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Blessings and Curses

Sunday, February 17, 2019.  Rev. Scott Ramsey, preaching.
Scripture Readings:  Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 6:17-26

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SERMON TEXT

Jeremiah 17 and Luke 6 are part of the biblical tradition of wrestling with the question of what it means to live a good life. Biblical faith offers a vision of life that is organized around honoring the poor, caring for those on the margins, putting our trust in the Lord, and seeking healing and wholeness.

Now that may sound very uncontroversial and even nice.  But what I want us to observe this morning is how the life that these texts envision is a profound alternative to the dominant assumptions in our culture.  Our world is not organized in these ways. Instead of trusting in God to guide us, the powers that be in the world want us to look to them to keep us safe.  The world wants us to pursue the accumulation of riches, wants us to think that being popular is absolutely essential, wants us to think that we deserve a life free from any pain or difficulty whatsoever.  Because if the world can get us to desire those kinds of things – riches, popularity, pain-free life – then they can sell us a remedy for every difficulty, they can sell us clothes that will make us popular, and they can get us to never, ever be satisfied with what we have.

But biblical faith knows that the powers that be in our world are not necessarily concerned with our deepest well-being.  The Bible knows that if you organize your life around pursuing wealth, or popularity, or the avoidance of all pain and difficulty, what you will get is a life filled with restless anxiety, because you will never be able to rest.

And so you get the counter-cultural announcements of the gospel. “Blessed are you who are poor. Blessed are you who are hungry. Blessed are you who weep. Blessed are you who are persecuted.”

This is all upside-down. The world looks at the poor and the hungry and sees people who are to be pitied.  God looks at them and sees the beloved children of God. The world looks at the rich and the haughty and thinks, “Wow, they’ve got it made.” But the Lord looks at those who trust in their wealth and sees anxious, barren people who are cutting themselves off from the flow of life.

According to biblical faith, the good life is not to be found by chasing after the prizes and accolades and adulation of the world. That’s not the good life, that’s the rat race. The good life is to be found in taking time to listen to other people, giving time to being with the poor and the marginalized, weeping with those who weep, and staying close to whatever is happening in this present moment. The world will tell you that’s no way to success. But the world doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

Now, many of us may find ourselves rather caught here. On the one hand, we sense deep in our hearts that the gospel path is the path to freedom and to life. But on the other hand, we have drunk deeply of the world’s restless, frantic, pressure-filled vision of how to be successful, and we wonder whether we completely trust the gospel promises.  That’s why this is a journey.  Day-by-day, we help each other let go of the one path, to trust the other.

Today, we will be having a Service for Healing and Wholeness.  In the biblical view, healing and wholeness are both an individual and a social reality.  We pray for healing on an individual level, where we long for well-being in our bodies, in our minds, in our souls; in our relationships; in our personal and professional lives.  But we also pray for social healing, where we long for justice and well-being in our society, where the poor and the hungry will have enough, where violence and warfare will end, where the weak will be cared for.

Healing and wholeness are the biblical vision of the good life, and the prayerful path that takes us there. As we engage in the service, you are invited to come forward to receive prayers and anointing. And if you choose to remain in your seat, while we sing, you are invited to pray for healing in your own life, for the healing of other people, as well as for our society and world. In the name of the triune God, Amen.