Blessed are the Excommunicated
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Luke 6:17-27 (Moffatt Bible) With them he came down the hill and stood on a level spot. There was a great company of his disciples with him, and a large multitude of people from all Judaea, from Jerusalem, and from the cost of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to get cured of their diseases. 18Those who were annoyed with unclean spirits also were healed. 19Indeed the whole of the crowd made efforts to touch him, for power issued from him and cured everybody. 20 Then, raising his eyes, he looked at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you poor! The Realm of God is yours. Blessed are you who hunger today! You shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep today! You shall laugh.
22 Blessed are you when men will hate you, when they will excommunicate you and denounce you and defame you as wicked, on account of the Son of man; 23 rejoice on that day and leap for joy! Rich is your reward in heaven - for their fathers did the very same thing to the prophets.
24 But woe to you rich folk! You get all the comforts you will ever get. 25Woe to you have have your fill today! You will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh today! You will wail and weep. 26Woe to you when all men speak well of you! That is just what their fathers did to the false prophets. 27I tell you, my hearers, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
The context of Biblical stories is important. Chapter 6 of Luke's Gospel includes Jesus' demonstrating His how the Sabbath can be celebrated, the choosing of the apostles, and the beatitudes. The reading for this week contains beatitudes and woes.
While I am not a Biblical linguist, I disagree with how some people translate the beattitudes. Young's Literal Translation uses the word happy instead of blessed. Young's Literal Translation, "Happy those hungering now," might be literal, but it does not pass the test of common sense to me. Those of us who have had to go to bed the odd time hungry do not really find that a happy situation. If you are happy when you are hungry, I am not sure I want you cooking anything for me. There is a serious contradiction in the thought that those who cry are happy. I know many people who've experienced church discipline. Deeply hurt and bitter better describes their emotions than happy. The New Living Translation has much better translation. "God blesses you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied."
The word translated blessed means "possessing the favor of God." To be blessed ". . . is equivalent to having God's kingdom within one's heart."  Those who are poor, hungry, sad, or have been excommunicated have the "favor of God." The Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter has a special blessing for those who are poor, hungry, discouraged, and excommunicated.
The first people Jesus says receive God's special favor are the poor - those who are poor and hungry. Another group Jesus states get a special favor from God are those who are despised by the religious. I think Jesus knew how deeply the hearts of those who have faced rejection from their communities of faith ache. He spent more time talking about those who have been rejected by their spiritual families than the poor and the hungry combined. The contributors to the Christian Community Bible comment, "God shows his mercy especially by his generosity to towards the poor and the despised. He also entrusts his Gospel to them and makes them the first to participate in his work in the world."
The Greek has meaning that speaks to the queer Christian experience in many churches. The word translated wicked means a "malignant," corrupting evil. Those who speak out of fear and ignorance have long accused the gay community of corrupting society, of corrupting children and youth, of being incapable of being good parents, and of causing serious societal problems. And people who dare to dress according to their gender identification are also viewed as a threat to society, a menace to children. Jesus says that those who are seen as being like a malignant sinful cancer, those who are believed to be corrupting society because of their faith in the Son of God receive a special blessing. To God's queer children, the message is very strong, very clear. While people may defame you, accuse of of wickedness, hate you, and excommunicate you, God's favor, God's blessing is there for you.
A message is in this text for homophobic and homonegative churches and church institutions. The very people you reject for being queer and Christian are receiving a special blessing, because they are in God's favor!
Many, far too many, queer Christians have been thrown out of church for no crime other than being who God created them to be. And numerous straight allies have been thrown out of church for daring to support the basic human rights, and the basic spiritual rights of their queer brothers and sisters in Christ. Anybody who stands with Christ for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people and is rejected is in God's favor and receives a special blessing. This includes grandmothers, grandfathers, parents, brothers or sisters, and children who voice a complaint when they hear comments that demeans queer people, even when making a complaint could mean rejection. Every time a family member or a friend tells people in church about a gay loved one and urges being accepting of gay people, Jesus has been well served.
The Christian Community Bible notes that the contribution of the poor ". . . is most necessary to the building of the Kingdom," and "when the Church forgets this, she" does what Jesus criticized. I will go beyond what the Christian Community Bible commentators say. When the church of Jesus Christ forgets that those who are despised - gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people - are necessary to building the church, the church is guilty of the same mistake, the same sin, as the religious people of Jesus' time. One aspect of rejecting God's despised queer children is that the church rejects those God chooses to be among the first to take part in his work in this world.
The text contains blessings and woes. The word woe sounds very strong, almost angry. These are words of a caring warning. The woes are not curses. The woes are expressions of grief. A woe is a "cry of pain that results from misfortune." God, the Son, is in grief over the potential plight of some people who are wealthy, happy, and highly respected in religious circles. Jesus' message to those who are rich, who have lives filled with laughter, and who are spoken highly of in religious circles is, "Watch out. In time, you may find yourself crying in pain, because of your misfortunes."
Many people are praising church denominations, church-run schools and colleges, church institutions, and church leaders who reject God's queer children. To them, Jesus is saying, "I am mourning for you. People are praising you just like they praised the false prophets of the past."
You might have been thinking, "Good! Preach man! Tell them!" Now it is our turn. Queer congregations need to apply the text to themselves, not just to the homophobic churches.
To the queer community, Jesus might extend a woe, a cry of mourning. He might extend a cry of mourning, because of those who are rejected - the stock portfolio challenged - that's the poor, the chronologically blessed - that's old yo know, the beauty challenged - read not in any way cute, the effeminate men, and the trans-identified. Within our circle as a church, within our personal circles, at work or in the community, the caring warning from God is to include those society excludes, to include those the wider queer community often excludes.
Because there is a tendency for groups to feel a bit superior when a different group is taken to task, the best place to end this sermon is with the last verse I read today. I tell you, my hearers, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.God is asking us to love the homophobes, to love people in the churches who reject and persecute gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-identified, and queer people.