So Sunday Rick taught a great sermon on the Rich, Young Ruler. It’s tough to say “great sermon” because it was one of the hardest stories that the New Testament dishes up. We’ve developed a lot of hermeneutical loop holes through the years to pretend that Jesus was just having an off day when he told the young ruler to sell everything and give it to the poor. And while it’s true, this wasn’t a command Jesus made to everyone, most of us have to admit we have a lot more in common with this rich fella than we do with almost anyone else in the Bible.
Over the past couple of years, Leslie and I have started to run out of people to compare ourselves to in order to pretend we are not rich. The truth is, not only have most of us heard the statistics about what constitutes wealth on global level (e.g. having a car, shelter, 1 meal a day) we also have learned not to let this global perspective affect us.
About 3 years ago, I preached a sermon at RHCC where I talked about out a stat I heard from Rob Bell that’s pretty compelling. It’s that extreme poverty in the world, not poverty, but extreme poverty, the kind where kids die because of not having access to clean water. That kind of poverty could be eradicated with about $20 Billion. Which just happens to be what the Western world spends on Ice Cream every year.
Now that doesn’t make the Rocky Road sitting in my freezer evil. But it is a good litmus test for what our priorities are, and are not.
The very first words of the Sermon on the Mount have often been misunderstood. Jesus kicks off the most revolutionary sermon ever with what we called the Beautitudes. He starts telling the audience who is blessed in the Kingdom of God. And at the beginning of this list are the Poor in Spirit. Now several commentators through the years have said that in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is trying to domesticate or spiritualize what he says in Luke’s gospel. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus just says blessed are the poor, but here Jesus is spiritualizing it isn’t he?
Maybe what Jesus means is blessed are the people who are humble. Those who have a good reason to feel cocky, but instead choose to be self-effacing. And while that’s a good thing, I don’t think it’s what Jesus is getting at here. Because remember this is the same Jesus who a few chapters later is going to have that haunting conversation with the Rich, young ruler. He doesn’t have a problem talking to people about their money, because as he says in this very sermon…where a person’s wallet is, so is their heart.
I heard Dr. Curt Niccum recently talking about this particular Beautitude, and he said something I had never considered before, and I’d like to pass it on to you. He said that Jesus isn’t spiritualizing or taming down what he said in Luke. But instead is talking to a different crowd, a crowd in which some people have and some people don’t have. Jesus is saying blessed are those people who have resources, who are the ability to live well, but instead choose not to. Blessed are those who don’t spend their “extra money” on themselves. But instead choose to live beneath their means in order to be generous to others. Blessed are those who could be rich, but instead choose to live like they are not for the sake of others.
It’s Jesus dream for people to choose against their self interest for the sake of someone else. And it’s a dream that comes true in Luke 19 and Acts 2. This is what the blessed life looks like with flesh on it.
Which brings me back to that Rocky Road Ice Cream.
I preached that sermon about 3 years ago. And just last week I heard through the grapevine that there is a 12 year old fella at RHCC, named Christopher, who heard that sermon and had and decided that this was unacceptable, and decided to do something about it. And his idea is called Mission Ice Cream. He started telling his friends that if they wanted to do something to change the world, give up their dessert for a month and give the money to a worthy cause.
And it worked.
At first it was just a few dollars a month or so that he was getting in. But over the years it’s started to pick up. Until recently it’s started to gain a head of steam. And a couple of months ago Christopher actually raised over $100, so he decided to do something special with it. So he gave it to a ministry in Honduras, one that helped to give a banquet to people who lived in a literal dump. Another non-profit connected to RHCC heard about Christopher’s donation, and decided to look into it. They learned that this project needed a bit more than $100 and change, and gave an additional $25,000.
Which is a bit more than your average gallon of Tin Roof.
Out of the bowls of children. Into the plates of someone else.
And this is what it means to be Poor in Spirit. To identify with those who don’t have, even when you do.
Did you know that the word Jesus used for blessed could be translated as Happy? And here’s why Jesus uses it here. Even though it seems counter-cultural to say these people are happy. Jesus knows exactly what he’s talking about. Because the things that we spend our “extra money” on make promises that they can keep. Those leather seats & that Blu-Ray player can’t fill that gap in our soul. But sometimes giving up those luxuries so that others can have necessities can. There is a joy in sacrificing for the sake of others that our consumer culture just doesn’t know anything about.
Just ask Jesus.