Scripture: Luke 6:17-26
For most of us the word pirate conjures up images of age of sail ships, Caribbean seas, and Jolly Roger flags. Perhaps it brings up “Disneyfied” images of Captain Jack Sparrow or animatronic men singings “yo-ho, ho, a Pirate’s life for me.” However, for millions of Americans now the idea of pirates do not conjure up such flippant images. Millions of people now feel like powerless victims who have been looted in this most recent wave of piracy. I am, of course talking about the rise of porch pirates. Online shopping, especially through mega-retailers, has become more and more common. Often these packages are delivered during daytime hours and just left in front of doors. Porch pirates are nefarious thieves who walk from door to door claiming these packages as their own. This is more common in warmer climates, but a survey of online shoppers found 30%, almost one third, have fallen victim to having something stolen by porch pirates.
This is what makes Mark Roper such a hero. He was a victim himself and he decided to do something about it. Mark Roper, a NASA engineer, so he spent months crafting the perfect instant karma package. In December of last year, during the height of porch pirate season, Mark posted a video detailing his revenge on thieves. He created something that looks like some sort of home tech device, but when opened it sprays a full pound of fine glitter everywhere. On top of that it shoots out five blasts of a foul-smelling fart spray. Even better, the package has four cameras to ensure the thieves’ reaction is caught as well as GPS tracking so he can reclaim the trap after it is discarded. I cannot show the video because even bleeped out the language used by thieves is not really church appropriate when the glitter bomb goes off. However, the reactions are absolutely glorious. I think nearly everyone, especially those who have been victims, will agree that Mark Roper is doing the Lord’s work.
We like it when people get what is coming to them. It is really satisfying to us when the wrong-doers get caught, when the liars trip up over their own words, and when the people full of themselves get knocked down a peg or two. We really like to see when someone drops a truth bomb right in the lap of someone and they have no choice but to take that hard to swallow pill. However, we like it a lot less when we are at that person. For that reason several of us may not like this morning’s scripture. Just like Mark Roper delivered a glitter bomb that unpleasantly surprised would be thieves, Jesus delivers a truth bomb in this morning’s scripture that unpleasantly surprises the comfortable, which honestly includes most of us.
This morning’s scripture probably sounds somewhat familiar to us because it is Luke’s version of the beatitudes. The beatitudes are a well-known teaching of Jesus, which in Matthew, begin the Sermon on the Mount. However, we tend to be a lot more comfortable with the Matthew version. See if you can hear the difference from the first couple. Matthew 5:3 and 6 state: “blessed are poor in sprit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” Contrast that to what this morning scripture records, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God, blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.”
Did you hear the difference? Matthew uses spiritual language where Luke emphasizes real, physical conditions. Luke though goes a little bit further than Matthew does though, and includes a list of woes. These woes are directly opposite of the blessings. The poor are blessed, the rich are cursed, those who are persecuted are blessed and those who are well regarded are curses. As people who live in the most prosperous nation to ever exist, have access to plentiful food, and generally live good lives these woes can be especially hard for us to hear. This is a truth bomb that is an instant surprise that leaves us feeling uncomfortable and get us feeling a bit defensive. Quite honestly this morning’s scripture should make us feel uncomfortable. However, may we keep our walls down and may we be willing to assume that this scripture might be calling us out a little bit. Because if we are willing to have toes get stepped on a little bit, I sincerely believe this scripture can call us into deeper discipleship.
I think there are three truths we can discern from this scripture that will make us better followers of Jesus. The first we have to come to terms with the beatitudes in Luke. When Jesus says blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry, and blessed are you who weep, that is exactly what he is saying. This is not to say that Jesus is glorifying or idealizing poverty, but rather Jesus is reinforcing a theme found throughout scripture. Consistently throughout scripture God is on the side of the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed, and the marginalized. In the Old Testament God is the protector, defender, and ultimate advocate for the poor. The poor, the hungry, the oppressed are blessed because God’s favor and protection is upon them. This is a reality in the kingdom of God. In their book Deep Justice in a Broken World Chap Clark and Kara Powell put it this way, “Any biblically rooted understanding of the kingdom of God cannot be separated from God’s commitment to uphold justice by providing for the needy. . .God who reigns over all of creation looks upon the brokenness of his children, and in his mercy takes special favor of behalf of those most affected by humanity’s sin and rebellion.”
