Leveled and Attended
A recording of this sermon can be found here.
Luke 6:17-31: [Jesus] 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 in 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. But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you." (NRSV)
Greetings to you and peace from God our Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Abiding Holy Spirit.
Our holy scripture for today is what is often called the “Sermon on the Plain” as opposed to the Gospel of Matthew’s better known “Sermon on the Mount.” Both Matthew and Luke were setting out to communicate something to their readers and listeners about who this Jesus person was and what he was all about not only through his words, but also through his surroundings. In Matthew, the mount, mountain, stands as an expression of Jesus’ authority, inspiration, even his divinity. On the other hand, Luke’s “level place” offers a different wisdom. To ancient listeners, the term “level place” was a bit of a pun. Not only did it describe a flat place like a plain or a field, but it also brought to mind connotations of equalizing human experiences, experiences that nobody can escape, like death, mourning, suffering, or disgrace. We even share a bit of this connotation in English. To be leveled is to be devastated. Death and mourning, suffering and disgrace sound a lot like human devastation to me. Inescapable devastation. It is here that Jesus meets his crowd.
This great crowd that Jesus meets had come from all over. Judea and Jerusalem were to the south and the home of the Jews. Tyre and Sidon were to the north, and home to the Phoenicians, Gentiles. Many were already his disciples, many not, maybe never would be. They came to him sick and desperate and hopeful. This multitude of people gathered together from north and south, as insiders and outsiders, in a level place, for the chance to be taught, to be healed. In a place where they are no longer separated by class or knowledge or ability. They are all simply people who mourn, who cry, who suffer, who are ashamed.
Jesus gathers all these people on even-ground, on a level field. There, before he starts teaching, his power flows out over everyone and heals them all. By his touch, through his power, Jesus becomes a new leveling experience. People are not only on the same level as they face death and suffering, but now they are on the same level as they are attended by God.
Standing amidst a diverse crowd gathered at a level place, freshly treated, Jesus teaches how the world has divided us and set some of us higher and some of us lower. Some with more. Some with less. Some welcomed and some rejected. Since the world has separated us, we all have different work to do, we all have different paths to follow, in order to receive our understanding of what else Jesus was teaching them. That not only are there experiences that devastate our divisions, our categories, but also, that is the place where we belong, where we belong to one another and to God. That is the place where God’s kingdom is breaking into the world.
Any time enemies are loved, haters are blessed, wrongdoers are cared for. Any time scandalous generosity is given or received, anytime the boundaries that separate us into better or worse are violated, that is God’s kingdom infiltrating the world.
Most importantly, Luke shows us a savior, a lord, who meets us at the level place not because that is where he belongs but because that’s where he chooses to belong. Jesus chooses to be there. Remember back to the very first verse of this reading: “Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place with a great crowd.” Jesus chose to be with us. Not only that but Jesus chose to meet us in our most human experiences - in the downcast eyes of our failure, in the stinging tears of our pain, in the gasping of breath for more time or another chance. And made it so those experiences would not be the only things that united humanity, but also grasping onto the outstretched hand of God and sitting peacefully while soaking in the sound of God’s voice.
Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” may be Jesus’ most foundational teaching moment, but only when viewed through its surroundings. His sermon is a foundational example of how Jesus meets us, with humility and generosity. He meets us in our times of sorrow and pain and loss ready to heal, emanating power and promise. From all our disparate places, he cures us and shows us the way home.