A Sermon on Matthew 5:1-12
Have you ever heard someone give a testimony of Jesus bringing radical transformation? My church experience didn’t have much of this growing up, but from time to time, I’d hear stories about people addicted to drugs or alcohol who’d find Jesus and their lives would be changed. They’d say they were “born again.” For some reason, those stories never really landed for me.
I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. I think I had this sense in the back of my mind, like, “Well, good for them, but I’m not addicted to anything, so I guess I’ll probably never describe myself in that way?”
In other words, I wasn’t sure I was a bad enough person to need Jesus like those folks did. And so, in my mind, there were two types of Christians: 1) those whose lives were out of control because of the really bad stuff they’d done, whose lives get turned around with the help of God, and 2) the rest of us who are in control of our lives, that get salvation without having to hit rock bottom.
But what if the first group just realizes something that the second group doesn’t. What if we’re actually all lost and out of control without Christ’s transformation?
Today, we’re looking at a section of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” as it’s called, known as the Beatitudes. Jesus highlights eight surprising situations where you can receive God’s blessings. I’m pretty much stuck on the first one, though:“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
What does it mean to be poor in spirit?
Someone who is poor in spirit knows that they don’t have it together, and so, in the words of Micah 6:8, they walk humbly with their God. Their spiritual poverty makes them desperate for God’s intervention. Saying that someone is poor in spirit is a way of describing a certain posture of the heart. I think of the old hymn Rock of Ages, and how well it describes that posture:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;|
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
Is that too harsh, or is it reality? I think it’s reality. The spiritually poor person says “I don’t have anything to bring to you, God. I’m messed up. But I’m done wearing my mask. You know that I struggle not to do things that are wrong. You know that even the good things that I do, I do with mixed motives. The person prays along with Psalm 51, which says “Create in me a clean heart and put your Holy Spirit within me!
Pastor Rick Warren talks about the Beatitudes as “the road to Recovery.” As his church was launching Celebrate Recovery, he preached through the beatitudes. Those sermons were made into book called “Life’s Healing Choices,” by John Baker. Next month during our Sunday School hour, a group is going to be working through the beatitudes with that book . I want to share with you the opening sentences of Pastor Rick Warren’s forward to that book:
“Do you ever eat or drink more calories than your body needs? Do you ever feel you ought to exercise but you don’t? Do you ever know the right thing to do but don’t do it? Do you ever know something is wrong but do it anyway? If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you’ll know without a doubt that you are a citizen of the human race. As fellow members of the human race, we all deal with life’s hurts, hang-ups, and habits. And Jesus, who left heaven to become one of us so that He could minister to those needs, said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Here’s the hard truth: if you think you have it all together, Christ really doesn’t have anything to say to you. But what he does with the first Beatitude is to say, “you are invited to admit to the reality that you are poor in spirit, that you don’t have it all together.”
It’s our tendency to not want to admit that we have any problems. We don’t want to admit to others that we have problems. We don’t want to admit to God that we have problems. And we don’t even want to admit to ourselves that we have problems. But the reality is that we need God, and without him, we’re sunk. And the good news is that God wants us to come to him, problems and and all.
With me, I didn’t know how messed up I really was until God transformed my heart. Now I don’t pray because it’s the right thing to do. I pray because without him, I’m a mess. With him though, I have the strength I need to choose the right thing.
As humans, we get stuck in our sin. We try to manage it but we fail. We are most certainly not in control. We’re not in control, but we really want to be. We want to act like we are. In John Baker’s words, “We want to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. We want to make our own choices, call our own shots, make our own rules…. In essence, we want to be God.” And “We play God by trying to control our image, other people, our problems and our pain.”
We control our image because we care what other people think, and we’re scared about what they would think if they knew what was really going on in our lives. Whether it’s simply hiding behind our well-groomed selves while we’re a mess on the inside, or it’s carefully curating our facebook and instagram pictures to keep up appearances, we seek to be in control of our image.
We also try to control other people. Parents and children try to control one another. Spouses try to control one another. Coworkers try to be in control. We use guilt, anger, fear, or the silent treatment in attempts to gain control over other people.
We try to control our uncontrollable problems. Have you ever said: “it’s not really a problem, I don’t need any help. I can quit anytime I want to.” Or what about saying “God will forgive me” and then doing it…
We try to control our pain. Some people try to avoid it by eating. Others try to postpone it by drinking too much, using drugs, or taking too much prescription medication or pills that don’t belong to them.
But sooner or later, reality will set in. We are not in control. And when we actually realize that and admit that, we become “poor in spirit.” We can finally stop trying to play God and we can start progressing in the way of Jesus.
Being poor in spirit starts out the beatitudes because it’s absolutely essential anything that God wants to offer you through Jesus. We all must start here.
Rick Warren and John Baker, in line with the first beatitude, say that “Choice #1” of Life’s Healing Choices is “Realize I’m not God.” On the one hand that feels obvious, but what it means is , “I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable.”
If that’s not an admission of spiritual poverty, then I don’t know what is.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get to a place as a church where it will be ok to admit to one another that we don’t have it all together? I’ve been having conversations with quite a few people in our congregation who are realizing, “Hey, there are a lot of us that are really struggling. Wouldn’t it be nice if people didn’t feel like they had to hide their hurt in church, but they could be honest about it.” After all, the church isn’t meant to be a museum for perfect people. It’s supposed to be a hospital where the hurting can come and find healing.
What about you? Would you consider taking this first step of admitting that you are spiritually poor? If you do, Jesus says you’ll be blessed. He says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to you. In other words, before you is available all of what Paul calls righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. You can exit the life of struggling for control and fear of being discovered for who you really are. This is for everyone.
And if you’d like to explore these concepts further, look out for our “Life’s Healing Choices” class that starts up in March. It’s ok to come as an “interested spectator.”
And as we approach communion, there is no better place to be than in the knowledge that we are spiritual poor. It’s God who supplies the meal where Christ will meet us and sustain us.