Poor in Spirit, a Sermon from The Beatitudes (Matthew 5)

Sermon Series beatitudes 1110 x 624 (1)

Sermon Series: The Beatitudes, God’s Surprising Blessing
Message 1 of 4: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit and Those Who Mourn 
Scripture:  Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 18:9-14
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 8/25/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Set the scene

  • Jesus is at the beginning of his ministry
  • He calls his first disciples – the educated and advantaged? No. Some fishermen
  • He travels around his home region of Galilee proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease
  • His fame begins to spread. Large crowds started coming- Galilee, Syria, Jerusalem, 10 Roman cities of the Decapolis, Judea, and beyond the Jordan

People started bringing him all the sick

  • folks in crippling pain
  • folks possessed by demons
  • folks with seizures
  • paralyzed folks
  • poor folks
  • suffering folks
  • desperate folks
  • the outcasts and the unwanted

Every day the crowd grows bigger and bigger and bigger.

One day Jesus heads up one of the mountainsides and sits down. This would have caught everyone’s attention. When a rabbi sits, he’s indicating a time of formal teaching. It’s unusual, he’s outside, not in the synagogue.

Everyone gathers around and settles down, expectant, waiting. What are the first words out of his mouth?

Matthew 5:3-4
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

What??? Who in their right mind would look out over this massive crowd of broken, desperate, mourning, pain-ridden people and call them blessed?

The kingdom of God couldn’t possibly be for the likes of these. Many rabbis were teaching all over the region that the reason you were hurting, broken, sick, or poor is because you weren’t right with God and God was punishing you.

Jesus says, “Nope. That isn’t right.” Jesus says God loves them and welcomes them into the kingdom and they are blessed

I imagine Jesus looking out on that crowd on the side of the mountain and seeing all of humanity. Every person who ever lives.

I imagine Jesus looking down the mountainside and down through the ages and seeing me and seeing you.

We may have access to better medical care and clean water and be more educated. But deep down Jesus sees us and sees our brokenness and our pain.

I am those people on the mountain.
We are those people on the mountain.

We are the broken, the ill, the demon-possessed.
We are in pain, desperate, outcast.
We are loved and we are blessed and we are welcomed.
We need Jesus just like they need Jesus because we are all spiritual beggars.

Matthew 5:3
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Dallas Willard’s translation of Matthew 5:3 from his book The Divine Conspiracy
Blessed are the spiritual zeros- the spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of religion when the kingdom of the heavens comes upon them. 

I work so hard to not be a spiritual beggar. What child says, “When I grow up I want to be a beggar?” We don’t aspire to that.

I don’t want to be a beggar. I don’t want to be a beggar spiritually, financially, emotionally.

I don’t want to be a beggar, so I work hard. I want to have something to offer God when God comes to me.

  • God will love me if I do good things
  • God will love me more than others if I do more good things
  • So doing good things and being a good person will earn me brownie points with God
  • So when the Kingdom comes and Jesus comes I have something to offer.

I’m a good person and I do good things and that will save me. Nope.

The nope is good. Aren’t you thankful we don’t have to get good to get God!

Being a good person and doing good things will not earn me brownie points with God. It will not save me. My hard-working hard turns salvation into a transaction. If I do this then God will do that. Salvation isn’t a transaction – its grace, its mercy, it’s a gift.

Yes, Jesus is correcting the twisted theology of those who would judge and exclude people from God’s love and grace. But he is also reminding them and reminding us that we all spiritual beggars and we all need a Savior.

Isaiah 64:6, NIV
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our sins sweep us away.

Romans 3:23 puts it even more simply- all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Now hear the Good News, Matthew 5:3-4
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

What does spiritual poverty mean? (Adapted from a definition by Jim Forest in his book The Ladder of the Beatitudes)

  • It starts with self-awareness. I cannot save myself.
  • I am basically defenseless. Neither money nor power will spare me from suffering and death.
  • No matter what I achieve, no matter what I acquire, it will fall short.
  • Poverty of spirit is my awareness that I need God’s help and mercy more than I need anything else. 

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Luke 18:9-14.
Look at the reason why Jesus tells this parable.
9 Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Matthew 5:3
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We recognize we are spiritual beggars. We recognize our poverty of spirit. We recognize we cannot save ourselves and this naturally leads to us mourning our sin. 

Matthew 5:4
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

We mourn the foolishness of our boasting.
We mourn how we’ve wasted our time, our talent, and our resources.
We mourn our self-centeredness
We mourn our self-righteousness
We mourn our apathy to God and the ways of God

We mourn how our words, our action, our inaction separate us from God, others, our true selves.

We mourn and we do what the tax collector did.

  1. We recognize our reality- we are all spiritual beggars, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
  2. We stop trying to save ourselves
  3. We place our trust in the mercy and grace of Jesus

The ground is even at the foot of the cross. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all there together.

Receive the promise: blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.        

How many of us carry around the burden and guilt of sin? We mourn it, we confess it, and we are comforted. We receive the grace and forgiveness and healing we need.

How many of us carry around the burden of resentment? The burden of bitterness? The burden of judging others? The burden of getting busy enough to earn our salvation? The burden of self-medicating the feelings we hide?

Mourn them. Be honest with them. Hand them to Jesus. Receive the grace, mercy, and comfort Jesus is ready to provide. That’s the Good News. That’s our hope.

It feels upside down and backward. We’re “supposed to” pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and put on our big girl pants. It is actually surrender and truth and blessing.

Will you recognize who you are and receive the blessing, the comfort, the Kingdom?

Prayer based on James 4:8-10: Jesus we claim the promise that if we draw near to you, you will draw near to us. Cleanse us. Purify us. We are double-minded. We deny. We hide. Help us release and lament and mourn and weep the things we have done, the things we have said, the things we have left undone. Help us to humble ourselves before you, Lord, so you will lift us up.

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Beatitudes Sermon 1 of 3 © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
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