Joy Comes with the Morning

February 17th, 2019

Joy Comes with the Morning

Luke 6: 17-26

February 17, 2019

As we return to the Gospel of Luke this morning, Jesus is on a roll!  He has healed people of physical and mental illnesses.  He has preached and taught nearly everywhere, from hilltops to the lakeside to the synagogues.  Just before our text this morning, Jesus has completed calling his disciples, taking all twelve of them up a mountain to pray.  The crowds are growing.  The word is spreading.  This Jesus of Nazareth…man, he’s something!

In our text, Jesus and his disciples come down from the mountain top.  Before we go any further than that, I’m wondering if we can’t spend a moment thinking about how those disciples must have felt.  They left their lives to follow this man—their families, their jobs, all of their responsibilities.  Part of the burden that they must have been bearing had to be the judgement of those they had left behind.  Their choice, in the eyes of the people who mattered most to them, had to appear selfish and irresponsible.  Who just drops everything to be a “disciple?”  “It sounds like some kind of cult to me!”

The second thing to consider is how rare that time alone with Jesus was going to be.  Everyone wants a piece of him and he wants to connect to everyone.  So many people who cross Jesus’ path are going to want his attention, are going to want some kernel of wisdom or some healing touch.  And every time that Jesus pays attention to someone else, it had to feel like he was paying less attention to you.  If you were following him because you thought this would be your chance to spend quality time in the company of someone very special, time that would make you special, too…well, something else was about to unfold.

Maybe you have someone like that in your life?  There are some amazing people out there who are charismatic and outgoing and funny and fun.  They can connect with anyone.  And while they connect, they have a vision to share—a vision of how things could be better for us having been here.  These people have a mission in life and they have the gifts to promote and sell that mission.  However, what they never have is enough time.  This is the friend or the husband or wife or the colleague whom you love dearly and support 100% but you always ask yourself that nagging question, “Where are they going now?”

I think this is going to be one of the biggest challenges for the disciples.  They will follow this man.  At times they will connect.  At other times, he will leave them utterly baffled.  Now and then, he will just literally leave them.  What they are going to have to struggle with is trust, trust that they do matter to him, trust that there is a place for them in this ministry.  Perhaps, most importantly, they are going to have to become people who try to do the kinds of things that Jesus would do, themselves.  They are not picked because Jesus wants a nice gang of friends.  They are picked because they are the ones who will lead the movement when Jesus is gone.

Think of it this way, if it helps.  I knew people who were in love with the closeness that came through play rehearsals and sports practices and preparing for all sorts of other big events.  Eventually, all those rehearsals and practices and preparations led closer and closer to the event, itself.  There was that amazing moment before the first show or the first game or the first whatever when in some ritual way, you joined hands, or raised your voices or just made eye contact with one another and silently affirmed that this is what we have worked so hard to be ready to do:  “Let’s do this!”  The thing is…then you have to go get it done.  Nothing ever goes as planned.  Nothing is ever easy.  There is always that moment when we look at each other and ask, “Whose team are you on?”  The challenges separate us from one another.  Then, we have to reconnect again.

I suspect that this is where the disciples are in our text.  Who knows what the pregame speech was that Jesus gave to them on that mountainside?  How honest was he about the challenges that were ahead of them?  All evidence will point to the fact that the disciples pretty much are only going to hear what they want to hear and do what they want to do anyway.  However, we have to be honest enough to say that all that does is make them human like us.    Things are going to get rough fast.  And, I have to believe that more than a few times in the months to come, they would think back to that time on the mountain, and how simple things seemed for that one moment.

The truth is that Jesus complicates things fast in our text.  Luke goes out of his way to tell us that people have come from near and far not only to hear Jesus but to be healed by him.  Imagine this huge, overwhelming crowd which included foreigners and the lame and the blind and the lepers and, most frighteningly of all, the mentally ill.  Everyone was there to get a piece of him or at least to touch him.  So many people were healed.  And yet, I have to believe that the disciples had to be a little terrified.  (Have you ever been in the wilderness for a long camping trip and been totally overwhelmed by the noise and business and buzz of civilization as soon as you returned?)

