Summary: What does this mean for the Church in 21st Century America?
“Blessed Are the Poor”
By: Ken Sauer, Pastor, Grace UMC, Soddy Daisy, TN
Right before our Gospel Lesson for this morning we are told beginning in verse 17 that, “[Jesus] went with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples were there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases…”
And then a verse or two later Jesus addresses them beginning with, “Blessed are you who are poor…”
Looking out at the poor and diseased masses Jesus said to them… “Blessed are you…”
What are we, who live in 21st Century affluent America to make of this?
What are we, who live in a culture which is constantly telling us, in effect, “Blessed are you who are rich, you can afford to eat out in restaurants several days a week.
Blessed are you who are rich, you can afford a couple of cars and the price at the pump for your great big SUV!
Blessed are you who are rich you can buy a new plasma t-v…you can build McMansions for yourselves…
Blessed are you who are rich, you can go on lavish vacations and waste tons of dough on things you don’t need.
Blessed are you who are rich, you don’t have to live in the slums.
Blessed are you who are rich, you can pay for your own health care.
You don’t have to worry so much about gangs.
You can walk through your neighborhoods at night without the fear of being killed.
Your children can attend the best schools…blessed are you!
You will be served, rather than having to serve…blessed are you!”
What are we to make of what Jesus has to say to us this morning?
Blessed are the poor?
Blessed are the hungry?
To be envied are those who weep?
This makes little sense to us, does it not?
Happy are you when you are hated?
These kinds of blessings I think I can do without!
We Christians say that we love the teachings of Jesus.
But what about these teachings?
After all, do we strive to be poor or hated?
Of course not!
Do we actually rejoice when we are excluded or insulted?
On the contrary, we fuss about it and feel sorry for ourselves.
Perhaps we complain to God about it—or even blame God for it.
And when Jesus goes on to say “woe” to those who are rich, those who are full, those who laugh, and those who are spoken well of, do we hear Him speaking to us?
Here I suspect we are not so eager for a contemporary application of the Scriptures.
Here, perhaps, we are content to leave the teaching in its historical context, pointing at the Pharisees and other first-century hypocrites.
But the truth for most of us is that we are rich and we are full.
We probably don’t think of ourselves as rich, ‘cause we see the incomes and lifestyles of other people in our culture—professional athletes, entertainers, corporate CEO’s, among others—who have so very much more than any of us have.
When we compare ourselves to the income and lifestyles of most of the world’s population, however, then we are forced to confess that we are, in fact, rich!
A Costa Rican United Methodist Pastor came and spoke to some of us over at Hixson United Methodist Church a few weeks ago.
He lives in the very poorest of areas, and he said that he needs only 25 American dollars to feed a hundred children who come to his church for a month.
Consider the desperation of people in the most poverty-stricken countries, where children are more apt to be malnourished than to go to school, more apt to die in childhood than to learn to read and write.
Two children from a West African Village ages 14 and 15 froze to death on an airplane.
They were so desperate to flee their impoverished homeland and get an education that they stowed away in the landing gear bay.
They left behind a letter “to the excellencies and officials of Europe” that they hoped would be read in case they died.
The letter, full of spelling errors, said:
“We suffer enormously in Africa. Help us. We have problems in Africa. We lack rights as children. We have war and illness, we lack food…We have schools, but we lack education…We want to study, and we ask you to help us to study so we can be like you, in Africa.”
(this story comes from How Much Is Enough? by Arthur Simon)
What will we do to help, we who are so prosperous and who belong to the One Who said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”?