Grace in the Cracks
Jesus came down and stood on a level place. Not up high and lifted up. Jesus came down. Not on a mountain top, but down, on a level place. This is Jesus’ second sermon in Luke. A couple of weeks ago, we heard about his first one when people wanted to throw him off a cliff. The text for that sermon came from the prophet Isaiah. I hear echoes of Isaiah in this sermon too: Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together,The uneven ground shall become level and all people shall see God’s glory together. And here is Jesus standing to teach on a level place, with the people, not above them. He’s level with them, on a plain and he speaks plainly about leveling the destructive hierarchies his society and our own idolize.Jesus says: Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are labeled and attacked with hate speech. It doesn’t mean that these are good things, but that God sees and cares when others turn away, or shame, or target. That God doesn’t see from a distance, but comes down to the very place where people do struggle, hunger and weep. And Jesus promises that in the end, God’s way of seeing will prevail.This can be both comforting and challenging, depending on where one stands. It contradicts and defies every prosperity preacher, some who are very popular, even among some of us, who preach that if we only do x y or z, God will shower material blessings upon our lives. No doubt, that message is understandably attractive. It’s attractive to those who long for such material abundance because they can barely make it as is AND it’s attractive to those who have material abundance and like to think it comes as a well-deserved blessing from God’s hands rather than a product enmeshed in a world of economic injustices that are far from the will of God. The prosperity gospel is attractive to many but it is not what Jesus teaches. Jesus never promises material prosperity to his followers. Here we see Jesus blessing the vulnerable in a world that admires the powerful, blessing those who are not prospering in a world that hails the prosperous.For me, the really challenging part of Jesus’ sermon comes next. Woe to the rich, woe to the full, woe to the laughing, woe to the ones of whom others speak well. Does that mean that those have more are doomed? Most of us know what it is to have a full or overfull stomach on a regular basis. Are we doomed? Woe to those who laugh now? You know what I think is one of the best sounds in the entire world? The sound of a baby laughing! Especially if it’s my granddaughter…but really, any baby laughing is just the best! And for those of us who are not babies, laughter is good, laughter can be healing and Jesus knows that. The saying “Laughter is the best medicine” is a version of the Biblical Proverb: A merry heart does good, like medicine / But a broken spirit dries the bones.The Bible Jesus knew understands that laughter can be a sign of delight in God’s goodness like in Psalm 126:When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; … The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.So when Jesus stands on the level place and says Woe to you who are laughing now, what does he mean? Well, often when laughter is mentioned in the Bible it’s not the laughter of delight and joy but the kind of laughter that mocks and derides others and that’s what Jesus seems to mean here. It’s like he’s saying: You’ve got yours, you have enough and more than enough and yet you dare to laugh at others with less? Woe to you. You have your golden hotels and Mar de Lago luxury retreat, but you dare to heap hate upon those who simply want their children to sleep safely in bed and have enough food to keep from starving? Woe to you. You would rob the national treasury to raise up a wall, to maintain your way of life and laugh with derision at the pain and suffering you heap upon others. Woe to you.But even these righteous woes are not intended to crush God’s children but to help them. The woes are not unlike the words in Mary’s song, also in Luke, where she sings that God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.This is about the level place. Only when the rich have less and the poor have more, when the powerful come down and the lowly are lifted up is community is possible at a level place where all people can know God’s goodness and glory together. Only when walls we raise up come down and people on every side can feed their children is God’s kindom revealed.The same Luke who seems to heap woes upon the rich has stories of rich people loved by Jesus who turned their lives around. Zacchaeus was a rich tax collector who cheated the poor. After Jesus comes to his house, Zacchaeus repays what he stole and more. With Jesus beside him, Zacchaeus experienced how woefully small his life had become cut off from others and from God. But Zacchaeus turns things around. He repents. He makes reparations. And you can tell that Zacchaeus has never felt more blessed then when he’s been called down to that vulnerable, level place with Jesus.We