Sermon Archives

Sunday, February 17, 2019
The 6th Sunday after the Epiphany
Susanna Muzzin, Director of Children and Family Ministries
Take a Knee!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Some of you know me as the one who shepherds our children as they follow the children’s cross to Children’s Chapel or to Communion during the 9 am service.  Or you might know me as a Sunday School teacher, Confirmation teacher, or staff member.  A few of you might have seen me helping with Pizza lunch or hiding Easter Eggs on Easter morning.

But what you might not know is that I am also a seminarian, preparing to be a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America!  And it’s in that role that I am here to explore today’s Gospel with you.   

Now, it’s likely that our Gospel today seems VERY FAMILIAR.  At least we think it is.  When we hear Jesus begin to say, “Blessed are the… “ we think, “Oh, the Beatitudes! I like the Beatitudes!”  We might envision a picture from a Children’s Bible of Jesus on a hill, speaking to a group of people gathered on the rocks below him.

And, if you’re like me, you might also call to mind the scene from Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian,” in which Brian and his mother are so far away from Jesus as he preaches that they can’t really hear him.  They get everything mixed up.  

“What was that?” someone asks.  “I didn’t quite catch it.”  

“I think it was “Blessed are the Cheesemakers,” someone replies.  

“The CHEESEmakers?  What’s so special about the CHEESEmakers?”

But just as in “The Life of Brian,” a lot of what we think we know about today’s Gospel might actually be mistaken.

For one thing, we did NOT just hear the Sermon on the Mount.  In Luke, which we are reading this year, it’s the Sermon on the Plain.  

Immediately before today’s story, Jesus has been up at the top of a mountain praying, and because in the Bible, mountain-tops are the places where momentous things happen (think God giving the 10 Commandments to Moses) Jesus has done something momentous himself: he has called his twelve disciples and named them APOSTLES.   It’s easy to imagine these new apostles looking at each other in confusion and saying one to another, “What in the world does THAT mean?  NOW WHAT??”
And Jesus, knowing that it’s always better to SHOW before we TELL, decides to show them what he wants and expects from them.  So what does he do?  He comes DOWN from the mountain.  

Let me repeat – he comes DOWN from the mountain and stands on a level place.  This is not a Jesus who is far removed; this is not a Jesus who is above it all; this Jesus – OUR Jesus – comes down from the mountain to be right in the midst of all the people.

And that’s the second way our image of this Gospel might be wrong.  Jesus isn’t speaking to a few genteel followers lounging on the grass.  He is in the middle of a HUGE CROWD.  The Greek word, OCHLOS, literally means mob!   Try to imagine the scene – there is a great crush of people around him, pressing, shoving, pushing in on Jesus from every side.  Everyone is trying to TOUCH him, because the power just seems to flow out of Jesus while he is in the middle of the throng.

And third, this SERMON on the Plain is a sermon without words at first.  Once he has come down into the masses, Jesus doesn’t speak; he ACTS.  He touches.  He heals.  He cures people of their illnesses and he rids them of unclean spirits. And right here our story gets really interesting, I think.  Some translations say Jesus LOOKED at his disciples.  Others, including ours, say Jesus LOOKED UP at his disciples.  In the Greek, it says that Jesus LIFTED HIS EYES to his disciples.

Well, big deal, you might think, but here is why I think this matters.  Either Jesus was a very little short man (and I don’t think he was)  or he is not STANDING among the people, but crouching or KNEELING among them as he tends to them.

I just love this image because I work with children.  Because what do we do with children? WE GET DOWN ON THEIR LEVEL.  We sit cross-legged, we crouch, we kneel.  If you’ve ever seen one of our Godly Play teachers in action, you know that they get right down and kneel on the floor with the kids, so that there is no distance between them and the children as they tell the sacred story.  And this doesn’t just happen with children. If we administer CPR, we have to kneel right on the ground next to the person.

If someone has fallen, people kneel.  Last summer, when I was returning from the Mission Trip with two of our youth, I was running to catch the flight, and I fell FLAT on my face.  I broke my nose and got two black eyes and almost wasn’t cleared to get on the plane.    But what I remember most about that moment, other than the initial shock, is that people did not STAND over me.  No, the doctor and the others who ran over to help me knelt right down beside me as they assessed my condition and bandaged me up.

Kneeling is such a powerful act.  We all know that in recent years, kneeling has become a form of protest during the National Anthem.  Kneeling is used by football coaches to get their players’ attention – “take a knee!” they’ll say at the end of a game as they talk to the team.   We kneel in prayer, we kneel in awe, and we kneel to work – gardeners know that they need to kneel to weed, and if you were raised by a mom like mine, you know you need to kneel to mop a floor the right way.  Doctors and plumbers and so many others kneel.  Most importantly, we need to kneel literally or figuratively to serve.  

So Jesus’s sermon is a sermon in two parts.  First, Jesus ACTS – he kneels and heals, he offers his presence and his power, he gets right down on the ground with people. Then, and only then, does he SPEAK. The speaking by itself is not enough.  And the kneeling by itself is not enough.  You need the ACTION and the WORDS together to fully express the power of what Jesus is doing.

Jesus is anticipating the words often attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words.”

And when he does use words, they are powerful. They are disturbing.  You who have privilege, he says, you who lord it over others, woe to you!  But you who are poor and sick and sad and scared and reviled – you are blessed, because I am right here kneeling among you, ushering in the kingdom of God.

These can be really hard words to hear.  We don’t want to be poor or hungry or sad or reviled.  It’s a lot easier to be rich and full and happy.  But Jesus is telling us that worldly power and riches count for nothing in the kingdom of God – what matters is kneeling next to God’s people.

How do we kneel?  We kneel when we get into the thick of things – when we serve as Jesus served. We do it when we bring the Eucharist to someone who is homebound.  We do it when we gather together on bright summer mornings to pack Summer Starters bags.  We do it when we go together to serve a meal at Crossroads.  Our kids do it on Mission trips when they wash clothes for the homeless or clear fallen tree limbs after a hurricane or prepare meals for the hungry.

But there is always so much more to do, so many more ways that Christ Church is called to kneel to serve our neighbors. Let me be clear.  Most of us here have a lot of privilege.  We are the ones to whom Jesus is saying watch out!  We are the ones who need to listen carefully to what Jesus says.  But Jesus kneels with and speaks to us too.  He calls us to join him, living lives of sacrifice, generosity, and service, kneeling and serving the people of God.