Standing on Level Ground
The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus from a different perspective than either Matthew or Mark. Both Matthew and Mark are Gospel accounts that try to reach the Jews with the message of Jesus the Messiah. Both Gospels were written first with Mark perhaps being the most original. John’s Gospel was written last almost some 70 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. You can tell because of its tone, and certain historical references it makes not included in the other three Gospels.
But Luke’s Gospel is the first to make a clear break from seeking to go after the Jewish population. In Luke’s Gospel, there are more stories of Jesus reaching out to the Samaritan’s and the Gentiles. There is a bigger effort to include the ministry of empowering women. It truly is a Gospel or good news for all God’s people; especially the poor, the forgotten. As it is constantly challenging the status quo, the powerful and influential.
It is in this Gospel. more than any other. that Jesus challenges the authority of the Pharisees, Priests, and Sadducee’s. But it also depicts quiet well the real nature of Jesus, as both Son of God and Son of Man and where it is that God can and should be found.
As I said, Jesus is constantly in conflict with the establishment. He is found healing people on the Sabbath, which was against the law, teaching about the true nature of the Kingdom of God. And as I also said it is in this Gospel that we see Jesus more than any other reaching beyond his Jewish heritage to share the good news with Gentiles, male and female.
Prior to the scene that was read this morning, Jesus had been at a synagogue teaching when he noticed a man whose right hand was deformed, withered as the text says. He also noticed the Pharisees there watching and waiting to see what he would do. Waiting so they could have him arrested.
So, Jesus calls the man forward but before he does anything to the man, he asks, is it lawful to do harm or to do good on the Sabbath. That question put these legalist into a quandary, because they all knew that the law allowed anyone to go out and help a distressed person or animal for that matter. So when they did not give an answer at all, Jesus told the man to stretch out his hand and it was cured right there in front of everybody. As Bonnie Ryatt says, “That gave them something to talk about.”
Well as they were griping about how Jesus just broke another law, but also how he used their own law against them, Jesus and all those who were following him made their way out of the synagogue and up a mountain, where Jesus once again entered into prayer. Where he centered himself on God, where he found his sustenance, his clarity of purpose and vision, and with his disciples he could truly worship God.
It was there, according to Luke’s Gospel that Jesus called his twelve apostles from the disciples. What’s the difference? We are all disciples when we claim to follow Jesus, when we claim to believe in him, and we seek to learn from him. But we are apostles when we answer the call to be sent out. Sent to proclaim his message and share in his healing,
Anyway, after Jesus calls his twelve; that is when they come back down the mountain; it is here that Luke once again points out to his readers that God has a distinct purpose for Jesus and his followers who are charged with the responsibility of carrying this message forward.
Luke says “He came down with them and stood on a level place. Now most commentaries have just sort of run right over this sentence. They don’t really comment on it what so ever, as if it is nothing more than a descriptive statement to let us know how Jesus transitions to the next scene.
But I think it is more than that. Because it is once again restating the overall theological message that God chooses to be with us, not high over us or looking at us from a distance. God chooses to be right in the midst of our pain and suffering, working with us and through us to bring about the hope of healing.
He came down with his disciples; he could have stayed, but he chose to come back down with them. And when he did, the whole world as they knew it was there waiting on him. They had come to hear him and to be healed by him, as well as those who had troubled and unclean spirits. Those who were outcasts by the very same Pharisees and Priests and Sadducee’s that were looking to arrest Jesus.
When Jesus came back down the mountain, he came and stood with these people, the outcast, the gentiles, the sick, the unclean, and he began to speak to them like they were real human beings, not some animal or worse. He began to heal them, not only with his words, but with his actions.
Hear again the words the Son of God says to these sick and motley crews; “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God, blessed are those who are hungry now, for you will be filled, blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh.
He healed them with his actions or was it his in-action as he allowed this power to flow from Him. The text says that power went out from him. You know it was almost like he could not have controlled it even if he had wanted to. It just flowed like electricity down a power line. What has that kind of power to flow through anybody like that and not kill us like electricity? Is it not the power of love?
The Pharisees and Priests, and Sadducees, they didn’t have it. All they had was the law. All they had was a duty to ensure that everyone followed it. They certainly tried to follow the law, after all that was what was most important to them. But the idea that you had to really and truly love others was about as foreign to them as a Samaritan or Gentile. And certainly to love a Samaritan or Gentile or a leper or any diseased individual was most reprehensible. You just didn’t do that.
In his commentary on this passage, William Barclay says this about the Pharisees both then and today, “These were men who took the extraordinary course of hating a man who had just cured a sufferer. They are an outstanding example of people who love their rules and regulations more than their God. Unfortunately, we see this happening in churches over and over again.” How can you hate someone who does good? Unfortunately it happens more often than we may realize.