began this morning as we do most Sundays with a confession. I confess to my brokenness to the ways I wound my life the lives of others and the life of the world. That brokenness can mean many, many different things depending on where we stand in our lives but when we confess to our brokenness together, we come to a level place together. We are not alone in our weakness and needs, and we cannot leave others alone in theirs.Perhaps you have heard of Kintsugi. It is the ancient, Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with a kind of liquid gold. My daughter and her wife gave me this after their baby shower and I love it so much but as you can see, it’s broken. Now when I repair it, I want the glue to be invisible. I want the crack to be unnoticed. I don’t even want Ana and Katie to know that it ever did break because it makes me feel bad and even guilty that somehow I let it happen. But the Japanese artist takes broken, even shattered, pieces of pottery that others would put in the trash and puts them together using a substance that has gold in it so that every crack is visible and yet somehow beautiful in a new way, blessed and bright with glory.We like to hide our cracks too. Which is understandable in a world that is ready to shame and blame us, but here I want us to know that God does not see us like that and God does not want us to see one another like that. Many of you know that Vicar Sarah was our intern last year. She’s now finishing her last year of seminary before becoming a pastor and she’s now married to her beloved- a pastor named Micah. Micah is a recovering alcoholic and he’s quite open about it. He posted a public letter on Facebook and gave me permission to share it with you this morning. It’s called: “A Letter to the Recovering Alcoholic, Myself”I write this letter to you because some days are not so easy in this journey of recovery. And sometimes just being able to hear that someone else is going or has gone through that can be enough to get me through the day. So, if this helps, here are just a few thoughts. Some days will be rough. I won’t lie to you. Often when we talk about recovery, we talk about its grand opportunities for life. That when you stop drinking, your body has the opportunity to balance itself chemically. That sleep can become easier and more restful. That waking up is not the burden that it always was. Don’t get me wrong, those things are wonderful. I would not trade my sobriety for anything in the world. But it is not always easy, and recovery does not make everything better. Today is a rough day for me, and maybe it is for you too. Not everything has gone right. Stress may be accumulating. It may even be boiling over at this point... Some things that feel like certainties in life (like family, work, and health) are all of a sudden uncertain. Sometimes it’s not the huge things that cause us to go into doubt or panic. But sometimes it’s the things that catch us off guard because they are so ordinary or so relative. Maybe a family member is sick. Or maybe you were having a conversation with someone and they reminded you of a passion that you were never able to follow. Or maybe you just can’t seem to get on top of the one project that seems right up your alley but just seems evade your success. These simple things aren’t earth shattering. And yet, I think they throw me off course faster than the giant life changes. But I want to remind you of something (if you’re able to hear it at this time). You’ve taken the first step before. You’ve admitted that you do not have control over everything. You’ve recognized that sometimes life gets difficult and it is not always within our grasp to fix it, to control it, or to just get through it by clenching our fists and gritting our teeth. There are days when we must admit that we are powerless. That we need help. That we cannot do this on our own. You’ve taken that step before, and you can return to it time and time again. And when you take that step, remember that better days lie ahead when you take it one step at a time. Find your supports. Your partner, your best friend, your family, your church. Find your meeting and those who will listen to you. Find your moment of peace that keeps you safe. Better days will come. Just take it one step at a time. In case no one has said it to you lately: I believe in you, and I’m proud of you. With love and compassion, MicahWhat’s so beautiful about this letter is that Micah doesn’t hide the cracks. He allows the golden grace that God has poured into those cracks to shine out for others to see. Micah doesn’t place himself above others, clinging to his position, his sobriety or any achievements. He stands with others, like Jesus, on a level place so that together we might see revealed the glorious work of God. It’s the place Jesus invites you to this morning, knowing that in our own vulnerability, we too are seen, trusting that the golden grace of God’s love seeks out our own woefully cracked places so that we too might shine. Blessed are you dear church. Blessed are you.