Third Sunday before Lent - Choral Eucharist

  • Preacher

    The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn

  • Readings

    : Jeremiah 17.5-10;1 Corinthians 15.12-20; Luke 6.17-26

“My mama always said, life was like a box a chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

You’ll no doubt remember those pearls of wisdom coming at the beginning of the film ‘Forrest Gump’. Actually though, it’s not quite correct.  In most boxes of chocolates – Black Magic, Milk Tray, even those boxes from Hotel Chocolat in the Borough Market – you get a little guide which helps you steer clear of the nut or the praline or whatever it is that’s not your thing.  But at the same time I take Forrest Gump’s point.  You don’t know what hand life is going to deal you – to mix my metaphors – what chocolate will emerge from the box.

There are two versions of the Beatitudes in the gospels.  When you visit the Church of the Beatitudes on the Mount of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee, you walk through the beautiful garden that the sisters in the convent there maintain.

Amongst all of the flowering plants are set a series of plaques on which you can read each of the eight beatitudes in St Matthew’s gospel – blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the poor in spirit, and the rest – we know them well and we love them.  Mention the Beatitudes and they’re the ones that immediately come to mind.

But in the gospel for today we hear the second version, the ones which St Luke gives to us.

These were not delivered on a mountain with a breath-taking view but, as it says, ‘on a level place’ and not delivered to a multitude who’d followed to hear the teaching but to the disciples.  It appears that Jesus spoke, as it were, over the heads of those who were there to his disciples who’d just witnessed, not a crowd of eager learners, nascent disciples, but a crowd of people needing healing and restoration – ‘healed of their diseases … troubled with unclean spirits’.

This is a very different environment in which to deliver a message about blessings, this is a very different situation in which they find themselves and so what Jesus has to say to them, to the disciples, is very different.

What he draws our attention to is the reality of life.  Chinese philosophy has a way of describing it and doing so graphically – the Yin and the Yang – interconnected, complimentary, inextricably bound.  And what you should notice with the black and the white sections of that well known symbol is that there’s a spot of black in the white and a spot of white in the black.  Life is complex, what we face is complex, it’s not all light, there’s darkness too, it’s not all blessing, there are woes to be experienced as well.  “Life is like a box a chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

The prophet Jeremiah identifies this for us in the First Reading. 

 

Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals

   and make mere flesh their strength,

   …

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,

   whose trust is the Lord.

 

But Moses addressing the children of Israel puts it even more plainly

 

‘I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.’

 

But Moses doesn’t stop there.  He then says something that makes sense of everything

 

‘Choose life.’

 

There are blessings and there are woes, blessings and curses, we can at times feel like a tree planted by water or like a shrub in a desert, to revert to how Jeremiah describes it – but God is there for us throughout.  In choosing life we are choosing God, as those people in the level place chose life by approaching Jesus and seeking from him the healing they needed from their illness, the comfort from their troubles.

The writer Kahil Gibran in the section of his book ‘The Prophet’ writing ‘On Joy and Sorrow’ says this

 

Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.

     And he answered:

     Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

     And the self-same well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

     And how else can it be?

 

We speak a great deal about mental health nowadays, much more than we’ve ever done before.  That has to be a good thing.  For too long we’ve often felt unable to be honest about that aspect of our life.  But here were people coming to Jesus ‘troubled with unclean spirits’.  For too long our mental health could not be talked about unlike our physical health but there’s occurred something of a revolution.

But in all that new found freedom and honesty I’ve a concern that some people expect life to go well, expect the sun to shine, expect life to be a box of chocolates in which there are no hard centres to catch you out, expect to wake every day and not to feel sad, or worried, or afraid, not to experience the snakes as well as the ladders that life can present us with.  And I too wish that life was like that but it isn’t.  Instead what Luke does, in this more uncomfortable set of Beatitudes, is to draw us deeper into the reality of life.  So I love Matthew’s beatitudes but I want to engage with Luke’s. 

 

Blessed are you who weep now,

   for you will laugh.

Woe to you who are laughing now,

   for you will mourn and weep.

 

Harsh or honest?

 

     Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

     And the self-same well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

  

Paul writing to the Christian community in Corinth turns to the reality of the resurrection.  There are those around them who will scoff and deny and say that they what they proclaim is not true.  But Paul gives them confidence when he insists

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

It was out of death that life came, it was out of darkness that dawn broke, it was from the horror of Good Friday that we came to know the joy of Easter. 

You’ve arrived here this morning bringing your reality, your life with you.  You’ve brought your feelings, your experiences, your health, your dis-ease, you’ve brought your joys and your sorrows, you’ve brought your blessings and your curses, you’ve brought the reality of your life not into a place of escape but into a place of encounter, not into a place of delusion and fantasy but into that greater reality which is God.

That is why we are here, so that who we are can be brought to the altar with the bread and the wine, and we, with these sacramental elements, can be grace-filled.  We are here to choose life, we are here to be like trees planted by the water, as shrubs whose drought is ended, people whose hunger is satisfied.

Whatever life is dealing you at the moment God is here for you and we are here for each other.  God is here in bread and wine, gifts born of suffering, but the source of blessing that will always surpass our sorrows.

Christ has been raised from the dead and the cursed one has become our blessing. Choose life, real life and find in Christ your blessing.