Feb. 13, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Living God, in Christ you make all things new. Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your glory, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Jeremiah 17:5-10

5Thus says the Lord:
 Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
  and make mere flesh their strength,
  whose hearts turn away from the Lord.
6They shall be like a shrub in the desert,
  and shall not see when relief comes.
 They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,
  in an uninhabited salt land.

7Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
  whose trust is the Lord.
8They 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.

9The heart is devious above all else;
  it is perverse—
  who can understand it?
10I the Lord test the mind
  and search the heart,
 to give to all according to their ways,
  according to the fruit of their doings.

Psalm 1

1Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel | of the wicked,
  nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats | of the scornful!
2Their delight is in the law | of the Lord,
  and they meditate on God’s teaching | day and night. 
3They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that | do not wither;
  everything they | do shall prosper.
4It is not so | with the wicked;
  they are like chaff which the wind | blows away.
5Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when | judgment comes,
  nor the sinner in the council | of the righteous.
6For the Lord knows the way | of the righteous,
  but the way of the wicked shall | be destroyed.

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

12Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
  20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

Luke 6:17-26

17[Jesus] came down with [the twelve] 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.18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
  20Then he looked up at his disciples and said: 
 “Blessed are you who are poor,
  for yours is the kingdom of God.
21“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
  for you will be filled.
 “Blessed are you who weep now,
  for you will laugh.
  22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice 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.
24“But woe to you who are rich,
  for you have received your consolation.
25“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.
  26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

The Bread Line – Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial – D.C.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain today is introduced with a powerful description of Jesus’ healing work. Multitudes are gathered from near and far, representing many people. They recognized Jesus’ power and they have come to hear him and be healed: “All in the crowd were trying to touch him.” And, the author tells us, Jesus healed all of them. Then Jesus speaks.

With his words, Jesus is redefining, both now and for the future, the way the world works. He is replacing common representations of the world with new ones. 

We might need to be reminded that Jesus’ claims clearly do not represent conventional wisdom. Is not wealth a sign of God’s blessing? How then can the poor be declared fortunate, and the wealthy be warned of God’s curse?

Jesus’ vision of the new world today is about all the final things. And yet, Jesus’ vision it is not relegated to the future. The end has already arrived, and the values Jesus asserts reflect this new era. In other words, Jesus’ teaching is meant to jolt his audience, including us, into new perceptions of God’s liberating goal. 

Jesus’ beatitudes and woes are words of hope and comfort to people like those who have already been the recipients of Jesus’ ministry: lepers, sinners, the demonized, tax collectors, women. Those people may be unacceptable in the world they live in, but they are embraced and restored in the new world Jesus proclaims and embodies.

Let me be clear, there is no idealization of poverty in our story. Instead, Jesus describes the new world, the kingdom of God, as a place where poverty is absent. 

The new world and the values it embodies will catch unawares those who measure their lives by the old order. Those rooted in the old order will find their sense of well-being and self-assurance is grounded in false values.

The “wealth gap,” “food deserts,” the “education gap,” the “health gap,” and other gaps and failures around the globe mark the two sides of the blessings and woes. It’s the gap we are called to address by this passage for God’s sake and our own. It’s what children of God do and what they repent of not having done, confident that God gives new opportunities to live with generosity and attention.

There is no one big sweeping way for one of us to help usher in God’s reign right now. Only Jesus can do that. So, in the already but not yet time, the reversal and reordering happens in small ways in various context. Like the Fall Crop Hunger Walk, the Souper Bowl of Caring has an inspiring, though more recent, origin story, that illustrates what this reordering might look like. 

In 1990, this simple prayer was said, “Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without a bowl of soup to eat.” The prayer was delivered during a worship service at Spring Valley Presbyeterian Church in Columbia, SC led by Brad Smith, who was serving as a seminary intern at the time. 

This gave birth to an idea. Why not harness the energy and enthusiasm of the Super Bowl weekend, a time when people come together for football and food, to unite the country for a higher good? Church groups could collect dollars in soup pots and canned food for those in need and every dollar and food donation could go directly to a local charity of their choice. Now people of all ages tackle hunger to help support local food scarcity. 

Is this movement changing the world? Doubtful. But on a day when so much money is on display during one football game, the Souper Bowl of Caring is a reminder that there are simultaneously people experiencing poverty and hunger in our own community. What’s more, the systems that support the NFL Super Bowl are tied to the reason we have a Souper Bowl of Caring. 

Giving people access to food is a great start. Linking harm and harm to change our world so no one needs a free can of food is when we know the kingdom of God has fully arrived. We are here muddling in the already and not yet time and that’s okay. It’s okay as long as we keep muddling.

