Plain Talk

When someone asks you how you are doing, how do you answer? I have a friend who would always answer, “I’m blessed and highly favored,” even when he was in pain or having a horrible day. Was he ignoring reality? Or seeing life with a different perspective?

Read Luke 6:17-26, Genesis 39:19-23 here.

Listen here:

You know what they say – Money can’t buy you happiness, but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery. 

We know the saying, “Money can’t buy happiness.”  We might even agree.  But studies show that we don’t actually believe it.  Research has found that our sense of well-being is indeed directly correlated to our income, up to a point. Above around $75,000, the correlation drops.[1]  This isn’t surprising, since our income affects our ability to keep the lights on, put food on the table, and have clothes to wear.  The more we have, the more we’re able to have some leftover to do the things we enjoy doing.  We know we’re not supposed to base our happiness on things, but we still do.

And we assess other people by this same measure.  If you have all you need, then you’re ok, and if you don’t, then you must have done something wrong that put you in this position, so you’re not ok. We might not realize we’re doing this.

Job_Rebuked_by_His_Friends_Butts_set

We see this problem happening in the book of Job.  Job’s friends are convinced that Job must have done something wrong that caused all the trouble he’s having.  They are thinking in the black & white world of Psalm 1 or Jeremiah 17, that says:

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord (Jer. 17:7).  So if you’re having trouble, you must have strayed. But Job’s situation was not caused by sin, and his friends couldn’t believe that, so they tell him:

If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored (Job 22:3).  Job did still trust and praise God in spite of his situation, and God blessed him for that, but his friends are blaming him and shaming him. Job points out how everyone has turned on him in his misery.  He says, when I was rich, “Everyone listened to my advice” (Job 29:21), but now that I am poor…

And now they mock me with vulgar songs! They taunt me!
They despise me and won’t come near me, except to spit in my face. Job 30:9-10

We do this, too, more than we realize.  Read the book of Job in a modern-language translation (I like the NLT) and see how much it sounds just like the things we say to one another or think about each other.

Solution – We need a perspective corrective.  We need to see the world and ourselves the way God sees us, with eyes of grace, and that’s what Jesus gives us in our reading for today from Luke 6.  Luke tells us that Jesus is preaching on the plain, he’s on the level, and what he says challenges our perspective.

These words in Luke sound a lot like the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.  They are similar, but not quite the same. Scholars are divided about whether these are two different perspectives on the same event, or whether Jesus preached something similar more than once. Matthew has Jesus on a mountain; Luke says Jesus is in a level place.

Luke only has four beatitudes, and then there are four woes which are the opposites of the blessings.  These blessings and woes align with the theme of reversal we find throughout Luke’s gospel, of Jesus turning the world upside down.  We see it in the first chapter in Mary’s song of joy:

He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. (Luke 1:51-53)

We saw it in Luke 4, our text from two weeks ago, in which Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners  and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

In Jesus sermon here in Luke 6, he is basically saying the same thing again:

  • Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the brokenhearted, and the despised.
  • But woe to you who are rich, full, happy and respected, for you already have your reward.

He’s challenging our perspective ….

How we got here – In our Old Testament reading today from Genesis 39, we read a piece of the story of Joseph. Joseph is the one who is the favorite son and gets the beautiful multi-colored coat from his dad Jacob.  (This is a picture of Donny Osmond in the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.)  His brothers are jealous and sell him into slavery, which is how Joseph ends up in Egypt working for a rich man.  The rich man’s wife tries to seduce Joseph, and when Joseph rejects her, she accuses him of accosting her, and Joseph gets thrown into prison.  When Joseph is in jail, things start to turnaround, though.

…the Lord was with Joseph and remained loyal to him. He caused the jail’s commander to think highly of Joseph. The jail’s commander put all of the prisoners in the jail under Joseph’s supervision, and he was the one who determined everything that happened there.  The jail’s commander paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s supervision, because the Lord was with him and made everything he did successful. (Gen 39:21-23)

God made Joseph prosper.  If we get stuck on that, we can begin to think that if we’re prospering, then God is with us, and if we aren’t then God isn’t.  But remember how Joseph got here?  His brothers tried to kill him, and then they sold him into slavery.  Those aren’t good things, but God used them for good.  Joseph was poor and hungry and downhearted and despised, and God blessed him with some unique opportunities that resulted in helping the entire area survive a seven-year famine.

