February 24, 2013 by Pastor Ben McIntire
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” Matthew 5:1-3
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,so that no one may boast before him. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29
Do you think you are God? No? Ok, so far we are off to a good start! Now let’s unpack that, and see what it means that God is God and we are not.
In my community we have just begun a Lenten series on the Beatitudes, the first part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. These sayings are called the Beatitudes because each one starts out, “Blessed are those…” or in some Bible translations, “Happy are those…” I prefer “blessed,” because it just seems less confusing to me as you go through the list. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are those who mourn…blessed are the meek…and so on.”
At first glance, the Beatitudes don’t seem very common sense. “Beatitudes” mean “blessings;” for instance you might say a mother looks beatific as she holds her newborn baby. But to say the same about someone who is spiritually poor, in mourning, or persecuted for their religion? That just doesn’t add up in our usual way of thinking. But that’s God for you. The more one reads about God in the Bible, the more you come to see the inverse nature of God’s way of working in the world. It seems like God is a huge fan of turning things upside-down and doing things contrary to the way we humans like to order things. The Beatitudes are part of this.
“Blessed are the Poor In Spirit—for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is the first Beatitude, and I’d argue that it’s the most important, at least as it sets the tone for our lives in faith. What does it mean to be “poor in spirit?” I’m sure most of us have felt this way at some point in our lives. We all have stuff, baggage that we carry that gets us down, makes us doubt, and stresses us out. We are human and we do stupid things that we know we shouldn’t. Let me ask this:
Do you ever stay up late, when you know you need sleep?
Do you ever eat or drink more calories than your body needs?
Do you ever feel the need to exercise more, but don’t?
Do you ever know the right thing to do, but don’t do it?
Do you ever know something is wrong, but go ahead with it anyway?
Have you ever done something selfish, even though you know better?
What we need, is to be able to admit that we are not God. God is the Holy Spirit, pure spirit, and while we are spiritual creatures, made in God’s image—we are not gods. We are poor in spirit.
But by admitting this, by recognizing and accepting that we are poor in spirit—we are blessed. The kingdom of Heaven is for us! You see there are three main causes of our problems.
1. Our tendency to do wrong—sin. Saint Paul wrote in Romans 7, “For what I want to do, I do not do.” The bottom line is, we know the difference between right and wrong—and much of the time, it’s clear which is which. Yet all too often we do the wrong things.
2. Our desire to be God. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus being led into the wilderness by the Spirit where he is tested and tempted by the Devil. It’s a parallel to the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Both of these stories mirror our desire to be God, to be the ones in control and with all the power.
3. Our attempts to play God. Here are a few ways that we do this:
– We try to control our image—how people see us and think of us.
– We try to control others, what they do, what they think, and get them to agree with us.
– We try to control our problems. If you are like me, then maybe you are a perpetual problem solver with all the answers.
– We try to control our pain. Whether we lash out in revenge to share pain, or bottle it up inside.
Unfortunately the damage we do to ourselves and to others is obvious. Being poor in spirit is awful. It doesn’t seem like a blessing at all. The consequences of our problems really boil down to four things—4 F’s, if you will: Fear, Frustration, Fatigue, and Failure. I’m sure you are all familiar with each of these things.
But guess what? “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for there is the kingdom of Heaven!” There is a cure for us. That cure is Jesus, of course. Jesus is our Savior and he helps us in our weakness. When we recognize and admit our weakness, our fear, frustration, fatigue and failure… when we confess to God and to ourselves that we are indeed “poor in spirit,” then we are finally open and ready to receive God’s grace. Then we are ready to receive the kingdom of heaven. That’s what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians when he writes, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong…God chose the low and the despised…so that no one may boast.”
I want to share something with you that I think is a very powerful illustration of our spiritual poverty and the baggage we unnecessarily carry because of it. It is a skit by Tommy and Eddie, the “Skit Guys” which you can find on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlTzgTW3WaE
*Much of this post is based on, or is direct from Life’s Healing Choices by John Baker.
Heavenly Father, it’s hard to do but I admit that I am not as in control of my life as I sometimes think. Please take my burdens and my baggage. Help me to trust your promise of forgiveness, and trust you to be in control of my life. Help me to trust you in faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.