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Looking Up Like Jesus

Looking Up Like Jesus

Nov 03, 2019

Passage: Luke 6:20-31

Preacher: The Reverend Andrew Van Kirk


Imagine you are a stand-up comic struggling to make it — playing dingy clubs for almost no money, spending your nights on friends’ couches. You’re poor, so the 21st verse of the 6th chapter of Luke’s gospel has good news for you: blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. But also you’re laughing a lot — ‘cause you’re a comic — and, oh, verse 25: woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

Hmm. Hard to categorize that guy.

What about the richest man I’ve ever known well. The richest man I ever knew well, in the span of a few short months, buried his father and was divorced by his wife. Blessed is he—for weeping now he will laugh. But woe to him, for he is rich, and has received his consolation.

Hmm. Hard to categorize that guy too.

We could go on and on. Perhaps you can find yourself on both sides of Jesus’ sayings too. I do.

By this I mean merely to point out the absurdity of doing what initially seems obvious — using the Beatitudes as a system by which to judge people. But if that’s not what they are, then what are they?

The Beatitudes, that’s the name for these little sayings, the Beatitudes represent the vision by which God sees the world. They are a screenshot, of sorts, of what God’s heads-up display looks like. If you could put on God’s AR glasses, this is what you’d see. Because the Beatitudes are what came out of Jesus’ mouth when “he looked up at his disciples.”

Our gospel reading begins with that little phrase, upon which, I imagine, everything else depends.

Of all the things I miss because I get to know Jesus in the gospel book, rather than in the flesh, His looking at me is right at the top of the list.

Jesus looked up at his disciples.

Imagine him looking at you. Before he speaks a single “blessed are,” his eyes meet yours. What do you see? What does he see?

With those eyes, Jesus can look at a poor person, a hungry person, a crying person — someone hated, excluded, reviled and defamed — and see them as blessed. As someone whose present circumstances are not evidence of their eternal state. As someone loved by God. Jesus has separated a person’s worth from their wealth — financial, social, and emotional wealth.

And by contrast, Jesus looked up and saw rich people; the sort of people who in their best moments would acknowledge they’ve “been blessed” — and see the emptiness that lurked underneath the material comforts. Jesus could see the rich and an see someone whose present circumstances are not evidence of their eternal state. Woe. Once again, Jesus looked up and separated worth from wealth.

One of the things that made Jesus remarkable to his contemporaries was how he wouldn’t run from the people that looked bad, and wouldn’t go after the people that looked good.

We just finished baseball season, with the World Series of course, but I mean more specifically, at my house. Henry plays kid-pitch, where the kids pitch, which is a big jump at nine. Almost the entire game plays out between the pitcher, catcher, and batter. A lot of walks, and a few strikeouts.

There’s a phenomenon that happens multiple times, every game, where the pitcher winds up and throws the ball towards home. And the batter jumps way back, sometimes they even turn and run a little bit. And the pitch — which they were sure was going to take their head off — comes right on in, over the very middle of the plate, for a strike.

The problem is that the batters haven’t yet learned to see the pitch, and so a good pitch sends a batter diving away in fear.

Of course, as they get older and the pitchers get better, the problem will reverse itself — pitches that look good will end up curving away and batters will be swinging at balls that aren’t even close.

Baseball players have train themselves to see the pitch — not how good it looks at the beginning, but where it’s going to end up when it crosses home plate. Whether it’s a strike or ball; whether it’s a blessing or woe.

We too have to be trained, as Christians, to see people, not in terms of their present circumstances, but their eternal state. We have to have eyes that can separate worth from wealth. We’re often like nine year-old baseball players.

Our culture — because it still feasts off the riches Christian anthropology — does a good job of saying something like worth does not equal wealth. But I am not sure we really mean it. Heck, I’m not sure I always really mean it.

It’s a somewhat unnatural thing to assume: across human history wealth is a sign of blessing. Not just financial wealth, but health too, and emotional and relational wealth. All the world religions struggle with it in some way. The Book of Job is a whole book about problematizing this assumption the assumption that wealth and health is a sign of God’s favor — and, as much as that’s what it is about, it ends with Job being twice as wealthy as before!

Anyway, I trust I need not spend more time convincing you of this: whether you consider the adjective to apply to you or not, it’s pretty obvious that being wealthy (and here I certainly mean money, but not not just money— being wealthy in health and relationships too) is advantageous in our society.

It’s supposed to be different in here. Today we celebrate All Saints Sunday. It’s a commemoration not of any one particular story of a Christian life lived well; but the celebration of all of them — that great cloud of witnesses upon whose shoulders we who gather at this time and in this place stand.

2000 years after Jesus stood on a level place, we gather on a level place and hear the same words. And it’s worth asking, I think, “How did we get here?”

We got here because many people, some of whose names we know as Saint So-and-so, but most of them we do not, believed that Jesus was right, that worth does not equal wealth.

Saints are people who, like Jesus, look up at the world. And what they see are poor people living off federal aid programs who are perfect, perfect citizens for God’s country; they see hungry people who need food more than pity, and lonely people whose eyes are full of tears who are about to be overcome with joy.

It would be nice if we would put on special glasses that would hide money, clothes, cars, and connections and let us see beneath the wealth of world. Those glasses don’t exist.

We have to look at the same world as everyone else, and somehow see something different. Saints are people who are willing to set aside the categories of the world without another system by with to arrange people into better and worse. Remember how I pointed out at the beginning that this series of blessings and woes is an exceedingly poor system for categorizing people? Jesus destructs our categories, but doesn’t give us new ones.

Saints are people who look up at the world and see worth rather than wealth. They see how much God loves the people in front of them, and try to do that too — even when there’s nothing obviously lovable.

To look up and see our fellow human beings as Jesus did is so hard to do that we have to come together each week to remind each other to do it, to hear Jesus say these ridiculous — ly hope-filled words — again.

It’s so hard to do that we have to give generously — so that we have a space to gather, to welcome our community, to feed our neighbors, to send missionaries, to plant churches where this good news is preached, and to carry out the work of being saints together. And then we come back, each week, acknowledge that we have failed to see as God sees, to ask for God’s strength and grace, to look at one another and say, “blessed are you,” and to try again. Try again to look up at the world, and see worth apart from the wealth that tints how we see it.

Today we celebrate our commitment to make this church the place where we can do that; where we can train to be saints, practice looking up at the world, just like Jesus did, and seeing what he sees.

And, finally, we celebrate our commitment to make this a place where we can hear these same words uttered over ourselves. There is a sober side to this truth: In a world that will love you for your riches, sing your praises for being so likable, in a world that will laugh at all your jokes: you get to come in here and remember that being rich won’t pay your rent in heaven, that being liked will not save you if you do not let yourself be loved by God, and that no sense of humor can cover God’s absence in your life.

But our world only rarely tells us we’re too good; it usually tells us we’re too little. And so, in a world that will look up at you and see your flaws, your lack, your tears, your sorrow; in a world that will happily help you categorize what’s wrong with you, hear this instead, “blessed are you.” Blessed are you.

Look up at one another. Not at me—at one another. Blessed are you, saints of God. Now, let us go out into the world, look up at the people we come across in it this week; see worth, not wealth, and tell them the good news about how God sees them, how God loves them, how God saves them. Amen.