Sermon: Well, That Doesn’t Work

February 13, 2022

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Luke 6:17-26

by Eric Anderson

Nesting season among the ‘apapane is a busy one. You’ll find lots of birds scooting around the ohi’a forest seeking nest materials. The air is filled with the sound of wings, and ‘apapane song, and couples instructing one another in where to place that bit of moss or twig.

One year, though, an ‘apapane father-to-be got scared. I guess it had been a little dry in the forest, or the nectar wasn’t flowing as expected. For some reason he thought that there might not be enough material to build the nest. The more he thought about it, the more he worried about it. The more he worried about it, the more convinced he became that this shortage was real. The more convinced he became that the shortage was real, the more he determined that his nest, at least, would have plenty of material if he could possibly help it.

He started with ordinary ‘apapane nest-building material gathering. He’d fly out, find some handy moss or twigs, and fly back. But he did this faster than he’d ever done before. His spouse would make one flight to his four. The mosses and leaves began to heap up between the branches. His spouse tried to caution him about bringing too much, but he’d fly off again before she could say a word.

Next, he began to take materials from abandoned ‘apapane nests. There were a few around, and it’s common for birds to use things from old nests to build their new ones. Again, he was back and forth like a flash. Worse, he began to drive other ‘apapane away from those abandoned nests. He’d scream and flap his wings at them, rush home, rush back, and scream at them all over again.

It made for a positively chilling sound in the forest.

With the old nests picked over, he started to raid nests of other ‘apapane, the ones that other couples were building. Most of them were too shocked to do anything more than fly away when he appeared in a flurry of screeching feathers. Then they’d come back to repair the damage, and retreat again when he inevitably returned. It was a mess.

He was back at his own nest one morning when a beak gently tapped his shoulder. He turned, spreading his wings, but folded them again when he saw his mother.

“What are you doing, son?” she asked.

“I’m building my nest,” he said.

“Are you?” she asked. “Take a good look at it.”

He turned, and for the first time really looked at the “nest” he thought he’d been building. It wasn’t a nest. It was a haphazard collection of twigs and moss and leaves and grass jammed between ohi’a branchlets. It filled all the space they needed for it and more. It was far bigger than it needed to be. I suppose our koa’e kea from last week might have thought it big enough… Well, maybe not. His wife, standing behind his mother, was just shaking her head, shaking her head.

“What are you going to do with all that, son?” asked his mother.

“Build a nest?” he tried.

“How many nests are you going to build?” his mother wanted to know. He didn’t have an answer to that.

“I’ve been worried I wouldn’t have enough,” he said. It sounded pretty thin when he said it, and everybody knew it.

“Yes, I see,” said his mother. “Well, that doesn’t work, does it? I think it’s time you stopped racing around the forest, stopped scaring your neighbors, started listening to your wife, and started building a nest without building it out of your fears.”

The Gospel authors Matthew and Luke almost certainly did not know one another. They worked from things that other people had written down – one of those was very likely the Gospel of Mark – and probably from some stories that people told and re-told without setting pen to paper. Yet sometimes, you get the feeling that they had a conference and chose how they would tell things so there would be broader meaning. I don’t think they did, but here we are looking at Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, and the differences stack up.

First of all, Jesus spoke on a plain in Luke, not a mountain as in Matthew. There are only four “blessed are”’s in Luke, and there are nine in Matthew. There are four “woes” or warnings in Luke, and there are none in Matthew. In Matthew, the blessings are more spiritual: “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” whereas in Luke they’re physical. “Blessed are you who are poor.” “Blessed are you who are hungry now.”

As I say, it’s as if they got together and said, “These blessings are broad. They’re about the body and the spirit. How do we make that clear? How about you talk about spirit, and I talk about body? That will work, right?”

On balance, I’d have to say, well, it doesn’t work. People remember the version from Matthew. Christians tend to forget there’s a different version in Luke. They remember the poor in spirit and forget the poor. They remember the blessings and they forget the warnings. They – we – remember the comforting words and forget the challenging words.

Cheryl Lindsay writes at, “It’s important to note that while significant differences exist between the accounts of Matthew and Luke, we need both. They aren’t in conflict; they show us a more complete story.”

We need both. As Sarah Henrich writes at Working Preacher, “For God’s reign to be good news for the well-fed, rich, laughing, and admired, they will have to wake up and change their ways. We dare not overlook or spiritualize this aspect of Luke’s gospel. It is a gift he brings to us.”

Luke’s version reminds us that Jesus, and that God, are not just concerned with spiritual things. They are also very concerned about physical things. A Christ unconcerned with the body would hardly have spent so much time healing. As long as we are physically living, our bodies and our souls are very much wound around each other, and the health of one influences the health of the other. Unsurprisingly, studies clearly demonstrate that poverty has a bad effect on physical health. It also undermines mental health. In a 2020 study, researchers Lee Knifton and Greig Inglis wrote, “In Scotland, individuals living in the most deprived areas report higher levels of mental ill health and lower levels of well-being than those living in the most affluent areas. In 2018 for example, 23% of men and 26% of women living in the most deprived areas of Scotland reported levels of mental distress indicative of a possible psychiatric disorder, compared with 12 and 16% of men and women living in the least deprived areas. There is also a clear relationship between area deprivation and suicide in Scotland, with suicides three times more likely in the least than in the most deprived areas.”

Does that affect spiritual health? I’m sure it does – when it comes without choice. Devout people have taken vows of poverty for millennia to deepen their spiritual lives, but that was a choice that they made. People who struggle to earn enough to eat or to keep a roof over their heads didn’t make that choice. Telling the poor that they will be blessed by God – and that they will not be blessed by people, by God’s children – that’s not spiritual advice. That’s spiritual abuse.

I ask it again: how can we call it a just world when full-time work doesn’t bring in enough to afford food and shelter and transportation and health care? How is it that our minimum wage is not a living wage?

Because, well, that doesn’t work.

I struggle with despair when I look at these beatitudes and when I look at these woeful warnings. The history of Christianity is rife with betrayals of these blessings, rife with defiance of these warnings. The wealthy Christian nobles of medieval Europe kept their agricultural workers impoverished and with few rights. They engaged in military crusades against people of other religions, against those they considered heretics, and against other Christians. In 1204 the Fourth Crusade, purportedly assembled to control Jerusalem, sacked Constantinople instead, capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire.

And, of course, the plotters against Queen Lili’uokalani met in… a church.

We dare not remember Matthew and forget Luke. Because, well, that doesn’t work, does it?

How do we find our way to a society, or even just a Christianity, that remembers Luke? I’ll be honest: I don’t know. I can think of some places to start:

Let’s stop equating wealth with virtue. It’s not.

Let’s stop equating poverty with laziness. It’s not.

Let’s stop asking when the poor are going to raise themselves up by their own bootstraps. What bootstraps? As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

Let’s start asking when the powerful are going to stop hogging all the boots.

Because, well, that doesn’t work.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video above includes the complete service of February 13, 2022. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

The sermon as preached is not the same as the sermon as written. Because if it were, well, that wouldn’t work.

The image is a detail of a Russian Orthodox icon showing the Beatitudes. Artist unknown, originally uploaded by User:Alex Bakharev –, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on February 13, 2022

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