This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity
weekly email. As the Communications Director for IGRC for Unity, I compose a weekly email with news, resources, and reflections. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.
Many churches will be recognizing All Saints’ Day this Sunday. The gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary is Luke 6:20-31. Some call this “The Sermon on the Plain,” because it draws on many of the same themes and sources as Matthew’s much more famous Sermon on the Mount, but Luke 6:17 says that “Jesus came down from the mountain with them and stood on a large area of level ground.”
Geography matters in the gospels. In Matthew, the fact that Jesus was on a mountain was reminiscent of Moses receiving God’s Instruction on Mount Sinai. In Luke, Jesus is on “level ground.” This week’s passage even opens with “Jesus raised his eyes,” to speak. In Luke, Jesus is often about the business of “leveling.” Here, he speaks on level ground and then flips everything about how society decides who were “higher” and “lower.”
Translators differ on if Jesus called the people “Blessed,” or “Happy.” Of course, Luke adds the infamous “Woe to you…” or “How terrible for you…” Instead of thinking of Happy and Terrible, let me suggest “Honored” and “Shameful.” This was a culture where the strict code of honor and shame was very well known, and influenced actions, travel patterns, dinner plans, seating charts, family relations, and almost every aspect of the social world.
There, on the level ground, Jesus lifted his eyes to this ragtag group and called the poor, the hungry, and the hated “honored.” He reserved shame for the rich, the full, and those with good reputations. This was a reversal of all cultural norms. This was an undoing of the social structure that provided stability, and it was the foundation of what Jesus was doing. The Kingdom of God is built on the honor of the outcast and forgotten. Who are the poor, the hungry, and the hated who Jesus would call honored today? Who are those that are discarded, outcast, and marginalized? What would he say to those of us who are on the inside of our institutions and social structures? How shameful it is for us who are rich, full, and respected.
Then Jesus reminds us how to live into this reversal. Stop cycles of violence. Force someone to look you in the eye. Strip naked before your oppressors, thus bringing as much shame on them as it does on you. Don’t place yourself over another in need, shaming them for asking for help. These are rules to live by. This is how the Kingdom of God works. It’s not about shame and honor, placing some over and above others. It is a level ground, where even the Son of Man lifts his eyes to his disciples. On this day we honor those that have come before, we can be inspired to live a new way.
PRAYER: We pray for all the saints who have come before. We thank you for they have found rest after the course of labor. We remember the fathers, mothers, and parents of our faith who molded us, taught us, shaped us, and modeled for us what it looks like to follow Christ. Though they were not perfect, they showed us something beautiful. They led us to you, and for that we are eternally grateful. Let us be inspired by their journey, their struggles, and their triumphs. Guide us in Your Way until we may be reunited and feast together at your heavenly banquet. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.