Today I am delivering the third sermon in the sermon series, “Keep On: the Jesus Way of Life.” What do we have to keep on today to follow Jesus in our lives? Let’s find out together another life principle that conforms to the way of Christ.
When was the last time you prayed so desperately for something? When was the last time you searched for God’s help so urgently? Take a moment and think about it. When was it? Was it when everything was going well with you? Was it when you were well-off, well-fed, and well-accepted? No. I don’t think so. We human beings tend to seek God and yearn for God when we have nothing but God, when we have nothing to depend on but God.
For me, I prayed one of the most desperate prayers in my life about a year ago. You may remember the coldest week in last winter. It was the week when the activity of the so-called polar vortex was very strong and dropped temperature below zero in North East. The boiler in Verona United Methodist Church broke. Yes, what a timing. The rotten bottom of the feedwater tank burst and the boiler stopped working. If you see a steam boiler system, there’s a feedwater tank that collects the returning condensate water and feeds it back into the boiler so the system can keep running. What I’m saying is, it’s an important part of the boiler. Anyway, I urgently called the plumbing company right away but they said, it will take a few days to get the tank delivered. And the weather forecast terrified me. It said, the cold snap will last for a week! I felt miserable. And I was so much worried about the pipes in the church. They will definitely get frozen and burst. So I had to manually feed the water into the boiler like every 4-5 minutes and pump out the leaking water from the tank. I almost camped out in the boiler room for about three days until the tank finally got fixed. In the boiler room, my prayers…they were so desperate. I kept praying. Not just for the boiler situation, but later, I also got to pray for the church, for the church members, for their families, and for all the other things. Sitting in the boiler room, cold and dark, I was really tired, but in such a weird way, I had an intimate time with God for three days. And that was a blessing I found in a misfortune.
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus is preaching on this kind of blessings. In his famous Sermon on the Plain, Jesus says, “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” (Luke 6:20-23). Here Jesus tell us that the blessed are the poor, the hungry, the sad, and the afflicted. This good news of the Kingdom of God turns our value system, our world, upside down. What does he mean? He tells us, “God is the God of those who have nothing but God.” God gives blessings to those who desperately call upon God and to those who can barely sustain their lives. In their unfavorable circumstances, they get to know God better and deeper. They humbly realize that they truly are in need of God every day and every moment. And that’s the blessing—nothing else, having a close relationship with God, which is the channel for all other profound blessings in life.
Here, we may ask, “Well, I understand what Jesus says, but isn’t Jesus romanticizing poverty and suffering? Does Jesus mean that we better be desperate to be blessed?” Well, that’s not what Jesus means here. We don’t have to be sick to get better. Right? And the boiler doesn’t have to be broken again for me to get closer to God. No. Way. I don’t think Jesus wants you and me to suffer to be blessed. And we need to remember clearly that Jesus’ ministry is all about healing, liberation, and joy. So by telling us about those blessings, Jesus is actually giving us a promise. Even if you are in those misfortunes, rest be assured, you can still be in the blessing of God as you seek God and ask God’s help with humble hearts. Why? Again, it’s because God is the God of those who have nothing but God.
If today’s Gospel reading just ends with blessings, I would be a happier preacher today. But the Sermon on the Plain doesn’t end with blessings, unlike the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus goes on to talk about “woes.” He says, in short, “Woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and popular.” The words of Jesus here are quite radical and blunt. We have to ask again, “What does he mean? God’s prosperity is not a blessing but a woe? Isn’t he judging those well-off people? Is he warning us not to be rich, full, happy, and popular?” Again, the answer is no. Here, Jesus is just talking about the truth, this plain truth: if we are in favorable circumstances, we become not that desperate for God. We are not keenly aware of our need for God’s help. We may go for days without talking to God, without thinking about God. It becomes hard for us to kneel down before God with a humble heart. And God is not our priority anymore. There are other things to enjoy and other things to ensure our cozy and happy life. So everything related to God becomes a postscript, a supplement to our lives. And that’s the woe—nothing else, feeling no urgency to be in a close relationship with God. Yes, the woe, it is.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, our God is the God of those who have nothing but God, of those who seek God in their sense of urgency and desperate need. Therefore, if you are in misfortunes now, I hope and pray that you call upon God, the God who promises us the blessings of grace and joy in the midst of hardships and the blessings of getting closer to God even through the stony roads of life. And if you are in a comfortable situation now, I hope and pray that you be watchful of the growing complacency in your hearts and be alert to your spiritual slumber. Then it will help us keep the relationship with God as number one priority in our lives. Let us keep on walking with our God every day and keep on trusting our Lord every moment. Let us stay in the loving relationship with God. And yes, that’s the blessing—nothing else. Amen.