The image in Jeremiah, of a tree planted by water sending its roots down to the stream, is an image that is also used in Psalms. The sermon Jesus is giving in the gospel of Luke sounds a lot like the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus gives in Matthew. Our texts today have images and words in them that seem to be repeated in the Bible. These images and words are powerful and maybe if they are repeated we should listen up to the message. The Spirit may be trying to get our attention!
Sermon on the plain
The setting for Jesus’ sermon on the Plain as it is called in Luke is one that we are used to hearing about. Jesus is surrounded by a crowd pressing in on him. He is up above them, but chooses to come down to be in their midst. Luke says that all these people had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. These people were not just from the tribes of Israel but also Gentiles from the surrounding area of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus may not have healed masses in his hometown, but in this crowd he stands in their midst and heals them of diseases and Luke says, “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.”
I’ve been emphasizing the power of Jesus to heal, not just in the stories of the Bible, but today and in our midst. But there is something powerful about the image of Jesus in human form, coming down from a stage he could have stayed on, and instead mingling in this mosh pit of humanity around him and healing them through touch. What Jesus says after that gets into what we do with healing and wholeness, and what we see as being whole and healed in our society.
Like so many gospel messages, Jesus delivers a message of good news that reverses expectations in a way that may sound like bad news or a warning to some that invest in worldly rather than kingdom values.
Jesus names those that are overlooked in society — the poor, the hungry, the mourning, the hated, excluded, reviled, defamed. This message is delivered not to the crowd, but to the disciples. Jesus tells them to pay attention as he names the people in his midst and says that he sees them. He says the disciples, if led by the Spirit, will also see them. Jesus seems to be saying these are my people. The kingdom of God is built through these relationships, that the world may see as throw-away relationships and people that have lesser or no value. Jesus says if you believe in me, you may become like this and if you believe in me, never forget where you came from or where I came from.
On Wednesday we watched Milwaukee 53206, a film about families in Milwaukee affected by the criminal justice system and the mass incarceration of black males. We had a full house in the Holy Flicks Theater and six congregations had members represented, along with Mt Zion members. We took a donation for our Prison Ministry at Mt Zion, and a donation to MICAH, a community organizing group that advocates for prison reform. Jerry Roesch talked about the ministry of MICAH and his experience as a mentor and tutor for youth in the 53206 area code and how they have been able to find health and healing and worldly success. We compared what people in 53206 face, to what people said about Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Jesus reminds us to look for a common humanity and an uncommon understanding of health, healing, and abundance in the midst of the poor and reviled, just like he stood in the midst of the poor looking up at his disciples and reminding them to look beyond the labels the world gives people and the values it places on us and our neighbors. In Jesus’ kingdom there are no throw-aways or people to overlook. Every human being has value.
Not the security you desire
When Jesus finishes the reversal, naming the woes to those who think they have it all — who have value and sought after labels, according to the world. To the people who believe they have the stability that will last, according to what the world tells them:
- high credit scores
- high social media rankings
- upward mobility
- high salaries etc.
Jesus tells them, woe to you that think you have it made, for it won’t give you the security you desire. Jesus calls us to be in the midst of strangers, and people the world tells us not to trust. Jesus says that our true happiness and abundance is not found in anything we can buy or secure physically, but in the way we live.
Christian life doesn’t make sense
The apostle Paul in II Corinthians says that the Christian life doesn’t always make sense to the world. Disciples are joyful, because God has conquered the world. Following Jesus frees us from all the labels and value statements that hold others captives. We may have possessions and take care of our families, but Paul says that ultimately the Christian walk is one where “Poor we make many rich, penniless we own the world.”
There is a healing power in the spiritual life of this world. There is the power of the resurrection just below the surface. Our relationship with a loving God is a river flowing just beneath the surface of this world. This image from Jeremiah of a tree planted by water is about that relationship. We are a tree sending our roots into the realm of God which reminds us of the love and healing God gives us and wants us to share with the world. It is an abundant resource.
This life helps us see our neighbors, and reminds us of a savior who stands with us in the crowd, even when people call us names, revile us, or tell us we don’t belong, Jesus is with us, and God is calling on us to remember to tend our roots, which can give us strength to face anything.
In the desert, like the ones Jesus and Jeremiah knew, you often can’t see water on the surface. You look for the green of trees in the desert and you know there is life there. Life that can nourish us for the journey. Paul reminds us of the resurrection as a reality that feeds new life into us. When we forget that power we are to be pitied, but when we know that power, when we have felt it feed us, and grow the fruit of the kingdom around us, we know where are strength comes from.
We know that the healing and health of God is not always what the world sees. So we pray that God can give us eyes to see and ears to hear, the way Jesus had, when he stood in that crowd and looked up at the disciples and taught them about the kingdom of God that was always within reach.