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

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Luke 6:17-26

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church

February 11, 2007

Today’s New Testament Lesson begins, “He came down with them and stood on a level place….”

Where did he come down from?

Before the scripture we just read, Jesus was up on the mountaintop, praying.

He was up on the mountaintop, talking with his Father, just the two of them, talking, listening, conversing in heavenly peace.

Talk about a spiritual retreat.

Can you imagine such intense, intimate time with God?

The Holy Spirit must have been flowing through Jesus’ veins as he came back down the mountain trail.

He comes down from the mountain, filled with this spiritual high, this other-worldly connection…

…takes one step out of the woods, and BAM!

People. People everywhere.

You know how you feel when you come back from vacation, so peaceful, so carefree…

And the first thing that greets you is the stack of bills that have piled up in the mailbox.

The answering machine filled with urgent messages.

The email inbox, saying, “You’ve Got Mail, You’ve Got Mail…”

You thought you had it covered, you thought you could get away and not get swamped, but no.

Multiply that feeling by about 1000 times, and you’re getting close to what confronted Jesus when he came down from the mountaintop.

So much for heavenly peace.

I know what I would have done – turned around and gone right back up the mountaintop.

Instead, Jesus sees all these people, looks up and says, “Blessed. Blessed are you….”

Instead of letting all these people spoil his mood, Jesus welcomes the interruptions. Jesus teaches the crowds that can’t wait for his attention.

Geography’s very important in this lesson.

Jesus starts out way up high, close to God.

And then, scripture says, he comes down and stands on “a level place,” with the great crowd of disciples and the multitude of strangers from all over the country.

In the Gospel According to Matthew, the sermon Jesus preaches is what we call, “The Sermon on the Mount.”

In Matthew, he preaches on the mountain, because that’s where the people have come to meet him.

But in Luke’s telling of the gospel, Jesus is already down from the mountain when the people catch up to him.

Actually, it never says the people catch up to him.

It just says they’re down there, at the base of the mountain, waiting.

It makes me wonder if Jesus thought, “Where on earth did all these people come from? And why didn’t they climb up the mountain to pray?”

Why do you think they sat at the bottom and waited?

Do you think they were being respectful of Jesus’ solitude?

Maybe. There’s a first time for everything.

We live so close to the mountains, here.

Other than a couple of you, I don’t know many people who go trudging up the mountain trails very often.

Oh, we love it when we do.

The Smokies are so beautiful.

We always come back, saying, “That was great. Let’s do that more often.”

And then, we get up, and curse the Advil jar because we can’t get the top off.

Our thighs are killing us, like we walked up a mountain, or something.

That’s why we don’t go to the mountains more often.

That, and the fact that there are always a thousand other distractions that we let keep us from getting away.

So, did the people who waited for Jesus just not want to do the hard, physical and spiritual work of climbing up to find him, or to join him?

People are always ready to be blessed.

People are always ready to be healed.

But people aren’t quite as prone to take faith into the upper elevations, where just doing the walk takes serious effort.

Jesus doesn’t scold them for being lazy.

Instead, he teaches them.

He preaches them his “Sermon on the Plain.”

He tells them they’re blessed, right where they are.

So what does this tell us about the nature of Jesus? About the nature of God?

It says that God comes to meet us right where we are.

It says that God’s blessings come to us right where we are.

It says God cares about us right where we are.

You don’t have to earn God’s love by performing some death-defying feat.

God blesses you, right where you are.

The question then, is, are you supposed to stay right where you are?

You remember the love song by Billy Joel, “Just The Way You Are”?

“Don’t go changing To try and please me…

“I love you just the way you are.”

Somehow, I don’t think Jesus came down from the mountain to sing that particular song of love to God’s people.

Jesus was pretty firm on the idea that people should “go changing.”

Jesus starts off by blessing the people – in particular, the poor, the hungry, and the weeping.

But then, Jesus says some words of woe.

“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….”

God may indeed bless the people just the way they are, but God doesn’t intend for the people to stay stuck, right where they are.

We can’t earn God’s love, but we sure can earn God’s woe.

We can’t earn God’s love, but we can share it – and we’d better, if we don’t want those blessings to go to waste.

God blesses you right where you are, but God expects you to change who you are.

God’s expects those of us who are rich, full, laughing and respected to share our wealth, food, joy and respect with those who have none.

Jesus doesn’t preach some mountaintop spirituality that we can’t reach;

Jesus gives us plain talk.

He’s very clear: if you want to get close to God, you don’t have to go climbing mountains;

no, here are the things you have to do.

Live justly. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God.

Right where you are.