A Kingdom Filled with Laughter : Luke 6:17-26
Sermon for St Peter’s Bramley, 13 February 2022
“Blessed are you who are poor, For yours is the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, For you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, For you will laugh.”
These are some of the best known of all Jesus’ sayings, yet also some of the hardest to accept or understand. On the surface he seems to be saying it’s a good thing to be poor, or hungry, or upset. But that clearly can’t be what he means, because all through the Bible God condemns the injustice that leads to poverty. Many times, he promises to lift people out of poverty and suffering. Jesus himself spent most of his time with the ordinary people in society, with all their problems. The song of his mother Mary – Magnificat – rejoices in the God who lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things. NO, the meaning is deeper than that.
Who are the people Jesus is addressing here? Three groups. His disciples – a great crowd of them. A multitude of people from Judea and Jerusalem – the Jews. And from Tyre and Sidon – immigrants. He speaks to them directly – you who are poor, you who are hungry, you who weep, for that is what has brought them to him, and on them he has compassion.
What Jesus does in these few short sayings is to set these followers off on a journey of faith. It’s a journey that starts with an immediate change – not ‘the Kingdom of Heaven will be yours’, but ‘Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven’. Realising that we are actually part of God’s Kingdom now, one of his daughters or sons, is the beginning of the journey of discipleship.
Poor or not, hungry or not, weeping or not, however you feel at this moment, the fact that you are listening to Jesus means you are in his Kingdom. The other promises look further along the journey. ‘You will be filled, you will laugh’. These may look to be hollow promises to someone who is hungry now and weeping now. But one of the great Christian themes is hope: the trust we put in God that he will change things for the better.
And the way that God changes things for the better, occasional miracles apart, is through us, his church. It is as we realise, individually, that we are part of God’s Kingdom that we come together in fellowship. We realise that we are not alone, but part of a greater movement. We offer and receive support in each other’s troubles, and together reach out to address the needs around us.
That much can be said of any group of people with a common purpose. In the church we have one additional and much stronger bond: the joy of salvation. When Jesus said ‘Blessed are you, for you will laugh’, he didn’t mean all our troubles would vanish overnight, but that as we receive his Holy Spirit we find the strength to face our troubles and an inner joy that stops us collapsing under their weight.
Jeremiah gave us a vivid illustration that covers the same ideas when he said “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord … they shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots to the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green”. The heat and drought and stress will come in our lives, but in Jesus we can stay green.
It seems to me that we can take these three one-word promises: ‘Yours is the Kingdom, You will be Filled, You will Laugh’, and make of them a simple and memorable phrase: A Kingdom, Filled with Laughter”. K.F.L., if you wish – other three letter acronyms are available.
That phrase from Jeremiah about a tree that is resistant to drought leads me to say something briefly about the big issue of our day: climate change. How are the words of Jesus relevant to that? Like it or not, life will get harder in the future, for all of us and not just the poor. Rising gas prices and storm damage to houses are just the beginning. The fact that everyone’s life is going to change over the coming years, and our response to that fact, is going to be ever more important.
I’m currently attending a series of online meetings of a group called Climate Action Leeds. Our aim is to bring together action on two fronts: climate justice (meaning, to see that the poor are not hit hardest by the effects of climate change) and social justice (a wider response to inequality in society). The Church has always ‘done’ social justice: it’s what we are about – feeding the hungry, comforting the sad and so on. The challenge now is to bring climate justice into our planning and action in future, the two working together.
We know from these readings that we are part of the Kingdom of God, and on a journey of faith that involves change. So we understand that there is more to life than possessions, we have hope that God will fill the hungry, we can know the joy of the Holy Spirit: we, then, are the people who like Jeremiah’s tree will be resilient in the time of drought – and the time of flood. We are the people best placed to deliver not only social justice but climate justice too. We are the KFL people: the Kingdom Filled with Laughter people. We are the blessed. And our task is to share those blessings with others. Amen.