It was one thing that the crazy folks had a thing for Jesus and he seemed to have a thing for them.  It was quite another thing to hear him sound a little crazy himself.  This morning, I’ve chosen to use the translation of our text that is in The Message because I think it makes us less comfortable with Jesus’ words and helps us hear how non-conventional they really are.  

“You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all.  God’s kingdom is there for the finding.  You’re blessed when you are ravenously hungry, then you’re ready for the Messianic meal.  You’re blessed when the tears flow freely.  Joy comes with the morning.” 

This is the great reversal of conventional religious wisdom and thinking in Jesus’ day.  In his day, you knew you were blessed when things were going your way because God must be behind that.  And, any time things didn’t go your way, you must be cursed by God either for something you did or something your ancestors did.  Whatever is, is God’s will!  So, the winners in this world are winners because God made them winners.  The losers are losers because God made them losers.  Except….Jesus says exactly the opposite.

You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all.  Why?  Because your possessions will possess you and make it hard to see how little all your stuff matters in the end.  If you’re not blinded by keeping an eye on your stuff, you might just see God’s kingdom.

“You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry?”  Why?  Because if you’re just spending your day thinking about which of the many options available to you that you’d like to eat tonight, if you act as if you are here just to maximize your pleasure, then you won’t be ready to taste what really satisfies.  You’ll be off somewhere debating whether onions or shallots go best in your favorite recipe.

“You’re blessed when your tears flow freely.”  Why?  Because if you can feel loss, if you know just how much grief can gut us, then you also know what it means to love.  If you know what it is like to be heartbroken then your heart will also be ready to soar.  The Message follows this with such a great phrase, “Joy comes with the morning.”  That’s the promise that the disciples and the women who follow Jesus will struggle to hold onto all the way to the empty tomb.  That is the promise that we all will fight like crazy to hold onto ourselves when we find ourselves in dark places:  “Joy comes with the morning.”

Then, Jesus tells a final great truth to those in earshot and I suspect he’s glancing at the disciples as he says it.  In my words, Jesus tells everyone that it is going to cost them to be his disciple.  People are going to come after him by attacking those who follow him, slandering them as, oh, I don’t know—irresponsible, maybe?  Jesus says to them that when that happens, what they have to understand is that the truth for which Jesus stands is hitting too close to home for those people.  He’s going to teach people to share what they have.  He’s going to tell people to love their enemies.  He’s going to speak about the power of forgiveness and mercy and love.  He’s going to criticize those in power.  And the folks who hear those words who know they are true but feel threatened by that truth are going to strike back.  

Jesus tells people to be happy when they get attacked because they are associated with God’s truth.  Our translation says, “Skip like a lamb if you like.”  Again, let’s be honest.  This is just so hard to hear!  If I’m attacked completely unfairly for doing the right thing or if someone lies and says I did the wrong thing, I’m supposed to do the Macarena?  What’s up with that?

What Jesus tells the crowd and the disciples and us, two thousand years later, is that sometimes you are going to be on the right side of history, you are going to be doing exactly the faithful thing, and in this world you are going to suffer.  In that moment, just know this, Jesus says, know that this is pretty much always the way that the world has treated the people who speak God’s truth.  From the prophets of ancient Israel to Jesus, himself, to those who marched at Selma or who stand today and speak on behalf of the overlooked and the ignored, the world will try to silence you.  What will make it worth dancing in that moment is the knowledge that you have played a small part in the irresistible but sometimes painfully slow unfolding of God’s Kingdom in this world.  

Our task is not to be popular.  Our task is to speak and enflesh the truth.  This will cost us plenty in the world’s eyes.  But, Jesus, will say one day, “Be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.”  “Joy comes with the morning.”

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