“Jesus came down with the twelve and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people.”
So begins the Gospel reading from Luke that we hear today. When you open your Bible to this section in Luke chapter 6, the section usually has a title called the sermon on the plain. The words may sound familiar–I have to admit–I’m more familiar with the Gospel writer Matthew’s version. In his version Jesus is on a mountain–it’s called the “sermon on the mount.” On that mountain, Jesus is high above inviting disciples to come up to him and learn, gathering them around him like the days of old when Moses climbed a mountain to receive the law from God.
But Luke makes a point about Jesus’ message not being up somewhere high above others. He begins with the simple directional phrase, “Jesus came down and stood on a level place with the people.”
Now if I were to go to a place like the church I served in Ohio or even better go and preach in my buddy’s church in Nebraska they would hear the word “level place” or “plain” and they would say, “Yeah! That’s right. Home home on the plain. That’s the place to be. None of those suspicious mountains or hills mind you!”
But if I had a time machine and went to preach about ‘level places’ to people in the first century, they would be a little wary…a little cautious. Why? Because in the Holy Scripture–books like Jeremiah, Daniel, Habakuk, and Zechariah–it was the level place where bad things happened. Not home home on the plain, but death, disgrace, idolatry, disease, and despair on the plain.
And yet Jesus begins his ministry by gathering his disciples and descending down to plain…down to the level place.
Because that is the place where God’s revelation is needed most. And that is the place where people in need would gather, hungry for care and community. And in my experience, it’s in these level places that Jesus shows up.
Let me tell you about this past Monday.
I’m part of a clergy leadership program out of Messiah College and every few weeks we gather together and share a seminar. This past week’s seminar was on community.
The topic of the day got my attention. Community. Why it’s in our mission statement. Building a community of faith by God’s grace!
The seminar coordinator was Chad Frey who introduced us to the regional CEO of United Way. They were speaking about a new way of making big change through something called collective impact–and getting many voices around the table to make significant change–to create a level playing field. In the conversation we heard about inviting people to the table to make big change fighting homelessness, hunger, and health issues.
And I couldn’t help but think about some of the tables I’ve encountered with you.
One table is the table of the Lord–
This table where last Sunday young Christians were trained on first communion. This table where all are welcomed.
This table of the Lord where bread is broken and wine is poured and sacraments are shared and grace is given freely.
This table where no matter what goes on out there we know we can meet Jesus here. Always.
Another table that came to mind lives in our conference room.
A few years ago a number of our council gathered around a table receiving guidance from Samaritan Counseling Center on ways that we can be holy and faithful leaders in anxious times–learning how we see Jesus in and among our conversations.
I found myself thinking of the prep table in our kitchen and the hundreds, thousands of meals, that have been prepared there.
Maybe on a first Wednesday of the month with meals being prepared for the community meal down at Grace Lutheran.
Or seeing the youth and their parents prepping meals for the Christmas Dinner theater.
Or this very morning where St. Peter’s and Word of Life folks are gathering around that prep table to make a breakfast whose proceeds will bless a deaf church in Africa.
Yeah we gather our community around a table to make big change. Changes in our own life and changes made in us by God when God meets us in our level places.
Back to that Monday seminar meeting with pastors, and Chad Frey and the CEO of United Way.
At one point hearing about all these influential and wealthy folks involved to help collaborate and make change, I felt like it was a good time to possibly put my foot in my mouth.
Because I’m really good at doing that some days!
So I raised my hand and said, “I’m preaching on Luke 6 this Sunday and in it Jesus says ‘blessed are the poor and woe to the rich’… what’s your take on that when working with rich and poor?”
There was an awkward pause around the table as pastor and CEO alike considered the fact that on the world scene we could be considered rich.
Were we in the path of woes? Were we not the blessed?
It was after a few moments that our coordinator Chad Frey, piped up and spoke about his grandfather Armor Frey, the founder of Turkey Hill.
He described how his grandpa purposely had two huge mail boxes located at the end of his driveway. Each day he would go down to those two huge mail boxes and pick up and bundles of letters coming from a multitude of voices in need. Usually letters from perfect strangers asking the owner of Turkey Hill for help. And Armor would spend a chunk of his time each day going through his mail reading the stories of people in need. Chad said that his grandfather saw it as his mission to personally touch and help the multitude reaching out to him. It was his grandfather’s ministry and purpose to use his wealth, and every day his walk to the the mailbox was his journey to touch another and reveal something to him about the kingdom of God.
It made me think about our own blessings and woes when it comes to wealth. I think it is a daily journey on our part to discern how we use our resources….and how we use them faithfully to live as God desires for the kingdom.
It reminds me of another thing that Jesus says to us–where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
It gives me pause to think about the ways we as a community have used our treasure for the purpose of blessing. I look out and see your faces and am heartened by how you have looked at your treasure as a gift from God to share.
In my mind’s eye, I see the faces of beloved members of our faith community who have joined the church triumphant in heaven, and while still here among us planned a part of their treasure to go to bless others–to lift up others, to help raise disciples, to spread the message of Jesus’ love in this place.
Back to that Monday seminar.
Fast forward a couple of hours and I found myself in another form of community. It wasn’t around a table with CEOs or at a community resource center, no I found myself in prison. Our clergy group left our bags and coats and phones and wallets in the car and entered into York County Prison. We were there to learn about inmates who would have never chosen to be part of that community. We met the chaplain and heard about his work to help build faith communities within the walls of the prison.
While visiting, I met a corrections officer who has been working in the prison for 20 years. He spoke about the stress and strain of the job–as well as injury and hurt received.
Then one of us pastors asked the question, “why do you work here? What makes you return day after day?”
His answer was simple, but has stayed with me this entire week.
“Because of Matthew 25. Because of Jesus’ words. “I was in prison and you came and visited me.” This corrections officer said that his mission was to keep all people safe and to remember that somewhere within each of us in that prison, Jesus dwells.
As he was walking us around the different sections of the prison I couldn’t help but think of the various prisons we may encounter in this journey we take. Some of them have been external forces–never by our own choosing. Some of them have been self-induced cells locking our hopes for tomorrow away. As I was driving home from the prison I again found myself thinking of our community of faith–of why we gather here and where Jesus comes down to our level places to dwell.
I found myself thinking of the first things we say when we gather here–after a good morning and welcome we all gather here and openly admit that we’re sinners.
We need a savior.
And we need Jesus in our lives right now.
Because every day we die to sin.
Every day we find ourselves in some prison, and we need a savior to release of from the bonds that we too often create.
And we’re in the same boat as the CEO, the community resource liaison, and the York County inmate.
We are all broken and in desperate need to be reminded that we are loved. We are in desperate need to be reminded of who we are and whose we are.
“Jesus came down with the twelve and stood on a level place”
That’s what Jesus does to this day.
Jesus comes to our level places where there has been death, disgrace, and despair and fills us with blessing. Not for the things that we have done or failed to do, but we are blessed because Jesus is our blessing–and replaces death with life, removes disgrace for grace, and sheds our despair for joy.
Blessed to gather, blessed to share, blessed to serve, blessed to be forgiven and set free. Blessed to be a community. Blessed to be a blessing in Jesus’ name.