This sermon was originally preached on February 17, 2019 at North Star United Methodist Church and Kenai United Methodist Church.
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kindom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
When you think of Jesus, as a fully divine and fully human being, what words come to mind to describe him?
Sometimes, when I think of Jesus, I think of him as this high up person, teaching from the top of benches in the towns or, like the sermon on the mount, on top of a mountain. Because Jesus gives us these huge instructions, right? Or it seems like that at least. Because he’s Jesus.
Today, we read a scripture that makes us question that notion, or makes me question it, at least. This scripture is often referred to as the Sermon on the Plain. If you’ve seen a plain before, you know that there is absolutely zero way of someone, even Jesus, to be higher than someone else. A plain is a flat, sweeping landmass that doesn’t change much in elevation.
It’s important to note this, because it normalizes Jesus, or it puts Jesus on a level, a plain, that is equal to us. So in this sermon on the plain, Jesus is doing more discipling than he is preaching or lecturing. As it should be, if you ask me.
A word of confession, is that I googled the word plain so I could make sure the language I used to describe it was correct, because even if I did spend four years in western Montana, the flattest and most boring place on the planet, I figured y’all would know more about land than me, so I had to get it right.
As I googled plain, I got the wording I needed for the landmass, but I also got another definition for plain. The kind of plain that is synonymous with simple and not ordinary in character. This kind of plain describes something that is basic, modest, without frills. This kind of plain doesn’t mean it’s not a beautiful thing, whatever we are describing as plain, but it means that special attention wasn’t brought to it to make it a big thing.
Jesus’ sermon on the plain was a sermon that was plain. It was basic, because the things he was saying, the things he was calling his disciples and the multitudes to, were nothing new or out there. These people had come to hear him speak and to be healed of their diseases. They were looking for something miraculous.
And what Jesus said to them was miraculous, but it was also incredibly plain. But in no way was it boring.
You are a blessing, he said to the poor and the hungry and the mourning and the ones hated and excluded by society. And to those who were not any of those things, the privileged we might say now, Jesus’ message was to include and to celebrate those people. Feed people. Give money to the poor. Be present with those who are hurting. Love those we are taught to hate. And that’s it. That’s the teaching.
Jesus did some pretty wild stuff in his ministry, and today, the wild was born out of the simplicity, the simple instructions Jesus gave, and the simple instructions he continues to give us.
Jesus, in the sermon on the plain, is giving a call. A call to feed the hungry and to heal people through faith. This week, the unbelievable happened in our church community, as our friend Vicky Johnson passed away very unexpectantly. Vicky touched so many of our lives, and the lives of those in our community. Every Thursday morning, Vicky could be found at the food pantry, working in the back to make boxes to feed those who were hungry. And every week, she would gather with her friends to laugh and eat and drink and share stories.It is clear, for anyone who knew her, that Vicky radiated this incredible faith. She was committed to being a Christian, and she certainly followed the call Jesus is giving to the people on the plain in our scripture.
I don’t have many reassuring things to say today, no explanation of why this happened. And we are all still grieving, and that is okay and normal. But if I’ve learned anything this week, about God, about people, about Jesus, it’s that we can follow the example of the people closest to us, because there are people like Vicky all around us, ordinary people who believe in Jesus, who have answered the call to feed and clothe people, to pray for people, to heal and to laugh with people. And we would be doing ourselves a disservice to forget about the ways people like Vicky have answered the call and lived their lives in this way.
Sometimes we think of Jesus in this high up, unreachable way. And in some ways that’s true, because Jesus was fully divine. But in other ways, proven today by our scripture, Jesus was really good at giving us simple instructions.
On that plain, Jesus stood on the same level as those gathered, and today, Jesus stands on the same level as us to tell us that our job is to love people well and to help where we can. And that is it.
So today friends, I want us to be reminded of the ordinary people in our lives to are doing the plain but remarkable work of living this call out. Who are the really good examples of this that you know? Knowing many of you all, you are examples of this.
Who are the people in your life who Jesus would be blessing, the poor, the hungry, the underrepresented? Have you blessed them too?
We as Christians are given the call to love people. It’s a tall order, but it’s a plain call. It’s tough for us to do sometimes, but Jesus gives it to us simply, on the same level, and simply encourages us that we can do it.
So may we look to those we admire, those we know have answered this call, and say thank you. May we take from the example of Jesus, leveling ourselves to be a part of the plain call. And may we remind ourselves that even though Jesus is Jesus, he gives us simple instructions, and above everything else, Jesus wants to bless us.
Let us pray:
God of simplicity and depth,
You call us to live our lives according to the calls of Jesus. Your greatness withstands time, circumstances, and translations, and ends up being a plain call to love. Guide us to know our place in that call, and to be that blessing your son Jesus taught us to be.
In your loving and gentle name we pray, Amen.