Thursday, July 28, 2016

28 July 2016
Poor in spirit
            We will begin looking up with the Sermon on the Mount. Here we see our Lord describing Kingdom life-a clear picture of how He expects His followers to behave. This is how we bring the presence of Christ into our daily lives and put it on display, showing those around us what God is really like. We won’t probe too deeply here in the scholarly, exegetical sense; we simply listen to Jesus speak and wonder how what He is saying to us may affect our day to day lives. More of a Lectio Divina approach; holy daydreaming.
            I will say this about the Sermon on the Mount. Scholars and commentators seem divided over whether this instruction, because of its high moral standard, is given primarily for some future time, or given strictly to demonstrate God’s character, rather than teaching Jesus actually expects us to follow day to day, here and now. I would say yes to all the above. This teaching does indeed demonstrate God’s character; as children imitating our Father this is why we look here in the first place. And it is indeed the standard for life in the eternal Kingdom. It is also intended for us in the here and now. This is us “being transformed by the renewing of your minds”; the “clothing ourselves with Christ”; abiding in Him as a vine in a branch, bearing fruit. After all, if we can’t enjoy Him here and now, how can we ever expect to enjoy Him (or even be comfortable in His presence) in eternity?
            One final thought. This seems like a good place to introduce the “already but not yet” nature of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is here already-Christ is present in individual believers and corporately in His Church (demonstrating His Kingdom presence is why we are doing this in the first place). It is not yet here in its fullness; at some point Christ will return and the Kingdom will be plain for all too see. Again, demonstrating Kingdom presence is the goal here. We are working on the question “What kind of Jesus will people see, when they see you?” Now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at the first Beatitude.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, NRSV). I see ‘poor in spirit’ as the opposite of spiritual pride; perhaps of pride period. This must have been a bit of a shock to the religious leaders of the day, who probably figured they pretty much had a lock on heaven. Paul advises his Roman readers not to think of themselves more highly than they ought (Romans 12:3); he tells his Philippian readers to, in humility, value others above themselves and look out for their interests (Philippians 2:3-4), having the same mind as Christ (5-8).
            This is a broad, deep topic, this idea of poor in spirit, and we could go off in several different directions. But since we are considering how we might reach out to others, let’s look at how we see ourselves in relation to those others. For example, how many times during the day do we insist on having our own way; on being right; on being the definitive source for whatever we happen to be working on (or blogging about)? In one of his books-I think it is Seeking the Kingdom but I’m not positive-Richard Foster offers this interesting exercise. He challenges his readers to go one full day without justifying themselves or make excuses for their behavior. I tried this once and failed less than two hours in. This might be a good exercise in humility.
            There are many others. The next time you show up for some volunteer service, rather than choosing what you want to do, you might say something like ‘wherever the need is’ or ‘whatever nobody else wants to do’. Try giving up your place in line to a mom with young children or an elderly person with a cane, or giving up the prime parking spot or the best seat. There are many things you can do while simply waiting in line-not the least of which is calling down a blessing on those in front of you.  And-dare I say it-put the phone down, start a conversation and listen, really listen, to the other person. Small things, to be sure, but what we are really doing here is forming holy habits, disciplining ourselves to put others first.
            You may have a totally different take on this poor in spirit thing. That’s ok. You may even want to comment-that’s ok too. Commenting in the ‘poor in spirit’ attitude is good exercise. Next time we’ll look at those who morn. Slow going I know, but I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere. The idea, after all, is to be changed by being in His presence. Then go and do.
May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG

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