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11.02.14 Coming to Jesus Matthew 5.1-12 Sermon Summary

by on November 3, 2014

Jesus’ famous opening of the “Sermon on the Mount” clarifies our vision of life here and life hereafter. On All Saints’ Weekend, when we think about those who have died, it is appropriate to reflect upon our shared destiny in Christ.

Summary Points

  • What it means to be poor in spirit
  • How being poor in spirit is a blessing
  • How our promised destiny can form our life today
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

This is the weekend when we celebrate All Saints’ Day, preceded the night before with Halloween, and the day following by All Souls’ Day. The lectionary passages assigned to All Saints’ Day help us to reflect upon our common life in Christ.

So the passage from Revelation reminds us of God’s universal salvation which culminates in a vision of truly multicultural worship. The Psalm calls us to put our trust in God’s deliverance now and for the life to come. First John reminds us that our full redemption is yet to be seen, though God’s faithfulness makes it sure. And finally Matthew’s version of the “Sermon on the Mount” focuses our attention.

Luke’s version of this apparently stock-sermon of Jesus begins “blessed are the poor.” Matthew’s more well-known version adds “in spirit.” Of course Jesus’ original audience was poor—to a level few of us have experienced. But being poor “in spirit” is something to which we can all relate.

In the words of Psalm 42-43, it is described as having a “downcast soul.” There the author mourns being oppressed by an enemy, by some deceitful and wicked person. All of us are subject to oppression at times. For us it may be fear, anxiety, or work. It might be social pressures, deteriorating health, or bad relationships. Whatever our “enemy” which causes us to be poor in spirit and to mourn, Jesus says we will be comforted, and therefore we are blessed.

Poverty of spirit can result from all the Beatitudes. So, for example, meekness, which is refusing to resort to retributive violence, can cause poverty of spirit. So can hungering and thirsting for righteousness, which is the soul-deep desire for just and right relationships among all people. Being merciful, instead of “just” in the legal sense, certainly can cause poverty of spirit. As can purity of heart, which Kierkegaard defined as “to will one thing.” Being a peacemaker in a world of violence, rights, and war exhausts one’s spirit. And of course real live persecution (which does not include hearing “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”) drains the spirit.

And yet, all of these conditions and the resulting poverty of spirit are “blessed” according to Jesus. What a strange definition. “Blessed” refers to the supreme happiness that can only be found in God. The reason it is a blessing to be poor in spirit is because only then do we realize that our ultimate and lasting supreme happiness is rooted in God.

To say it another way, we are blessed the more we are like God. God is meek, desires righteousness, merciful, and peaceable. And God has promised such blessedness to us. This is why Matthew tells us that Jesus went up to the mountain, and only after “sitting down” do the disciples gather around him. It is a foreshadow of Jesus resurrection and ascension, a depiction of the glorified Christ sitting on the mountain of God at God’s right hand. This, Matthew is reminding us, is our destiny in Christ—participation in God. Blessedness.

This reminder is God’s promise to us. And in the meantime, the promises are our assurances. Not only are we blessed because we end up with and like God, but even now, when we act like God, we experience God’s blessings. So when we pursue righteousness, meekness, mercy, and peace, we are blessed. Should we ever experience persecution, we are blessed. When we feel poverty of spirit, when we mourn, and as we become more pure in heart, we are blessed.

For all of these experiences are the foretaste of our perfection in Christ. This is the hope we have not only for those who have died whom we remember today, but for ourselves as well. And as we live according to this hope, it is the hope of the world as well.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • Who are some people who have inspired your spiritual life? What qualities did they exhibit? How do these qualities related to the Beatitudes? How can you begin to emulate them?
  • In what other ways do we experience poverty of spirit? Does this occur, as with the Beatitudes, because they reflect the values of God’s kingdom?
  • How are you growing as a child of God who demonstrates the Beatitudes in your life? What next step might you take to cultivate just one of these spiritual qualities?

 

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