Tuesday, February 11, 2014

BE: Poor (KCU Faculty Sermon Series)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “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 receive 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 for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:1-12, NRSV).

As I opened my sermon, I asked what the kingdom of heaven is.  What is the kingdom of heaven?  We are often taught that it is something far off, something that we will not discover until an appointed day in the future when God reveals it to us.  Yet, Jesus, in the opening of Matthew 5, seems to indicate that the kingdom of heaven is something already present.  Did you notice the reward for those in vv. 3 and 10?  The poor and persecuted are blessed because “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  As Tom Long writes, “What the Christian community possesses in the present is the promise of the coming kingdom of heaven.  What will be for the whole of creation in the future is theirs now in the present.”[1]  Heaven, then, is not just some far-off celestial nation; it is a present and active force coursing the terrain of this planet right now.

The question then is how do we enter the kingdom of heaven?  This was my second question, the question that hopefully plunged us deeper down the theological rabbit hole.  Yet it is not only how do we enter into the kingdom of heaven.  I enter Disneyland on a yearly basis, however I do not live there (as cool of an idea as that sounds).  It is also how do we stay in the kingdom of heaven, how do we pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of heaven.  What Jesus offers us in Matthew 5 are descriptions of the type of citizens that live in the kingdom of heaven.  And he begins with those who are poor, those who are completely dependent on God.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “For his sake they have lost all. . . .And in that very poverty they are heirs of the kingdom.”[2]  Citizenship in the kingdom means renouncing all other allegiances.  It means to embrace worldly poverty in order to attain spiritual wealth.

  1. In the film Kingdom of Heaven, those wishing to become knights were admonished to follow this oath: “Be without fear in the face of your enemies.  Be brave and upright that God may love thee.  Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death.  Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong.  This is your oath.”  What is at least one way that you can live out this oath each day?
  2. In light of Matthew 5:3, what is something that you are clinging to that is preventing you from swearing complete allegiance to God?  Pray and ask God for the strength to break that bond.

[1]Thomas G. Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville/London: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997), 48.
[2]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship (Reprint: 1959.  New York: Touchstone Books/Simon and Schuster, 1995), 107-108. 


Anonymous said...

Often the poor in spirit of Mt. 5:3 are seen as having a certain attitude (in their spirit) rather than being literally poor. Yet the parallel in Lk. 6:20 is simply: blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. I think you are right to point to such poverty here in Mt. 5 also. But also important is what Jesus tells his disciples here about "spirit."

In Mt. 3, John the Baptist says the coming king will baptize with the Spirit. When Jesus is baptized, the heavens open and the Spirit descends, anointing him as the new king; the kingdom of (and from) heaven has arrived.

Led by the Spirit, Jesus suffers hunger and temptations in the desert; near the end of Mt. 4 Jesus calls disciples to leave their prospering fishing business and follow this poor king. Then he begins to teach them in 5:3 that "Blessed are the poor in the Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Jesus is the first and foremost one who is poor and in the Spirit; but in the future he will give the Spirit to all his disciples, who will be his kingdom.

Rob O'Lynn said...

Thank you for your comments and for making the connection between Jesus' baptism and temptation to the content of the sermon.