Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Woe, Now, and Give

I admit I'm behind this week. I have some excuses, but they aren't good ones. There is a post scheduled to upload at 1:00 this afternoon on today's Epistle lesson for the commemoration of John Wyclif. Really, though, I've wanted to post on the gospel lesson for All Saints' Sunday, so here goes.

As I would guess is true for many preachers, the first thing that caught my eye was the "woe" statements in Sunday's gospel. Only Matthew and Luke give us the Beatitudes, and their versions, although clearly from the same source, are still remarkably different. Matthews "Blessed are the poor...meek...hungry...etc." has been watered down in my mind. Because I hear them so often (e.g. ever year on Thanksgiving Day), these kingdom statements have become quaint. And the kingdom of God is not quaint. They're sappy little statements that call to mind the contradiction between life on earth and life in the fully present Kingdom of God. But that's not right. They're supposed to be earth-shattering statements that convict the part of us that holds on to this world so that we might be set free to live completely in God's kingdom. And that's where Luke comes in.

Woe to you who are rich...to you who are full now...to you who are laughing now. That's the Jesus I'm looking for. The woe-statements let me know that this isn't a hypothetical. It's real. And it's spoken to me. How am I hanging on to this earthly life in ways that interfere with my kingdom identity? How might the "woe to me" bits shake me up?

The next thing on my mind is the "now" statements. It's related to the bit above about the woes, but it shifts the meaning for me a little bit. Blessed are the hungry now and the mournful now. Woe to the full now and the laughing now. There's a temporal piece in this that is missing in Matthew's version. Jesus wants us to think about the difference between now and later, but he doesn't want us to rest on the "maybe-someday" fairy tale that can come across in Matthew 5. This isn't just about hoping that someday God will make everything right. It's about living today in a way that reflects God's promise of one day making everything right. The "now, now, now" tells me that Jesus expects this new ethic of kingdom-living to break in...well, now.

Lastly (for today) is the line that is shaping my sermon for Sunday: "Give to everyone who begs from you." I have a lot of people who beg from me, and I usually say yes. Sometimes I say no. Jesus says always say yes. Why? How does that change the role of giver? I'm no longer allowed to evaluate the worthiness of a request. I don't get to look at a person's circumstance and judge. I can't even consider whether I have anything to give. Jesus simply says give. Always. That kind of approach to giving and charity and generosity will change my life I feel sure. What about you?

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