Two Sides of the Same Coin

Heritage Presbyterian Church

6th Sunday After Epiphany
February 13, 2022

Scriptures – Jeremiah 17: 5-10 and Luke 6: 17-26

The title of today’s sermon states a fact that most of us wish was not accurate, truthful, or necessary.  Yet we all know it is true.  Everyone has two sides to their personality: the good side and the bad side.  In most, one side is a lot more powerful than the other.  For Christians, this is usually a constant battle.

Before we dive into this, let’s look at an example from history… how about George Washington?

Most of us know that George Washington was the Father of our Country, was the leader of the Continental Army that somehow defeated the mighty British in the Revolutionary War, and was the first President.

But what was on the other side of the “coin” that was George Washington?

  • Did you know that Washington owned slaves from the time he was 11 years old?
  • Did you know that Washington openly wept when he resigned his commission in the British Army to become the head of the Continental Army?  When he said goodbye to his officers, he knew – as did they – that he would be opposing them on the battlefield within a few months.
  • Did you know that as President, Washington refused to shake hands with anyone?  He thought it was too common and beneath the office of the Presidency; instead, Washington bowed when he met anyone during his two terms.  Kind of stuffy, if you ask me…

Two sides of the same coin…two sides of George Washington…

How about a biblical example?  

How about my favorite Apostle, Simon Peter?

  • Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter – “The Rock.”  Jesus did this to establish that it was upon this rock his church would be built.  Pretty high praise from Jesus himself.
  • Peter was the very first Apostle to identify Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One promised in the Bible.
  • Peter was the one who spoke up first on Pentecost morning, filled with the Holy Spirit.  He gave such a speech to the confused people of Jerusalem that many of them believed in Jesus on that very morning

And what was on the other side of the coin that was Simon Peter?

  • He was loud, older, and probably profane.
  • He was impulsive and often said the wrong thing at the wrong time.
  • Three times he denied that he even knew Jesus…just a few hours after he promised Jesus that others might turn away, but he never would.

Two sides of the same coin…two sides of Simon Peter…

In our two readings from the Bible that we heard today, we are given pretty stark examples of this concept of two sides of the same coin.  In each and every case, the two sides illustrate the people that God is talking to.  In each and every case, God is laying out the case of “this is how you are” and “this is how I want you to be.”  

But at no time does God say that this is the final word, that people cannot recognize their sin and turn back to God, that God has given up on them.  

That’s an important point: two sides may and do exist in all of us, but that doesn’t mean God abandons us.

In Jeremiah, the prophet laid out a simple contrast between the folly of trusting in so-called human wisdom and trusting in God instead.  In those long-ago biblical times, God’s people existed under the curse of error and illusion; trusting in God led to a path of blessedness and security.  The historical record was pretty clear: each time the people were led by a weak, bad, or even wicked king, things fell apart; each time a good king ruled, God’s love showered down on the people, and prosperity and security from enemies ruled the day.

This was a fascinating example from the Prophet Jeremiah: 

at the time Jeremiah was bringing the word to the people of Judah, they were about to be completely destroyed by the Babylonians.  Jeremiah tried to warn the last five kings of Judah and the people of Judah too.  What did he get for his trouble?  He was constantly in danger, he was hated, and he was run out of town often and forced into hiding.  Jeremiah trusted God, but Jeremiah was also hated by the people for doing so.  

What an unusual prophet to also bring the message of the good side of the coin, the side that God was always seeking, the side that Jeremiah was trying to reach.  Jeremiah was clear in stating that blessings came from obedience to God, and curses came from disobedience.

In Luke’s reading, we have a different version of the famous Sermon on the Mount given so beautifully in the Gospel of Matthew.  In Matthew’s version, we get those famous words: 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Beautiful…just beautiful…but only one side of the coin.  

Luke gives us a much shorter list consisting of 4 sets of blessings AND woes.  Hear them again:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.

Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

Pretty easy to hear both sides of this coin, isn’t it?  And yet, what did Jesus do?  Did he quit?  Did he only concentrate his message on part of the people?  Did he ever EVER quit loving anyone?  NO, he didn’t!

And it is in that “NO” that we have our hope.

We believe in redemption.

We believe in forgiveness.

We believe in second and third and fourth chances…and more if necessary.

We believe that the thief on the cross was truly forgiven and was with the Lord in paradise – even though he might not have even recognized the other side of his own coin until he was crucified next to his Savior.

We believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes this all possible.

We believe that no matter how strong one side of our own coin of personality and behavior might be, the other side – that side loved and nurtured by our Savior – can triumph in the end.

We don’t have to be perfect…because we will fail in that attempt.

But we have to try.  Because Jesus earned our trust and our love.  

And because we owe him our best efforts in this.