Joseph does do well, he goes from being poor to being rich, from being despised to being one of the most respected and powerful men in the land, but he gives God all the credit.  Even when he was in jail, Joseph was still trusting God.

God was with Joseph through both the good times and the bad, and, in our reading from Luke, Jesus tells the people that God is with them too.

In verse 20, Luke says Jesus raises his eyes to the disciples. Jesus is in essence saying….I see you.[2]  I see your hearts.  I see you who have given up everything to follow me.  I see you who are struggling and in pain, and I want you to know that I love you.

When we look at ourselves and the people around us, are we basing our opinions and actions on the stuff we have and the positions we’re in and the way we look?

God sees us through eyes of love, we need to see ourselves and others through his eyes, eyes of grace.  Because of Jesus Christ, though we are sinners, God sees us as his beloved forgiven people. His grace is all we need.

Each time [God] said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.  – 2 Corinthians 12:9 

Jesus is saying to the poor in that crowd, I see you, and though the world may despise you, God doesn’t.  I don’t.

So what does that mean for us today?

There is brokenness in the world.  We are all equally in need of God’s grace.  Some of us have more stuff than others.  Some of us manage better than others.  Some of us put on a façade better than others.  But inside we’re all who God made us to be.

Don’t let shame about the outside keep you from God or from embracing the life he has for us.

Some people don’t come to church because they’re ashamed – they don’t have nice enough clothes, they don’t feel up to putting a smile on, they don’t want to be judged.

Getting to know our neighbors helps us to get beyond our façades and become friends who share about what our hopes and dreams and struggles are, and encourage one another to seek God.

God sees our hearts and pours his love in.  So don’t judge yourself or anyone else by what you have or don’t have. Don’t be ashamed of what you have or don’t have, or about what you do or don’t do.

God sees in us as his creation. God sees our love and compassion and joy and creativity and faithfulness.  How often do we tell one another how we see Jesus in them?

B3-CN137_MAISEL_GR_20181130123644There’s a TV series that became available on Amazon about a year ago called The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  It’s set in the 1950’s, and it’s about a well-to-do young woman who’s trying to make it as a stand-up comic. There is some very earthy language.  Mrs. Maisel gets quite real and raw in her routines.  One of the fun things to see in the show are her outfits.  DSC00396.ARW

She’s always perfectly dressed in beautiful outfits that match the scene.  On the outside she looks like someone who has the perfect life, except she doesn’t.  She’s trying to make it in a man’s world, doing things that are outside the norm for people in her position.  One of the main reasons she’s able to succeed is Susie.

DSC00360.ARWSusie is the manager of the bar where Mrs. Maisel makes her first appearance on a stage doing comedy.  Susie immediately sees something in Mrs. Maisel and sets out to encourage her to keep trying to make it in comedy.  Susie is herself a study in how people are misjudged.  People consistently think Susie is a man because of how she’s dressed.  In one scene, Susie goes into the department store where Mrs. Maisel works at the makeup counter, and from the moment Susie enters she is followed by the security guard because she looks so out of place among all the beautifully dressed women.  The guard assumes that Susie is trouble.  Susie is quite rough around the edges, but she’s hardly trouble.  She’s got a heart of gold and she truly believes in Mrs. Maisel, even when Mrs. Maisel doesn’t believe in herself.

1d2a1598-7358-40ae-8cac-62681d4965dd-susieIn one episode, Susie gets kidnapped by some thugs that were hired to kill her so she’d stop managing Mrs. Maisel.  Susie isn’t scared of these guys, or mad at them for kidnapping her.  (Spoiler alert) Instead, she pays attention to what these guys are saying to each other, finds common ground and makes friends with them.  She sees what’s good in them and encourages them, just like she has been doing with Mrs. Maisel.

Jesus sees what’s good in us, too.  And because of Jesus, that’s also what God sees.  Jesus gave his life for us, so that through faith in him we could have grace.  We are all people that God loves so much that he gave his only Son for us.  No matter whether we have a lot or a little or somewhere in between, let us rejoice in our redeemer Jesus Christ and give thanks to him for his amazing love and grace.

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2015/12/14/money-can-buy-happiness-but-only-to-a-point.html

[2] Jill Duffield, Looking Into the Lectionary

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