The second truth we should really pay attention to is just who Jesus was addressing in this morning’s scripture. The scripture begins with a great number of people coming to see Jesus. Jesus heals and helps many in the crowd. It is only after helping those who had no one else to turn to, that Jesus begins teaching. However, if we look at verse 20 we can see that it is not the large crowds Jesus is addressing. Verse 20 begins, “looking at his disciples, he said: . . .”
Jesus’ message in this morning’s scripture was meant not for the multitudes, but it was meant for his closest followers. If you consider yourself a disciple or if you consider Jesus to be your Lord and Savior that means the truth of this scripture is that it was intended for you to hear. This means the first aspect of this scripture, that God is on the side of the poor and the oppressed, is for us to hear. It is for us to hear because if that is the side that God is on, it means that it is the side we are supposed to be on. If God is the protector and defender of the poor and marginalized, then it means those are the people we should be seeking to help and shelter as well.
Unfortunately, American Christians do not always do the best job at this. We do not seek to bless the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed with the same intensity that God does. A good example of this is the church coffee bar. Every church in the United States has coffee, but the bigger once have fully functioning setups that rival Starbucks with their fancy, complex menus and their extensive use of track lighting. Creating a welcoming and hospitable atmosphere is important in a church, but for a church to plan on setting up one of these sophisticated cafes with a cute name like He Brews, requires a set up cost of $18-34,000 on average. I understand the reasoning for building these is to appeal to the greater culture. I understand that those kind of facilities in a church are meant to be part of an atmosphere of radical hospitality, and it is about putting the best foot forward. But when building a church coffee bar often means thousands of dollars just for special lighting, I have to wonder what would Jesus spend $34,000 on?
There are real needs, real injustices, and real systemic hurts in the world. We can easily put our focus on things that are just not as important in the big picture like coffee. For the cost of a good church coffee bar, how many wells could that money dig to provide for a place with water insecurity? I actually looked it up, and the question is about eight. In the developing world twenty one children under the age of five die every minute from preventable causes. One of the leading causes of preventable deaths are diseases such as measles that can be vaccinated against. The cost to fully vaccinate a child in the developing world is $39US. For $34,000 over 870 children could be spared from death. Those causes are more in line with where God is, then a church-y Starbucks. God is on the side of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. We should be as well.
The final truth of this scripture is that if Jesus is addressing his disciples here that means the woes are also directed to us. These woes are the inverse of the four blessed are you statements. They point us to where are focus in life should not be. We cannot be sharing the love of God and being a living example of Christian witness if our focus is on the things that Jesus pronounced woe upon. If our focus is on accumulating more and more wealth then we are not going to be very apt to generously provide for others the way that God generally provides for us. In the same way if all of our time, energy and effort goes to make ourselves comfortable and create an environment where we never weep, then we cannot see the great hurts in the world that we can join God in healing. There is a lot of injustice and pain in the world, and if the magnitude never brings us to tears then it’s because we are intentionally ignoring it. Again, UNICEF estimates 21 children die a minute from preventable causes. In the past half hour that is over 600 babies under the age of five who died and did not have to. That SHOULD cause us to weep. If our focus is on acquiring wealth, getting the finest food in life, and ensuring we are always happy and comfortable then our focus cannot on God.
Perhaps this is the greatest area where the truth of this morning’s scripture hits us like an exploding glitter bomb and steps on our toes. A lot of American Christianity has really missed the mark on this. For instance, over the years I have led several youth mission trips over the years. Often these week long experiences have the teens working in impoverished areas around our country. Every time the take away of at least one teen was essentially, “Thank God that I am blessed not to be like them.” That’s kind of missing the point, or rather it is stopping short of the whole the point. We should be thankful to God for the absurdly generous way that God has provided for each and every one of us. However, we also need to realize that with that privilege comes great responsibility. I am thankful that several of you have stepped up to meet this responsibility. A good example of this, is that I know many of you sponsor children through various organizations and your sponsorship is a literal lifeline that has ensured the child you are supporting does not become a UNICEF statistic. That is a fantastic start, but there is so many more ways we can join in furthering the kingdom of God by how we care for the poor and marginalized.
May we realize that being blessed is not about what we have but by how we can be a blessing to others. The truth bomb of this scripture is that God loves the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized and God is saddened by hoarding wealth at the expense of others or thinking only of our own comfort May we choose to be on God’s side. May we love what God loves and be saddened by what saddens God. May we have generosity for the poor, compassion for the hungry, and weep for those who weep. Blessed are those who do that for theirs is the kingdom of God.