Here is a sermon by COT student Stephanie Smit. Her text is Luke 6:17-26, Luke’s version of the Beatitudes and Woes, which will be the Gospel reading for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
I would be sure that many of us would know exactly what we were doing when we first heard the voice of Jesus. A vague picture maybe or a clear, still and soft voice saying follow me. I remember my first encounter and since then my life has never been the same but I would’ve loved to see the face of Simon when this Jesus of Nazareth stood alongside the shore and got into their boat to teach. Surely he had heard the news about Him as it had already spread all over the region. We see no indication that Simon or the other fishermen fight against the man from Nazareth, who by the way travelled to Lake Gennesaret in order to bring good news to the people. Oh let Him teach, may have been Simons first thought perhaps at least one of the boats would be for good use. By the way, Simon and his fellow colleagues were too tired and very dismayed that they didn’t catch any fish during the night. What was the point of still arguing about a boat?
But then a voice “Push the boat out further to the deep water, and you and your partners let down your nets for a catch.” Can you imagine Simon’s feelings at the time? We already caught no fish, what does this man want? Does He want us to make fools of ourselves? But instead he answered politely “But if you say so, I will let down the nets.” I’m quite sure that Simon and his fellow colleagues could not believe their luck when their nets almost broke and their boats almost sank after catching tons of fish given the fact that they had caught nothing the night before. But one still voice, “Push the boat out further” would change their lives forever.
The text in Luke chapter 5 verses 11 implies that the fishermen after having experienced the presence of Jesus, pulled up their boats, left everything and followed Him. We do not know which town they reached after leaving Lake Gennesaret, but we know for certain that these fishermen witnessed Jesus healing a man with skin disease, he healed a paralyzed man, and they had the privilege of meeting and feasting with Levi the tax collector. They heard questions about the Sabbath and about fasting. They also witnessed Jesus healing on the Sabbath. They were absolutely shocked and amazed and excited, some of them might’ve been afraid of what the future would hold; the one moment they were fishermen, the next disciples and followers of Christ, followers of a man who was not afraid to speak His mind nor afraid to heal on the Sabbath, this man was not afraid to stand up for the oppressed, His mission was to love His neighbour and stand up for the truth.
But what happened next may have alarmed many of them. They did not know the task that was about to be given unto them after Jesus had spent an entire night praying. Amongst the disciples twelve apostles were chosen. The first messengers of the Good News of the Kingdom of God set apart from the rest of the group of disciples as Luke describes them. But Jesus had to give the newly appointed apostles a message. He had to address them. He had to share with the apostles and the disciples and the crowds from the areas of Judea, Jerusalem, Tyre and Sidon that the excitement felt by them and the fear they had of the unknown was more than just a feeling or a cry for healing. Those who followed Jesus up until this point, seeking healing from all diseases, wanting to hear the good news and pursuing deliverance from unclean spirits, how best could Jesus tell them what was about to lie ahead? What could He possibly say to those who simply wanted to touch Him and be close to Him? Why did He move down the hill to address the crowd in this manner, just as Moses did before he read the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel?
The apostles, disciples and the crowd from the areas of Judea did not expect this message. He looked at them and said, “Blessed are those who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God but woe to you who are rich, you have received your consolation.” What exactly was Jesus saying? It may have been His introduction to the Sermon on the hill or it might’ve been a way to prepare those following Him on His next journey. At one point in our own lives we too decided to leave everything behind like the first followers and follow Jesus. We could not contain the excitement of that first encounter with Christ. However we were so excited at first that we didn’t realise what lay ahead. I’m sure many of us felt very happy when we landed in Grahamstown for that very first time. But we received a rude awakening as time passed by. Oh Lord Jesus, I did not expect this. I did not expect to be the ridicule of many and I didn’t expect to be the one who would act like a Pharisee or Sadducee. I wasn’t prepared for this. Sometimes I feel like heading back as the future seems unclear and if this is what it entails to spread the good news of God, I don’t know whether I have chosen the right way.
The journey was not what we anticipated it to be and I’m sure that this is exactly how the crowd felt when Jesus uttered these words. It is quite different than what we had imagined and I am sure that the crowd on the specific day realised it too. I’m sure it was for this very reason that Jesus had to tell the crowd, don’t lose heart, you will indeed be blessed on this journey and you will indeed be fed. For far too long have you experienced the pains of the feeling of being inadequate or unworthy but I can assure you, by taking this route you have indeed inherited the Kingdom of God. The road that you have taken is not in vain.
It is interesting that the crowds who followed Jesus that day all had different backgrounds and cultures. Much to the like of our own family here at Cott. Even the disciples and apostles had been brought up differently. Jesus had to lay emphasis on the journey ahead for the different groups of people. A guideline of what it meant to follow the way of a man who not only stood for the truth but was the truth; they would indeed be blessed as a new dawn was upon them, and so those who had enough wealth too had to receive a message for the journey. Woe to the rich, you have had your easy life. Was Jesus referring to mere money or to a way and a type of lifestyle that so many people portrayed in His day? Why was He being so harsh on the rich? Surely it cannot be a bad thing to have a little bit of money. But the message may have been deeper than that. You see it wasn’t the mere fact that they were rich, it was that they didn’t expect this change. They had become accustomed to relying on their wealth and had forgotten about their dependence on God. If they were going to follow Jesus, they would have to make some hard decisions about whether to follow Christ or whether to rely on the wealth to keep them safe. This change would indeed bring thoughts of doubt and fear, great anxiety, much like the anxiety experienced by the rich man who was reluctant to sell all he had. How many times have we too acted like the rich, as if we didn’t need the good news in some areas of our lives and how many times has this attitude brought us many tears?
I believe that the Beatitudes is a wonderful guideline to show just how much Jesus wanted to secure His people in faith before sending them for ministry. Our lives have changed tremendously but God says, keep the faith soldier for I will bless you but He is also saying be content that following me will disrupt and change the things that you have become accustomed to. Jesus lived for the truth and often in our daily lives it is in this truth that we are truly blessed or truly cursed. Amen
The painting is by a Kenyan artist.
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