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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

13-ORD6-G-C Luke 6 17-36 Sermon on the Plain
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
February 15, 2004

“He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.”

Looking for evidence to back up what I thought this sermon was going to be about, I did a quick survey of ads in the local newspaper. What I discovered instead is that the people of Knoxville and the people of greater Jerusalem have a lot more in common that I had ever realized.

On Wednesday of last week, the Knoxville News-Sentinel had ads for:

 A seminar on how-to reduce your cholesterol
 A screening for cholesterol
 A seminar for “Winning at Women’s Weight Loss” (apparently it’s a competitive sport)
 A new Sleep Apnea support group meeting
 Proud announcements of new doctors opening family practice
 A back pain clinic
 Two different vericose vein removal clinics
 A center for the augmentation of certain body parts
 A clinic for the examination of said body parts
 Two health clubs
 An offer for complete health care insurance
 The joy of nursing home living
 The compassion of funeral home care
 The lasting beauty of cemetery plots

Health care was far and away the #1 group of advertisers in the paper last Wednesday. This was followed by ads for things for the home: home improvement, home refinancing and home accessories. Then clothing (especially jewelry; it was Valentine’s week). And then a mixed assortment of ads for entertainment: Restaurants, gun & knife shows, wine & spirits stores, and exotic gentlemen’s clubs.

Judging simply by the numbers and types of ads, we could say that the top concerns of people in greater Knoxville are, in order: Health, home, clothing and entertainment. Of course, that’s not even beginning to count the car ads. It’s a given that if you’re going to go to the gun show, the gentlemen’s club and the hospital (perhaps in that order) you’re going to want to do it in style.

I’m going to guess that the people who came over hill and dale to find Jesus on the plain had a similar list of concerns. And in this case the Bible really does tell us the same thing as the News-Sentinel – health was the #1 concern of the people of greater Jerusalem. They came with their diseases. They came with their unclean spirits. They came from the coast. They came from the city. They came from the little towns in between. They came simply to touch Jesus, for power came out of him, and healed them.

We want health. We’ll go as far as ordering a bunless burger if that’s what it takes. We want health. But more than health, we want what the people of the Bible wanted: we want to be healed. Of course we want to be healed of our diseases. The people who sell pills are making a gold mine off of that. “Ask your doctor if it’s right for you.” But regardless of whether your body’s sick or well, what we really want – same as the people in the Bible – is to be healed of unclean, or troubled spirits. We want to stop wanting. We want to stop wanting better health, better homes, better clothes, better lives. We want to stop wanting because no matter how good your health, home, clothes or life is – if you’re plagued by want – it could always be better.

The word in the Bible we translate as “healed” means more than “made better.” Jesus offers more than an upgrade to a better version of whatever we’re running. The word we translate as “to heal” means “to cure” in a physical sense. But it can also mean, “to serve.” And it can also mean, “to worship.” We want health, but what good is a healthy body if the spirit inside is dead? And so, just like the people in the Bible, we come to Jesus, because after all the ads and fads and insurance plans, in our hearts we know we need the spiritual healing only he can offer.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

I don’t believe for one minute that God makes us poor, or makes us hungry, or makes us weep, or hated or excluded – or sick – in order to make a point. I wouldn’t wish those things on anyone I loved, and God’s a whole lot more loving than I am. Furthermore I don’t believe there’s virtue in wallowing in your bad luck. I don’t think Jesus would ever want us to get so used to a rotten life that we immediately get suspicious when something good happens. (“Life’s going too easy. I wonder what I’ve done wrong. Things are going too great; something horrible must be about to happen.”) It is possible to smile and have a joyful life without invoking Satan. And I think that’s very good news for anyone in search of spiritual healing.

