First Presbyterian Church

of Hemet
Little Middle Ground 
Psalm 1; Luke 6:17-26 
 
About 30 years before the words you’re about to hear were uttered, a young Jewish Palestinian woman found out she was pregnant. She burst out in song according to Luke. The following is a paraphrase of what she sang:  
My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the 
God of my heart is great, And my spirit sings of the 
wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait. You 
fixed your sight on your servant's plight, and my 
weakness you did not spurn, So from east to west shall my 
name be blest. Could the world be about to turn? 
My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the 
fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the 
dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn! 
Though I am small, my God, my all, you 
work great things in me, And your mercy will last from the 
depths of the past to the end of the age to be. Your 
very name puts the proud to shame, and to 
those who would for you yearn, You will show your might, put the 
strong to flight, for the world is about to turn. 
 
From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a 
stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for your 
justice tears ev'ry tyrant from his throne. The 
hungry poor shall weep no more, for the 
food they can never earn; There are tables spread, ev'ry 
mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn. 
 
Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember 
who holds us fast: God's mercy must deliver 
us from the conqueror's crushing grasp. This 
saving word that out forebears heard is the 
promise which holds us bound, 'Til the spear and rod can be 
crushed by God, who is turning the world around. 
 
My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the 
fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, 
and the world is about to turn! 
 
30 years later Jesus is travelling in his native region of Galilee. He has been baptized, moved to Capernaum 40 miles away from his hometown of Nazareth and begun to teach and heal. Now he begins to preach. First, we hear the setting, and then we hear the first sermon he preached to his disciples. 
 
Read Luke 6:17-26 
 
Most of us have heard of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s in Matthew, and paints Jesus as a kind of Moses who goes up to a mountain to give a new law like Moses did on Mt. Sinai when Moses received the 10 Commandments. But Luke’s version of Jesus’ sermon is different. It’s shorter, and directed in “you” language. This week and next we hear of a very different world that Jesus envisions. 
 
Jesus starts by giving four blessings and four woes. They are not easy to hear. He speaks of poverty and riches, hunger and being filled, weeping and laughter and rejection and acceptance. You can work very hard to try to pull apart why he spoke of those four things. The best I can do is that they were common to the human experience. All of us struggle with having enough, with eating well, with sadness and joy and with what other people think of us. Jesus is talking about universal experiences. He’s saying that everything is about to be turned on its head. There’s a whole other realm where the poor are satisfied, the hungry are fed, the weeping shall laugh and the rejected shall be accepted. “Don’t believe this is all there is. We get clues about real life from this world. But there’s a whole other world out there that is about to be introduced by God.” 
 
I suspect this is hard word for us to hear when we’re just trying to stay healthy. Last week I asked Martha Vieten if our attendance was down over this time last year. It seemed so. And she compared the numbers and said yes, about 20%. And then she said, I believe a lot of people are not coming because they’re struggling to stay healthy. They have colds or are feeling susceptible to colds in this colder and rainier weather. We struggle to stay healthy. 
 
Jesus is saying the great reversal is coming. The poor will become rich, the hungry will be fed, the sorrowful will experience joy and the rejected will be accepted. Jesus doesn’t say how it will be that way: only that you can bank on it with everything in you. 
 
He gave this word while “looking at his disciples.” This is a word not for the great crowds or the afflicted but for those who have chosen to walk with him through life. Can we be the ones who walk with Jesus through thick and thin, through poverty and abundance, through joy and through sorrow? 
 
 
I want to suggest that we best get there by eliminating the middle ground that we try to maintain. The middle ground is what I call the area of respectability that tries to be committed, but not too committed to the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel covers all of life, our money, what we eat, what makes us happy and sad, and what makes us accepted or rejected. I know there’s a tendency in me to try to make the Good News perfectly acceptable to reasonable people. But the Gospel bites, it calls for an all-out acceptance of life in all its ups and downs. It’s radically dependent on the fact that God is going to win. 
 
We use measures like how much is in our bank account, or how happy a person seems as markers of success. But we know you can be rich and miserable, happy and poor. God has turned the world upside down with the arrival of Jesus and he’s announcing that things are not always what they seem. 
 
The invitation is to act as if it was all true—love wins, people are reconciled, churches are full with servant-hearted people, the poor are given hope. This takes an enormous leap of faith, that as Julian of Norwich said, “all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.” Because God is taking over, and he’s got the poor, the hungry, the sad and the rejected in the center of his love. 
 
It takes “as if” living. “As if” it was all true. As if you had the words to say even when you’re tongue tied and afraid you might say the wrong thing. Life gives us enough curveballs, problematic diagnoses, conundrums, unfulfilled dreams, and slow-moving resolutions. Jesus announces that there’s a breakthrough in this life.  
 
It will take a radical trust that things aren’t what they seem. Wealth and food and sorrow and rejection are unreliable gauges for whether or not God is blessing. The more reliable gauge is the heart. What is giving you life in this season of your life? 
 
I hope new friendships will lead you in this season of your life. The better part of life is equal friendships with people who share or don’t share your world view. Friendships take time, reciprocity, common interest and patience. The church is supposed to be a place where you make friends with people in and out of the congregation. I’m finding new friends in the San Jacinto Rotary Club, and in guys who I bike with and go to the hospital with in my wife’s church. We do these things out of friendship, not duty or obligation. 
 
But also, we must see the difficult things in life as opportunities for God to show up. This last week I asked your Session what they thought the focus of our church should be. And elders and guests to Session saw that over 55 people and their families and friends is the way forward for this church. What would it be like to be unapologetically committed to those who are in the last third of life? What’s the gospel for that age group? Yes, there is life after death, but there’s also life within life. It’s more than surviving, it’s thriving. And poverty and riches, food and nutrition, sorrow and joy, and rejection and acceptance are all part of the mix. We need to be a congregation that radically accepts every part of the aging process as a gift, and an opportunity, and not push it away as an enemy. 
 
The best way is to grab life by the horns. We do that by believing that what seems like dead ends are avenues for grace to take hold. Grace is when you know you’re at the end of your own resources, and you submit yourself to the Higher Power to make a difference. We need to do that with our finances, our eating, our sorrows and our feelings of acceptance. When we trust God in those things, surprising things happen, things that we never expect. 
 
The middle ground we seek is no where to stand. As someone said to me once, the problem about being in the middle is you get run over by both sides. Instead, take the step across to total trust in God, for all of life. Trust God with the deepest things of life, and you will find rest for your souls. “Because my yoke is easy, my burden is light.”