountain, and on descending to the plain they find themselves surrounded by a large crowd of people wishing to hear from Jesus and also be healed; we hear that “power was coming from him and healing them all."
Luke described the crowd as being made up of disciples and a large group of people from all over the region. News must have travelled about the new teacher who, as well as being wise was a great healer and could cast out evil spirits. It’s worth noting that we now have a distinction between the Twelve – the Apostles who will follow Jesus to the end – and His disciples – who are people who’re following his teachings.
There is some debate whether the sermon described here by Luke is the same event as that described by Matthew in ‘The Sermon on the Mount’. There is a clear link with between this part of the Sermon on the Plain – also known as ‘Blessings and Woes’ and the Beatitudes that are in the Gospel according to Matthew. Other aspects of the Sermon on the Mount do turn up in the Gospel according to Luke, but in different places. Luke has more of an emphasis on teaching that would mean something to Gentiles, where Matthew brings in more links between the New Covenant of Jesus and the Old Covenant represented by Mosaic teachings. The plain answer is ‘No one is sure’ – after all, like all good preachers, it’s likely that Jesus would teach the same things in different places.
Looking at what we can gain from the teachings, does it matter?
At first glance the core message from today’s reading is pretty black and white and will make most of us in this congregation a little uncomfortable when we read it. After doing some healing, and casting out of demons, Jesus sets out His list of where God’s blessings will fall.
I saw it rather well paraphrased by another preacher, Debie Thomas as:
“Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and popular.”
It’s a sort of mike-drop moment. In a moment the world view of any self-aware and open-minded listeners and readers would be changed. Anyone with a shred of integrity and personal honesty is forced to immediately question themselves. I have to say, I loosened my collar and made the odd nervous cough at this point.
And then we recover ourselves, and our literal, 20th Century, world-weary brains start rallying for a counter-attack….
“Surely, Jesus isn’t romanticising poverty? Is He somehow attempting to make the poor feel better about themselves by calling them blessed? Surely it can’t be good to be considered as expendable? There’s nothing good or blessed about being sad. And what’s wrong with being happy and popular…come on….this turns the whole of our lives upside-down!”
Well, that’s the intention.
Let’s take a look at the pairs of contrasts here. Poor versus Rich, hungry or full, sad or happy, expendable or popular. There’s an old saying ‘I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and rich is more fun.’ It’s true; I’ve had my ups and downs and can find very little good to say about trying to decide whether to eat, heat the house or buy cat food. And if we look into ourselves honestly, I think that we’d all come down on the side of rich, full, happy and popular to define our lives.
And looking at our day to day lives on Earth, that’s how we define success.
However, if we look at things from the point of view of the Kingdom of Heaven, that way of living and thinking constitutes the most abject failure imaginable.
And we can tell that Jesus is talking about the Kingdom because of the way that He links both the lists – of blessings and woes – to prophets – a link that would be clear to his audience.
Jesus blesses the poor, the hungry, the sad and the outcasts and tells them:
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.”
Those people are to be blessed because they are exhibiting the same state of life, the same situation and condition, that were experienced by the true prophets in history.
And similarly, the other traits of those who are not blessed, he associates with false prophets – something that in these post-truth days where we are exposed to ‘alternative facts’ at every turn we can probably empathise with!
The achievement of wealth, power, a full belly and popularity would often be associated with corruption, lying, playing a bit ‘fast and loose’ with the rules. Jesus is reminding those who are fat, wealthy and happy to consider their situation, and how they got there. Basically, are you working for the Kingdom of God, because if you’re not, all these worldly good things will be a weight around your soul. It's not just a matter of wealth and happiness; it’s how you apply those gifts, how you align yourself with the Kingdom. After all, there are many wealthy people who become followers of Christ – such as Joseph of Arimathea, Zacchaeus, and the members of wealthy families who become disciples of Christ as described in the Book of Acts.
It's probably easier for the underdogs in worldly society to follow God; their world is a raw, hard place with none of the cushions provided by wealth. But wealthy people can still be moved by grace to behave in such ways that makes them blessed.
Today is Racial Justice Sunday – we are asked to reflect on the importance of racial justice, to give thanks for the gifts and beauty of human diversity, and to commit to end racism and acts of discrimination. The ranks of the poor, the hungry, and the excluded and abused are full of those whose place in society is set very much by how society sees their race, creed or colour. As disciples of Christ, we are expected to stand with these people, to move ourselves in our lives to a place where we too can be blessed rather than pitied in the Kingdom.
In the 1970s, Johnny Cash summed this up in a song called ‘The Man in Black’, which featured the words:
Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back
Up front there ought to be a Man In Black
We can all be that man or women in black, living the Christian Gospel as a reminder to ourselves and others that there are still those left behind; and that is unacceptable in God’s Kingdom.
Prepared by Barbara W
In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.
O God, the creator and preserver of all, we pray for people in every kind of need; make your ways known
on earth, your saving health among all nations …
We pray for all of our world, as nation after nation reduces their anticovid measures. Please help nations
to continue surveillance for new and more dangerous variants and to institute prompt actions when they
are identified. Please help us all to continue to take precautions around those who are clinically
vulnerable, remembering that that could be any one of us and those individuals want to be able to return
to a more normal world too.
Help us to understand how the vulnerable feel so that we can understand the
protection they need. Help us to understand that the cost to us of continued wearing of masks and socially
distancing is nothing compared to the suffering of immune-compromised if we don’t do so.
We pray for all those who live in the Ukraine, currently facing the possibility of invasion by Russia, and all
those in other countries likely to be affected by this, including the UK as one of the Ukraine’s allies. Please
give all leaders involved the wisdom to back off from invasion.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.
We pray for your Church throughout the world; guide and govern us by your good Spirit, that all who
profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of
spirit, in the bond of peace and in righteousness of life …
We pray especially for our worshipping community of St. John’s Ranmoor, St. Mark’s Broomhill and St.
Mary’s Walkley as we continue to work out how to keep all of us safe. Help us to bring your comfort and
our help where it is needed. Please help us find ways to reach all of our parish, both those who do have
access to the internet and those who do not.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.
We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are in any way afflicted or distressed, in mind, body
or estate; comfort and relieve them in their need, give them patience in their sufferings, and bring good
out of their troubles …
We pray for all those personally affected by covid, either because they are suffering from it or someone
dear to them is suffering from it. Please bring them healing and future good health.
We pray for all those struggling to get medical treatment that they need, as the omicron epidemic
threatens to overwhelm our NHS. We pray also for all those working in the NHS. Please help us to make
their lives easier, as they struggle to make our lives safer.
In moments of peace and contemplation, we name to you all those known to us who are suffering. Please
care for them and for all those of whose suffering we are unaware.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.
We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, and we give you praise for all your
faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the communion of saints …
We name to you in our hearts all those known to us both near and far who are suffering the loss of friends
and loved ones, asking that you bring your comfort and healing to them at this time of grief.
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.