Raising Up the Down & Out Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Advent 2) There’s an old Bessie Smith song, a blues song of course, that talks about how we sometimes feel when we are facing a really hard time. Nobody knows you When you’re down and out. In your pocket, not one penny, And as for […]
Raising Up the Down & Out
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Advent 2)
There’s an old Bessie Smith song, a blues song of course, that talks about how we sometimes feel when we are facing a really hard time.
Nobody knows you
When you’re down and out.
In your pocket, not one penny,
And as for friends, you haven’t any.
When you finally get back on your feet again,
Everybody wants to be your old long-lost friend.
It’s mighty strange, without a doubt,
Nobody knows you when you’re down and out.
For people who might have occasion to feel that way, the gospels really are good news.
The gospels are concerned with the down and out.
In John’s gospel we see Jesus encountering the Samaritan woman at the well. She’d been done wrong by every man she ever tried to love. She’d been married so many times that men didn’t bother to propose anymore. Her religion, her ethnicity, and her circumstances made her a pariah in the eyes of many people, but not to Jesus. He affirms her as a daughter of God, sees her sacred value, sees that she hasn’t gotten the best breaks but even so, she deserves better than she’s had so far.
Nobody knows you when you’re down and out; well, except those who have been lifted up. Jesus is the ultimate symbol of being lifted up. Resurrection is about lifting people up. God in us recognizes God in others, and that Namaste moment, that divinity touching divinity, raises up the down and out.
In Mark’s gospel, we see Jesus telling a rich young man to share his wealth with the poor. In fact, generosity is what will allow him to enjoy a full relationship with God forever, or so Jesus tells him.
If you’re down and out, divine love can help raise you up. And if you are in a good place, your compassion and generosity can be the channels through which divine love can do its miraculous work. Sharing can lift up the down and out.
Matthew’s gospel shows Jesus repenting of racism.
Deuteronomy says that Canaanites should be destroyed. And a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus hoping he can help her tormented child. Jesus has inherited a prejudice against Canaanites, and can accurately quote a scripture to justify the prejudice. But the Canaanite woman doesn’t accept his rejection of her. He calls her a dog, an ethnic slur. But she challenges him and says, “You may think I’m a dog, but you could treat me as kindly as you would treat a dog. You’d pet a dog, scratch a dog, toss a dog some scraps. You’d do something for a dog. Maybe you can be a good enough person to treat me as well as you’d treat a dog.”
And Jesus stops seeing her as something inhuman that scripture or tradition or his culture condemns, and he sees her as a human being who deserves love and hope and kindness. And so Jesus repents, changes his attitude. He praises the woman’s faith and heals her daughter.
When religion or society says you are worthless, when you are in pain and no one cares because they’ve decided you deserve it, a kind word, a moment of human compassion, can make a difference. A moment of human kindness can lift up the down and out.
And Luke, wonderful Luke…shows the prodigal son hitting bottom, but being loved into wholeness.
Luke (as well as Matthew) shows a powerful centurion coming to Jesus to heal his man servant. The context of the servitude implies that the servant was more than a laborer, but possibly the centurion’s lover. Why else would a Roman elite humble himself to go to a peasant faith healer? He must have been desperate, the way one is desperate when someone you care about deeply is in pain. And Jesus not only heals the centurion’s lover, but praises the pagan centurion’s faith. He doesn’t ask him to convert to his religion, he just shows compassion to a hurting person and wishes for the servant to be healed while he also encourages the centurion unconditionally. Jesus sees love, and blesses that love. Sometimes that’s all it takes to lift up the down and out.
Luke shows a crazy person, a guy who eats grasshoppers and wears rags, who lives in the dirty, hot desert; but this John the baptizer is the one who prepares people for a life of world changing engagement. Down and out John is lifting up others to make a difference in the world.
Luke tells stories of Elizabeth not having a much wanted child until middle age, of the unwed teenage mother Mary, of the powerless infant Jesus, of the sick man Zechariah lost his voice who spoke for a living but lost his voice, and Luke tells a story about social outcasts – poor shepherds who sleep outdoors among animals.
Luke shows these down and out folk to be the ones that angels notice and visit and counsel.
Luke tells us that these nobodies are as important to God as those who have much more prestige or power or resources. If you think nobody knows you when you’re down and out, Luke would say don’t forget about the Omnipresent Love that we call God; It knows you when you’re down and out, and It seeks tirelessly to help you get back up again.
Yes, the gospels lift up those who have been marginalized, vilified, forgotten, abused, or knocked down.
And Luke tells us from the beginning that those who have been knocked down are the very ones through whom the power of Life is working in the most miraculous of ways!
Luke seems to be saying:
You think there’s no hope? You think there are no blessings to be salvaged from the mess that you’re in? Let me tell you about a powerless baby that set the world on its head!
Let me tell you about a woman who thought she’d never have children who gave birth to a hero.
Let me tell you about a woman whose pregnancy was a scandal, but whose baby gave hope to the hopeless, and still does.
If you feel weak or weary, if you feel least or lowly, has Luke got good news for you!
The weak and weary, the least and lowly are the ones to reveal the love, the compassion, the hope of God!
As if Luke hasn’t made it clear enough with his praise of the ill, the unwed mother, the poor, the powerless, the socially odd, and even the Queer, he in our reading today endeavors to make his message quite explicit.
Not only is strange John the chosen messenger, but his message is to the hurting, the wounded, the fearful, the depressed and oppressed, and he says to them, “Every valley shall be leveled and every mountain will be crushed, and the rough patches will be made smooth”…your day of difficulty is not the end of the story, and then he concludes with these powerful words: “ALL FLESH shall see the salvation of God.” And guess what? All means ALL.
Let me be clear…John proclaimed a baptism of repentance, but does not say that such a ritual is a prerequisite for the salvation he promised. And while John preaches repentance, his message beyond that is: “ALL FLESH shall see the salvation of God.” Perhaps the repentance that he calls us to is the change of attitude that will allow us to see all people as being part of divine Life and held eternally in divine Love.
Baptism means immersion, and repentance means to turn from one direction and toward another. A baptism of repentance then is simply an immersion into a way of thinking that allows for positive change.
And why should we bother hoping for positive change? Because it’s possible!
It’s possible that metaphorical mountains will be leveled and euphemistic valleys will be filled and symbolic rough patches will be cleared out.
It’s possible that treatments for Alzheimer’s will be found.
It’s possible to live well with diabetes.
It’s possible that a cure for HIV will be discovered.
It is possible that we can heal from painful childhoods, from religious abuse, from betrayal, from toxic relationships.
It’s possible that we can build a society that cares about everyone, that will not let anyone go without food or medicine or opportunities for education.
It is possible that we will never again rush to war.
It is possible that we can immerse ourselves in a new way of seeing the world, in a new way of engaging the world, in a new way of celebrating our potential and sacred value.
We can hope for healing in every area of life because healing in some form is possible.
In fact, healing, wholeness, and liberation are words that are interchangeable with the word salvation.
Healing, wholeness, and liberation are possible; indeed, in the fullness of time, they are inevitable. All flesh will see the salvation of God, infinite wholeness.
We all feel down and out now and again; but it isn’t true that we are unknown or unloved while we feel that way. Divine Love will never let us go, and when we remember that, we find ourselves being lifted up.
And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2015
In every challenge there is opportunity.
In every difficulty there is reason for hope.
Wholeness is my divine inheritance.
I am a blessed child of God.
And so it is.