I was watching a documentary on Fred Rodgers the other night. You remember Fred Rodgers. Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood. I learned a few facts in that he was not some war hero. He had never served in the military. He was indeed a Presbyterian Minister. A minister who devoted his whole life and ministry trying to reach out to children to help them know that they were loved and special. He especially tried to reach the very kids who did not or would not hear that message from their families, rich or poor, black or white, fat or skinny, or different in any other way. He knew what that was like. He did grow up a rich kid, but he was overweight as a child and he was unmercifully bullied. Fat Freddy they used to call him. But he found his solace in the church and in music.
So his whole T.V. Evangelism was teaching children without sounding too preachy, too religious, that they were special and loved. And do you know that there was this certain news network that called him evil, because he was telling kids that they were all special. And it wasn’t fake news because they showed the actual footage of the network anchors back in the 1980’s.
His wife said that he had never been more deeply hurt, not even those who would mock him and made fun of him were as bad as that. But even with all of that, he continued to work to share that message, that no matter what you looked like, no matter where you came from, no matter your status, your faith, or lack thereof, you are special. Maybe not to the world, but you were to God and to Mr. Rodgers. I think Mr. Rodgers was that way because he truly understood what Jesus was talking about and what he was doing there on that level ground.
Coming down to the level of a hurting and struggling people, no matter who they were, or where they came from or what they looked like or what gender they were, and he let them know they were special, he talked to them, he touched their wounds, he listened to their stories, he took on their pain. And he gave them real hope. I don’t know what else Jesus had other than the power of the Holy Spirit in full force that he could reach and teach, touch and heal so many all at once. But he did.
And it wasn’t for the money, they had none, it wasn’t for popularity’s sake, they could not give him that in society. He was able to do it, because he genuinely and deeply loved them. The same way, we hold to the belief that he genuinely and deeply loves you and me. He gave them that hope, but more than just hope, he gave them that experience to feel and know the love of God.
It is God’s desire as we can see through Luke’s Gospel, to bring us all into his fold, it is God’s desire, to love us all, but also to call on us to love one another, to experience a love that not only heals our bodies, but transforms our hearts, transfers our selfish minds and attitudes to become a true child of God, no matter what our traditions may be, our bloodlines, our skin tones, our religious beliefs, whether we pray one time a day or five times a day or we pray unceasingly. Whether we are on our knees or on our beds or behind a steering wheel.
No matter what, the bible says that God loves us. And here, Jesus proves it. And God wants us to love one another in the same way. Could that have been the power that was going out from Jesus, So much love that it was actually causing the people gathered there to finally see one another as human beings and not those other people. To truly care about each other’s needs and pain and to actually lay their hands on one another and pray for one another. To forgive one another and to laugh with each other and not at each other. Or share their food with each other.
That is the power I think that did so much healing, so much good. Because what I think was healed more than any one person’s personal sickness, personal pain, was the great divide that caused the chasm, the gulf that can so easily split us apart. It is sin, sin rips not just through a person or a family but it rips up communities with things like bigotry and racism, it rips through us using violence whether is sexual or just plain physical, or even political violence again be it verbal or physical. It is the sin of arrogance, the sin of false pride. The sin of hatred, and jealousy.
William Barclay also said in his commentary on this passage in Luke this, “It is only in Christ that we can solve the problem of living together; because even the most opposite people may be united in their love of him. If we really love him, we will also love each other. The power of healing comes through Jesus, but only because he allows the power of love to flow through him. That power of love only comes from God who calls us to love God and one another.
Therefore, I challenge us all to step out of our comfort zones to welcome a stranger, to help a neighbor, to get to know someone of a different race or background a little better and to let them see you. And to do it in the same spirit of love that only Jesus Christ can give you. Let us all come down to level ground with those whom Jesus sends us too. Amen.
Luke 6: 17 – 26
Love is the Greatest Power
What do you think is the most powerful force in the world?
Is it Electricity, Water, the Sun, Rockets, Missiles or Political Power?
Well there is no doubt that each of these are very powerful forces. They have the power to light your home or community, or they have the power to travel thousands of miles in a matter of minutes and do great damage or maybe some good, and political power can either move a community forward or keep its citizens helpless and afraid.
But the greatest power of all is this. Love. That is because as the Bible teaches us in 1 John 4: 7-8, God is love. It is the greatest power because more than water, or electricity, or even political power, it has the power to transform or change people’s lives for the better, to do better. When we learn and experience God’s love for us in any number of ways, it makes us want to be better people too. It has the most power to the most good, but here is the catch, it only happens when we allow it. Now, you may be thinking, wait pastor, if it is so powerful, why doesn’t it just make us love one another. Well that is a good question, but you see, if it forced us to love one another, then it would not be love anymore. Its very character would change. For love to be love, for God to be love, it loves us no matter what, and it calls on us to love one another, but it will not make you. That you and I must decide for ourselves. But when you do, watch out, for the world has just changed for the better. Amen