Poor In Spirit

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.

Or Christopher.

About jonathanstorment

My family and I love reading, traveling, daddy/daughter dates, playing hide and seek, good music, and long meals with friends. We still miss LOST, and all four of us have Superman uniforms. We are passionate about bringing Heaven to Earth and want to follow Jesus while repainting discipleship for those around us. We are followers of Jesus and I preach at the Highland Church of Christ. We participate in something called A Restoration Movement, and we've come to realize that might be larger than we thought.

14 thoughts on “Poor In Spirit

  1. I just can’t help thinking…wouldn’t being poor in spirit (spiritually) lead to us living this lifestyle physically? I mean, I definitely agree that it’s about material possessions…but it bothers me a bit to percieve the thought that the spiritual interpretation has to be left for a more practical, physical interpretation. Isn’t Christianity more of an inside-out change? Didn’t Jesus say to wipe the inside of the cup and dish so that the outside would be clean? Doesn’t James say that faith (spiritual) and action (physical) work together? I might be misunderstanding what you’re stating, though– that’s definitely happened before. I think your example of the 12 year old boy is a great one — but I kinda think it was an example of how spiritual concepts can influence our actions. It just seems like spiritual change impacts physical action, but also impacts mental and emotional attitudes…it just seems so powerful that it kinda makes me scratch my head to see a spiritual change replaced with a physical change of action. Isn’t it the case that if you change the spiritual, you change the physical (and every other part of your being) as well?

  2. Let me just add that I’m not trying to rebel against the convicting challenge you have in the blog to not water down what Jesus states. Maybe part of the problem is that our culture thinks that feeling spiritual has little to do with action, so they think that when they put a “spiritual” spin on a verse, that excuses the responsibility to live it. I guess that’s where the word “overspiritualization” might make sense

  3. Jonathan, my brother and soon to be new friend… I’m excited. I’m a member at Highland. Right now the ladies class I am a part of is studying this whole post-modernism thing. I’m excited. In my 55 years (56 in a couple of weeks) I’ve not really understood all that this generation understands and preaches about sociall justice. I’m excited. I’m learning more and more what has made my 25 year old daughter so frustrated after a foreign study in Latin America. I’m excited. I am better unstanding her comment upon returning home “I’ve never been closer to the Lord than I am now, but I’m really disappointed in His people.” I’m getting it. And I’m excited. Looking forward to having you and your beautiful family as a member of the Highland Family. Blessings over you all as you make this transition!
    ~ Teresa

  4. Peter, here’s my take on what you said. I think you’ve got to take Luke’s account of the same sermon into consideration. Jesus doesn’t say poor in spirit there, he just says poor. I think Matthew’s trying to convey the same thing, but is using a different phrasing. That’s my starting point. I don’t think Jesus has anything against humility or meekness (in fact that is blessed too!) but he’s trying to say this kind of living is Blessed. A lot of what we believe is heavily influenced by Plato, who taught us that there is a physical and a spiritual (he then went on to develop a children’s moldable clay) but I don’t that is the story that the Judeo-Christian perspective is telling. The Scriptures don’t make that separation as easily as we do. Physical things are spiritual and vice versa. Anyway, hope that helps…

    Teresa, I’m glad to hear from you! We are really looking forward to being with you all! You’re right, my generation has a heavy emphasis on social justice. And I’m glad that you’ve got a heart for it as well. Looking forward to getting to know you!

  5. Along with Teresa’s daughter, I would like to point out that if you take an overall view of the Western Hemisphere alongside a view of American spirituality, it becomes blatantly apparent that changing the spiritual does little to change the physical as well. As evangelicalism has swollen, the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer. The inside-out change that Christianity generally makes, may result in nicer rich people, but it has utterly failed to keep the poor of our world from dying.

  6. Thanks for your response, Jonathan! I may have to think about what you stated a bit more, but, for the record, I didn’t realize that Luke just said “poor” while Matthew said “poor in spirit” — thanks for poining that out. I also agree that much of what we think today is heavily influenced by Plato. It definitely is a tragedy that “inside” theology is seen as so “inside” that it doesn’t consistently manifest itself in outside action — leaving the class divide between rich and poor intact in Christian circles.

  7. Jonathan, soon to be friend/preacher to us at Highland, this blog is a perfect example of why August seems so distant.
    I’ve been very noisy to friends that will put up with me, grumbling if there is ONE person hungry, homeless, imprisoned, alone & ill the Church has not done its job.
    We have a lot of work to do to glorify our God and LORD of Lords, all of us in the Body of Christ, world-wide and I’m thrilled you’ll be helping us on that journey …. on that path when you arrive here in “A-City” and Highland.

    Welcome!! 🙂

  8. “A lot of what we believe is heavily influenced by Plato, who taught us that there is a physical and a spiritual (he then went on to develop a children’s moldable clay) . . .”

    Oh, you didn’t really write that, did you?

  9. Joe, yeah that was a pretty convicting quote for all of us. Have you ever heard of Oscar Romero? After reading your last post I thought he was someone who you’d really like to know about.

    Peter, I think we are certainly talking about this from the same angle. I do believe that our spirituality is the starting point for how we interact with the world, I think the Scriptures are telling us that repeatedly. But it’s a different kind of spirituality, one that is very tangible, involved in the “this world” earthiness of setting the world right. I think of James’ letter to support this. Thanks for obviously thinking so deeply about this. It encourages me.

    Kathy, what a great response. It shows Leslie and I why we are excited about being there in August. It’s hard for us right now, because we love the people here we are saying goodbye to, and haven’t gotten to meet a lot of Highland people yet. But I really appreciate you coming on here and saying that. It reveals a bit of Highland’s heart, we look forward to meeting you next weekend!

    Bro. Danny, yes, and I was really proud of it. I thought that’s gonna make it’s way into a sermon one day soon.

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