What I hear the scripture saying is that if you’re poor, or weeping, or sick, or reviled for what you believe – Take heart! God never intended things to be this way. If your lab reports have come back bad, if your husband hits you, if the other kids make fun of you… if your life just positively stinks – Know this! That stuff DOES stink. It stinks to high heaven. God doesn’t like it any more than you do. But even though it feels like the end of the world, it’s not the end of God. God did not create you to be miserable. God created you for life. And someday, through Jesus Christ, your life will be re-created, resurrected, to the way it’s supposed to be.

And so if your body, or the body of someone you love, isn’t able to be cured, let your spirit be cured – cured of the illness that makes it believe this is the way things are supposed to be. Blessed are you – not because you’re sick or poor; but blessed are you because you worship a God who is greater than health, greater than wealth, greater even than death. You will laugh again. You will rejoice again. You will be fulfilled again, because that’s the way God planned it to be, and God will see the plan through.

Now, it would have been so wonderful if Jesus had left it there. If he had ended his sermon right there and said, “God loves you, let’s go to lunch.” But no. The Son of God had to go and rub our noses in the good stuff that more often than not keeps us from being blessed.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

I have to imagine this scripture plays a little differently with people like, say, Black South Africans, than it plays for us. Even if we aren’t rich, well-fed and laughing, we sure like to create that impression. We spend a lot of time and money chasing the dream. Again, think of the ads you see and the promises they make. The absolute best is the ad for the new Hummer, the H2, now starting at only $48,000: “Need… is a very subjective word.” THAT’S truth in advertising. Some people need water that doesn’t have parasites. We don’t need that, because we already have it. So we come up with other things to need.

Just as I don’t believe God makes us sick or poor in order to make a point, I don’t believe God thinks happy rich fat people are automatically going to Hell. We might know some we’d wish that upon, but I don’t believe that’s the point Jesus is trying to make.

What I hear the scripture saying is that if you think it’s a sign that God loves you because you are a happy rich fat person – then, whoa there, cowboy; you’d better think again. Woe to you because you think God’s so weak and God’s so small that God can’t do any better than a Hummer; God can’t do any better than you can. Woe to you because there might come a day when all that fancy stuff gets taken away. Woe to you because that’s all you think a blessing looks like: fancy stuff. Woe to you because your spirit needs more healing than you can imagine. Your worship and your service is just a charade, because in truth, what you’re really worshiping is your stuff.

Just as sometimes we think God must really hate us to make life so miserable, there are times when we think God must really think we’re something special. And God DOES see us as special; but no more special than the person who has to walk five miles to get a gallon of safe drinking water. Maybe the ones who have nothing are blessed because they take so little for granted. Maybe the ones who have nothing are blessed because the don’t have that far to go to be cured of their wants. Woe to us when we want to stop wanting… and we can’t.

The scripture goes on, but the lectionary reading stops right there today. For the people Jesus tells, “Woe,” there is no happy ending. Jesus is serious about this; he’s not kidding. If we’re on the woe side of this sermon, Jesus just leaves us hanging. Should we feel guilty about having all kinds of cool stuff? I don’t know. Does Jesus care whether we’re satisfied with our lives? Again, I don’t know.

But what I do know from scripture is this: there is healing power that comes out of Jesus. Enough power to heal them all, scripture says. There are a lot of people who won’t go the doctor because, you know, she’s just going to tell you you’re sick. That’s what Jesus told the people who came to see him – all the people on that level plain. He told them all they were sick…whether they thought they were, or not. All of the people who felt the power of Jesus felt the truth that their souls were suffering. All of the people were suffering – either from too much of this world or too little of it. All the people who felt the power of Jesus felt the truth that their souls were suffering from too little of Him.

You might be starving for the good life. Or you might be overdosed on it. But no matter how good life in this world gets – we might get a little better, but we’ll never get cured. Until our healing turns into serving, until our serving turns into worship, until our eyes turn past this world and onto Jesus, we’re never going to get well again.

So go to your doctor. Get your cholesterol screened. Floss. Take advantage of all the preventative maintenance your body can stand. But take your soul to its healer. And in service and worship to Jesus Christ, may you be blessed. May you all be made well.