There remain plenty of roadblocks to our moving forward, as many today as in Jesus’ day. So much around us encourages us to break the first commandment and make an idol of money. We spiritualize the poor and tell one another that something good coming for the poor….in heaven). We convince ourselves that someone else is fixing our economic system or helping those with less. Or we put our heads in the sand and believe that economic disparity is happening somewhere else, not in our community.

It’s not like any of our disregard is new. Jesus talked about all these problems a lot. Consider the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 or the man who would build two barns in Luke 12. Riches distract these men from heeding the ways of God and lead people away from life with God now and in the hereafter. 

The first beatitude describes a way of life, and we, who are not poor–not really–run to the version of the beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel in relief. There Jesus says “blessed are the poor in spirit.” But our preference for Matthew says much more about us than about the words of Jesus. The poor are those whose desperate need and inability to help themselves have driven them to turn to God for their hope. 

Gustavo Gutierrez has commented that, “God has preferential love for the poor not because they are necessarily better than others, morally or religiously, but simply because they are poor and living in an inhuman situation that is contrary to God’s will. The ultimate basis for the privileged position of the poor is not in the poor themselves but in God, in the gratuitousness and universality of God’s agapeic love.”

The beatitudes are promises to those who are suffering in this world that God still sees them, loves them, and is intent on their thriving. Jesus’ words are also warning calls to his hearers. They are called to live with attention and generosity toward their neighbors, even as God is attentive and generous.

Because we are not poor, the first beatitude either mystifies us or leaves us feeling guilt rather than joy. Our pride and our ability to provide for ourselves have blocked the channels of blessing. But we don’t have to stay there. After all, God has invited us into that work. Some days that is exhausting and overwhelming and other days it can only be described as, yes, a blessing, a real deep embodied blessing, not a hashtag blessed.

The topography of our scene today is noteworthy for what it might mean in our own lives. Jesus went up to the mountain and then came down. What was he doing on the mountain? Praying. In our passage today, there is a clear bridge between Jesus’ prayer and his ministry. The purpose of his retreat on the mountain was explicitly to pray. The outcomes of his vigil is twofold: he discerns God’s will regarding the selection of the apostles and he is empowered for divine service. Jesus’ prayer solidifies his relationship to God the Father and strengthens him for ministry. Prayer transformed Jesus.

Those of us who plan worship hope prayer does the same thing for those of us gathered together in person or online. If you turn to page 105 in the front of your hymnal you will see on the bottom of the page the list of things we pray for together each Sunday. That list reflects today’s beatitudes and woes. The prayers are meant to be part of our dialogue with God, but they are also meant to stir each one of us up. They are, like the Apostle’s Creed, a statement of faith, of what it means to follow Jesus out of this space.

If you turn back to page 93 you will see our entire worship service outlined. At the very end is the Sending and bolded in that section is the Blessing. There were various parts of worship that were dropped as we pivoted to online worship and then came back to shorter in-person services, but never the prayers of intercession and never the blessing. At the end of every worship service, we are sent to the continue our participation in God’s mission. With the blessing of God, we go out to live as Christ’s body in the world. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

The Spirit of the Lord is poured out upon us in abundance; so we are bold to pray for the church, the world, and all that God has made.

A brief silence.

Blessed are those whose trust is in you. Strengthen the faith of those who profess your name and bring reassurance to those who doubt or fear. Through your church speak continued blessing into the world. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Those who trust in you are like trees planted by streams of water. Bless fruit trees with an abundant harvest. Protect rainforests from destruction. Restore land that has eroded after deforestation. Resurrect woodlands after forest fires. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Search the hearts of those who govern, that they lead with humility. Inspire leaders to collaborate on policies that protect people and the planet. Sustain truth-tellers and social movements that challenge society to become more honest and just. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Send your blessings of mercy upon those who long for consolation. Tend to those struggling with poverty, unemployment, or uncertainty. Provide for all who are hungry. Console those who face persecution. Grant peace to all who suffer (especially). God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Renew this congregation in our shared mission. As we plan and dream for the future you are preparing, inspire us by the examples of Martin Luther and all the reformers. Bless new projects and new ministry partnerships. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

Christ is raised from the dead, and so we cling to the hope of the resurrection. We praise you for the lives of the saints who lived and died in the hope of eternal life with you (especially). God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Since we have such great hope in your promises, O God, we lift these and all of our prayers to you in confidence and faith; through Jesus Christ our Savior.

Amen.

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