February 17, 2019
“Some years ago, on the day before All Saints’ Day, the country’s best distance runners met in Central Park. These included two old friends, Ryan Hall and Ryan Shay. Ordinarily they would be racing in the New York City Marathon, which was to be held the next day, but like other elite runners, they were competing in the marathon trials for the U.S. Olympic team.
The two men started side by side, and three miles into the race, both were near the lead. But this day belonged to Ryan Hall. Over the last few miles, he ran all alone in front, pumping his fists with joy. As he reached the finish, he raised his arms in triumph, knowing that his victory meant a berth in the Olympics.
It wasn’t until the press conference that Hall learned that his friend and mentor had collapsed at the five-mile mark. Shay had died of a heart attack at the age of 28.
Friends remembered a remarkable man who had grown up near the ironworks of northern Michigan and had retained that iron hardness. Teammates recalled how Shay had chided and pushed them to excel. The heart that had pushed them, and has in particular pushed Hall to greatness, had not been built to last. Long ago, Shay had been diagnosed with an enlarged heart. As his father noted, “The thing that made him such a great runner may have killed him.”
Blessings and woes lie close to each other. In ancient times, good fortune was often taken as a sign of divine favor. But in this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus stands that on its head. We might just as well assume that the poor, hungry and grieving are God’s beloved.”
Jesus speaks truth to injustice and reveals to us what the kingdom of God will look like when we move beyond trying to one up the other.
To move to that point where humanity is living in equality is a sign of the kingdom of God. In the meantime, we are far from that! There are massive differences between the rich and poor which just seems to be growing greater. There is a renewed sense of racial hatred. I have witnessed this in Richmond as people have made disparaging remarks about our Latino neighbors. When beliefs do not line up, it seems to be an on-switch to become verbally abusive. To find Jesus amongst these practices and beliefs is nearly impossible.
These are the same issues that Jesus is addressing in his day. He knows that people have lost their way and are taking advantage of one another. It is through his sermon on the plain in Luke’s gospel that he begins to truly irk the authorities. What he has to share, they do not want to hear. The truth can be a bitter pill to swallow.
Jesus’ words are harsh when they fall on ears that are not open to the gospel message of love and grace. These words are meant to challenge us. They are meant to raise us up to a greater awareness. These words are meant to be counter-cultural.
So, what do we do when we are of this world? A world that has become more secular and the good news does not seem so good to many. How do we live as Christians in a world where Jesus’ message puts us on the outside? Outside of the wealth. Outside of the perceived power. Outside of endless blessings.
The first step has already been taken by Jesus. He was born incarnate in this world to bring the message of God’s love and grace to a world that has lost its way. Jesus comes to jar us out of our complacency. Jesus comes to remind us whose we are, and as God’s beloved children, we are already blessed beyond belief. That does not mean our blessings do not come without woes. We are still living on this side of the full in-breaking of the kingdom of God.
Ryan Shay started that race feeling blessed for the God given talent that he had, however the woe that came to him, his friends, and his family through his untimely death was incomprehensible. However, God was there to pick up the pieces and remind them of the saving love of Jesus Christ. We too will have woes. We never know what they will be.
Do we bring some of them on ourselves? You bet!
Are some out of our control? Yes!
But Jesus comes to us. He comes to a level place as the gospel tells us. He draws us even and reminds us that we too are loved. We are not called to stand on mountains and have power over others. We are not to stay in the valleys and wallow in self-pity. We are called to be in that level place with Jesus where the kingdom of God is breaking in. Where love and grace rule the day. Not wealth or poverty, feast or famine, health or sickness, have or have-not. We are called to live into that place where all are equal, and the kingdom of God shines bright.
Let us pray.
Lord, you challenge us. Your words and promise bring us to points that are uncomfortable
and different from many other noises in society. We pray for your guidance as
we try to be part of your movement to bring the kingdom of God closer to
 Lawrence Wood, Blessings alongside Woes, Sundays Coming, The Christian Century