#12: Sunday, 17 March, 2019.
Sunday, 17 March Luke 6:12-49
Written by Dr Graham Leo. ©2019.
This long reading will be recognised by many as being essentially the same as what we know as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. But Luke tells us that this teaching was delivered on a plain at the bottom of a mountain. Critics who love to speak against the truth of the Bible have used this as an Aha! moment to tell us that one of these is clearly a mistake and therefore the Bible can't be trusted. Claptrap!
Follow any politician around the stumps at election time and what you will hear from town to town, is the politician telling a similar message, over and over again. ‘We will lower taxes! We will build hospitals and schools! The other side are liars and cheats!’
It’s not that either Luke or Matthew got their geography wrong. It’s just that Jesus preached this message at least twice. In fact, he probably told it on a mountain, on the plain, by a lake, in the city, in the synagogue, around a meal table and while walking along the road. It is his Kingdom Manifesto! Why wouldn't he tell it over and over again?
Don't forget: there was no travelling media circus in those days. No internet. No social media. (What bliss!) The only way for many different people to hear the message was for Jesus to speak it everywhere he went. Matthew records one instance, Luke another.
I said that this passage is Jesus’ Kingdom Manifesto. This message is dynamite; which is to say that it holds enormous latent or potential power. It is this message which Ghandi was referring to when he said that he liked the Christian Christ but not the Christian people. Christians, Ghandi said, were so unlike our Christ.
But not only is the message powerful; it is also difficult. Remember G. K. Chesterton said: ‘Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.’
The thing that you realise over and over when you read this passage is the difference between this Kingdom Manifesto, and how your church, the Christians you read about in the media, and even how lots of the Christians you know tend to live and manage their affairs. And even perhaps you and me.
It’s as though Jesus came to give a message which was so attractive and inspirational that lots of people came on board – but then found it too hard so they invented Christianity and the Church. Look at just some of what Jesus says here:
• The happiest, or most blessed people will be those who are poor, hungry, sorrowful, hated and persecuted.
• Take serious thought about your eternal destiny, which is at serious risk if you have lots of money now and use it to lead a generally carefree life.
• Passionately and sacrificially love those religious terrorists who hate your Christian faith, explode bombs on your planes, in your buses and streets, and make you wait for hours in airport security queues.
• When a secular government makes your life hard to live as a Christian, and say, operate a Christian school, or stand up for Christian values in human relationships, or the protection of life at birth and old age, just put up with it.
And all of this is just the first half. What’s going on here? Rational thinkers must pause and ask what their Christianity and church experience is all about. The social idea of gentle Jesus, meek and mild won't wash if you read his core ideas. The common claim that Jesus is a wise teacher whose ideas have strongly influenced Western society can only be half the truth at most. Western society doesn't look the least like this!
The nations who call themselves Christian nations (including my own) are the ones with the biggest munitions factories selling their products to the most warlike and ruthless nations and warlords, who prey on the poor and oppressed. This keeps our GDP and our living standards high.
Christian Western nations have largely given up on ideas such as human life being sacred, or putting up with hardship with courage and fortitude. Instead, slews of psychologists pretend to be our social conscience, telling us that we have the right to make ourselves ‘happy’ for this moment, regardless of what that happiness might cost.
We can break up our families with selfish sexual betrayals; we can abandon our parents, jobs or communities to go and find ourselves; we can waste our resources travelling all around the world as gawking tourists ticking off our bucket lists.
To be quite frank, I don't know what you can do with this reading today. If you really were to believe it and follow its teaching, you would never be the same again. It might be a whole lot easier just to kill the preacher.
But since his audience in his own day did exactly that, perhaps you could just close the book and never open it again.
Or you could imagine that perhaps, just perhaps, it might be true.
In which case, you could straighten your shoulders, cock a snook at the world and the organised little-c church, and all the pontificating media ‘personalities’ and ‘celebrities’ who try to sound important and clever and progressive, and follow the Way of the Kingdom.
It won't be easy, but when the flood comes, your house, and perhaps even your household, will still be standing.
Prayer: Oh My God! If even half of what I read today in Luke – and if even a little bit of what that disturber of the peace wrote in the passage above – is true, then I’ve wasted a good deal of my life backing the wrong team. Looking in the wrong places for my peace and happiness. Packing my holiday bag with the wrong travel essentials.
If I were to ask you nicely, would you please help me to do what Mr Chesterton wrote, and help me to try the Christian life, as you want me to live it? I'm a little afraid to ask, as I fear it might hurt rather a lot, so please give me some courage to begin with. I’ve heard that ‘courage’ has something to do with the ‘heart’ in its word origins. So I'm asking you to do some heart surgery on me, to help me to begin. Amen.