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
says the LORD:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the LORD.
They shall be like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see when relief comes.
They shall live in the parched places of the
in an uninhabited salt land.
are those who trust in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.
the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father
be with us, in the name of his risen son,
our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.
I often find it necessary to share something
about the background of certain words in our
scripture texts as I try to make the message
of gospel connect with us today. This morning
there are three words I want to talk about:
blessing, woe and religion. What do those
words mean to you? Think about that while
I share a little about what they mean to me
and a little about their etymology.
The Greek word that Jesus uses in the four
beatitudes which is translated as “Blessed”
in our Gospel is, “makarion.”
While we usually think of being blessed as
receiving some kind of measurable benefit
conferred upon us from God, makarion actually
has more of a sense of being content, confident
or at peace with one’s situation. Jesus
is telling people that they should not mistakenly
assume that great wealth, plenty of food and
good times are signs of God’s special
favor. In fact, God’s blessings are
more important for those who are poor, hungry
or weeping because we often think that those
are the people who are not content, confident
or at peace with their situations in life.
Poverty and grief are not signs of God’s
absence; they are things that happen to all
kinds of people and they are especially things
that happen because of the presence of sin
and greed in the world. Confidence, contentment
and peace in the face of the challenges of
life are God’s blessings so that we
can live life on an even keel, never thinking
that God has abandoned us, no matter how poor,
hungry or grieving we may be.
The four “woes” that Jesus then
talks about reflect the reversal of fortune
which has been a theme in Luke’s Gospel
ever since Mary heard that she was going to
carry God’s son and proclaimed that
the God is about to fill the hungry with good
things and send the rich away empty. Wherever
the Greek word for woe is used in scripture,
it never carries with it a final condemnation,
as if there is no chance of redemption or
joy ever again. It is more of a lament, a
warning and call to repentance. In Jesus’
words we are reminded that an abundance of
food, riches and laughter are not necessarily
signs that God finds special favor with us
– as a matter of fact, Jesus reminds
us that these things in which we often put
our trust are temporary, fleeting, and not
worth the value that we put on them ultimately.
Thinking of them as special signs of God’s
presence is sinful, and we are called to repent
of that and find true joy, confidence and
contentment in the presence of God instead.
Which brings me to the definition of a third
word, that being religion. I have always appreciated
how theologian Paul Tillich defines religion:
“That in which I place my ultimate trust
or concern.” Religion can, and often
does, have a faith element to it, but it doesn’t
have to. I have always said that devotion
to a sport or to a sports team can be a person’s
religion. A job, a relationship, an expensive
car, home or bank account might be where a
person puts their ultimate trust. Extreme
nationalism exists when people put their full
trust and/or concern in and for their nation.
And it is to those folks that Jesus speaks
the woes, the warnings and calls to repentance,
because if we look to these things for our
ultimate meaning, we are like those people
that Paul talks about – people who only
have hope for THIS life, and we are most to
be pitied. The good news is, Christ has been
crucified, which is the basis for our eternal
hope as well as the basis for our contentment
in this life as well. In the crucifixion and
resurrection of Christ, God gives us a sign
that even when life itself (or that which
we think we cannot live without) is torn away
from us, there is new life, new transformation
The similes that Jeremiah uses in our first
reading speak volumes about the blessings
that we desire from God. It is about trust,
and it is about blessings and woes. The picture
of a tree planted by a stream, drinking the
life from the water even when the sun scorches
and there is famine or wind is a vivid and
wonderful visual to what it means to put your
ultimate trust in God through Jesus Christ.
The picture of the dried out sage brush, broken
and withered in the hot desert winds, is an
equally vivid illustration of someone who
puts their trust in themselves or in their
earnings, in their abilities or in the stock
market or even in the promises of their most
trusted friend or their nation for confidence,
contentment and peace.
In light of these words I have focused on
– blessing, woe, religion – and
the picture of one who trusts in God being
like a tree planted by a stream I want to
ask … where do you get your water for
life? Where do you draw nourishment? If you
are like most people … and quite frankly,
like me a lot of the time … you tend
to depend on yourself for all that is important,
or on external sources, like money or laughter
or success. Jesus’ call is to spread
your Christian roots to him through prayer
and worship, scripture and reaching out to
others in service in Jesus’ name. Our
confidence in God through that trust is what
keeps us steady and hope-filled when circumstances
around us may be dire.
So I ask you to consider again my question:
where is it that you draw your water for life?
Is the source of that water the living God,
or is the source a human-made object, substance,
or ideology? Do you have wealth enough to
be comfortable in life? Do you get to laugh
a lot? Have you enough to eat? Don’t
think that because this is true that God has
blessed you in some special way over and above
those who don’t. And remember that putting
your trust in protecting those things for
yourself is a false religion, based on temporary
Are you hungry, poor and weeping? God has
not abandoned you! Be content and confident
that God’s presence ensures the possibility
of joy and peace no matter what storms flare
up around you in your life. And whatever state
of poverty or wealth, hunger or fullness,
weeping or laughter you find yourself in,
put your trust in the one who’s presence
is enduring, Jesus Christ. And as a community
filled with people who live in many places
on the spectrum of rich and poor, we are called
together to trust in God. No matter how much
or little you have, you are part of this family
of Christ. God has promised never to abandon
you – we may hear word of blessings
and woes, but our community is built on trust
in the stream which flows from God’s
throne of grace. Thanks be to God that this
stream will never run dry and will always
nourish us in all circumstances of life. Amen.