Anyone know who this is?
Yup, that’s right. That is Justin Bieber and his new wife Hailey Baldwin. And no offense but if people in this room know this guy, you know he’s famous. He was discovered singing on Youtube just over 10 years ago, when he was around 13 years old, and he’s been recording and performing ever since. The dude is just under 25 now, he has a birthday coming up next week, and he’s one of the most famous and successful young people on the planet.
And… earlier this week he announced to the world that he suffers severe depression.
So you might think, really? This guy has like everything I’ve ever wanted in life. He’s rich, famous, young, just married a beautiful Baldwin girl, he’s not as good looking as me but that’s ok, you can’t win them all. But you’d think a guy like that who has it all should really just be happy with life, wouldn’t you? At least, content? Satisfied? Anything but depressed.
I know, depression doesn’t always mean that you’re sad about things, or upset with how things are in life. But from what I have read, depression comes from prolonged stress, sadness, or traumatic events. And so you’d think that a rich and famous almost-25-year-old shouldn’t have anything to worry about. A seasoned actor and comedian like Robin Williams who also suffered from depression, sure, as he’s had a much longer life and more chance to be susceptible to such triggers, but Bieber? He just seems too young.
And I know that with fame also comes a lot of criticism. Like, when I flashed his picture a couple minutes ago, what was your initial reaction? Were you like “gasp, he’s soooo cute”? Or “pfft that little snot”? Or maybe still “who’s that guy?”
Honestly, most people I know are like pfft and shake their heads. Some say it is out of jealousy. Other say it’s just pure dislike. Still, some might still just scratch their heads and be like, “who?” The point is that just because someone is rich and famous doesn’t mean that they also have all the joy in the world. It might totally seem like they do or they should, at least as it’s portrayed in the media, but Justin Bieber is a prime example of how that isn’t true. And Robin Williams. And even Michael Jackson if you want to go back a bit further. As mental illness becomes more of an open topic for us to talk about, we find that no one is really invulnerable from being sad and feeling depressed. No one is impervious to the stresses and realities of our emotions and the world. No one, not even the very rich and famous, are free from the burdens that we as humans face.
You know what that tells me then? That the rich are people just like us too. The famous face problems just like the problems the not so famous face. Those the media tell us are better than us really aren’t all that much.
I believe this is the reality that Jesus was trying to get across in today’s gospel lesson. Jesus, on his less famous Sermon on the Plain as it is called and found in Luke, reiterates the very famous beatitudes, which are better known from Jesus’ more popular and widely known Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew. The beatitudes, which its title comes from the Latin word for “blessed”, essentially is a list of ways that those we don’t think are very well off are actually better off than we thought. It gives a sense of hope and encouragement, especially when we are down and out on our luck and we are reminded that while things aren’t currently going our way, we are still very much loved by God, and we have other things that we can appreciate and be thankful for.
But the difference with the beatitudes as we have them in the Sermon on the Plain compared to the Sermon on the Mount is that the Sermon on the Plain includes a second part… the “woes”. Jesus starts on the plain just as he did on the mount, he said blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are hated. But he continues with woe to the rich, to those who are full, those who laugh, those who people speak well of. Woe, woe, woe, woah.
At first I can dig it, but looking closer, who is included in these woes? The rich? Just living in North America put us in the top 10% richest people in the world, so it is safe to say that we all here are rich. The full? Again, living in North America means we don’t really have a problem, as comedian Chris Rock said, only in North America is having too much food is a problem. Those who laugh? Hard not to laugh when you have a pastor like me. And those who are spoken well of? Well, maybe I don’t have much to worry about in that department… but there are a great number out there that do. I mean, I often pay compliments to those who deserve it. I try to be encouraging to my kids. I frequently tell my wife how good of a cook she is in hopes that she’ll stop asking me to learn to take over some of those cooking duties. And to that, Jesus says woe to you?
So maybe that is what happened with Justin Bieber? He was too rich for his own good? And Robin Williams who was laughing like all the time? And Michael Jackson for people calling him the King of Pop? They always had enough to eat, I suppose, so basically they are destined to fall?
Sounds counter intuitive, doesn’t it? It doesn’t sound right. I mean we all want to have enough money so we don’t have to worry about it. We all want to be well fed. We all want to laugh, and receive compliments, and be liked, and to have all the things that we are told makes us happy, satisfied, better than those who don’t have all that.
Wait, you might think, I don’t think I’m better than others just because I have a couple coins I can rub together, or because I like a good belly-rubbing meal, or because I enjoy a good laugh or two. I might feel a bit better when I receive compliments, but I’m humble enough to accept them graciously and not let them go to my head. So for sure I don’t think I’m better.
But really? Looking at pretty much any active social media account tells us different. Any job interview, any report card, any test of any kind tells us who we’re better than and how we rank on the global scale. It’s like we can’t help but to rate ourselves and each other, comparing biceps and paycheques, seeing if we can out-happy everyone else because somehow some way in our heads that is how we define ourselves as better.
The more you make, the better you are. The more you can enjoy the finer things in life, the better you are. The happier you are, the better you are. The more people like you, the better you are. That is what we’re told. That is what we start to believe. That is what we just aim for, forgetting about the harsh realities of life, putting our trust and faith in things that don’t last, not thinking that we’d ever end up falling flat.
But Jesus, sermonizing on the plain, standing on level ground, speaking eye-to-eye and face-to-face with the people, said no. No, you are not better than them. And on the flip side of that, you are also not worse than them. Rather you are just you. They are just them. We are who we are, created and made and intentionally gifted talents and skills to serve and add to the community and ultimately God’s kingdom. We are who we are, loved and blessed and redeemed through the grace of Jesus. We are who we are, fallen and broken, lifted up and given peace and joy, disappointed and disillusioned, forgiven and healed.
You see, we are who we are, navigating the ups and downs of life, encouraged that when we are low, we won’t stay low forever as we are blessed and when we are high, don’t get too comfortable because things change. We’re reminded that the valleys are lifted up and the mountains are brought down. We’re reminded that in God’s eyes, we are all equal, we are all loved, we are all standing on level ground, together with Jesus and all the saints, part of the body of Christ and welcomed into God’s kingdom.
So really, it isn’t a curse if you are rich and famous. And it isn’t a judgement on your character if you’re poor and unknown. There is nothing wrong with having enough to eat and feeling full. And it isn’t a punishment to be hungry. It isn’t bad to feel happy and being able to laugh. And feeling sad won’t and doesn’t define you for the rest of your life. People might like you, people might hate you, people might not even know you exist, but that doesn’t make you a somebody or a nobody. But that just makes you, you, blessed and loved by God, invited and welcomed by the Spirit, forgiven and redeemed by the proof of Jesus’ resurrection, showing us all that the pain and brokenness of death, the hatred and anger that leads to murder, the disappointment and disillusionment in a people that just don’t get it, does not last forever. It is by the work of Jesus on the cross that we are shown love in spite of the hate. It is by the resurrection of Christ that we are reminded that all horrible things will come to an end. It is by our faith in God’s grace and mercy that we can see how God cleanses us, wipes away all sin, and brings people together on that level ground, meeting together face to face on the plain, and seeing each other eye to eye for the sake of the world.
In this season after the Epiphany, may we all be reminded of the ups and downs of life, the seasons of good and bad, even the joy and sorrow that we face, that through it all we are dearly loved and blessed by God, and always called God’s own children living in God’s own kingdom, now and forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.