Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Plain truth"

Message preached February 15, 2004
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Luke 6:17-26

Order of Worship

            As brother Luke tells the good news story, Jesus and his batch of fresh recruits - otherwise known as "the twelve" - came down from the mountain and stood on a level place with a huge crowd surrounding him, anxious for his words of wisdom and his healing touch. When brother Matthew sets the scene, itís the other way around. Jesus heads to the top of a hill, what flat-landers might call a "mountain," when the multitude comes near. There he delivers his infamous "sermon on the mount." Brother Luke, however, portrays our Lord as preaching a less-well-known "sermon on the plain," which this morning Iím choosing to call "plain truth."

            Now, donít go thinking his words have anything to do with flying. Weíre not talking about air-plane truth, though I must admit there are moments when listening to Jesus, we may feel like his words are soaring over our heads. In this morningís scripture, though, all seems pretty down-to-earth. Heís not on some lofty mountain high above us. Heís on the level with us.

            What is it they say is most important in selling real estate? Location, location, location. Thereís a lot to be said for standing on the highest spot of ground when you wish to address a large number of people. You realize, donít you, that there were no microphones or public address systems back then. If you wanted folks to hear what you have to say, there was generally a line-of-sight rule. If others can see your face, with nothing obstructing the view, thereís a good chance your words will travel the space between you and your listener.

            In my mindís eye, I picture Jesus in Matthewís account as being in a position where everyone could have seen him. The disciples acted as ushers getting folks to sit down and shut up. All eyes were fixed upon his face, eager for what he had to say. The only problem with this rendering of the scene is that Matthew only chose to say that "when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and ... sat down" himself (5:1). Furthermore, it says that "after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak..."

            Hmmm. When Jesus opened his mouth and spoke those memorable words, was he connecting with the crowds below, or was he more focused upon his immediate group of disciples? If the latter, that blows away my picture of the day. If so, Jesus was not a Billy Graham here, speaking to a stadium full of people. He was more like ... a rabbi - a teacher - surrounded by his closest students, teaching them about the kingdom of God. Ascending the mountain was, it would seem, an attempt to get a bit of privacy away from the crowds in order for his disciples to hear what he had to say. Of course, on the other hand, once the sermon (which most scholars believe is a compilation of many sermons) was finished, it says in Matthewís gospel that "the crowds were astounded at his teaching" (7:28). Apparently they had been listening, also.

            Where you locate yourself when you speak does matter. In Lukeís account, Jesus came down the mountain to be with the people. The mountain had been a place of prayer. As Luke tells it, the mountain was also a place of calling, for there the twelve disciples were chosen (6:12-16). Jesus and his closest students then came down off the mountain to that level place where the larger crowd of his other students, and a great multitude of people from all over were gathered. By the way, mention of those two cities, Tyre and Sidon, on the coast of the Mediterranean sea, must have been on purpose. Simply put, they were not Israeli towns. There were sizable Jewish populations there, but the folks were predominantly Gentile (i.e. non-Jewish). Therefore, the question is - were Gentiles (non-Jews) in the crowd on that day? Possibly.

            Back to the main event, though, Jesus came down the mountain and waded into this stream of humanity. "All in the crowd," Luke says, "were trying to touch him." Can you picture this scene in your mindís eye? It shouldnít be too hard, for we have entered a year in which politicians of every stripe are coming down off their mountains and trying very hard to appear down-to-earth in order to get elected or re-elected. Everyone wants to touch them in one way or another. Of course, during this "silly season," every candidate is supposedly speaking the "plain truth." You know, donít you, not to believe everything you hear. Often, the "plain truth" is not very level, nor is it the truth - no matter what political party speaks it.

            Moving right along, we are given a glimpse by brother Luke of Jesus in the middle of everybodyís problems. No, the picture isnít taken in their homes where daily they live out their lives. This is a level place away from all that, but still they have come to him full of need. Folks just want to touch him, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you are here this morning with that very same desire. You want, in some way, shape, or fashion, to touch Jesus - or to be touched by him. Your reasons could be as varied as that multitude on the plain long ago.

