Thoughts on The Sermon on the Plain

NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON:
11:00 a.m., July 11, 2010
St. Andrew’s Old Roman Catholic Church
138 Pears Ave. Meeting Room
Toronto, Ontario

1st Lesson: Romans 6: 3 – 11

Know ye not, that so many of us as were
baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized
into his death? Therefore we are buried
with him by baptism into death: that like as
Christ was raised up from the dead by the
glory of the Father, even so we also should
walk in newness of life. For if we have
been planted together in the likeness of his
death, we shall be also in the likeness of his
resurrection: Knowing this, that our old
man is crucified with him, that the body of
sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we
should not serve sin. For he that is dead is
freed from sin. Now if we be dead with
Christ, we believe that we shall also live
with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the
dead dieth no more; death hath no more
dominion over him. For in that he died, he
died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he
liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also
yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but
alive unto God through Jesus Christ our
Lord.

Gospel: Luke 6: 20 – 36

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples,
and said, “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is
the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that
hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed
are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.
Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you,
and when they shall separate you from their
company, and shall reproach you, and cast
out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s
sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for
joy: for, behold, your reward is great in
heaven: for in the like manner did their
fathers unto the prophets.

But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have
received your consolation. Woe unto you
that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto
you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and
weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall
speak well of you! for so did their fathers to
the false prophets. But I say unto you
which hear, Love your enemies, do good to
them which hate you, Bless them that curse
you, and pray for them which despitefully
use you. And unto him that smiteth thee
on the one cheek offer also the other; and
him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to
take thy coat also. Give to every man that
asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away
thy goods ask them not again.
And as ye would that men should do to
you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye
love them which love you, what thanks
have ye? for sinners also love those that
love them. And if ye do good to them
which do good to you, what thanks have
ye? for sinners also do even the same. And
if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to
receive, what thanks have ye? for sinners
also lend to sinners, to receive as much
again. But love ye your enemies, and do
good, and lend, hoping for nothing again;
and your reward shall be great, and ye shall
be the children of the Highest: for he is
kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also
is merciful.

SERMON PROPER BEGINS

We are an angry society. We see it in the
expressions of those passing by a
panhandler; we see it in posture of those
blocking access to a subway car. We read in
on-line commentaries from across the
political spectrum. It seems that much of
the energy of humanity is being spent on
hated of others, on resentment, on ensuring
that the current societal scapegoat doesn’t
have a chance of acceptance into the wider
community.
It isn’t easy to let go of this anger. The
world seems intent on adding to it—British
Petroleum and the oil spill; threatened
stoning of a woman in Iran; ongoing
civilian causalities in war zones; suicide
bombings; mass arrests; more species on
the brink of extinction…the mass media and
the internet brings the tensions of the world
into our homes and we can’t escape them.
But this isn’t new. Walking from Galilee
to Jerusalem, Jesus wouldn’t have been able
to avoid seeing poverty and oppression,
anger and sickness, occupying forces and
reactionary religious leaders. War was
always imminent; assassinations with
follow-up reprisals a worrisome reality;
healthcare was rudimentary and pain and
suffering something one couldn’t avoid.
People were angry and frustrated and bitter
and too often lacked hope that things
would be better. There were those
advocating withdrawal to isolated
communities; others pushing for
accommodation with the occupying forces;
some took up arms; other took up religious
rituals as a form of cultural resistance and
source of personal integrity. And into the
midst of this Jesus came in with the
outrageous expectation that people could
live in the here and now as if the new
Jerusalem, the promised renewal of
creation, had already occurred. In the new
world without hunger, people shared what
they had; in the new world without barriers
strangers were welcomed into the
community, the voiceless were heard;
power relationships turned upside down.
Jesus was talking to a gathering, a
political rally of sorts, of people from many
backgrounds who came together near the
crossroads of the middle east. Some would
be people of property; some likely officials
of the Roman occupations; others were
labourers or shepherds; some reduced to
begging for survival. There would be Jews
and pagans and even the odd Samaritan.
They were gathered to listen to a
charismatic speaker, perhaps for inspiration
on how to get through another day in tough
times. What they received was unexpected-
–a call for permanent revolution. No
longer was it acceptable to put off unto
tomorrow care for one another; no longer
was it acceptable to horde wealth in the
midst of poverty; no longer was vengeance
or hatred to acceptable—love of God
included love of all.
This wasn’t a call for quietism, but a call
for something dramatic and new. You
didn’t treat others as inferior but neither did
you accept being treated as unworthy. No
longer was the behaviour of others to
determine one’s behaviour. You may be
hated but you don’t hate in return. You
may be in the midst of war but you don’t
pick up arms. Our actions were to show
the world the type of society we were called
to build. Jesus gave a call to a faithful life
based on propaganda by deed. The new
world wasn’t a pie in the sky world, but a
kind heart in this world.
It was a rejection of diversity of tactics,
but an acceptance of diversity of humanity.
People of peace don’t pick up rocks or
guns, but they might plant a garden or
visit the sick or create a inspiring work of
art or mediate a conflict. People of hope
don’t start a fire in a downtown street, but
they might build a home or give out
blankets or listen the pain of someone on
heating grate. People of love don’t accept
relationships based on exploitation,
whether of themselves or others.
This new way of living wasn’t expected
to be an easy one—but it was one that make
it possible to transform the world. One
puts aside the old and builds a new world
in faith that something good will arise
sooner than waiting for the miraculous to
occur, in the expectation that meeting the
needs of those around us is the fulfillment
of the purpose of creation, in the certainty
that our lives has meaning to the extent that
we ensure that everyone’s live has meaning.
There is a Catholicism, a universality of
expectation in the Jesus’ sermon on the
plain. There is acknowledgment that it is
easy to be good to those one knows, that it
is easy to hate those hold power over one’s
life, that it is normal to expect something in
return for one’s good deeds. But Jesus
asked for something greater, something
closer in spirit to Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid
than the spirit of capitalism. Jesus asked
that we care for others just because it’s the
right thing to do.
There are consequences for doing so, as
Jesus and Simon Menno and the Diggers
and Food Not Bombs and Archbishop
Romero and so many others throughout
history have experienced. But there are
consequences for not doing so as well.
We live in times of wars and rumours of
wars because people still pick up weapons;
we live in times of hunger because people
are denied access to food; we live in places
of fear and mistrust because not enough
have taken the risk of caring for their
neighbours. The reward of refusing
violence is ultimately peace for all; the
reward for overcoming poverty is ultimately
dignity for all; the reward for rejecting the
acceptance of oppression is ultimately the
renewal of all relationships; the reward for
loving one another is a closer relationship
with the divine.
In the 2,000 years from the plain in
Judea to the midst of Toronto the call for
a new Jerusalem continues to be heard, to
be interpreted, to be lived. Those that
gathered to listen to Jesus are our friends
and neighbours, the stranger whose image
haunts us from the cover the New York
Times, the person on the heating grate, the
child hearing the bombs fall again…and
they share in the same calling to be reborn
in a new world of our shared hopeful and
loving creation.

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