"Blessed are you, who are poor,"

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Rev. Sue Poulin

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

Luke 6:39-49
Blessed are you, who are poor,

Yours is the Kingdom of God.

You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all

God’s kingdom is there for the finding.

I heard the story this week of a woman living here in NH. She lives in a very small trailer and is off by herself. She heats her home with a wood stove. The person that was telling the story paused, looked around the room and said to all of us; she buys her wood at 7 /11 at 4 dollars a bundle. He then went on to explain to us how much more practical it would be for her to buy a cord of wood at perhaps $200. I felt my stomach tighten and my mind began to judge. What I could hear in my head was a voice that continued to say, I don’t have the $200 to make the good finical decision. I don’t have the $200, I can find the 4.

In the Gospel this morning we hear that Jesus came down off the mountain and stood on a level place. Jesus did not stand above the people and look down, Jesus stood among the people, on a level place.

Luke is often thought of as the social gospel. It is in Luke that we hear the most stories of women and children. It is in Luke that we hear the most stories of how we are called to live in community. The other three Gospels have their own focus, their own lens through which we are asked to experience the work of Jesus. Luke was a physician, a healer. Jesus life and death was given to us to learn, to try to understand, to be a beacon for us as to the possibly of a life with God. Jesus life and death was given to us as a living example of the power of God in the world.

In the other Gospel’s the immanent return of Jesus is central to the context of the word. There is an element of waiting, Jesus is coming back anytime, just hold on. Luke’s message is one that suggests we are called to live today; we are called to live in community. A central premise that under girds Luke’s words is that Jesus does not seem to be coming back right now, we need to learn to live in the world and with each other in the mean time. How is it that we can live out the message that Jesus came to deliver right now.

Blessed is the poor, period.

Blessed are the hungry, now, period.

The poor that Jesus is talking about here are so poor that they have to beg. In Jesus day, ‘poor’ was the way of describing pious, though humiliated, people. Most of us here this morning know that this is not us. We live in a world that is rich with abundance and yet there is a deep longing in our souls. We live with a longing that has become normal; we live with an expectation that something outside ourselves will fill that hollow, empty, lonely place. We also live in a world where the expectations of who we are and what our lives should look like have become normal and yet unachievable for many.

Most of us cannot say today that we really know what it is like to be poor or hungry in the most primary meaning of those words. This is especially true when we compare our situation with that of the tens and hundreds of millions of Christians around the world who are hearing these words today and we can only dimly understand their daily experience.

As I have been living with Luke’s gospel this week, I have also been reading what I would consider a living, breathing example of the gospel continuing to be written in our midst. “Left to Tell” is a book written by a woman whose name is Immaculee. This is the story of a woman who grew up in a country that she loved, surrounded by a family she cherished. She grew up in a family that was rich in spirit, rich in education, rich with hope, and faith. God was a central tenant to the lives they shared. In 1994 her world was ripped apart, the safe, secure existence that her family had been able to secure disappeared. In 1994 Rwanda descended into a bloody genocide. Her family was brutally murdered during a killing spree that lasted three months and claimed the lives of nearly a million Rwandans.

“Left to tell” is this woman’s story of surviving the slaughter. For 91 days, she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor’s home, while hundreds of machete-wielding killers hunted for them.

During this time, the endless hours spent huddled in a room so small we can’t truly appreciate, with seven other women; Immaculee discovered the power of prayer. As the story unfolds we can hear her shed her fear of death and forging a profound and lasting relationship with God. When it was time for her to emerge from her bathroom hideout, she had truly discovered the meaning of unconditional love, a love so strong that she was able to seek out and forgive her family’s killers.

In the gospel this morning, Jesus stands on level ground. Jesus comes down from the mountain and stands with the people. Jesus comes down from the mountain and delivers a message that can be very hard to hear.

We are all one; we are all people of God, each of us. Rich and poor, male and female. We are all children of God.

Jesus comes down from the mountain to deliver a message that our job is to love God with our whole hearts, our whole minds and our whole souls.

Jesus comes down off the mountain to tell us that we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Luke’s words this morning are not just ones of comfort and blessing. They are calls to look inward; they are calls to remember who we are, or whose we are.

One of the most powerful chapters of Immaculee’s story is one where she is praying for her enemies. She has been taught that she must, that to love God completely, to really walk the walk that is what we are called to do. But how, how amidst all the bloodshed and pain can she pray for the very people that very likely have killed her family, at best they have turned her life upside down and changed it forever. How could she pray for these very people?

“I tried again, praying for Him to forgive the killers, but deep down I couldn’t believe that they deserved it at all. It tormented me, I tried to pray for them myself, but I felt like I was praying for the devil. She prays: Please open my heart, Lord, and show me how to forgive. I’m not strong enough to squash my hatred-they’ve wronged us all so much, my hatred is so heavy that It could crush me. Touch my heart, Lord, and show me how to forgive.

Time passed and she continues to pray, they were unable to talk or make any noise. She She prayed….. She listened. She She prayed….. She listened.

She heard: “You are all my children. Yes, they are barbaric creatures who would have to be punished severely for their actions, but they were still God’s children. They were cruel, vicious, and dangerous, as kids sometimes can be, but nevertheless, they were children. They saw, but didn’t understand the terrible harm they’d inflicted. They’d blindly hurt others without thinking, they’d hurt their Tutsi brothers and sister, they’d hurt God, and they didn’t understand how badly they were hurting themselves.”

“In God’s eyes, the killers were part of his family, deserving of love and forgiveness. I knew that I couldn’t ask God to love me if I were unwilling to love His children. “

Jesus came down from the mountain to teach and heal. Luke talks to us in the Gospel message this morning that we are all God’s children. We are all learning to love each other; we all need to learn to live in community. We are Christian people, we are called to learn to be in relationship with God and live that out in our lives.

We may be the woman living in a small home, wondering how to heat it today. We may be a family living in a large home with multiple vehicles and many bills, wondering how to bring it all together. We may be the person wondering desperately how to forgive our enemies, because we are so full of pain and resentment. We are all God’s children. We are each called to know that on some days we will be rich, and some days we will be poor, on some days we will be hungry and some days we will be full, on some days we will dance with joy and on other days we will weep. We are all God’s children.

Immaculee lost most of her family during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. She believes that the reason that she survived was to tell the story. She works now for the United Nations in New York City and is establishing a foundation to help others heal from the long-term effects of genocide and war.

She prayed, she listened, She prayed, she listened. Let us do the same.

Left to Tell: Discovering God amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.

Immaculee Ilibagiza

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