            In my imagination, this crowd in Jesusí day was pressing in from all sides. As folks werenít as savvy as us moderns when it comes to soap and water and deodorants, it probably was a somewhat smelly situation. Of course, when many of us consider our own needs, we may be hesitant to bring them up because we are ashamed of the stink. But there Jesus is, smack dab in the middle of it all - their struggles and our own. The people back then were trying to touch him. Why? Luke says it was because "power came out from him and healed them all."

            I love this picture, as I see it in my mind. Jesus is not sitting aloof on some mountain-top, dispensing his wisdom to the masses. As much as the "sermon on the mount" touches my soul, the location of the "sermon on the plain" grabs me more. This is where Jesus is, where his followers (later called "the church") should be, also. Standing on the level place, smack dab in the middle of those people, Jesus spoke the "plain truth." He wasnít pressing the flesh and saying whatever he needed to say in order to get elected. In truth, the election was already over. The vote that counted was Godís, and the inauguration would take place later on another mount - Calvary.

            Luke says (literally) that Jesus "looked up" at his disciples. Though the third gospel doesnít mention the washing of feet that we Brethren hold so dear, this "sermon on the plain" (which, like Matthewís version, is probably a compilation of many sermons) was spoken, if you will, from the location of a servant washing the feet of another person. He "looked up" and spoke the "plain truth." Listen, again.

            "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." Unlike Matthewís better known beatitudes, Lukeís version doesnít make it, "poor in spirit." Jesus here is talking about real financial struggles. Mind you, heís not saying "cash poor, but property rich," a situation that might describe many in this room. Heís talking about real pennies being pinched, when you are scraping to make ends meet, period. That describes more folks than we care to admit, perhaps some in this very room. Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way, "youíre blessed when youíve lost it all. Godís kingdom is there for the finding." Of course, many never had it to start with. They couldnít lose it, cause it was never theirs to lose. Then again, our society lives by the lie that we can have it all. Looking at the TV screen, people around the world have great wealth enter into their living rooms. However, when the off button is pressed, it all disappears. "No," Jesus says, "the plain truth is that Godís kingdom belongs to you who are poor."

            "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled." Letís not appropriate this blessing for ourselves in a way that takes it from those who face literal starvation in this world. Having said that, however, I donít mean to exclude the rest of us from this blessing. Itís just that most of us donít know what it is for our bellies to really be empty. If we did, our Heifer project ark banks would be overflowing right now and weíd be asking for more to fill that we might participate more in this kingdom blessing for others. We might stop seeking every way possible to grab more "stuff" for ourselves and start giving more to those in need. ... The "plain truth" sometimes hurts.

            "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh." O, Lord, this one we know. Did you not latch onto this blessing last week as tears fell gathering around our sister, praying for her? Yes, we understand weeping now. The "plain truth" is that Godís joy comes in the morning after the dark night. Laughter is Godís medicine to those whose tears are real. You and I have seen the power of Godís good humor, helping people not only to cope but to overcome - plain and simple.

            "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man." Peterson puts it this way: "What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable." "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy," Jesus says, "for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets."

            Speaking of uncomfortable, Lukeís gospel adds to the beatitudes of Jesus something Matthewís gospel does not. "Woe to you who are rich," Jesus says, "for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets." ... "Your task is to be true, not popular," Petersonís paraphrase puts it.

            Perhaps you read the back of your bulletin this morning. There Peggy Gish writes as someone who went to Iraq last year, not as a soldier but as a peacemaker (as part of a Christian Peacemaker Team). The plain truth of her words may come "too close for comfort," but I encourage you to read them anyway at some point today. She writes as someone located in the middle, not up on some mountain, not behind a gun or a kevlar jacket; but as someone touchable, getting to know others by name and need. What makes this very appropriate is that the very next line of Jesusí "sermon on the plain" in Luke gospel (beyond this morningís section of it), goes on to say "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you, .. turn the other cheek..." In other words, be a Christian peacemaker.

            This truth may be plain, but that doesnít mean itís always obvious, nor is it always easy. Sometimes, in fact, living out of Godís blessings can be the hardest thing we could ever do. However, remember this - the One who blesses us is not talking down to us. No, Jesus levels with us on our level. And thatís the "plain truth."

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Luke.


©2004 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

return to "Messages" page

return to Long Green Valley Church page